Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bulk cooking: tortillas as food vehicles

I'm still around, but things have gotten busy here. 

In the meantime, I've still got to eat.  And here's a top from The Simple Dollar that's keeping me from buying Eggos:

Bulk breakfast burritos

In my case, the burritos are being filled with bars made from a bag of shredded frozen hashbrowns, eight eggs and a cup of cottage cheese.  Add plenty of pepper and bake the mixture  in a casserole until cooked through.  Allow to cool and slice into bars which then go into burritos (in our case, we're lucky and there's a whole-wheat variety that's relatively healthy and made fresh at the local grocery store).  Wrap in plastic or freeze individually and then store in a freezer-appropriate container (we use gallon-size freezer bags with a zip-top, and they can be reused easily.)

You can add:  beans, bacon, salsa, cheese... but the cottage cheese does a good job keeping it cheesy.

Thanks, Simple Dollar!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The New Decornographers

After reading this post on Jezebel about The New Decornographers, I think it's important to remember the following:

1) Keeping up a blog is HARD.  Especially when life hits.  Sometimes, there are going to be lulls in posts- but it doesn't mean that the person's gone, just that something besides The Internets happened that day.  Today, Mr. O and I went on a long walk in the last of the cool rainy weather, so I didn't post anything substantial towards my project.  However, I did see entire families of deer along the way, and that was way better than writing a post about rearranging your spices.  Sorry, blogosphere.

2)  I need to keep in mind for myself, in the upcoming weeks, that the strategies for keeping kitchens streamlined is PRECISELY to create less work in the long run.  I am a lazy, lazy person and will attempt to give shortcuts and the long version, if it doesn't take too long to type up.  My photos are the results of 50-100 pictures out of camera and a crapton of overediting.  And my cleaning techniques?  90% of the time I go the lazy route.  More time for sleeping, yes?

3) Jezebel rocks.  Seriously, go read it sometime.  It's a nice reality check.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Kitchen Organization, Librarian-Style: The Fridge/Freezer Part 2, Efficiency, Space Utilization and Storage Techniques

Your Fridge/Freezer:  Efficiency, Space Utilization and Storage

 For many people, the problem with their fridge is that they're concerned about using the space efficiently and making sure that the amount of food inside keeps the fridge running with utmost energy efficiency. 

For those of us who don't have a choice in our appliances (e.g. renting), keeping an energy efficient fridge is the only way to make sure that we're making the most out of the electricity we use.

Freezer:  Stock it up, don't restrict air flow

While it's important to keep a freezer stocked, according to The Straight Dope it's important to allow some air to circulate in both the fridge and freezer.  If your freezer is empty, consider filling it with some plastic water bottles or other similar containers.  These double as great packs on the road or to keep your food cool if the power goes out.  Don't play Tetris in the freezer, though - remember to keep some ventilation in the front and back so that the fans can work properly.

Fridge:  Not just for milk and eggs

My fridge doubles as a storage container for the flour, sugar, rice and cornmeal that I use for cooking.  After one too many apartments had a bad ant problem, I now keep all the tempting treats in the fridge where not only are they kept safe from vermin, the whole grain items (like brown rice, whole wheat flour and cornmeal) stay fresher longer.  It also keeps the fridge full so that it takes less energy to cool down the air inside.  (Ain't physics grand?)

Snapware 401018 Mods 22-Piece Food-Storage Box Set 

I like storing my pantry staples in snapware  as it's easy to clean and almost easier to open.  Another advantage to storing items in these products is that they're easy to stack and store in your fridge.  They can go near the back as you might not use them as often as fresh produce.

Where should I put it?

Rubbermaid 7J91 Produce Saver Square 5-Cup Food Storage ContainerOver the course of a week, see what items you end up pulling out of your fridge the most often.  Have you found that the mustard gets top billing?  Pickles?  Grapes?  Store these items near the front of the fridge so you can reach them easily and conserve energy.  I hear great things about Rubbermaid produce containers and their ability to keep foods fresher longer.  As for me, I use a moist paper towel in the bottom of my storage containers - it wicks away moisture for the most part and I haven't had any issues with mold.

How should I freeze it?

To ensure that the temperature of your fridge and freezer remain at safe levels, always remember to let foods cool to room temperature before refrigerating so they don't increase the temperature in the refrigerator to an unsafe level.  Once the food is cooled from the fridge, it can then be transferred to the freezer.  I find that individually freezing and/or wrapping foods (on a small cookie sheet) and then storing them in zip-top plastic bags makes for easy access and mass transportation.  This works for homemade gnnochi, twice baked potatoes, burritos, cake - almost anything!

Cabinet Organizer - Wire Shelf (White) (16 1/2"W x 10"D x 5 1/4"H)

If your above-fridge freezer doesn't have shelves, I would highly recommend repurposing a cabinet organizer for your freezer storage needs.  It helps to distribute the weight so that you can remove items throughout your freezer without having everything fall in on itself.  I use the area below the shelf for zip top bag storage and the top area for storing beans, soups and casseroles in square containers that easily stack in small spaces.  Items like ice packs, nuts and ice pop containers go in the door shelving.

In the next and final post about the fridge, we'll be talking about man's best friend:  no, not dogs... leftovers!  It's like a bonus dinner.   See you then!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kitchen Organization, Librarian-Style: The Fridge/Freezer Part 1, Cleaning

Your fridge:  It's the place that keeps your food from spoiling, prolongs the life of perishables... it's a workhorse in your kitchen.

Danielle from The Frugal Lawyer has asked about the best way to ensure that food is kept safe while cleaning and how to utilize food so that it doesn't spoil before consumption.  Hopefully this post will help answer some questions and will help some of you out there figure out better ways to store food cleanly in your fridge!

In this series of posts we will deal with the following issues with the refrigerator: 

  • Cleaning
  • Efficiency
  • Space Utilization
  • Storage
  • Leftovers
Today we're going to focus on cleaning.  Keeping a clean fridge not only makes it more fun to look in your fridge, but it also helps your family to stay healthy and reduces the risk of cross-contamination.

For Danielle, she writes that her biggest issues are making sure her food doesn't spoil when she cleans the fridge.  When she does get around to cleaning, she has problems making sure that the food that she leaves on the counter doesn't melt/go bad while cleaning.

Danielle, I would recommend the following for your situation:

A timer
All-Purpose Cleaner
10-12 rags
Spray bottle (optional)
Scrub brush
Cooler (borrow one from friends/family if you don't have one on hand)
Lunchbox ice packs (if they're already in your freezer)

First, fill a sink halfway with water.  Pour 1-2 capfuls of all-purpose cleaner in (I like Mrs. Meyers All-Purpose Cleaner but Clorox Greenworks works as well) and mix to combine.  Or, if you're lazy like me, pour it in while the water's filling the sink.   If you have a spray bottle, put 1-2 caps of the cleaner in and fill with water as well.

Next, pick either the fridge or freezer.  Open the fridge and figure out what needs to be refrigerated for more than 30 minutes.  Milk should be kept cold, mustard and pickles - probably not.  Place the items that need to be refrigerated in the cooler and top with the ice packs.  Take the rest of the fridge's contents and place them on your counters or a nearby table.

Place half of the rags in the cleaning solution and start taking a good look at the empty fridge.

NOW, before you do anything else - set your timer for 20 minutes. 

First, while your rags are still clean, give the handle of the fridge a good swipe.  Open the fridge and give it a good look to identify problem areas.

Do your crisper drawers need cleaning?  Use a vacuum or dustbuster (or turn them upside down in a trash can) to remove crumbs and dirt.  Pull the drawers out (if possible) and give them a good swish around the cleaning solution and wash any gunk out of them.  Dry them and set them on the counter or floor.

Next, go from top to bottom.  If you need to, wash the walls of the fridge.  Do the shelves need cleaning?  If something is stuck on, spray the area with your spray bottle and let it sit while you work on other areas.  By the time you're done with the rest, it should wipe off with ease.  Use baking soda if it's really stubborn.

Don't forget to wipe off the condiment and butter shelves.

When the timer goes off, STOP.  You want to do your best to clean in this time slot because it means that you won't get overwhelmed with the task.  If it looks pretty good (e.g. there are no stains on the shelves and it smells clean), wipe off the shelves if they're still wet.

Shortcut:  If you're like me and very, very lazy when it comes to deep-down cleaning, take the drawers out and vacuum the inside of the fridge.  Then, spray everything liberally with all-purpose cleaner.  Let it sit for 2-3 minutes and wipe.

Now... before you put everything back in, take a good look at the empty fridge.  Are the shelves in the fridge  working for your storage needs?  Most fridge shelves are adjustable, so play around with moving them to see if it helps you to store items more efficiently.  Consider putting a box or bowl of baking soda in the back of the fridge to reduce odors.

This empty fridge is now a clean haven in which to store foods that will encourage health and happiness in your home.  Are the foods that you're putting back into the fridge expired?  Are they being used regularly?  Are they properly stored?  If the answer to any of these questions is NO, I strongly urge you to reconsider placing them back in the fridge.

If you find yourself with a ton of condiments that you rarely use, consider using them in a marinade for meats or veggies (theme them by region - South Asian, East Asian, Mexican, etc.).  I find that some condiments work really well in slow cooker recipes as well and things like Italian dressing can be used for pasta salads.

Are you storing your food properly?  With the exception of some methods for aging meat, everything should be covered adequately.  Many people now use glass dishes with plastic or glass lids as they can go in oven, freezer, fridge and microwave with no concern for plastic leaching (take the plastic lids off before heating, though!).  I use basic square Ziploc storage containers that stack well - but I do wait for foods to cool before storing them and I never microwave (I transfer to a plate/bowl).  If you have so many storage containers that they can't fit in the fridge, pare down.

One method that I've seen by Angela over at My Year Without Spending is an "Eat Me" shelf - if you have leftovers or food about to expire, make room on a shelf and label it so that the family knows those items need to be eaten first.  Leftovers can go there right after dinner, and you can keep a rotating fruit bowl there as well to encourage healthy eating.  After dinner each night, look through the fridge for items to be added to the shelf, and make a game out of constructing lunches to take to work/school from them.

Finally, start placing the items in your cooler back in the fridge.  Evaluate each one to make sure it deserves a space in your fridge (Is it expired?/is it healthy?/do we use it?) and go from there.

Later, rinse, and repeat with your freezer - and don't forget to clean your ice maker (if you have one).  Keep with the 20 minute timer - you can do plenty of damage in that time and get a darned clean freezer.  If you need to defrost your freezer, just add extra ice to the cooler and you should be fine as long as you're not opening the cooler every few minutes.  Remember, the goal is not perfection - it's sustainability.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kitchen Organization, Librarian-Style: Your Oven

Your Oven: It's one of the larges appliances in your house, but how much do you really know about its functions?

I have a cheap gas oven in my apartment, and it has been a lesson in learning how to work with it to ensure that I get the results I want every time. Many of the lessons below are for non-digital gas ovens as they are veritable fire-pits, with hot and cold areas that can be difficult to gauge.

Step One: Get to Know your Oven

Especially if you're not a regular cook, do you know how your oven works? The first apartment I had with a gas oven was really scary - I had grown up on electric and didn't know how to turn the oven on without blowing myself (and the apartment complex) to bits.

Gas ovens run on gas and flames. Mr. O had an apartment that had a continuous gas flame in the oven and it would stay on at all times, causing the oven to be warm to the touch even in the winter months. My apartments have had gas ovens that light up when you turn them on - so there might be a slight gas smell when you turn it on but the oven should warm up quickly after you turn the knob on.

My gas oven also has a broiler underneath the oven. The area is too small to hold a half-sheet cookie sheet, so if your oven is like mine make sure that you have oven- and broiler-proof pottery or a metal sheet that can fit in the area comfortably and that you have a plan for picking up hot plates from the ground. Some ovens have broilers built into the top of the oven and so you can easily switch from baking to getting that gooey, bubbly brown top on many of your casseroles and other baked goods.

Step Two: Calibrating your Oven

Does your oven run too hot or too cold? There are a couple of solutions for this problem.
1) Make sure you know how hot your oven really is. I highly recommend purchasing an oven thermometer that measures how hot your oven is. You can hang it off one of the sides of the oven rack and keep an eye on it to make sure that your oven has preheated as expected and that it's at the temperature you really want.

2) More importantly, know that you can change the temperature of your oven.

On the back of your oven knob, there might be a set of screws to change the temperature of your oven. If it runs too hot or too cold, try adjusting the screws and seeing how that affects the temperature.

Step Three: Prepping your Oven

A clean oven produces happier results. When was the last time you cleaned your oven?  There's no need to use a harsh oven cleaner or the self-cleaning feature that comes on many electrics. Use a diluted all-purpose cleaner or baking soda and vinegar in a spray bottle to clean the window and sides of the oven. If there are baked-on stains underneath the grates, make a thick paste of baking soda and water and rub it into the area. Leave it overnight and it will be easy to remove in the morning. 

Do you have proper tools for using your oven? Make sure that the hot pads, oven mitts and trivets you use are meeting your needs. If you always use the same oven mitts, consider donating or giving away the ones you don't use.

Step Four: Testing your Oven

Now, the big test: How does your oven behave once it has been cleaned and calibrated? I cook a lot of bread and before I calibrated my oven it ran 75 degrees hotter than it should have. Now, I'm having to train myself to put the correct temperature on the oven dial so that I can get perfect bread every time! I'm still learning and a few times my bread has come out underdone, but don't give up! Just keep checking your thermometer and don't let your food cool down before it's cooked completely.

One of my favorite tools is a digital thermometer for meats and breads. This device can test food at the end of a cooking cycle or for meats can be used during the entire process of cooking. Don't forget to place the end of the thermometer in the thickest part of the food so that it ensures the rest is done! Just use a recipe book or search engine to discover at what temperature your food is done and set the thermometer 2-3 degrees cooler so that you can remove the food at its prime temperature. For meats, you can often take the meat out of the oven and let it rest for 10-15 minutes and the meat will continue to increase in temperature as the residual heat cooks the last bit.

Most importantly, using a thermometer will help you learn when meats and breads are done.  While it may seem difficult at first, cooking by sight is something that comes with experience and a thermometer will help you to learn not only how long it takes for a recipe to work in your oven but also what a successful finished product looks like consistently.


With these steps, baking with your oven will guarantee you an end product that looks and tastes great every time.  Remember to:

  • 'Know' your oven
  • Calibrate your oven
  • Clean your oven
  • Test your oven

And every time you'll have great results.  Happy cooking!

Kitchen Organization, Librarian-Style: An introduction

Lately, I've been reading a lot on organization theory and the concept of 'flow' in everyday activities. In order to accomplish any series of tasks, it's better for an individual to have a master plan so that they can accomplish their goals efficiently. The more streamlined the plan, the better the end product will be because concentration is focused on the task (in this case, a meal) rather than the execution.

Along these lines, I will be posting a series of articles over kitchen organization and streamlining storage and counter space. Whether you have a small cove or a large space in which to cook your meals, I hope that this series will help you improve the process you use to cook and bake. After all, the less time you have to spend in the kitchen, the more time you have to enjoy your food!

Mushroom blend purchased at Whole Foods for Valentine's Day risotto.