Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How I Create My Own Kitchen Convenience

There are so many other things to do in this world, and some of them far more interesting than domestic drudgery. Here’s how I avoid a lot of the dinner drudgery:

• Be Prepared
I prepare for meals well in advance by cooking and freezing meal components in dual serving-sized portions (since there’s only two of us here). I also prepare to defrost the night before (meaning when dinner is done, tomorrow’s frozen components go into the fridge tonight).

• Choose Freezer-Friendly Meal Components
I freeze meats, rice, potatoes (more on this later), and frozen veggies in zippy bags and plastic containers two portions at a time. A meal gathering from the freezer would consist of a meat bag, a veggie box, and a starch box. All go from the freezer to the fridge after tonight’s dinner for tomorrow’s dinner. I refer to the Food Guide Pyramid for portion sizes when determining the amount of food product to be frozen.

• Pre-prepare Accompanying Elements
I am referring to salads here—I go to a farmer’s market or health food store for my organic produce, spend an hour or so cutting up the greens and veggies, and put them in two separate large-size plastic containers. When I needed a salad, I could just reach into the fridge, grab the containers, grab a (clean) handful or two from each container, toss them in a large mixing bowl, stir up, and my salad is made. The salad components lasted about a week when put in fridge containers with a paper towel on top of the greens or veggies, lid applied, then flipped upside down. Water is the enemy of greens, and the paper towel absorbs most of it—I change the towel out every day.

The toaster oven has a timer, and operates quite well with little supervision—no more standing over a hot skillet. The defrosted grains and veggies go into the same pot (or microwave dish) for re-heating, saving time, energy, and dirty dishes. A veggie-cutting mandolin found in a thrift store (I found two with all the parts) is employed for the veggie portion of my salad preparation forays. I found my salad greens useful on taco night.

• Streamline the pantry
I have certain food allergies, separate from my husband’s allergies, dislikes, and individual health concerns. Employing the “what’s good for the goose…” method, I, too, include low-sodium, low carb, and low sugar items into my own food choices, creating a common denominator of foods we can both eat—no more separate special items for either of us.

• Minimize food losses
Buy what you eat, and eat what you buy. Have a plan for any leftovers. If food goes bad in the fridge, you bought too much.

• Make food really count for nutrition
By deleting the foods that were causing our health to be somewhat less than excellent, the shopping list is greatly shortened, space is regained in the pantry cupboards and freezer, and far less money is spent on food than before, even though no coupons or other “cheap food tricks” are employed. Focusing on foods that really count does more for me than all the things I used to do trying to save money on inferior foods in the past—now we eat grass-fed meats, true wild salmon in season (summer months), fresh organic “rainbow” fruits and vegetables in season, drink tea and water, and that’s it. Nothing on this earth says we have to eat grains, nuts, or dairy products, but they are good sources of cheap proteins.

My supplement bill went way down as a side effect of this food change. Budget-wise, we really did manage to come out ahead in spite of the initial impression of spending more for higher-quality foods. Each item costs more, but fewer items are bought, and these foods do more for your health, life, and budget than all the rest—less is more yet again.

So-called “bargain food” is a bargain for a reason: more food for your money usually means lower quality in the end, and is more marketing campaign than actual nutrition. You are what you eat, and you get what you pay for—these phrases have never been truer than with pre-manufactured and Big Farm foods We are being led to the Big Farm-to-Big Pharma slaughter with these so-called “bargain foods.”

• Notes
Pasta is not a freezer-friendly component, unless it is only cooked al dente before freezing. Cheese sauce is the only freezer-friendly sauce I know of.

Pasta can also be "thermo-cooked", meaning the heat doesn't have to be on under the pot the entire cooking time--once the water boils, turn the burner off, put your pasta in, put the lid on, and wait. The hot water does the cooking. About 10 minutes later, you have soft pasta--test before draining.

Alternate method: heat water in a tea kettle, then dump water into a pan with pasta already in it. Add lid, and wait until soft.

Make your own frozen veggies: buy (or pick) whatever's in season or on sale that's freezable, line a baking sheet with waxed paper, spread your fruits/veggies out on it in a single layer, then freeze overnight. The next day, remove from freezer and subdivide into 1/2 c. servings (enough for the family), put into freezer storage containers or bags, then refreeze.

What to freeze: if you've seen it in the stores, you can make your own version.

• How I Froze Those Potatoes
I found some freezer containers that were big enough to hold potatoes plus enough liquid to completely cover so the potatoes are submerged. Either whole or cut up, I put the potatoes in the container(s), cover with a flavored liquid such as broth (salted water will do) until completely submerged, and froze. Any part of the potato that wasn’t submerged in the liquid turned black.

When ready to use, I simply defrost and dump into a pot. My cooking liquid is whatever the potato has been freezing in. This is why I recommend a flavored liquid such as broth. I will admit I haven’t tried these potatoes baked, as I figure the liquid in the potatoes would only add to the already long cooking time for baked potatoes.

UPDATE: Instead of buying meat in bulk and freezing, consider canning meat instead. By canning meat instead of freezing it, you no longer have to worry about losing meat from power outages, and always have nearly-ready-to-go meals with no thawing and no freezer burn worries. This also serves to cut your energy usage by pulling the plug on the freezer, or at least downsizing your freezer needs. Canned meat makes an excellent addition to emergency supplies--YOU get to control the sodium content in this food!

The convenience lies in never having to buy another zippy bag again for meat, never having to worry about thawing, no more waste from freezer burn, and getting to use reusable glass jars and metal lids. The canned meat is either packed raw or partially cooked, cutting down on prep time.

The only thing I used my big oven for was meat loaves and turkey, and now I make meat loaves and cook turkey parts with the toaster oven. I don’t peel anything except broccoli stalks, and my freezer holds a large bag of ice because I live in hurricane country and want to be prepared for the worst (I’m working on weaning myself away from this). Since adapting to new life parameters, I’ve really shrunk down our “food footprint” so to speak—fewer foods, less money spent on them in total, even less hidden sickness than before (cholesterol level, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc.), less cupboard and freezer space tied up with marginal foods, less time spent trying to decipher nutrition “warning” labels, even less prep and cook time, less storage prep time, fewer food storage contraptions, fewer pots and pans to deal with it all (and the storage of those too), and far fewer dirty dishes to contend with. The electric company keeps asking me what my secret is for such a low energy bill, and I keep telling them: fluorescent bulbs, car windshield shades in sunny windows, a toaster oven, and most important of all: off-peak usage.

Me slave away in the kitchen for meals? Not on your life! It’s meat in the toaster oven, higher-antioxidant salad components mixed and in the fridge, and the 5:00 news on TV while I wait for the *bing!* Then I do it all again for breakfast, lunch (if hunger strikes), and dinner the following days. Hubby takes “pre-leftovers” for lunch at work as before (I pack his lunch using some of what we’re having for dinner).


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