Kitchen and cooking tips
Some people really know their way around the kitchen. They can whip up a batch of cookies with ease. They can prepare a seven course meal with little more than a microwave oven and a hot plate. Well, that might be a "slight" exaggeration, but you get the idea. These people are at home in their kitchens.
The kitchen can be a place of comfort and coziness year round. Conversations take place at the table over cups of coffee. Singing and laughter can be heard while meals are prepared and even cleanup is fun. I am one of these people. I have fond memories of my childhood kitchen. Time spent talking and learning from my mom while in the kitchen, were cherished moments. Today, I enjoy cooking and baking and being in the kitchen. I even made a corner of it my home office for a time.
There are people who dread the thought of being in the kitchen for anything more than to grab a snack or a glass of water. It might be that cooking and baking intimidates them or they really don't have an interest in cooking. Maybe they have hectic schedules that do not allow for spending much time in the kitchen.
Whatever the reason, the kitchen is not a cherished room in some people's homes.
The key is knowing where things are and having those things easily accessible. Set dread and frustration aside for now and concentrate on the setup of your kitchen. Are things easy to find? Do you have the basics needed to cook and bake? If you answered no to either (or both) of these questions, then it might be time to reorganize your kitchen.
Cookware and bakeware
I find having my cookware and bakeware in the cabinet next to the stove, to be convenient. For you, it might be having them on a hanging rack on the wall or on shelves next to the fridge. The point is to find what works best for you and your cooking needs. There is nothing worse than having to search high and low for a specific pan in the middle of preparing a meal!
Pots and pans are not the only things that need to be handy. There are all of your cooking utensils, mixing and measuring tools and those extras we all have (knives, cutting board, strainers, etc.). These things need proper placement as well. Unfortunately, many of these items get tossed together in a large drawer. This drawer becomes a nightmare to search through, not to mention a potential risk for cutting your fingers on a hidden sharp object!
In my kitchen, I have all of my frequently used cooking utensils in a large plastic coffee can on the shelf above my cook stove. This way, I do not have to search through drawers when I need something. This may not work for you. You may prefer to have your cooking utensils in a caddy on your counter or hanging on your wall. Again, figure out what is convenient for you and maintain it.
Spices, seasonings and cooking/baking aids are another possible source of frustration. Those things can multiply, especially during holiday cooking! Before you know it, you have twelve different types of flavored extracts, ten different types of candied sprinkles and at least two bottles of cooking oil. Not to mention all of the spices like cinnamon and allspice. Then there are the seasonings like salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc. Baking soda and powder, minced onions...oh the list goes on and on.
These items can become disorganized quickly. Some people end up shoving all of these things into a cabinet and then having to take out everything in order to find what they need. That is a pain in the neck, and a waste of time. I have my spices lined up neatly toward the front of my cook stove shelf. The baking aids are behind the seasonings. Some of you might prefer to use spice racks or caddies. However you choose to organize these items, try to avoid layering or stacking because then you are back to pulling everything out to find what you need.
Gadgets and small appliances
If you look in most kitchens, you are almost guaranteed to find an assortment of gadgets and small appliances. These range from the microwave to a juicer to a can opener. My suggestion is to go through those gadgets and appliances and only keep what you actually use. Those things may seem nice, but how nice are they when they are collecting dust buried under each other?
I admit to being rather simplistic. I do not own an assortment of gadgets and small appliances. I have a microwave, slow cooker, large and small coffee maker and a can opener. That's it, that's all I want. I have those things on the counter next to my cook stove. Except for the small coffee maker, I keep that in the bottom cabinet since it is only used for flavored coffees on special occasions.
Easy cooking tips
Now that you have your kitchen the way you want it, it is time to fix a meal. Why the sighs? We all have to eat. Come on, roll your sleeves up and get ready!
One of the biggest problems some people face is not knowing exactly how to go about cooking or baking foods. Trying to follow some recipes is like trying to read something written in a foreign language. The trick here is to look up "quick and easy" recipes. Most dishes with this type of heading are well written and have step by step instructions.
Another problem some people face is trying to hurry the process by cooking at a higher temperature. Don't do this! There is a high probability that you will end up with food burned to a crisp or burned on the outside and under cooked in the middle. Neither of these scenarios are easily fixed. Always cook and bake at the recipe's recommended temperature and time. A side note: depending on the altitude where you live, you may have to slightly adjust the temperature or cooking times a little bit. Many recipes include this information for user convenience.
Never be afraid to experiment and substitute ingredients for recipes. It has happened to many of us at one time or another: not having all of the right ingredients. The fact is, unless you make a shopping list with all of the ingredients for a specific recipe, you will probably find you are missing at least one. Instead of panicking, find a similar ingredient and move forward. Sometimes, you may find that you like your altered version better than the original!
One of my favorite things to do is make concoctions in my slow cooker. No recipes, no real measurements and no panic. I just take a peek at what I have on hand and wing it. Sometimes it is a great success and I will write down the ingredients. Sometimes it is an epic fail and I am forced to eat something I could use to patch holes in drywall. Either way, it is fun trying to come up with new taste sensations.
The most important tip of all
One of the best things you can learn is how to not panic when faced with having to multitask in the kitchen. A prime example is fixing a holiday meal. There are several different dishes that must be prepared using various cooking methods, times and temperatures. Don't let this intimidate or overwhelm you.
If you allow yourself to panic, mistakes can happen. This happened to me one Thanksgiving and we had the mother of epic fails for a meal. Crunchy, under cooked scalloped potatoes, barely warmed ham, pies that were still baking and it went downhill from there. I learned a valuable lesson that day: plan ahead.
Planning ahead will save you time, frustration and potential embarrassment. Planning ahead means making sure you have all the necessary ingredients for each dish you are going to serve. It also means making as many of the dishes in advance as possible.
For example make your dessert(s), salads, homemade breads and appetizers (deviled eggs, fruit and veggie platters, etc.) a day or two before the meal. This way you have more time and energy on the big day for making things like gravies, potatoes, meats and warm pasta dishes.
Planning ahead can solve many of the time and temperature problems associated with fixing various foods for one meal. You will find yourself less stressed and able to sit down and enjoy the meal instead of flopping down, physically and mentally exhausted.
One thing that can be helpful in the long run is cleaning as you go. There are almost always a stack of bowls, utensils, knives, cutting boards and other items in the sink or on the counters after preparing to cook a meal. While the food is cooking, take a moment to wash these items. This will free up your sinks and counter space as well as give you less of a mess after eating. If you have a dishwasher, completing this little chore is even easier!
If you eat a lot of bread then you might find this useful: save the ends of the loaves. Some people call the ends the "heels". Anyway, the ends can be used in recipes calling for bread crumbs. The ends are not as soft as the rest of the loaf and are well suited for pudding and meatloaf recipes.
One final hint
This may sound silly but try not to cook or bake when you're in a bad mood. In my opinion, bad moods transfer into the foods you are preparing. In my own experiences, cooking when I'm in a bad state of mind or mood leads to mistakes and lousy tasting meals. I have even had guests confirm this theory without them knowing they were doing it. Once when I chopping an onion for a soup, I was angrily chopping and silently fuming when I brought the knife down just right and cut open my finger. Needless to say I did not use the onion. I used minced onion and the soup ended up tasting bad anyway.
Maybe I'm a bit superstitious when it comes to the kitchen and cooking but I believe happy people produce happy food and a pleasant atmosphere.
© 2014 Tammy Cramblett