I like to keep a clean kitchen, but every few months I just love giving the kitchen a good scrub down and getting everything all freshened up organized. And now that the holidays are upon us, it’s time to get to work.
Kitchen cleaning tips.
Scrub the cast iron. A good cast iron pan will give you a lifetime worth of cooking so give it the TLC it deserves. Pour a good layer of coarse salt on the surface of the pan and a give it a good scrub with a soft sponge. The salt will lift away stuck on food and absorb oil without ruining the seasoning on the pan. If your pan needs another coat of seasoning, it will take better after a salt scrub. And if you’re ready for some new cast iron skillet recipes, we’ve got them right here.
Clean your oven. Self cleaning ovens are a God send. But if you have an old fashioned model, now’s the time to give it a good going over. For a (non-toxic) cleaning solution, make a paste out of water and baking soda. Coat the oven surfaces with that paste (not any heating elements or bare metal) and let that stand overnight. In the morning, put on some rubber gloves and scrub the paste off with a plastic spatula. A wet sponge should take off all remaining residue.
Clean cutting boards. If you use a wooden cutting board, every few weeks give it a good sprinkle of coarse salt and scrub with a sliced lemon. Rinse well with hot water and your board will be nice and fresh.
Clean the fridge. Take everything out of the fridge and wipe all interior surfaces down with some hot, soapy water. As you put everything back, toss out all outdated condiments and items you’re not going to use. Replace the box of baking soda!
Pantry purge. Take everything out and wipe down the shelves. Toss out anything that hasn’t been used and won’t be used. Spices lose their spiciness after a while! Treat yourself to some new staples. A good clean sweep in the pantry will perk it up like nothing else. Ditch the stuff you don’t use and donate it to a food bank if it’s worthy. Get that pantry magazine-photo worthy!
Meal planning. One essential tool that I think every home cook needs is a subscription to Dinner Answers! I swear this will change your life. This is the product that really put Saving Dinner on the map, and once you use our menu planning system you will have a hard time going back to anything else. You get access to our full database of recipes and weekly meal plans with shopping lists! Check it out here!
Do you remember that nursery rhyme about uncooperative Mary? It goes like this:
Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.
I don’t know what a cockle shell is and right now my garden is in need of a cleanup, but my pantry is also looking a little bleak. Let’s not be contrary and really get things cooking, shall we? As we get ready for this next season, we need to get down to brass tacks and start cleaning house… and the pantry for that matter!
How’s your pantry looking? Do you have 5 cans of tuna scattered about the cupboard instead of all stacked up together. Can you find cereal boxes here, there and everywhere? How about your staples, like flour, sugar, baking powder, cornstarch, etc.? Are they grouped together into a baking center or do you have to go on a pantry scavenger hunt to find them all?
Let’s do a little pantry perk-up, shall we? Set your timer for 15 minutes and start getting your dry goods in logical order. Like goes with like. You’ll want a shelf for the canned goods (and put the same thing all together, too). A big basket to hold your bags of dried beans, a smaller basket to hold envelopes of spice blends, mixes, etc. (look around the house, I bet you have what you need), and if you haven’t done it already, big containers (I like big glass jars) for your flour, sugars, oatmeal, etc. Putting dried goods like flour etc. into containers will keep the bugs out!
Getting your pantry together will help you get your meal planning in order, too. Don’t forget to declutter your pantry if necessary. Get rid of the stuff you don’t use (donate it to a food bank if it’s good, usable food) and watch your pantry take shape. I want to challenge you to make a meal out of something in there this week!
Here’s a wonderful easy dinner recipe (from one of our low-carb menus) to get you in the mood for a good pantry routing:
Heat 1/4 cup of the wine (or chicken broth) to boiling in a skillet. Cook chicken in wine, turning once, until brown. Remove chicken and keep warm.
Add garlic, onions, olive oil, Italian seasoning, bell peppers, olives and remaining wine (or broth) to skillet and heat till boiling. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add chicken back to the skillet, reducing heat to medium low. Cook 10 to 15 minutes until chicken is cooked thoroughly.
Per Serving: 212 Calories; 5g Fat; 27g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 66mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 3 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat. Points: 4
LC SERVING SUGGESTION: Serve over cauli-rice alongside sauteed green beans. (To make cauli-rice trim cauliflower and cut into piece small enough to feed through food processor tube. Process cauliflower till it is grainy and resembles rice. Steam ‘rice’, and fluff with a fork.)
SERVING SUGGESTION: Add some brown rice instead of Calui-Rice.
VEGETARIANS: Skip the chicken and opt for a Boca Chikin patty or another veggie patty. Cooking time will be less.
KOSHER: None needed.
Now that your pantry is all perked up, let’s make a meal plan and shopping list and get it stocked up for your week!
New month, new season and it’s time to get back to basics! One of the places where we all need a good look-see on the basics is your spices.
I am going to bet you that some of those spices in your cabinet have lasted longer than some of your marriages! Those old icky spices are about as useful for flavor as grass clippings. Toss ’em!
Fresh dried herbs and spices have become surprisingly inexpensive. Good sources for $1 per jar spices or even 2 for $1 are dollar-type stores (not always, but sometimes), Wal-Mart and drugstores.
Health food stores are also great resources. They sell the spices and herbs in bulk jars. They are a quality product, very fresh and quite inexpensive, and mostly organic, too. To spice up your cooking (and your life, too), you need good ingredients. Inferior ingredients will give you a lackluster product every time.
If you’ve never learned how to use the mountain of spices available, copy this list and stick it to your fridge. This spice primer is guaranteed to get you cooking in a more flavorful way in no time!
Used in stews, soups and great with pot roast. Go easy. Bay leaves are strong, especially California bay leaves, which are the kind most grocery stores stock. I use half a leaf in my stews
Ah, the taste of summer. Who can resist fresh basil and tomatoes from the garden tossed with olive oil and garlic on a plate full of pasta? Dried, it’s wonderful in soups, pasta dishes and chicken.
It’s not just for pickles. Try some dill sprinkled on fish, chicken or even in a light cream soup
Nectar of the gods, well, bulb of the gods, anyway. Garlic has a way of making the most ordinary food gourmet. Try sprinkling garlic powder (not garlic salt) into a prepared box of white cheddar macaroni and cheese. Surprise! It’s pretty good. Fresh, though, is best. Squeeze it from a press into almost anything
Sprinkle it in your stir-fry, try it on baked chicken breasts with a little soy sauce or coconut aminos and garlic. For fun, get it fresh (it’s that alien-looking root mass in the produce department) and freeze it. It will keep almost indefinitely when frozen. To use, hack off a piece, no need to peel it and grate into your recipe
I love nutmeg. If you can find nutmeg nuts and the itty, bitty grater that comes with it, buy it. Once you’ve had freshly grated nutmeg, the powdered stuff in the jar is beneath you. Obviously an ingredient in baking, it’s also good grated on sauteed squash, green beans and carrots.
A staple in Italian cooking, it’s also good in stews and salad dressings
This beautiful evergreen plant grows wild in my garden and provides an intoxicating aroma to meats, stews and root veggies. Try some crumbled in your carrots
An almost licorice flavor, this delicate herb takes front and center in vinaigrettes, as a delicious sprinkle on the top of baked or poached poultry and fish.
Make time for thyme! It’s strong and adds a hint of character to an otherwise pretty standard dish. Use it with chicken, soups and beef.
This is a short list of spices, but good basics stand the test of thyme (time). 😉 By understanding how to cook with spices, you will keep your palate interested and you family begging for your cooking–and that’s the way it should be!
“I love you taking the work out of making a great dinner for me. The menus supplied with the grocery list already and giving me options for daytime menus too. I love it and have recommended all of my friends and family to your site!”
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Over the years, I’ve received a lot of emails from various people in all walks of life who plain and simple just do not like cooking.
Cooking for them is on the same par as toilet cleaning–they’ve said as much.
So they opt to go out to dinner or do take out–healthy and otherwise.
So why write me to tell me this if what they are doing is working for them?
The deal isn’t that it isn’t working for them; it’s just not working WELL for them. They are concerned about the cost and the nutrition aspects of doing this on a regular basis.
The cost is astronomical, both financially and health wise. Most families do not have the financial means to eat out every night, period—whether it is healthy or not.
A recent study revealed that for every dollar spent on food eaten out, only 27 cents worth of food was actually served.
What does that tell you about the economics of eating out? Is going out to dinner every night a worthy investment of your family’s dollars?
Lest you think I’m dumping on restaurants, let me assure you I am not. I love going out to dinner! I’m always on the prowl for a new restaurant and new dining experience.
But the day to day of feeding a family is expensive. Very few can afford to feed everyone well (as in healthy, fresh food) if they go out all the time.
And while I do love to cook for the most part, there are days when it frankly is a chore–I’m only human. I have other things I’d rather be doing and a bunch of people (my family, friends, employees, etc.) who want or need my attention.
But I have great news for those who panic at the idea of cooking a big family meal. Most of it can be done on the grill (and these days, outdoor grills with their propane tanks make it seasonless!) then all you really have to add is a big salad and presto, you’ve got dinner! Here is a recent grilled meal I recently made and it took me all of fifteen minutes to prepare. 🙂
Marinated Grilled Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
Brown Rice (if you’re paleo or low carb, make cauli-rice)
Grilled Zucchini and Yellow Squash
Big Green Salad
Take a big gallon-sized zipper topped plastic bag and fill it with raw chicken (I like to add extra so I can get some leftovers for lunch the next day). Next, add half a bottle of coconut aminos (or soy sauce) and about 1/2 a cup olive oil or avocado oil. Squeeze a whole lemon in there, add 1 teaspoon each garlic powder, thyme and oregano. Now add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Mush the bag around so chicken is coated. You’ll want that to marinate for a few hours or overnight even. Cook your brown rice now—it will take the longest to cook or make some cauli-rice (or both if you’ve got different eating styles at your house).
Prepare your zucchini by slicing into rounds; same with the yellow squash. Throw these cut squashes into a big bowl and toss with a little olive oil (you don’t want it dripping in oil), salt and pepper and some fresh garlic pressed right into the squash (I use 2 cloves, but I love garlic and it keeps the vampires away). You can either sauté this in a pan on the stovetop or sauté it on the grill if you have a pan with holes in it. It’s awesome cooked this way and grilling pans with holes in them can be found anywhere—even the drugstore.
Fire up the barbecue and after it is preheated (make sure it’s clean, too!), add the chicken and watch it as you cook it, adjusting the heat as need be. If you’re cooking your veggies on the grill too, you will want to start them at the same time. Otherwise, cook them on the stovetop after your chicken is cooked (keep the chicken warm by wrapping the platter in foil and keeping it in a cold oven just long enough till the squash is cooked).
Set your table, get your salad together (I use already prepared salad bags from the grocery store, add some pine nuts, chopped whatever veggies I have on hand and my own vinaigrette, tossed altogether, yum!).
That’s it! You can serve your chicken on individual plates or serve everything family style—big platters in the middle of the table.
Then pass the food around, join hands and say a prayer of thanksgiving for all this wonderful food (and your family sitting ‘round the table) and above all else, relish this time.
One day they will be grown and gone and you’ll remember these days with fondness.
Getting dinner on the table doesn’t have to be stressful, and Dinner Answers can be the key to your success. Learn more here.
One of my favorite pastimes is cooking with my children. Do you have kids? If you do, I want to heavily recommend that you teach them the joys of the kitchen while they’re still young and look up at you like a superhero that has all the answers. Teaching your children how to cook is more than a rite of passage; it’s just plain fun. To me, the kitchen is like a magical land that can create a special type of community and intimacy with the simple act of making a meal.
There are some little things you should look out for when you start to integrate your children into the cooking world: the basic do’s and don’ts.
DO assign simple tasks. When starting out, show them how to wash veggies, how to stir sauces to not let the sides burn, how to scramble eggs, etc.
DON’T let your child use a knife and cutting board without supervision and being taught proper technique.
DO give them a bit more responsibility as they show they understand. Show them basic vegetable cutting, but once you pass that knife from your hand to theirs, watch them like a hawk. (younger ones can use pumpkin carving knives safely, so save yours!)
DON’T let your child remove anything from the oven. But explain how it’s done as you do it; this way, when it’s time, they’ll be ready.
DO explain how when you’re using a pot or pan that you need to turn the handle to the side so it’s not sticking out so no one can run into it or accidentally knock it over.
DON’T allow them to handle meat until they’ve had a couple seasoned years under your training, but explain the safety issues and demonstrate thorough hand washing after you touch it.
ALWAYS let them sneak tastes of their labor in the kitchen. One of my favorite things about cooking is that I get to taste along the way, and I can guarantee that it’ll be a favorite among your children as well.
Well folks, there you have it! Show your children what a kitchen is and how to use it. My daughter is a college graduate now and she tells me all the time how surprised she is that hardly anyone her age knows how to cook. Regardless, your children are going to love learning this new skill! For them, it’s like finally getting to know the secret behind a magic trick. Have FUN!!
Hands up if you ever questioned your parents when they told you not to waste your food because there are people starving in Africa.
As a child this really doesn’t make a lick of sense. How can the food I don’t eat help a starving person? Are we actually going to ship our leftovers to them?
We all know as adults that this was our parents’ way of trying to encourage us not to waste our food. But the truth is, if our ancestors could see how much food we’re wasting day in and day out, they would be absolutely appalled. And you know what? It really, really makes me mad; it doesn’t have to be this way!
1.3 BILLION tons of food gets wasted per year by people from all over the world. That’s billion, with a B.
To put this all into perspective, that is roughly one third of the food this planet produces. ONE THIRD. Wasted. And this is happening while 925 million people on the planet are suffering from hunger.
This is just not right and it’s not doing our planet any good. Food disposal is hard on the environment and it costs money. Not only is good money wasted by throwing out food we paid for, but roughly a billion dollars is spent on getting rid of wasted food in the United States each year.
And while we can’t stop the world from being wasteful, we can put an end to wastefulness in our own homes. Here are a few ideas:
1. Make meal plan each and every week (all of our Dinner Answers menus come with a categorized shopping list) before you go grocery shopping. You’ll only buy what you need.
2. Avoid buying in bulk unless you know you will eat the food you buy, or unless you plan to donate some of that food to a food bank or soup kitchen
3. Serve smaller portions to your family so food isn’t scraped into the garbage
4. Plan leftovers from today’s dinner for tomorrow’s meals (I do this all the time!)
5. Check expiration dates of everything you buy, so you’re not putting your groceries directly in the garbage when you get home
6. Take a cue from the grocery stores and rotate the food in your fridge. Put newer produce towards the back and bring older food to the front so it doesn’t rot back there
7. Use your crisper drawers for items you eat a lot, like carrots and apples. It’s not called a crisper, not a rotter, so don’t put easier-to-forget-about items down there to languish where it will just turn to a nasty mess.
How do you try to prevent wasted food in your home?