“Then, too, I had trouble with cookbooks. As I studied the recipes, I discovered the fateful word meanwhile.
I was supposed to separate eggs, then beat them, meanwhile stirring constantly. I was to melt butter, blend in the flour and gradually add milk. Meanwhile dicing or peeling something, and not forgetting to test the cake in the oven with a clean broom-straw. Meanwhile I was theoretically tossing the salad.
The most important lesson I learned was not to get in a panic when I saw meanwhile staring at me.”
–What Cooks at Stillmeadow, by Gladys Tuber
Stack of cookbooks
How true it is!
Planning and organizing a cooking session is crucial to everything coming out on time and getting everything made.
Whether it is everyday dinner or a special event, forming a few good habits will make cooking so much easier, faster and more organized.
Here are a few tips:
1. Print your recipe or write in your book; keep a notebook handy.
Make notes of what you liked, didn’t like, what you changed or substituted. I write all over my books, all the time. If you don’t write in your books, have a notebook handy to make notes about timing, recipes, ingredients etc.
You’ll need that notebook anyway to make notes about shopping lists, what you have on hand, and creating your game plan or plan of action.
Cheese Soup Recipe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
2. Read your recipe/recipes. Understand what they are asking you to do.
Read the recipe before hand. When something is boiling away on the stove is not the time to realize you were only supposed to add half of something first and the other half later. There are many recipes that list the total measurement but use it in different amounts throughout the recipe.
For example, 3/4 cup sugar is listed in the cookie recipe but the method says to cream only 1/2 cup sugar, reserving the remaining 1/4 cup for rolling the dough balls in before baking. BIG difference if you add all the sugar with the creaming. Your resulting cookies would spread and not be very nice looking.
3. Gather all the ingredients before you start cooking.
Separate according to recipes if making several things at once, as you typically do for dinner.
Backzutaten zu Pfannkuchen (Crepe), Kochbuch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Keep all proteins separate and cold for food safety. Be aware of cross contamination. Follow good food storage habits, this post gives you some guidelines for food safety in the home.
The 9 Golden Rules of Food Safety (Photo credit: Czarina Alegre)
4. Make note of all the tools and utensils and ingredients you will need.
Make a note of any tools you don’t have. Put those on your wish list somewhere. Cooking is such fun when you can play with all the nifty toys. I love Micro-planes and colorful silicone spatulas and, to Robert’s dismay, I pick up dish towels nearly everywhere I go.
Of course there are the “good” dish towels and there are those you can use to wipe the floor or stove down with. Heavens, you wouldn’t use a “good” towel for that would you?! Gasp!
Note any ingredients you need, are running low on or how much you have. This way, on your next grocery run, you can replace anything that gets used up.
5. Read all you recipes side by side to determine how long each recipe takes to make.
Recipes (Photo credit: pirate johnny)
Make notes of cooking times, what takes the longest? Remember to include warm up times. Like pre-heat the oven, boil the water for pasta which can take 15 minutes or so depending upon where you live and how cold your water is to start.
Start with the item that takes the longest to prepare and the longest to cook. Prepare your prep list starting with the longest timed item, to the least amount of time.
Keep in mind some processes may take some time such as peeling and seeding 10 pounds of tomatoes. See if you can evaluate your skills for an accurate timing estimate for your game plan.
6. If you’re not sure of How to do something, look it up on You Tube.
Want to make hollandaise? French Macarons? Fresh butter? Not quite sure how to cut Julienne carrots? How do I feed sourdough?
There are videos that show you how. Look them up and watch! Then practice. Some of these videos are like having a private tutor. Some are downright awful. But this is a good way to see how something is done rather than waiting to take a class.
7. Write down your game plan and follow it.
“Plan you work; work your plan” is what I tell students in class when they have multiple tasks to accomplish within a tight time frame.
8. Keep a list of the fresh food in your kitchen so it gets used on a timely basis.
I hate throwing food out that has gone bad from not being used. Now I keep lists of what is in the fridge, freezer, and pantry shelves.
I put up a lot of things like tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, pickles, jams, salsa and chutney for fall, winter and spring use. Keeps me busy in the summer, but at least the freshness of the season is captured and I know what is in the processed foods we eat. I try my hardest not to buy processed foods anymore.
I use an excel spread sheet to manage the flow of the canned goods. This way, when they are gone and next year rolls around, I can see what we used up first and how much we used. It helps to plan the next years production. I’m quite geeky like that.
9. Use Timers!
Like measuring cups, you can’t have too many. Time things to help keep you on track and to remind you so nothing gets burned. There are so many fun kitchen timers out there, but your smart phone has a timer too.
English: An electronic egg timer to time eggs for soft, medium and hard cooking. The timer plays a short tune at each stage of the cooking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’ve got this retro one from France that has two timers on it so I can keep track of the bread in the oven and the rice simmering on the stove.
There are even ones that play tunes like the egg timer in the photo.
Timers are a great way to add some whimsy to your kitchen. I love whimsy!
10. Enlist help and have fun!
Get people involved, if they are eating at the table, they should be willing to give a helping hand somewhere. Setting the table, lighting candles, cutting flowers, choosing music, tossing a salad, bringing dishes to the table, pouring refreshing beverages, there are many tasks people can help with. All you need to do is ask.
I’ve asked Robert to help making salads while I handle the rest of the meal. Turns out he makes GREAT salads! I enjoy having him in the kitchen. Not quite sure how much he enjoys it, but judging from his salads, he does.
Kids will eat more if they have a had in helping prepare the food. Cleaning up without fuss? Not so much.
SO there you have a few of my tips for becoming more organized in the kitchen and how to address the meanwhile without panic.
Cooking is fun!
What tips do you have for organizing your cooking and kitchen?
What issues do you have while cooking; what is your greatest challenge?