Category Archives: Food

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.

 

Self-Cleaning Cooking. Is It Possible?

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’m beginning to think this is a pipe dream.

Even something as basic as sauteeing 1/2 an onion gets involved:

  1. Storage it came from +1 locale
  2. Cutting board +1 thing to wash
  3. Knife + 1 thing to wash
  4. Storage for remaining onion +1 locale
  5. Pan  +1 to wash
  6. Cooking tool +1 to wash
  7. Butter storage +1 locale
  8. Butter knife +1 to wash
  9. Stove to cook it on +1 locale

Potentially there 4 areas (onion storage, unused onion storage, butter storage, stove) which could need to be cleaned, 2 food remainders to deal with (the other 1/2 the onion and the rest of the butter which also might need additional packaging), and 5 items to clean (cutting board, knife, pan, cooking tool, butter knife).

From a TWO INGREDIENT cooking task, there’s potentially 11 items or locations to deal with! No wonder the kitchen is always trashed after cooking a meal!!!

My only “hope” is that if I do my 5:1 item swap, this would involve cleaning or putting away 20 items.

Honestly? I wouldn’t have expected this kind of ratio, that it takes about 5 areas or cooking tools to deal with a single ingredient.

I’m sure this doesn’t hold true through a complex recipe, (You would use the same knife to chop things, for example.)

I tried to do a count like this for the simple recipe I made for dinner last night, 8 ingredients. It kept getting longer, more complicated and then I’d see something I’d missed, and it got longer and more complex. After 3 drafts, I decided to do the simplest recipe I could think of. This one.

There are variables:

  • Was the tool already in use and re-used without washing? Certainly this could be true for the stove, cutting board,  & knife, if not the bread board, butter dish and butter knife.
  • Is the potential cleaning something done as a part of the kitchen’s clean up, rather than because of this recipe? Possibly so for the onion’s original storage locale or the storage for the 1/2 an onion, although maybe not for the storage it is put into?

I am working on a way to chart this stuff so it’s easier. In the meantime, I have relaxed. I am overwhelmed for a good reason, this is confusing as all get out and much more complicated than I ever would have figured!

stack of dirty pots & pans

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!

What DH Said

“…so the onslaught begins!”

True enough. Yesterday was the first day of farm food: 2 kinds of lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes, and the only herb I took was tarragon.

By comparison with the remainder of the summer, this is nothing. I always do the week’s shopping the same day, on the way home as the cheapest market is right on the way. So, I come home with a car load.

I have: stuffed some of the larger TARRAGON into a bottle of champagne vinegar I bought for that. It’s my favorite vinegar flavor combo, and I sure can’t afford to buy it premade. I’m always looking for champagne vinegar on sale because of this. I’d used up what I had, so was delighted when I found some in Feb. There’s a bunch of TARRAGON hanging up to dry. There’s the odd bits & pieces in the oven dehydrating, to refill the spice jar.

The RADISH greens have been washed and are drying in the oven. Will be added to the mixed “peppy” greens. I do a jar of peppy and savory greens every year. Add them to soups, salads, etc.

Most of one bunch  of ARUGULA was used in a chicken sandwich, my dinner last night. (DH made himself something while I was gone.) The rest of the bunch was dried and added to the peppy greens jar.

So, it’s been not quite 12 hours, I’ve used greens on a sandwich, put bagged herbs up to dry, dried herbs and greens in the oven to add to the back stock, and added herbs to vinegar for flavoring. The tarragon and radish greens have all been accounted for. Half the arugula has been used.

lettuces

I have a week to use up the spinach, lettuces, and radishes.


A week later. I have used up all of the spinach, some of the lettuces and radishes. I need to go start dehydrating. That would take care of a lot of this!

All of the remaining greens, except the lettuces, are washed, stemmed, and ready to dehydrate. The first batch is in the dehydrator. Will be out soon, greens dry quickly! We’re having salad for lunch, and that should take care of all but perhaps a very small amount of last week’s share. NO leftovers!

 

 

Making Dinner, Meal Planning, Clean as you Go Cooking,Cookbooks & Other Fantasies

I haven’t been “Mrs. Domestic” for the past few weeks, yes? When I am, I know what dinner will be by around noon most days. Today? At 5:00 I asked DH if he was getting hungry? His answer was “Yes.” so I had to figure something out.

My friend Linda came by to loan me a book earlier today, Yes, that Linda, the one who reads and comments here a lot. We had tea, but my kitchen was a disaster.

DH & I were working on other things last night, our regular Monday routine’s been blown, and I just didn’t feel like doing anything after I put the food away yesterday.

I washed a load of dishes when I got up this morning, but there was still a backlog which needed to be dealt with.

Into this chaos comes Linda. Do I think she thought less of me? No. But long-run, I had an experience I rarely have, I was embarrassed after she left. Three loads of dishes later, I had to make dinner.

So, at 5:00 p.m., I’m thinking: Hm. Nothing planned. Nothing thawed. No prefab food. What will I make?

Ended up thawing 1 lb of chicken thighs, oven fried them, same way I do to make lemon fried chicken, without the lemon sauce. Cooked sweet potatoes with onion, ginger, and dried, sweet cranberries. Added chopped pecans and bacon bits (from the freezer) just before we ate. DH made peas. It was yummy! We’ll have the left overs tomorrow for lunch or dinner.

Tell me again why I need menu planning?

Was this frugal? Probably not. Maybe I need menu planning  so I can cook frugally?

At this point, the only reason I’d really consider taking the time and effort would be if menu planning meant I could finish dinner and have little or no mess to deal with from the prep. The only way I know to do that consistently is to use prefab foods, and I won’t.

Menu planning is pushed as a way to plan your grocery shopping. I have certain items I stock my kitchen/pantry with and cook from what I have. I rarely use recipes, except as guide lines. [I looked at the oven fried chicken recipe for how much oil it specified and used less. I looked up a Morrocan recipe for sweet potato salad for how many raisins, sweet potatoes, onion, and ginger they used. Used the same amount of sweet potatoes and dried cranberries, the quantity of water to soak the berries in and how long. Otherwise? Nope.]

I suppose cooking (or trying to) since about 1967 when I took Home Ec, that the meals I’ve made good and bad have given me a certain expertise. I’m not a pro by any stretch, but after 50 years I guess I can wing it successfully (sometimes).

So, if someone has a book where the meal planning = a nearly clean kitchen when the food is served? Please let me know! I would sure love to have it! I bought a Irma Rombauer book thinking that’s what it was. This one:

Streamlined Cooking, published in 1939. I went to a lot of trouble to acquire a copy. I thought my troubles were over! But neither the listing where I’d first found out about it nor the book dealer who sold it to me used the full title:

Streamlined Cooking: new and delightful recipes for canned, packaged and frosted foods and rapid recipes for fresh foods 

I’m not a fan of many prefab foods, canned, packaged, or frosted. The rapid recipes are all right and I use the book for that. And to remind myself that all the years in the book business do not guarantee that I know wtf I’m doing when I get a used book!

There is another “streamlined cooking” book I may buy at some point, authored by a woman who wrote a book I own, about using a freezer efficiently.

That book has actual techniques in it to help save you time and effort, but it’s also obvious that the book was solicited by the manufacturers of various and sundry kitchen gadgets, or her column (if she had one?) was subsidized by them, as the book has unabashedly about 10 pages of reviewed kitchen gadgets, most of which you can’t find now.  And the book recommends products I’d love to find, but can’t. She recommends a farm which mail ordered bulk frozen sugared fruit, but they don’t exist now. She recommends various packaging materials I can’t find.

I also can’t find a copy of her hints/tips cookbook to look at, first. After the Rombauer experience, I’m loathe to buy this one sight unseen.

The best I’ve found is MegaCooking by Jill Bond, it’s a book for cooking in bulk for the freezer. Wonderful book, has lots of useful ideas about how to save time, energy and money in the kitchen, but not self-cleaning cooking — and that’s what I’m after.

I’ve always loved a good fantasy!

images

The image isn’t mine, but it made me laugh out loud. I got it via Google Images.

Soup!

Okay, we’re sick, both of us. I have these packages of chicken “soup bones” I buy from the co-op we belong to, so I decided to make chicken soup from scratch.

The package was 3 carcasses, cost $1.59/lb for natural chicken, not quite $5, or maybe just $5 when you add in sales tax. The package was 2.91 lbs.

I regret that I put the scale in lbs and oz instead of grams, now. This was much more difficult than it would have been!

However,

  • carcass 1 = 8.25 oz wasted bones
  • carcass 2 = 8.78 oz wasted bones
  • carcass 3 = 8.25 oz wasted bones.
  • I skimmed the broth twice. 1.25 oz and .75 oz or 2 oz scum.

In general you’d think there was 1.5 lbs of bones, right? It actually was 1 lb, 9.28 oz. (These are wet from having been boiled too. I have no idea how much weight was added by the water.)

The usable meat is 6.25 oz. And I’ll have about a gallon of soup when I’m done. The soup cost approx. $5, plus fuel, veggies, and seasoners. A gallon of no salt, natural chicken broth online (without shipping or tax) is $6.98. So, I think that the cost of shipping and the other ingredients mean that mine will be cheaper, because for about the same amount of $ I get broth and nothing else (less shipping) if I buy it mail order say. But you know? I really have no idea. It’s real close, either way.

All that said, there’s no heavy metals (like BPAs) leached into my broth from the can, although I guess they could from the plastic the chicken was wrapped in, if I was stupid enough to heat it in the plastic!

Also, I can season it as I like, not salt free or overly salty, which seem to be the only options with canned broth.

I really don’t know. I haven’t used canned broth for years. I use demiglace, something I first learned about from Williams Sonoma, although who the heck can afford to buy their food there? I sure can’t make soup with something which costs $10-$30 a jar! I use Better Than Bullion, although these days I see other products in my supermarket’s soup aisle, since I like what I use I haven’t tried others. I might –sometime, maybe.

Did you know that soup was possibly the first “fast food?” There was a form of soup made oh long ago by boiling and boiling and boiling soup down to make “pocket soup.” A traveller could take the pocket soup, add it to water and have yummy broth. (Wiki article here.)

I have to go check on the soup. It has chicken, onions, celery, parsnip and carrots in it. I need to add tomato (if we have any) and some chopped greens which will go in not long before it’s served. And, if I could taste anything, I might add some herbs. The house should smell like chicken. DH tells me it does —  I can’t tell!

I will probably add herbs anyway. But cooking without smell and taste is not easy!