Monday, March 5, 2012

Lazy Day Food Preparation Tips

Lazy Food Prep

I am sure there have been times when you wanted to put a meal together quickly, without a whole lot of prep work. Why go through all the trouble of washing peeling your onions and garlic; washing your celery, seeding your peppers, peeling your carrots, etc.?

I know I don’t. When they are on sale, or freshly picked from the garden, I do my prep work. On a day when all I have to do to prepare supper is to heat up some left overs, I will sit in front of the TV and peel tons of garlic and a bag or two of onions [on a washable tv tray] while watching Discovery Home or Food Network. Then I go in the kitchen and wash them. I put whole garlic cloves in a zip lock freezer bag and toss them in the freezer. I cut my onions into quarters and put them in a zip lock freezer bag. Same thing with tomatoes, or I will take a bunch of fresh mushrooms, clean them, and freeze them also.

Other times, I will clean a whole bag or two of celery, and cut them into sticks. Into a freezer bag they go. I seed green or whatever kind of pepper I like, and freeze them in a freezer bag.

I will peel a bag or two of carrots, blanch them, and freeze them also, or pumpkin, or cabbage, or whatever.

Then, if I decide I want to make soup, or stew, or anything that needs any of these ingredients they are right at hand, without an ounce of effort on my part.

I don’t even defrost them. I take out however much I need for the meal and return the rest to the freezer. If I have to chop or slice them, I just run a little warm water on the vegetables in a colander, and then chop or slice them. It does not matter if they are still a little frozen inside, or they are not crisp; if you are cooking with them.

Every other week or so, I try to do some prep work ahead of time. I even will grate oranges, or lemons and freeze that for recipes that I might want to use.

Today, I will peel and core and slice a basket of pears I received as a gift, to freeze for a dessert later on.

I keep a ziplock of veggie peels and scraps, mushrooms, herbs, etc. and use it to make stock.

I freeze wine in cup portions or in ice cube tray.

I freeze leftover tomato paste in small portions.

I freeze chicken breasts or pork chops in brine, that way they are already tenderized when I need them.  A quick defrost and wash, and they are ready to cook up succulent and tender.

If you are squeezing citrus fruit for juice, but don't need the zest or peel at the time, remove it anyway and freeze it for later use. Use a zester or a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, not the pith.

Or, place strips of zest from a orange, or lemon, or lime in a canning jar, and pour vodka over it to cover. Mature in a refrigerator for 6 to 8 months, add the vodka to drinks, or stir a tablespoonful into desserts such as fruit salad, ice cream, or chocolate mousse.

Or add the citrus strips to a container of sugar and store for at least 3 days before using for a citrus flavored sugar.

Dry leftover bread to make bread crumbs in the oven till completely dry. Crush them either by hand or in a food processor. You can either freeze them - they will keep up to 6 months; or store them in a jar for about a month.

Or make croutons for stuffing by cutting the bread in cubes before lightly oiling/buttering and then drying them. I like to freeze these because of the oil and add chopped fresh herbs, chicken bouillon granules, chopped onions, and chopped celery. You have stuffing already made to use for your steak roll, your chicken or turkey, or your pork chops.

If you have to make one pie crust, why not triple or quadruple the recipe, and freeze the rest for later use.

Just remember:
Pie crust dough freezes better in a ball than rolled-out dough. A ball takes up little room in the freezer and it won't be broken when you shove in another half gallon of ice cream. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap. Thaw at room temperature, in the plastic to prevent it from drying out, until only slightly chilled. Proceed with your pie.

I do the same thing with biscuits. I make tons of them, and freeze them on a cookie sheet. Then I place them in bags for the freezer. When I want a couple for breakfast, that is all I take out. I let them thaw a little [maybe 20 minutes or so] on top of the pre-heating range, then bake them.

I had just taken the bag out of the freezer. I put them on an un-greased cookie sheet and set them on top of the range. At about 6:30 or so, I pre-heated the oven.

They were tender, golden, and rose nicely. I think because they are cold when going in the oven, they bake a few minutes more [I bake them at 475], but they are great.

My buddy
Mixfinder says:

"Sunbeam waffle maker grids are preseasoned when new. High temperatures and caustic cleaners remove the seasoning.  All commercial restaurants heat waffle irons in the open position so any seasoning on the grids doesn't carbonize or turn black.

In my own experience I always make waffle batter from scratch and always use a melted fat either butter or shortening. Oils carbonize at lower temperatures and don't release as easily as solid. Waffle mixes are far too light in texture to trust coming out in one piece. One can douse the iron with grease or spray but it makes the waffles blotchy and they don't crisp without direct bond to the grids.

When I truly need to clean the grids on a waffler I buy junking, they go directly into the self cleaning oven. Afterwards I brush them with melted Crisco and bake them at 250 for an hour. Then as the final installment I mix flour, water and shortening into a batter and bake it in the newly seasoned grids until the puck is quite browned. It won't stick because it has no leavening.

Then from that moment on, heat the waffler open and make waffles from scratch using melted butter. You'll never have a sticky or dirty waffle iron again."


Pourable storage container.
This requires a bit of forethought, but if you save the top of your salt container (the kind with the pop up metal spout) and cut it to fit the inside of the screw on canning jar lid ring, you’ve got a canister you can pour things out of, like a cinnamon and sugar mixture for your morning cereal or coffee.


Shaker for liquid mixtures.
Whether you are mixing corn starch and water for a gravy thickener, or letting the kids shake some cream to make butter for a fun at-home science experiment, having a couple of different sizes with lids can make sure you always have a container on the ready.


Send a guest home with a quart of spaghetti sauce or use it to transport soup to an elderly shut-in. They seal up well, and people can always use them for any of the other ideas on this list




 A fine sprouting jar mesh lid on an vintage aqua mason jar makes a fine dredger!



I like to use ½ or one pint aqua canning jars for spice storage. I found a two tier carousel which is a fantastic jar organizer.

Julia Child's Hints

"Keep the items you use most often close at hand.

Julia stored oil and vinegar right next to the stove. Whereas, fancy silverware and china was stored outside of the kitchen.

Group like with like.

Don't keep all your tools in one big jumble, break them into separate containers: one for forks, one for wooden spoons, etc.

Label things!

Julia's kitchen labels were both practical and comical. She marked jars of utensils with phrases like "spoonery" and "mostly wood."

Get back-to-basics.

You only need three knives: A good chef's knife, a paring knife and a bread knife. Store them on magnetic strips like Julia to save precious drawer space.

Think vertical.

Julia and Paul built vertical storage to store baking sheets and other trays.

Not everyone is perfect.

Even Julia had a "junk" drawer in her kitchen, which contained, among other things, WWII memorabilia and a champagne stopper in its original box with a note from "Jim Beard" aka the James Beard. (I like to think that the box managed to survive because it was only a very rare occasion on which Julia would not finish a whole bottle of champagne.)

And of course, the famous peg-board -- everyone loves the peg-board! Julia's husband Paul came up with this idea to store her pots and pans, and home cooks have been copying it ever since."



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