Saturday, May 24, 2008

Organization is the Key

Think about it: that mix in the box looks appealing because “it’s all in there.” The perception is that it’s easier because the ingredients are all in one place. And this is a fact that actually does make all the difference in the world when it comes to making food the quick and easy way. I think there is also the perception that there is something magical in that box, too. Something that will make everything work just right, with just the right consistency. Who cares how it’s done, we just want it to work.

Some of those things we shouldn’t be eating, others we just don’t need, and most of those things are sitting in your pantry right now. I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I NEVER use a mix. Sometimes it makes sense! I have a packet of coleslaw seasoning in the fridge (I only used a bit of it) right now. This is because the seasonings are some that I very rarely use, and didn’t see spending a fortune to buy when they’d sit until going bad. I made the coleslaw, and then liked the blend so much, though, that I might just add those spices to the rack anyway. It’s a good way to try something for the first time. I can’t think of any other mix that I use right now, but I’m sure there’s something somewhere.

Placing all my ingredients together in one place in the kitchen and organizing it for efficiency was something I had done unwittingly, and mostly it was out of necessity. The kitchen I am working in as I write is probably about 12 x 12. There was very little in the way of natural storage space, so a small “pantry” (really a large cupboard typically found in a garage) was added (Thanks, Dad!).

Most experienced cooks naturally gravitate towards a triangular setup in the kitchen, with everything within reach. Stove, refrigerator, sink, typically. If you don’t have such a setup, try to create one. A kitchen island is wonderful, too. For those of you without one and on a budget, you might need to think outside the box on this one. Revamp an old changing table with paint and some hooks. Remove the front railing and lay down butcher block (or another appropriate salvaged material) for the top. Use anything that will work, but think about easy cleaning (non-porous, or wood are good choices)! Add wheels if space is at a premium, and you can move the island out of the way when you are not cooking. The point is, you want everything within reach. Even a fold-out table would be great for a small space.

These days, kitchens in new homes feature wonderful walk-in pantries. Pantries are terrific with one exception: they are usually nowhere near the cooking area! I guess this happens by default for the most part. Scope out your work space, and try to figure out how to bring your most commonly used items close to where you are working. This includes not only utensils and pots and pans, but common foodstuffs, as well. This is the secondary use for that kitchen island- EVERYTHING should be multifunctional. Your island should work as storage as well as counter space, and offer hooks for hanging more. A magnetic spice rack attached to one end is a great idea.

Another way to streamline your workspace is to have a large bowl or tray, and use it to assemble all your ingredients before you begin to cook. If you’ve ever watched Rachel Ray’s cooking show, you might have noticed the way she does that. Hey, she’s only got 30 minutes, and that’s for real, not just for TV. All the cooking you see happens in a half hour. And you rarely see her use a mix! On other shows, the chef might tip all of his ingredients out of little bowls that are prepared in advance. Well, that guy has a staff of helpers! Until we have staff of our own, let’s ditch those containers, but keep the idea of having things handy, and prepping (chopping, etc.) in advance if you feel so inclined. If you have all your ingredients to hand, you can just gather what you need before starting, and move right along.

I’m telling you, the only stuff you need to make anything you can find in a mix, you can find right in your own cupboard. I promise you’ll be able to make more food with less money, in just as short a time. And that is what this blog is all about. Saving money, and leading a better life with the savings. Who doesn’t need that?

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