Is Your Kitchen Ready to Cook?

Coming into the holiday season we are all spending at least a little more time in the kitchen. I’m spending a lot more time in the kitchen this week and I’ll bet you are too :-). I thought I’d take a few minutes today to check in with everyone with a reminder of the importance of keeping your kitchen ready to cook.

A clean kitchen is the heart of your home. It makes all the difference to how easy or hard it is to cook for your family. So developing good efficient routines to keep it clean is of the upmost importance! So let’s review the basics, shall we?

Declutter Your Kitchen

You’ll probably want to save this one till after the holidays though you could make a few inroads here despite the busyness of the season. The simplest thing to do to start with is clear your counters of all but the most commonly used items. You could stash the extra stuff in an adjacent room just until you figure out a more permanent spot for it. Clear counters make cooking so much easier! I could make some improvements here myself. Counter clutter seems to have a life of it’s own so it’s worthwhile to consider the usefulness of the items you find there pretty regularly. A couple of minutes here and there while waiting on something on the stove is all it takes. Make this one of your 15-minute tasks on The Granny Plan, even though it probably won’t take even that much time to do.

Clean As You Go

Make sure you are keeping up with the clean as you go step of The Granny Plan during this hectic season! If you’re doing a lot of cooking like I am this week it’s so easy to just let the kitchen go for a little bit. But every time you do you’ll need to spend that time plus a bit more because cleaning after the cooking is done takes longer than cleaning as you go. Things need to soak, you end up with sticky messes, the kitchen gets cluttered with things that are in some stage of the cleaning process, and before you know it the kitchen is too messy to cook without some serious effort!

So the next time you feel super tired and all you want to do is sit down, think of the extra work you’re creating for yourself and stick it out and finish up the cleanup.

Keep Your Pantry Stocked and Ready

During the holidays there are lots of panicked runs to buy forgotten items if my local grocery is any indication. You can avoid a lot of this by simply keeping a stocked pantry. Sure, there are things you’ll need for the holidays that you really don’t buy the rest of the year. This is pretty minimal though, and you’re less likely to overlook them if your pantry is already stocked with all the staples. Maybe a little late for Thanksgiving this year but keep in mind as you shop between now and Christmas.

How are Your Holiday Preparations Going?

Share with us in the comments below … We’d love to hear from you!

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Wait! Don’t Throw Out All the Processed Food at Once!

While browsing Pinterest earlier today looking for good recipes to share I happened to see a pin that reminded me of one of my pet peeves … so of course I thought I’d write a short post about what you should absolutely positively not do when you are switching your family over to a real food diet. When it comes to getting people on board with the program this one thing is probably the very worst thing you can do. 

What’s shocking about it is that it is standard advice to everyone starting any kind of new diet! Truly terrible advice for 99.9% of us. 

So what is it?  The advice to march to your kitchen and immediately throw out anything and everything that doesn’t come up to your new standards.

What Everyone Thinks Will Happen

It’s easy to think that without the food you no longer wish to eat around to tempt everyone that they’ll just have to eat all the healthy stuff you’re planning to buy to replace it. It’s easy to imagine that sure, there will be a little complaining but they will soon get adjusted. And you as the head cook and bottle washer, well you’ve got a list of recipes and plans of the things you’ll make with all the good ingredients you’re about to buy. It’ll be so great they won’t miss their favorites for long at all.

We all think the first time we try this that sudden change of this kind will be like removing a bandaid … “Rip it Right Off!”. It’ll hurt like hell and then sweet relief when it’s over. Everyone will get healthier faster the quicker we get this phase over with. 

What Actually Happens

Okay, so we’ve got our fridge and pantry cleaned out. We found a lot of labels with things like “cottonseed oil” or “hydrolized soy protein” in them … out they went! And it feels good, real good. We are making great progress! We head off to the store to get some replacements. Being a bit tired from the mornings activities we only get about half of what’s on our list … reading thru all the labels and remembering all the things we’ve read about what to buy and not to buy is pretty exhausting. We arrive back home hungry.

That’s okay we have a plan for that. We set out to make one of the recipes we found on the internet with our good ingredients. It turns out well and the family seems pleased. But the littlest picks at his food a little and hubby says he still feels hungry … what else is there for him to eat? He looks for his favorite snack but it’s gone. He wants to be helpful so he doesn’t complain … much :-). 

The next day the little ones are crying for their usual snacks, you’re hungry and already a little sick of cooking. You start using a little willpower to stick with it. You have to rush out for baseball practice in the early evening so dinner is a hurried and misbegotten affair. Everyone is grumpy. But you insist they stick with it. The next day is kinda similar only you and everyone else’s patience is wearing thin. You discover that getting all of the foods you want to buy adds up to much more expense than you thought. Processed food begins it’s sneaky trek back in. Pretty soon you’re back where you started, but worse ’cause now the family associates eating better with tons of stress!

Change and the Elephant

In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath use an analogy of a elephant and it’s rider to talk about making big changes that stick. The rider is willpower and the elephant is the momentum of current habits and emotion mixed up together. The rider has to exert a lot of willpower to influence the direction of the elephant. He will tire of this quickly then the elephant will do as he likes. Oh, and heaven forbid the rider should do something that spooks the elephant. Most anything might happen then :-).

When we make big changes all at once we are frightening the elephant! The whole system goes into overdrive to ensure that the status quo continues. Everyone will want their twinkies when they suddenly fear they are about to lose them forever! Your rider, the one that made the decision to clear out all the bad food, will quickly tire out using willpower to a) make yourself cook all the food all the time and b) keep everyone on the straight and narrow food-wise. This path is doomed.

What to Do Instead

Big change is made up of lots of little changes gradually implemented. In other words babysteps! Instead of swallowing all the change at once you’ll want to do one small thing, practice it till it becomes a habit, and then and only then add another step. 

Instead of tossing everything at once you’ll want to do step 5 in The Granny Plan and eliminate just one processed food at a time. This gives everyone time to get adjusted to it’s disappearance and to it’s replacement.

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A Guide to Picking Recipes for the Absolute Beginner

Is this the stuff of nightmares for you? You spot a mouth watering recipe on Pinterest. It’s from scratch, a real, real-food recipe so you’re pretty excited! Your gonna make this one yourself! You go to the store, get the stuff, come back and start working but that beautiful recipe turns out like this:

Pretty discouraging, huh? We’ve all done it! In fact I shared one of my recipe fails in this post with the successful healthy white cake post coming one week later 🙂 . (Sorry ladies, but I lost those posts!)

The question is, if you’re new to cooking from scratch just how do you minimize these kinds of epic failures?

If you don’t know what it is you don’t know, then how can you pick a good recipe to follow that you’re likely to be successful with?  Step 2 in The Granny Plan has you picking a recipe to make for dinner … but how do you do that when you don’t know a hard recipe from an easy one?

Let’s go over a few guiding principles that can help ensure success!

Stick with recipes with Common Ingredients

Choose recipes with simple ordinary common ingredients for the most part. It’s much tougher to start making real foods with substitute ingredients like coconut flour for instance. The properties of these substitute ingredients can be very different from the item they are replacing and are often tricky to deal with. Stick with the basics. Stuff Granny would have had on hand and leave the more difficult substitutions for later, if you want to do them at all.  If it contains ingredients that wouldn’t have been available in a 1930 general store skip it for now.

Choose Recipes with Minimal Ingredients

Some recipes have an ingredient list as long as your arm! Avoid these for the most part. While I’m sure many are delicious it’s trickier to remember if you added the ginger or the cinnamon yet when you have a loooonnnggg list of ingredients. This leads to forgetting ingredients entirely or doubling them up. This is how you end up with stuffing that positively reaks of sage … confession, guilty ;-). Plus, you need to have a fuller pantry to be ready for these recipes making keeping the kitchen ready for cooking tougher.

Stick to the Recipe!

I know it’s hard to imagine now but the ultimate goal of Granny cooking is to get to an experience level where you no longer need a recipe to manage in the kitchen. Until then though stick to the recipe! You can think of recipes as a sort of kitchen training wheels designed to help ensure your success. After you repeated the recipe many times and mastered it you can start to make adjustments.

So in choosing a recipe pick one you don’t need to make any adjustments to. Don’t pick something with eggs in it if you know little Johnny can’t eat eggs. Pick something without any eggs instead. Leave learning how to do substitutions for later.

Choose Recipes with Minimal Monitoring

Avoid recipes that have you standing over the stove stirring for 20 minutes straight. Avoid recipes that require you do something critical at just the right moment, say when the onions look just a certain way, or the top of the dish feels spongy, or, well you get the picture 😉 . Ideally pick things that can be made quickly or can be left to cook slowly on their own for a set amount of time. 

Some things are Much Harder Than Others – Save Them for When You Have Experience

Many of the things we’re avoiding here aren’t a problem for more experienced cooks. Still, they often avoid these kinds of recipes because they require a greater degree of attention than the average household cook can give on any average day. So maybe they’re saved for the holidays or slow cozy days at home where the extra cooking can feel relaxing.

Basically, avoid making things that are viewed as moderately difficult to really hard. Avoid cakes, souffles, aspics, croussants, sourdough or bread in general and pastry too. Absolutely avoid baked alaska, paella, and beef wellington, as if you had thought about making them 😉 .

You’ll find the ideas in this post helpful when working thru the steps in the book The Granny Plan. In it Granny will walk you thru 12 babysteps to building a strong kitchen routine that makes everyday home cooking possible.

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A Word About Inadequate Kitchens and Tools

Do you live in an apartment? Do you have an old house with a little, old, dingy kitchen? Is all the kitchen equipment you have handed down from you mother-in-law? Is it too crowded? or is it devoid of tools, even a can opener? Do you dream of a beautiful, well-lit, well-equipped kitchen? If the decorating magazines are any indication, most of us do, myself included.

Still, most of the cooking done in the world happens in little, cramped, dimly-lit kitchens with simple tools. Meals get made, things get done anyway.

[Read more…]

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The Pantry Principle – How to maintain your pantry – Part 5

Now that your pantry is building momentum it’s important to keep it rolling in the right direction. Mainly I’m thinking of problems with:

So let’s consider each problem individually.

[Read more…]

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The Pantry Principle – How to get the ball rolling within your budget – Part 4

To get started with The Pantry Principle Project I’d suggest picking something from the list that you currently buy that is stored at room temperature. For instance, you could start with dried beans. You already buy a cup or two from the bulk bins at the food store. Try buying a couple of pounds and storing it in an airtight container. To expand on this, buy a few more containers and repeat with a different kind of bean. Next you could add rice to the mix. And a few extra cans of tomato in the cart. This should help you save some out of the weekly grocery budget. During this time cook out of your pantry. You probably already have a number of things in there that are not on your raw ingredient list, maybe not on your real food list, but your family is familiar with them. You can help get them used to the change by serving the old standbys mixed with new items made from your new pantry.

[Read more…]

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The Pantry Principle – What you’ll need as raw ingredients for real food recipes – Part 3

Shopping to replenish a real food pantry is different and really a whole lot simpler than recipe shopping. Begin by making a list of the raw food items you will need to make the recipes you make very regularly. The idea is that it only contains the most basic ingredients … not anything that you would make and then stock as an ingredient. Guaranteed it’ll be a short one! It should resemble your Great-Grandma’s shopping list at the general store. Below I’ve got mine. I think it will cover our Mrs Dull’s “Southern Cooking” recipe experiments too. [Read more…]

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The Pantry Principle – What you’ll need to get started – Part 2

Last week we talked about how to save lots of time cooking for your family by starting and maintaining a pantry. If you haven’t ever approached shopping in this way before you’ll certainly be wondering where to start. A few things are obviously missing from your household setup, most likely.

Getting Started

Let’s say you are starting completely from scratch as I did many, many years ago. I had just a tiny apartment kitchen, a few pans scavenged from my Mom’s rejects, and some old tupperware. I had little to no extra money. My kitchen lacked pantry space, storage containers and freezer space. What to do, what to do? Start small with baby steps. Begin by adding inexpensive additions in small steps. For instance, storage containers. It’s pretty cheap to buy glass canning jars for kitchen storage. Walmart, hardware stores, and often your local grocery store has them at about $7 a case for quart jars. [Read more…]

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The Pantry Principle – How to save gobs of time cooking for your family — Part 1

Ok, so you’ve decided to improve your diet. Maybe you’d like to lose weight, or as you’ve learned more about the source of your food you’ve decided to improve the quality of what you buy. Or maybe you, one of your children, or your husband is suffering from a chronic health problem and you’ve decided that it’s likely your diet is contributing. Whatever your motivation, there is always big questions about how to actually go about making a change, from a practical point of view. You have very little time as it is, and how are you going to add on the extra effort to:

I’m going to tell you my secret for saving time. I’ve been doing this since I first heard of the idea from The Complete Tightwad Gazette back in the mid-nineties. I was an original subscriber to Amy’s Dacyczyn’s ( a.k.a. The Frugal Zealot ) newsletter and eagerly awaited my issue in the mail with many hints and general principles for saving money. This one has to be my favorite. It not only saves money but it save gobs of time and allows you complete creativity in the kitchen. This tip will help you save lots of money at a supermarket, which is how I’ve been doing it for years, but it becomes vitally necessary if you are shopping locally for the most nutrient dense food you can get. Why? Because local food shows up in big bunches. It comes when the crop is ready to pick or when the cow is ready to be processed. You can buy in small quantities at a farmers market, for example, but this will be the more expensive way to go. It’s much more affordable to form relationships with the farmers in your area and arrange to buy when things are ready. Better for you, better for the farmer.

So what is the Pantry Principle?

Basically, you fill up your pantry and freezer with the most nutrient dense food you can get your hands on when it becomes available. All buying is then done with the idea of replenishing your pantry and not with particular meals in mind. By having a full pantry you don’t need to spend precious time planning meals ahead. You can use up any leftovers as they build up, saving money. You have the ability to walk into the kitchen and say “What should I make?” and be prepared to make most anything that you might usually make. This will save you time by:

In this economy too, there are other benefits. In the event of job loss you have a pantry of food to rely on. Your grandparents would keep a supply of staples on hand to help protect the family from the unexpected.

In this series we’ll talk about:

So, let’s get started!

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