Monday, June 10, 2013

Part II: 7 Time-saving Tips to Save Your Sanity in the Kitchen

In the second part of my "Kitchen Cool: Secrets of a Vegan Personal Chef" series, I address one of the greatest obstacles we all face when it comes to cooking: time. We never seem to have enough of it. And we always try to cram as much as we can into what little we have. While that can sometimes help with productivity, it often comes at the expense of our mental health and overall satisfaction.

But how do you make more time when we only have the same 24 hours of it each day??

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to minimize and manage stress in our lives. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga, positive visualization, or any other technique you’ve developed to help keep a calm and peaceful mind, this is the state you want to achieve when approaching your cooking. Now, I understand that’s difficult after a long day at work or with several screaming kids running around underfoot, but it’s nevertheless essential to preparing a meal that everyone will love.

Consider it the Zen of vegan cooking.

Imagine where your food came from, how the plants grew in the soil and were nurtured by the sun and the rain. Feel the energy that Mother Nature put into growing each luscious vegetable. Touch them and take a moment to hold them in your hand, paying attention to the texture, shape and weight. Expand your senses by examining them visually and envisioning a rainbow on your plate, then notice their aromas. The bright, sour note of citrus peel always perks me up! And fresh herbs like basil and oregano always transport me to my grandma’s kitchen. As you move through each step of the cooking process, come back to these thoughts to help ground you and connect back to who you are: a vegan chef.

The Lowdown

The life of a restaurant chef is frantic, hectic, stressful and chaotic. This is seen as “normal” in the industry, and in many cases even desirable. It is anything but healthy. While the fast-paced world of a busy commercial kitchen may demand this, it does not mean you need to bring these qualities to your own kitchen. You are not churning out meal after meal of the same 15-20 apps and entrees for 10 hours straight, keeping up with orders as they fly in and fly out, prepping, saucing, sauteing and plating. You do not have a whole crew working for you, managing every move they make. If you’ve panicked at the thought of doing this in your own kitchen, pushing yourself to exhaustion while slave-driving family members to cut up veggies, remember, you’re not on TV. You are cooking for your family, your loved ones... people who know you and know who you are. Share positive vegan qualities of a peaceful mind, compassion, joy, and love with them and it will come through in your food. Namaste.

The Dirty Secrets

  1. Get organized (mentally and physically) before the oil hits the pan. 
    • determine the menu and read through your recipe(s) thoroughly to determine sequence of steps, total time allowance, and how to choreograph multi-tasking of components 
    • identify which ingredients are from pantry and which are from refrigerator and place all of them on the countertop
    • create a prep station separate from your cooking station 
    • ensure proper lighting of your prep surfaces and cooking area, particularly on your cutting board
    • breathe! do a few yoga stretches! visualize yumminess!
  2. Do the mis en place roundup of ingredients, equipment and utensils once you determine your menu. 
    • lay out ingredients on countertop in categorized regions according to usage:  your most frequently used staples such as olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper should be placed next to the stove for ease of use, dry goods such as grains, canned items, and beans next, produce that needs to be washed and peeled next, then closest to the sink is produce that needs to be washed thoroughly then left in a colander to dry, such as greens and herbs 
  3. Location, Location, Location! To minimize walking, the ultimate wasteful time-sapper, your cutting board should ideally be located on the countertop between the stove and the sink. If this is not possible, then next to the stove is best. A table placed between the sink and stove can provide additional counter space as well as reduce footsteps. Your goal is to be able to pivot on a dime. 
  4. Multi-task the cooking process. 
    • Work backwards 
    • Prep first, cook later 
    • Work on several recipes at once (you have 4-6 burners... use them all!) 
    • Preheat and get baking, and set your timer if you need an audible reminder 
  5. Make every moment count by making use of every moment. 
    • While waiting for a pot of water to boil, wash, peel and cut veggies. 
    • While onions are sauteing in a skillet, prep the sauce. 
    • If you have a full stovetop and something is cooking in the oven, move to your cleaning station and tidy up. 
  6. Clean as you go. 
    • There’s nothing worse than a messy stovetop and dirty dishes in the sink after a long day of cooking and night of partying. Minimize this stress by cleaning as you go. 
    • Place leftovers in containers and allow them to cool on the countertop before sealing and placing them in the fridge. 
  7. Put everything back where it belongs. 
    • pantry items should be resealed and returned to their shelves 
    • slide electronics to the back of the countertop 
    • store unused produce in containers and bags and put them in your fridge or freezer immediately 
When you put these steps into daily practice, you will create a stress-free zone in your kitchen that you will naturally gravitate to and which will become your personal oasis.  Once you achieve this state of mind, you will discover a greater appreciation for the food you create and cooking will become a way of expressing your inner joy with the people you care about. 

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