Are You Strategic in the Kitchen?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I realized sometimes I have a few things cooking or prepping at once so I tried to write my posts in that way. Sometimes recipes or meals can seem really daunting and if I’m not ready for the next step that’s when problems occur. Sauce gets too thick or veggies get overcooked etc. I’ve tried to clarify what can be happening while something else is going on. Does it help? I hope so!

Heres’ the million dollar question of the day: Do you think you’re strategic in the kitchen?

 

I really thought about it while tackling Pastitsio. That one had a meat/tomato sauce, pasta, a bechamel sauce, and then the whole thing was baked. It was amazing. I loved the flavors. I recommend making this on a weekend…and knowing just how many messy dishes and pots there would be.
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Baking is also a time I try to be strategic. I don’t bake often and when I do, I always follow the recipe. That being said, I try to remember to read through the directions first. I don’t want to be thrown off when the next ingredient comes in, and I need to know beforehand if something is supposed to be softened/room temperature/pre-mixed or whatever. Samoa Girl Scout Cookie Bars was one recipe that let me make & bake the base and get the topping going while that first part was cooking. I also picked it because it felt do-able for me.
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Buyer beware: I’m no connoisseur. I still have meals that have me scrambling all over the kitchen or feeling like something needed a minute less while something else ended up cold after I snapped enough photos. Take my tips with a grain of salt. I don’t cook overly complicated meals. I also try to whip up something easy to go along with something more challenging. I now don’t have to think twice about risotto but if that is going to be all encompassing go easy on whatever else you’re serving. Know that I don’t blog every meal I make. I like to space new or blog-worthy meals throughout the week with cheaper/easier/no-thought-required other meals during the week.

Have you seen Rachael Ray pile her ingredients from the fridge & pantry in one trip? It is kind of ridiculous, but there’s a point there. Tip 1: pull out everything you’re going to need. I think it can stress you out if you get knee deep into a recipe to discover you’re out of eggs or tomatoes or breadcrumbs, or something that will really alter the dish. I vary recipes all the time, but if changing your plan or altering the recipe will stress you out, then you’ll want to know the ingredients are ready.

Speaking of getting ingredients ready…Tip 2: take the ingredients one step further and chop/defrost/melt/wash and do any prep the ingredients are going to need later. I think it allows you to feel really ready. Then when your recipe says to add it you’re on it. I don’t do this very much. I moreso prep the next thing while the previous step is happening. I like to keep an eye on the pan while I’m chopping the next addition or whatever.

Tip 3: use what you have and use the right tools. I substitute things all the time. This contradicts #1, but think about what you have and throw it in or leave something you don’t like out. Food is supposed to be how you want it. Reduce the recipe if you don’t want leftovers or throw in that ingredient that’ll go bad in your fridge otherwise. Also by knowing the tools you have you can make better choices. Is your skillet kind of small? Think about what is supposed to go in that. Will you have room? Can you add in that ingredient that’s hanging around? Should you half the recipe to fit the only pan you have? This Smoky Sausage Pasta cooks everything in 1 pan but if you can’t fit it, you should be ready early to half the recipe for the pan you have.
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In terms of tools, my super specialized ones end up sitting in the drawer. I don’t think there’s a ton of those that are overly useful. Some might be, but a knife you’re comfortable with, different sized bowls, and a favorite rubber spatula will probably do it for the most part. I think a HUGELY powerful $3 investment is a meat thermometer. If you think you don’t like pork is probably because it is always overcooked. This simple thermometer will take the guess work out and tell you that meat is cooked enough. It also keeps cooking a bit when you take it off the heat. I have a really basic themometer with a dial and Mr. J and I sing it praises all the time!

Tip 4: learn timing for your foods or beware of your timing. I think it is definitely helpful to plan each dish according to the time needed. Set a timer. Set several timers to take out the guess-work. It gets stressful to keep things hot or keep something from getting bad if too many tasks are left until the the last minute. I like anything that can be done & ready (serving dish & utensil and all). Salad might hang out in the fridge while everything that takes much more thought/coordination on the stove or in the oven gets final touches. I start getting things to the table and out of the kitchen then I know I’m done.

For this dinner, I was searing scallops, making a mustard sauce, roasting broccoli, and frying polenta cakes. This is more involved than most of my dinners. I knew the broccoli would just do it’s thing in the oven. The polenta cakes went first an then hung out in the oven just to keep warm. The mustard sauce and scallops were going on at the same time after the polenta and broccoli were out of the way but kept warm.
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Last but not least, Tip 5: clean as you go. It is a much better way to wrap up dinner if you then aren’t returning to a battle zone. I like to start throwing stuff into the dishwasher when I have a free second or at least rinsing pots. I start stacking ingredients I’m done with next to the fridge to get them put away and out of my way. I repackage unused or leftover stuff and get-it-gone while the main thing is in the oven.

While this eggplant parmesan pizza is baking for 20 minutes I’m closing up the ricotta, getting rid of cheese and dough packaging, freezing remaining eggplant, finding my pizza cutter, etc.
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Phew. That’s a lot. Do you feel strategic? Do you feel one step behind while following a recipe? What helps you?

One thought on “Are You Strategic in the Kitchen?

  1. Very nice post, Emily! Experience helps with strategy, too – the more I cook something, the more I am familiar with the steps so can plan better. I am the type that likes to pull out all the ingredients ahead of time so they are in easy reach – but I also put things away as I go cause the cleaning up is not one of my favorite parts!

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