Category Archives: domestic economy

Self-Cleaning Cooking — Put It To Use (or Try)

Also available on the self-cleaning cooking page, see the menu, above, for a link to the page, all of these posts are there!

  1. Use up ingredients! This generates less clean up: you don’t have to deal with storing what’s left. (It generates less waste and happily is frugal too.)
  2. Use the smallest quantity of cooking utensils & tools as practical (and safe)! Each tool or utensil generates two clean up tasks — it has to be washed and put away.
  3. Limit cooking areas! Each cooking area generates one clean up task: cleaning the area after it’s used.
  4. Make your own prefab or partial ingredients! Partially prepared foods may be the best way to cook from scratch, with fresh foods, and limit clean up tasks.
  5. Try using commercial prefab ingredients! These can also save many clean up tasks, but you sacrifice knowing exactly what’s in the food and how it was prepared.

So! Given those, what can I do?


  • Use up ingredients!

For us, that means that I will try and do more bulk cooking. I do this with meats already, that is, when I open a package of 1 lb of chicken thighs, these days I always cook all of it. However, I don’t do this with vegetables say. Items which will store well, I do: cooked rice as an example. But what to do with fresh veggies to handle/store them as little as possible is the challenge here, and I don’t have an answer.

  • Use the smallest quantity of cooking utensils & tools as practical (and safe)!

I think with measuring tools, I already do this. I’ll measure dry ingredients before wet. I’ll use the smallest spoon measure and use a graduated cup measure for items.

Cooking tools? Hm, not so much.

Pans: if items need to be dry roasted (like dry roasted cumin, in a soup recipe I use a lot) and then another ingredient needs to be sauted, wiping the pan out with a paper towel (or not, depending on the ingredient) between makes sense. Using the pan you roasted meat in to make gravy might make sense, but it would usually generate another dish to hold the food taken from the roasting pan.

I have two sets of divided pans: small, almost triangular pans made to fit inside a bigger one and be cooked that way. I wonder if using those more often could help? It might not lessen the quantity of items to be cleaned, but it certainly would lessen the square inches of surfaces needing to be cleaned. There’s only two of us and often I’m only using the bottom inch of a pan . Hmm…..

Cooking utensils: I automatically just reach for tool x or y or z as I’m cooking. I think I need to become more aware of what I’m doing and see if I can just not use the wooden spatula I’ve used for years to saute items, and then need a spoon instead. Why couldn’t I saute foods with the spoon? No reason; I’m just used to doing things a certain way. As I said, this one will require some work on my part!

  • Limit cooking areas! 

This is the same as cooking cools/utensils: I automatically use this cutting board, that knife, the peeler, etc. I will have to *think* before I cook to find ways to lessen cooking areas. (The horror!)

  • Make your own prefab or partial ingredients! 

As I said, I often make a quart jar of sauted onions.

At the end of the summer last year, I made up something which also worked: I made up bags of tomatoes, onion, green pepper, all chopped and ready to go, for marinara for me (no red tomatoes) or my husband (with red tomatoes). I also made up bags of salsa verde for me (no red tomatoes again) or regular salsa for my husband.

I’ve discussed this earlier, I think to limit the number of recipes: I’ll make a red tomato stewed tomato recipe and a nonred tomato stewed tomato recipe. I’ll probably also make salsa verde. Tomatillos, which I love and can eat, are readily available at the farm late summer. A jar of salsa verde is about $3 (or more)! I love Mexican food and use a lot of salsa.

stack of dirty pots & pans

  • Try using commercial prefab ingredients!

Of course, I have done this and do. But I have limited storage and money. In the summer I toss a huge amount of the farm food unnecessarily. Especially since I’m losing my big freezer this summer, finding new ways to use the farm food, rather than buying more prefab food is my mandate.

 

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Self-Cleaning: Charts

Also available on the self-cleaning cooking page, see the menu, above, for a link to the page, all of these posts are there!

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used  Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Onion, basket Y+1
Onion 1/2 Scraps/T+1 scrap dish W +1 Y +2 (partial onion, scrap dish) Y +1
Knife W+1 Y+1
Counter Cutting Board W+1
Butter 1/2 Y+1
Butter Dish Y+1
Pan W+1 Y+1
Spoon W+1 Y+1
Stove W+1
Totals T 1, W 6 8 1

Above, ingredients are plain text, tools italic, areas bold, and storage containers underlined.

Total items requiring washing after cooking this two ingredient dish: 6, while there’s 7 items to put away, 1 item went to the trash, and a container added to storage. Grand total? 16 items!

Yes, there are frozen chopped onions. You’d have a container to return to the freezer or trash, depending on whether you used it all, or not. This would eliminate the onion basket, the knife, the scrap bowl, and the cutting board, their clean up of 4 items, still leaving 10 items. Not enough of a savings to me to make it worth taking up my (already inadequate) freezer space. If you use dried chopped onions? Add a bowl and water to the mix, you’ve only eliminated 2 items, so that doesn’t help much. I got 1/2 way through an edit here and realized I had to rewrite it. That’s why this makes no sense! It made sense before I mucked with it, honest!!!

I messed up. the problem with this is that it’s REALLY easy to do. I think I’ve covered it, and covered it accurately — and the next time I look at it, I realize I’ve forgotten x or y or z! Sorry.

Revision: Yes, there are frozen chopped onions. You’d have a container to return to the freezer or trash, depending on if you used it all, or not. This eliminates these pieces: onion basket, knife, scrap bowl, and cutting board. -4 And this clean up: knife, scrap bowl -2. You do still have to return the frozen onions to the freezer, if you don’t use them all, but you may or may not need a new package for them. If you take 6 items from the 16 above, that leaves 10, a fairly large savings. That said? I’m in the same boat I was before. I have no available freezer space. [Because of the insane power our old, big freezer uses, we’re eliminating it this year, so I have only a side by side fridge’s freezer.]

If you use dried chopped onions? Add a bowl and water to the mix, or 12 items total.

My solution has been the same for some time: I chop a lot of onions at once, add a stick of butter and then put the resulting quart of sauteed onions in the fridge in a quart jar.

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Onion, basket Y+1
Onions Y Scraps T+1 +2 (new jar, lid)
Knife W+1 Y+1
Counter Cutting Board W+1
Butter Y Wrapper T +1
Butter Dish N
Pan W+1 Y+1
Spoon W+1 Y+1
Stove W+1
Totals T 2, W 5 4 2

There’s 13 items there. I’ve eliminated 3 things to clean or put away by using all the onion and butter and eliminating the scrap dish.

sauteed onion

(image via google images)

The real self-cleaning part of this is that then I use 1 spoon to get sauteed onions for about two weeks’ worth of cooking. And THAT certainly makes it worth doing!

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Sautéed onions Part Y+1
Spoon W+1 Y+1
Totals W 1 2

I wonder what else I can cook in bulk, part way, so that I can do it ONCE for many meals?

The first thing I thought of was preparing lettuce, but that really won’t work, because cleaned lettuces turn brown and rot faster. (How many years did I work in a cafeteria? Too many!)

More thought required . . . .


One last chart, what’s probably the baseline.

Using part of an ingredient creates more clean up and steps than using all of an ingredient, not too surprising! I don’t think that I’d add a stick of butter to a recipe asking for 1 tablespoon because of this, but I might add a little more?

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Cooking Tool or Utensil W+1 Y+1
Cooking Area W+1
Ingredient  100% Possible T+1
Ingredient pkg? 100% Possible R or T +1
Ingredient Part Possible T+1 Y+1 possible +1

The items which consistently make the most work are the cooking tools & utensils, which both need to be washed and put away. Cooking areas just have to be cleaned after use. Food I’ve dealt with above. So I suppose the next step is to figure out how I can use fewer tools: reuse more tools or eliminate them? That will take more thinking too.


I haven’t gotten into serving tools, etc. because my goal is to eliminate most of the prep clean up after a meal, not necessarily the serving or eating dishes.

 

More About Self-Cleaning Cooking

Also available on the self-cleaning cooking page, see the menu, above, for a link to the page, all of these posts are there!

I have been working on this, it’s complicated!

There are these considerations:

  • Food storage: put away, recycled, or washed afterwards

There’s not much to be done about food storage. Food comes in whatever packaging or storage it does. You can repackage carrots say to share storage with parsnips, but that doesn’t change the requirement to take the food from storage and manipulate it for your recipe and return the unused portion or clean the storage item or deal with it somehow. Eliminating ingredients doesn’t change this requirement. Buying prefab possibly can, buying Bisquick instead of making pancake batter from scratch can reduce the packaging used: one box of Bisquick, instead of three: baking powder, salt, and flour.

  • Cooking tools used: washed afterwards

Eliminating or cutting down cooking tools is easier. You can decide to not use a peeler and use the knife you’ve already used to top/tail the carrots, as an example.

The easiest for me to eliminate is the tablespoon measure, it’s 3 teaspoons and I have no problem figuring that out. I sometimes look at the recipe and determine the measures required, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon. say.  Then I use, deliberately, only the smallest measure for all of them.

I will use one graduated cup measure throughout the recipe instead of using a cup measure, a 1/4 cup measure, etc. Or, I’ll use the 1/4C measure, like above. If it’s sane, I’ll measure the dry ingredients first, then the wet ones. (It’s easy to undo whatever item savings you may have doing this, because you need places to store the chopped onions, etc. for later!)

There’s a point at which this is totally counterproductive and I try and take that into consideration too!

  • Areas messed: washed afterwards

This isn’t as easy to do something about. Even when you reuse an area, a chopping board say, you still should clean it between uses. And, of course, it will need to be cleaned afterwards. You can limit the number of areas used by reusing them, but the quantity of cleaning required is harder, if not impossible, to reduce.

  • Serving tools/utensils used: washed afterwards

There are some obvious ideas, you can use dinner plates, etc. and serve everything together, instead of serving everything in separate dishes. Again, there are limits.


Trying to find ways to do this, I found this article at Bon Appetit. Here’s my comments about the article:

  • Her first idea is to use oven to table pots, instead of using pots & serving dishes.

My take is: Instead of serving items in the pot you cook it, how about plating food in the kitchen? Then the pot doesn’t need to be oven to table ready. If you have a big family or do lots of complicated cooking, this probably won’t work, but there’s two of us. I rarely use “serving” dishes. I sold all my platters because of this. I just don’t do that kind of cooking. When I take food to neighbors, etc. I use baskets, jars, etc. — no serving dishes.

  • Her second idea is to stop using multiple knives for everything, but to use one good knife instead.

My problem with this is that you increase the amount of dish washing mid-recipe, between cutting chicken and onions, say. That said? I set up a loaf pan with soapy water and put used utensils in it as I go. I try and wash them before the meal is served, to save the knives’ wood handles.

  • Number 3 is to get your timing down so as to make the best use of it.

Absolutely!

  • The fourth item on that list is an addition to 3, that is, clean whatever you can in the short down times between steps.

Again, I agree! You’d be surprised how many dishes you can wash while the micro is reheating your coffee for 1 minute!

  • Don’t use two items when one will do is her fifth idea.

I’ve worked at this for a while now. [I fixed the typo; I’m an editor, right?]

  • Item #6: Rinse and reuse prep tools rather than using new ones.

Also part of #5. In most cases, I’d probably WASH rather than just rinse. It depends on what I’d used it for, when. Rinsing the spoon you used to add the last of the spices to a cooked dish is fine. Only rinsing a spoon used for the initial mixing a dish with raw chicken? Nope.

  • Her last idea is to buy a scale and never use measuring spoons, etc. again.

That’s fine, if all your recipes have weight as well as volume measurements provided. But, many of my recipes don’t.  I’m not really interested in converting 1,000s of recipes so that I know a 1/2 tsp of salt weighs whatever it does. Might be interesting to do for some things. But even the salt won’t work, because you won’t eliminate anything: you need a container to put the salt into, to measure it. If you’re making a curry dish where all the spices are added individually, yeah, sure, use and reuse the same small bowl, but for a beef roast’s gravy?

Even if you use a scale instead of a volume measure, you still haven’t eliminated an item to wash, so like all of these suggestions, I’d take it “with a grain of salt.” [Couldn’t resist that!]


I’m not sure what conclusions this exercise gave me?

stack of dirty pots & pans

( Image isn’t mine, as usual, via images.google.com )

The four areas of mess making (food storage, cooking tools, cooking areas, and serving/eating tools)  was a moment of clarity I hadn’t had before. Unfortunately, the nature of acquiring/storing food, manipulating it for use, and serving it has only so many ways it can be simplified.

More thought required!

Fail

We failed. Well, sort of ?

We got an energy comparison thing from our electric company. We use 94% more power than people with comparable houses do, on average.

I will call them tomorrow, Monday, and ask them about how much that changes when folks work at home. We both work at home.  No commuting, no lunches in restaurants, no driving, no coffee at the coffee shop or other such.

There are a few things we could do, yes. Making sure we turn off lights would help. Turning off the computers when they won’t be used for more than 1 hour would probably also help. Getting a night light for the bathroom instead of leaving a light on at night would help. But aside from that? Most of our lights are LED, and we sleep, cook, eat, work, read, etc. in the same space day in and day out. We have an energy star fridge and washer/dryer. We have an on-demand water heater. [We wash dishes by hand, a dish washer might be more efficient?] We usually heat with wood and a fan, no furnace going day in and day out.

homelectricityuse

The lights, computers, dishwasher I’m sure would help. I think the phantom load we have because of the computers is probably a large part of it, but I’ll never get DH to shut everything off, unless we were starving. Of course, if it is the computers, then it should be fairly “normal” because most people will have that when they leave for work. Our difference, again, is that we work here. DH works regular hours and I work randomly, day or night, 7 days a week.

It will be interesting to see what they say about home office workers, two of us, both in the same house!


I called. I’m not disputing that we’ve used more energy than last year, but the 94% over “comparable” homes in my area seems suspect. We have a log home, which might make a difference as well as the fact that we both work at home.

They’re going to call us back, tomorrow probably. We’ll see what they say!

Car Issues

Well, we bought a new-to-us wagon. Hurrah! And we managed to not go into further debt to do so, double hurrah!

Now, of course, I have TOO many cars. We will dispose of my old one, but it figures, this is me, I solve a problem and end up with excess stuff. A few years back we had 3 dead cars in the driveway, that got dealt with. This will too, and soon.

But that’s my news. I have an assortment of errands I haven’t been able to do which need doing; I’ll be busy today!

Using What You Have & What Works

We have a large lot with a lot of trees. The trees dump a lot of pine cones, acorns and oak leaves on the property. Clean up requires much work, and a large volume of space to gather the leaves, cones, acorns, and compost same or haul them to the town’s leaf  or brush pile.

Because I am on a “clean up” jag, I’ve been working on the yard. I have no panic attack issues (that I know of) with the garden.

We only have 2 plastic trash barrels. They’re too big to go into my car. I have a few smaller metal trash cans, but they too would likely have to be put on their sides, and would probably leak leaves, etc. into my car. The better idea seems to be to bag up the leaves and take them to the dump that way. The leaf paper bags work, but are expensive and wasteful.

Because I’m not all that tall, hauling trash barrels and/or full leaf bags gets to be comic for everyone other than me, as the bags are nearly my size. They’re difficult to deal with, full.

Accordingly, we went looking for easier ways to haul the assorted leaves, twigs, etc.  DH brought home one of these:large concrete tub

It’s a concrete mixing tub. After using it a while, it cracked on the corner, so he bought another. It also cracked on the corner, but both are still usable, so we use them, cracks and all!

Last fall, we bit the bullet and bought a package of reusuable plastic bags. These are also made for construction. They’re called “Demo Bags” and we bought them with the idea that we’d use them over & over, for yard waste. So far that works!

The bags fit over the ends of the tubs. It’s not a loose fit, but it’s do-able.

I can push the contents of the tub right into the bag. This was completely unexpected, and welcome — it makes the job much easier!

The bags are big enough for me, especially with my “iffy” elbow that I don’t fill them, but put 1-3 tubs of leaves in them, about 1/2 the bag’s worth. I can then lift them without a problem.

I have a place to put away the tubs, but don’t have one for the previously used bags, yet. That’s the only glitch about this “system”. I’m using what we already had (the tubs), getting the yard cleaned up fairly efficiently, and I’ve cut down the amount of money spent on single-use supplies.

Definitely a win!

(The used bags are being stored right next to where the tubs are stored when they’re empty. Hurrah!)

 

Stealing From Our Grandmothers

Because I make rugs from old clothes, I’m always looking at the cheapest clothing in thrift shops with the idea that I could maybe use the materials? A few weeks ago, I found a super heavy, dirt brown wool pullover sweater. Ugly color. Not an attractive shape, but it was WOOL and heavy….

One of my rarely used tools is my long-pole feather duster. It upsets me for three reasons.

  1. That although I got it used, it’s made with ostrich feathers. (If it was made of chicken feathers I don’t think I’d mind so much, hypocrite and happy chicken consumer that I am!)
  2. It doesn’t work all that well. It has a telescoping metal handle, which is handy when trying to clean the staircase fan/light. It gets the fan blades cleaner but NOT clean!
  3. It’s a single-use tool. I only use it on the fan, and as I said, it doesn’t work that well….

Accordingly, I hardly use the feather duster. I feel guilty every time I look at it thinking that some bird’s tail feathers (and likely nothing else) were used to make it.

Our grandmothers covered their brooms with cloth, by pinning it on, to make dusters.

When I cut the felted sweater into pieces today, I had the yoke with the neck separate, and thought, “WTF a I going to do with that?” And then it hit me — one arm was flattened out and wrapped around the bottom of my broom. The neck was threaded onto the handle of the broom, and wrapped around the first piece. Fastened with a kilt pin? I now have a “duster” with a thick, recycled wood pad — on the end of a pole.

When I need to use the broom as a broom, I’ll just unpin the yoke, remove the now dirty sleeve for washing and put away the yoke and pin with the other flattened sleeve.

The wool started out dirt colored, so I don’t have to worry that using it will stain it and it will need replacing.

I already had the pin.

The sweater yielded 2 small sheets heavy brown felt, two dusting pads, a method to connect them to my current broom,  and the ability to remove another single-use tool from my life. Whoopee! [The feather duster is in the discard bin.]

The only thing I don’t have? A way to clean the fan, but that’s not new.