Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tips for Not Going Crazy in Your Kitchen

If you adopt a plant-based diet, you may find yourself preparing meals at home more often than you once did. People have asked me how I manage it all, so I thought I should do a post about how to keep your kitchen organized and to not go crazy in your kitchen when living a plant-based lifestyle.

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This is how our fridge typically looks at the beginning of the week

Appliances and Gadgets to the Rescue
Modular food storage containers - We have purchased these high quality Rubbermaid containers as well as these 16 cup food storage containers from Walmart and they are great for storing very large quantities of food. I will caution that they are fairly cheap and don't last as long as some nicer sets, but they are so cheap that we find their temporary usage still worth the value. We even hold onto the cracked containers and use them as a lettuce crisper, or to hold bread and other things that won't leak. I also recommend purchasing pantry food storage containers, such as the OXO "Pop" containers or other canisters for storing rice, beans, pastas, flours, and other grains. You can also hold onto glass containers to re-use for food storage.

Instant Pot - We highly recommend the Instant Pot. It's a pressure cooker that is capable of cooking brown rice in about 15 minutes and dry, un-soaked beans in less than 30 minutes. We also use it to steam potatoes for mashing, but it could seriously be used for a dozen other purposes. The Instant Pot has dramatically improved the efficiency and reduced the hassle in our home kitchen. We even considered buying a second one to cook more than one item at a time. The price may be steep, but I assure you it's worth every penny.

Tortilla Press - We LOVE Mexican food. It's one of our favorite cuisines to eat plant-based. But since Michael has a gluten sensitivity and we want to avoid all added oils, we don't want to use store-bought tortillas. So we set out to make our own fresh homemade corn tortillas (but you could make wheat tortillas if desired). Our first discovery was finding masa harina flour to use. It's sold very cheaply at HEB, has only two ingredients (corn and lime), and you simply add water. Following the package instructions, we Michael attempted to press the tortillas using the bottom of a pan. He'd be the first to tell you: that gets really old pretty fast. So we then decided we needed to purchase a tortilla press. After some research, we decided on this bad boy. It's so easy to use, you are more likely to over-squish your tortillas than under-squish (totally legit terms).

Blender - We bought this Vitamix, but you certainly don't have to have a Vitamix to follow a plant-based diet. Yes, it's extremely handy and economical to be able to make my own oat flour, brown rice flour, millet flour, ground flax and chia seeds, as well as sauces, gravy, soups, and smoothies. But a good regular blender can do most of those things well enough, with just a little more effort involved. If you do decide that you want a Vitamix, you can look into a refurbished model on their website because they still offer a pro-rated warranty (their regular warranty is 7 years).

Food Processor - We purchased this 9-cup Cuisinart food processor. I'm sure you can get away with a lower-priced model, but this was a good moderately priced one with great reviews. We bought it over 2 years ago and it still runs well. If you do get a food processor, don't be like me and completely ignore the shredding and slicing discs for over a year that came with it. It works great for slicing and shredding carrots, zucchini, squash, and cooked potatoes (for making hash browns). Plus I use the regular blade for making dips, sauces, hummus, and finely chopping or pureeing things.

How to Stay Sane When Working in the Kitchen
Fresh, Frozen, or Frequent? First you need to decide whether you and your family like to have meals that are prepared fresh every day, or whether you're okay eating leftovers throughout the week. You also need to decide how many fresh versus frozen/canned ingredients you will use. For our family, we don't mind eating leftovers, and we try to opt for fresh ingredients over frozen or canned, but we will happily use frozen or canned ingredients if it will mean saving some stress or time for a given week. It's important to voice all your expectations and concerns before planning meals.

Don't shop and cook in the same day if you can help it - I enjoy cooking, but I don't enjoy having a marathon day of working, grocery shopping, unpacking from the store, washing produce, and cooking all in one day. Plan ahead, and break up those tasks during the week until you find a routine that works for you. I do my grocery shopping on Friday evenings, and then use Saturday and Sunday to cook and prepare meals for the week. Depending on the meal plan for a given week, I may end up having to cook something else during the week, but I try to prepare as much as I can ahead of time on the weekends.

Wash all your produce at once - Since I shop on Fridays, I strive to wash all my produce for the entire week as soon as I get home, or at least by Saturday morning. It sometimes takes me up to an hour to wash and store everything, but I have found that it helps the food to stay fresher longer, plus it's clean and ready for me to grab from the fridge when I need to cook it.

Buy and store things in bulk that you use often - What are the food items that you find yourself always running low on, wishing you had quicker access to, or enjoy eating the most often? You should consider purchasing those items in bulk and storing them in large containers in your pantry. For us, we eat oatmeal every morning for breakfast, and our flour of choice is oat flour that I make myself in the Vitamix. That means that we need to always have a lot of dry oats on hand. We purchase a 25 lb bag from a local store once a month, and I store them in large cereal containers.

Plan your meals for the week based on your schedule and stress level - If you know you have a busy week ahead, don't take on a challenge of making something that's new or time-intensive. Pick something that's filling, easy, and delicious enough to get the job the done. Some of my high-stress go-to meals include: baked potatoes with salsa and a side of veggies, veggie rice stir-fry, herbed potatoes, or a simple soup or chili.

If you need help, ASK for it - I'm probably speaking mostly to the ladies here, but seriously, don't be embarrassed for asking for help. I'm guilty sometimes of not asking for help because I want all the glory and praise of having prepared a decadent magazine-worthy meal. But that's just me being prideful and selfish. And it's much better for the whole family if you just ask for help to keep your sanity and a pretty smile on your face.