Hi everyone! Today is the first of many posts with simple tips and tricks you can start doing in your kitchen today, all with the goal of helping you shop, prep, cook and create delicious meals every day of the week. It always surprises me when I ask people how many times a week they cook from scratch at home and the number is so low. When I dig under the surface a bit and find out why, it is rarely the case that people don’t enjoy good home-cooked meals, or even that the person dislikes cooking. The truth behind most households whose ovens are used to store old shoes, is that people feel overwhelmed when they have to cook day in and day out. The truth is that before I came up with ‘systems’ for my kitchen and cooking (long before I went vegan), I too had to spend a long time in the kitchen and many times preferred to open the takeout menu drawer instead of the fridge. Depending on the recipe, following one can also seem overwhelming when you don’t spend time in your kitchen and know exactly where everything is, or have tips for time management and getting organized.
Here’s the thing, no matter how many delicious and wonderful processed and packaged food items there are out there, we all need to get back in the kitchen and cook real food. You know me, by real food I mean cooking your favorites based on whole plant foods, but this post isn’t only for vegans. One of the biggest fears people have regarding switching to a plant-based diet is the idea that you have to step back into the kitchen, and not only come inside, but camp out, move in and say bye-bye to your precious personal time. Whether you’re vegan or just dabbling the toes in the veggie broth, this post and the ones to come are for you. Soon you’ll be entering your kitchen sans bodyguard, and cooking up a storm. Hopefully a storm made up of whole plant foods!
Here’s a little disclaimer. I don’t have a fancy kitchen with fancy equipment. In fact, my kitchen is very small! I only have a tiny bit of counter space (about the size of a large cutting board) between my kitchen sink and the stove, and a little wooden table on wheels that I move around when I need extra space. That’s it! My husband did pimp it out however, with one of my favorite additions to my kitchen, a little TV-DVD combo on a shelf, because I love watching old films while I cook. By old I don’t mean black and white, I mean mostly 80s movies, the best kind around. No excuses my friends… If you have a stove, an oven, a cutting board and a knife, you can do some pretty cool vegan home cookin’. The tips below are in no particular order, and they are just the first 5 of many more to come. Did you leave the excuses at the door? Ok! Let’s do this thing!
Tip number 1: Have a recipe system that works for you
Different systems work for different people, but if you’ve struggled with adding variety into your diet and adding more dishes to your menus, you need a recipe system. My cooking went from good to wazoo when I finally discovered what the best one was for me. If you’ve resisted having a recipe storage system until now thinking you’ll remember what to make, you’ve been a silly rabbit. I only know this as a former silly rabbit myself! What you include in your system need not be perfect recipes with quantities and detailed directions, it could simply be the mention of a dish you love, but never remember to make. After trying every system on the planet, and I mean EVERY SYSTEM ON THE PLANET, I arrived at the one my mamma had when I was growing up (yeah I know… the irony!): recipe cards. One day I found the beautiful painted wooden box you see in the photo, and I asked my husband to scale a recipe card that would fit inside based on one I found online (he’s very techie and wonderful). The result was the perfect recipe system, which I wouldn’t change for the world. I always have empty recipe cards in the bottom of the pile and can quickly scribble down a recipe or idea. I include my own recipes, as well as my favorites from the extensive recipe book collection I inherited from my mom. When I’m cooking I set the box next to me with the recipe I’m using on the top.
As I said before, to each his own! If recipe cards aren’t for you, try:
– Recipe binders where you can easily add pages and cutouts.
– Computer or tablet apps or other recipe software.
– A lovely handwritten notebook (my mother in-law’s system).
– A photo ‘idea book’ with simple visual clues for cooking without an actual recipe.
– Scanning your recipes and keeping them as easy to find pdfs on your computer.
– Organize your photos, ideas and recipes in a journal app or as a password protected blog that only you can see (or share the password with family and friends and have everyone add a recipe!).
– Have a ‘tried and true’ recipe pinboard on Pinterest, as well as a ‘must try soon’ pinboard, and only pin what you really make frequently.
– If recipe cards are your thing, find some cool ones here, google printable recipe cards, or simply write them on file cards or colored card stock!
Tip number 2: Shop at farmer’s markets and use the ‘first one in first one out’ system when you come home with the groceries
You already know how I feel about farmer’s markets. They are my home away from home and it’s where I do most of my shopping, every single Saturday. You can follow our farmer’s market shopping tips here, but today I want to not only remind you that these markets are like pumpkin soup for the soul, but that you need a system for when you get back home with all those goodies in tow. It’s what I call my ‘first one in, first one out‘ method:
– As soon as you get home with your farmer’s market goodies, open your fridge.
– Take out anything that is occupying a ton of space (hello, half a tomato in a giant tupperware!), and head to your produce drawer (or drawer and most of the shelves in my case!).
– Take out any leftover veggies you have from your previous shopping trip and place them on the counter.
– Now put away your newly bought veggies. If you can, place the same kind of veggies in the same place every time so you’ll always know where to find what you’re looking for. I know I can always find broccoli in the bottom shelf towards the back and to the left (even if I can’t see it), and green onions and romaine lettuce in the right towards the back. Don’t go OCD on me, just ball-park it.
– Finally, place your leftover veggies (the ones you had placed on the counter) in the fridge last, meaning right where you can see them. I know you want to dig into the shiny new ones, but a liquified half empty bag of spinach found three weeks later isn’t doing anybody any good. Make a salad or a soup and toss those veggies in. Yay for no waste!
Tip number 3: Keep a scrap bowl near your cutting board
The best and oldest trick in the book. Make it a habit to always place an empty bowl next to your cutting board for tossing in scraps, peels, seeds, and even plastic wraps and containers as you cook. You’ll keep your work area clean and organized which will make cooking so much fun. Then one trip to the trash at the end, and you’ll always have a clean work station, top chef style.
Tip number 4: Buy a simple knife sharpener that doesn’t scare you!
I don’t know about you, but that stick you have to rub a knife up and down on in the air, scares the chickpeas out of me! Clumsy Kim with butter-y hands yielding a knife in the air? I think not! Guess what, there are super cheap and easy to use sharpeners in the market nowadays, and you don’t even have to go near the blade. Keep it handy so you can sharpen your knives before you start chopping (yup! do it every time you’re going to cook… it takes 2 seconds so no whining!). A sharp knife will make you keep coming back to chop and cook some more. I bought mine in IKEA for 5 euros, and it’s the best! Ideally, sharpen your knives professionally once a year too, but this little gadget is like magic the rest of the time.
Tip number 5: Organize your whole grains for maximum variety
Vegans and non vegans alike need variety in their diets. Variety allows your body to absorb maximum nutrients from different foods. Roses are red and violets are blue, beets are purple and carrots… you get the gist. Color, texture, shape and flavor means not only different dishes, but different antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients. When it comes to grains, I have a system that really inspires me to cook a different batch of whole grains every two or three days. It also makes everyone stare at my lovely shelves looking at the yummy rarities I keep finding. I have them out in the open for everyone (especially me!) to see.
They are also the home of my non-commercial cereals, which I use almost daily to make my morning cereal mix (more on this in our Vegan Bowl Bonanza post!).
Buy some pretty mason jars, make some labels and fall in love with whole grains.
I hope you enjoyed the tips featured today, and remember to get back in the kitchen! It’s a lovely and magical place, once you tell the kitchen monsters to go away: you’re running things now!