Top 5 Tips for Kitchen Survival

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Bunches of rainbow chard, need washing and chopping. I cook the stems separately with chopped onions and crushed garlic to make a nutritious and colorful garnish. Photos © Fadia Jawdat 2016

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#1: Dedicate one shopping/prepping day/week
I don’t care how insane this might seem, but my number one advice to anyone trying to eat a healthy diet is to dedicate one shopping day a week, followed by some “prepping” time. Even if you are single, you can save a lot of money by making your own meals at home and packing a daily lunch for the office. This works particularly well if you have a pretty predictable routine. If you’re traveling off and on, are the adventurous type and do not have a predictable work week, then this is not for you. But if you have a family to come home to after a full-days work, or if you are super conscious about your nutritional intake, then read on.

The biggest life-saving practice for me was to spend one day in the kitchen, prepping, peeling, washing, drying, blanching, sautéing, and storing. The rest of the week would seem like a breeze once I had cooked veggies, juiced lemons, peeled garlic and portioned sauces, and had them ready, right there at my finger tips. For the greater part of my adult life, I shopped for my  family’s weekly needs, then came home to spend the rest of the day in the kitchen. I had a planned weekly menu—nothing fancy, just well-rounded and balanced with enough variety not to bore the adventurous but also homey enough to be comforting. I would allow room for a couple of nights of recycled leftovers, and perhaps the occasional frozen pizza night with salad. Sundays seemed best for this practice, when dad took the kids to play-dates while I cooked up a storm.

My daughters were in no way banished from the kitchen. On the contrary, when they crawled, they had their designated lower drawers to open and explore, when they sat in their high chairs they had wooden spoons and plastic bowls to play with. When they were coordinated enough to sit at the high island counter across from me, they made their own sandwiches, learned to make their own salads and dressings, mixed batter, greased baking sheets and shared and enjoyed in the experience.

Chopping and freezing herbs, apportioning sauces, pesto and other ingredients are basic practices that help turn even the most elaborate dishes into a breeze. Here are a few to be followed by a few others next week.

#2: Peel entire heads of garlic at a time
I use at least a clove a day for my salad dressing and another few for sautéed mushrooms, soups, stews, roasts, marinades. A jar of peeled garlic in the fridge is very handy for “grab-and-use without switching gears.
Peeling garlic is my least favorite activity. If you peel a clove at a time, it’s an ordeal. Buy yourself one of those rubbery hollow cylinders to make your life a lot easier, and give it a go. Simply insert 4-6 cloves in the cavity, roll the cylinder on the counter while applying a little pressure, and voila! It’s done. Cloves as clean as a whistle. (Still, you need to clean off the mess on your counter and rinse out your peeler).

#3:  Chop and freeze parsley
Frozen parsley does  not seem to retain much flavor, but for garnishing dishes at the last-minute, or for a touch of green and a shot of potassium and anti-oxidants in a chicken soup, or a bowl of noodles, a sprinkling of frozen chopped parsley is visually and nutritionally miraculous.

#4: Freeze Ginger Root and Lemons
Place in Ziplock bags and freeze. I have been freezing ginger for years. Lemon, frozen whole, is a new-comer to my freezer. This practice makes the grating with a micro-plane less tedious.

#5: Freeze Tomato Paste
I buy tomato paste in cans, rarely in tubes. I only use a teaspoon or tablespoon at a time. Scoop out the paste into a ziploc bag and flatten out while evenly spreading the content to all sides of the bag. Seal and freeze. Once frozen, it is so easy to break off a piece to add to your pot.

As the children grew older, our habits changed and so did our palate. My cooking adventure grew and grew and my cooking repertoire expanded. But those basic tips mentioned here remain invaluable. When the kids come back and delve into their own recipes, my freezer is still filled with frozen essentials for them to use at a moment’s notice.

My freezer and I are always ready for the occasional snow day and the impromptu guests’ or daughters’ visits.