Simply in Season

News and reflections on all that's good about local food
from the co-author of Simply in Season,
a World Community Cookbook in the spirit of More-with-Less

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Saving time and stress in the kitchen

On Saturday I attended the second annual Creation Celebration: a local ecumenical and interfaith event which invited the community to focus on environmental issues.

One workshop centered on sustainable living, and our leader from the Oregon State University Extension Service distributed handy little “UnShopping Cards” with the suggestion of keeping one next to your credit card. Before you make a purchase, the UnShopping Card asks:

Do I really need this?
Is it overpackaged?
How long will it last?
If it breaks, can it be fixed?
How will I dispose of it?
What is its environmental cost?
Is it a fair trade product?
Is it made of recycled or renewable materials?
Is it recyclable or biodegradable?
Could I borrow, rent or buy it used?
Is it worth the time I worked to pay for it?

The leader listed three primary things that get in the way to living sustainably: the time crunch, a disconnection between the spiritual and natural worlds, and materialism.

Certainly in our culture time is one of our main considerations regarding our food choices. Moving toward whole foods (rather than processed and prepackaged foods) and slow foods (such as brown rice which takes an hour to cook) may need to happen gradually. But that’s the great thing about food choices: we make them at least three times a day. We can move toward better ways of living bit by bit.

I tend to shy away from convenience foods, most of which are overpackaged (and thus with a high impact on the environment) and not so great nutritionally. But I have no qualms about trying to save time in the kitchen when I can.

The point for me is often about reducing cooking frustration and making this time as enjoyable as possible. You know the scenario: There’s no time to cook but it’s almost time to eat. You have no idea what to make. The first three dishes that come to your mind are an impossibility because you’re missing key ingredients.

How much better to help yourself out. Here’s just a starters list:


1. Keep in your freezer bags of chopped garlic, ginger root, onions, green peppers and hot peppers. You can mince a bunch of any of these when you have time (and when they’re in season), or use a food processor for things like the garlic, hot peppers or onions. Then you can just pull out a spoonful of garlic and a cup of onion or whatever at a time as you need it, throw it right into the sauté pan, and you’re on your way.

2. Make your own do-ahead mixes. Simply in Season and More-with-Less have some good recipes for things like cookie mix or baking mix, but there are many other possibilities. For example, if I’m making cornbread, while I’ve got the ingredients out I measure out two or more sets of the dry ingredients, one batch at a time. I put the extra set(s) in their own containers, labeled, and then next time I make cornbread, all I need to do is stir in the wet ingredients and throw it in the oven. Recently I was making Dilly Bean Potato Soup (page 237), which uses several shredded vegetables. While I had my food processor out I shredded extra carrots and celery, sauted them, then put them in a freezer container with the correct amount of cooked beans. The potatoes wouldn’t freeze so well, but next time I want to make this soup, all I need to do is cook the potatoes and add my reserved ingredients with yogurt.

3. Plan menus. This is always the tough one and it takes discipline, but it’s the best way to reduce kitchen frustration. The last thing you want to be doing at the last minute is frantically paging through your recipe box and there are various tools and routines that can help. Some folks keep a list of meal ideas for easy reference. Some make a weekly routine: Monday is soup day, Tuesday is pizza, Wednesday is pasta, etc. It helps to keep cupboards and freezer stocked with basic staples. Keep a shopping list.

4. Invest in decent kitchen tools. Don’t get me wrong -- I’m the last person to say that you need the fanciest equipment -- but I’ve concluded there are a few things worth the investment. What those are will vary from person to person: here are two of mine. A few years ago I was hosting some especially observant guests who noticed me struggling with a cheap can opener. They thoughtfully left what has got to be the best hostess gift I’ve ever received: a high quality manual can opener. It doesn’t take a lot of space but works like a charm. I think of these friends every time I use it. More recently I found at a garage sale one of these top quality vegetable peelers. When I use it now I don’t know why I put up with cheaper ones so many years.

5. Move tools you don’t use out of the way. This is ridiculously simple, I know, but kitchen cluttter can be a major factor in kitchen stress. In my kitchen I have one drawer for utensils I use often (spatula, pancake turner, wooden spoon, measuring spoons in their own section) and another for utensils used only occasionally (potato masher, pasta server, ladle). It greatly reduces the amount of time I spend rummaging through drawers.

What are some of YOUR favorite ways to save time in the kitchen?

* * *

The Simply in Season recipe of the week, Frosted Persimmon Cookies, uses soft-ripe persimmons. The firm-ripe variety is like a cross between an apple and a pear. I was at a dinner Sunday that served firm-ripe persimmon matchsticks with fresh arugula and a lightly sweet vinaigrette, and it was marvelous. A similar dressing would be Simply in Season’s Two-Seed Dressing from page 46. Sliced persimmons also would be delicious in the Green Salad with Autumn Fruit (page 190), which includes a bit of shredded cheese (on a festive occasion I prefer Gouda), dried cranberries, and toasted nuts.

(Recipe changes weekly. To get on our recipe e-mail list, go to the SIS website and click on "Register.")

Another seasonal fruit discovery: Hardy kiwi fruit are the most fun thing to eat since the grape. They’re about the size and shape of a large grape, but under the smooth skin (which is fine to eat) is the sweet taste of the larger, more familiar kiwi fruit. They’d be a real treat in your lunch box. Look for them in your farmers’ market!


At 7:21 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Hello Cathleen

If you ever find any recipes for hardy kiwi (such as a jam), please post them. I have a mountain of these every fall, and I haven't figured out what to do with them yet (you just can't eat 200 kiwis!). Thanks.


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