Kitchen Purging–2 Stories

Story 1:  One reader got right on the ball after reading the last post on “Getting, Giving and Purging,”  She wrote,

Simple Math: In came the NutriBullet, out went the old blender

“I recently took over the NutriBullet I’d given my son.  Compared to my current blender, the NutriBullet is far more effective, less hassle to use, easy to clean, and takes up little space.  Know anyone who wants a blender?”

Talk about action!  And she gets to benefit by having a lot better tool for blending, without having to stumble over the old blender.

But what if you’re not ready to give up the old blender completely?  Here’s a handy organizer’s tip:  store it off site (basement, closet, garage).  Attach a note with the date.  If you’re living fine without it after a year, you can put it in the Goodwill box without regrets.

Story 2, or “How to Make Equipment Decisions without Undue Angst or Buyer’s Remorse”

Interestingly, another reader was wondering about blenders, too.  But she was weighing whether to replace her regular blender with a Vitamix.  This is a question I get a lot and no wonder:  We’ve all been wowed by the Vitamix ads and all the cool things a Vitamix can do.  (I admit to buying one, although I later returned it.)  Here’s how I advised her:

Vitamix There are so many neat kitchen tools and gadgets.  But unless you have money to spare and don’t mind getting submerged in clutter, keep your plastic in your purse until forcing yourself to answer two key questions.

1) “What’s your objective?” and
2) “What’s the best tool for the job?”

In this reader’s case, she was attracted to the Vitamix so she could start vegetable juicing, and for this objective, a Vitamix would be perfect.  But then there’s the second question:  Is it the best tool? What’s “best” isn’t just a matter of function (where the Vitamix clearly excels), but also one of

  • cost ($400 to $600 for a Vitamix),
  • what you already have on hand (a regular blender that can achieve her objective just fine),
  • storage and counter space (a Vitamix takes up more room; her kitchen is on the small side), and
  • ease of use and ease of cleaning (probably a toss up.)

Based on these factors, it doesn’t seem worthwhile to shell out the price of a Vitamix.  But I asked one more question that sealed the deal:  “Does she juice regularly now?”  No, she is just getting started, it turns out.  All the more reason to wait on the big, expensive juicer.  Commit first to the juicing and see if you can make it a regular habit and if it produces the desired health benefits.  Then assess whether something more than a regular blender is needed–and when you weigh all the factors, especially price, the much less expensive NutriBullet might be the best choice if juicing is the objective.

Faced with a really cool product ad, you may not want to make this kind of hard-nosed assessment.  You just want the cool tool and want to find a way to justify it.  Which is a good way to get a case of buyer’s remorse.  That’s why I said, “force” yourself to answer the two key questions above.  That way you won’t end up with stuff that ends up being cupboard clutter instead of the valuable tool you hoped for.

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What Are Your Holidays Missing?

Getting, Giving–and Purging

Gifts are so much fun. As kids we loved getting them. As adults we learn the joys of giving them. But few people know about the final piece in the triad: Purging. Probably because it’s a fairly new piece of the puzzle. Purging wasn’t so vital before the Age of Stuff.

The slow cooker has become my new best friend as I’ve discovered more and more ways to take advantage of its convenience, from stewing chickens to roasting vegetables and making meatloaf. Because I use it so much, I gifted myself with a second one. The wide, round shape offers different cooking options than my first cooker which is taller and narrower. But, I don’t want to initiate clutter creep by leaving it on the counter.

But with houses stuffed with stuff, receiving a gift can trigger dismay as easily as delight. “Where am I going to put it?” you wonder before the wrapping paper even hits the floor.

Happily, the Christmas season of giving is followed by ringing in the New Year, and its motto offers just the advice we need: “In with the New, Out with the Old.” Professional organizers and clothes closet gurus have been saying the same thing for years: For each new item, eliminate one old thing.

A bottom cupboard houses my old slow cooker on the top shelf; below it would be a logical and handy place to store my new cooker.

Following this rule is especially valuable in the kitchen, where clutter builds slowly and imperceptibly. Bit by bit the counters become overrun, cupboards bulge and everyday meal making becomes unbearably time consuming and annoying.

So resolve this year, at the very least, to eliminate one old gadget for each new one added.This advice isn’t just theoretical as you can see from you CrockPot story to the right.

But what about the mixer, sifter and pitcher? They were used a lot when my kids were young and baking was a big part of our lives. Now they are rarely used and are an easy target. But no need to toss completely; instead I’ll just relocate to the basement storage shelves where I can retrieve them for occasional baking. Meanwhile, a perfect spot is opened for my new cooker.

In with the New . . .  Out with the Old

Simple mathematics.  But what if it’s not so simple to actually do?

This is where professional organizers come in. An outside eye can make clutter easier to spot, can help decide what to keep and what to toss, and can make lighter work with more hands. Plus, as a master organizer, I can work with you to create kitchen spaces that flow efficiently and smoothly, supporting rather than hindering. This year, I’d be happy to help get your kitchen under control–all or even just a part. Call or email to arrange a time–or order a copy of my book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, for a DIY solution.

Dried Beans–More Cooking Tips

Shelled beans at Abbondanza Farms.

Shelled beans at Abbondanza Farms

An earlier post explained several ways to cook dried beans.  While desk cleaning recently, I ran across an article with more bean-cooking tips.  It’s by John Broening, the owner of several seasonal and local restaurants in Denver and long-time Denver Post columnist.  I love John’s informative and down-to-earth articles, like “Winter Beans,”* where he sings the praises of his favorite comfort food, dried beans.  Along the way he shares two cooking nuggets:

  1. First, it may seem that dried beans are indestructible, and indeed they do have the advantage of a long shelf life.  But John notes that older beans have longer cooking times.  I’ve also found their flavor begins to diminish over time.  Of course it’s perfectly safe to eat beans that are a year or two old–no need to pitch them–but see if you can use them up in a year.  Not only does that artificial deadline  ensure better beans.  It will also inspire you to get more healthful beans into your meals–starting now!
  2. Secondly, John notes that our altitude makes stove top or oven cooking more difficult.  “Beans at altitude take twice as long to soften as they do at sea level and tend to cook unevenly.”  I’ve certainly found this to be true when cooking beans on the stove top.  Maybe that’s why a lot of people resort to canned beans.  Happily, I’ve not noticed this problem when cooking beans in the slow cooker, although I do have to use the “high” setting.

An electric pressure cooking is John’s solution for the altitude problem.  I’ve never used one, so let us know if you have experience to share on this point.  And in the meantime, give your slow cooker a try.  Although canned beans are perfectly fine, you’ll be amazed to see how flavorful beans can be when home-cooked.  No wonder John views them as the ultimate comfort food!

P.S. Why not make a bean dish tonight:  a white bean soup with kale, a red bean enchilada casserole, black bean burgers, garbanzo bean hummus. . . . There are so many options!

*from Edible Front Range, Winter 2009, p. 43

Onion Googles–They’re for Real

Onion Goggles

Available in a lot of sites on line.

As you can imagine, we chop a lot of onions in our classes.  And we get a lot of crying, too.  I thought people were joking when they talked about getting onion goggles.  I could just imagine having to strap on tight, hard-to-manage swim goggles every time an onion had to be chopped.  As if there aren’t enough barriers to onion chopping already!

But today in McGuckin’s holiday ad, I saw a pair of Onion Goggles, and they look completely easy to slip on and off.  Plus, at $15.99, they are about $5 to $10 cheaper than what I found online.  So maybe there’s a useful gift idea for the onion chopper in your house!

A few side notes:

  • Consider using them when chopping hot chiles, too.
  • Have a handy place to store them, both for protection and ease of access, e.g., a stand-up box/case nestled in your onion storage area.
  • For those who don’t want to be bothered, it’s another good reason to learn good knife skills; cut an onion efficiently and smoothly and you’re done before the crying begins.  Check out our Knife Skills classes coming up in the new year.

Kitchen Essentials: The Humble Storage Container

Storage Containers

The humble storage container is a kitchen essential–even if it’s not as glamorous as some kitchen hardware.

Food storage containers don’t rank in the A-list of kitchen gadgets like sleek Kitchen Aid stand mixers and shiny All-Clad cookware.  In fact, a lot of us muddle by with a random assortment of  yogurt cups and take out tubs–with dozens of even more random lids that never seem to fit anything.  Hence this article.

If you are interested in meals with any of these attributes–healthy, efficient, affordable, stress-free and/or tasty–then you need decent storage containers.  The yogurt cups and take out tubs can (mostly) be recycled. So recycle them now and get a set of sturdy containers that will last for years.  The rewards are many:

  • Enjoy Efficiency:  Absolutely begin doubling the amount of pasta, sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice, chicken, etc., etc., that you cook.  Extras stored in good containers will last perfectly for days, giving a good head start on later meals.
  • Get Healthy:  The previous trick is especially helpful when it comes to vegetables.  As long as you’re set up for washing and chopping, cut and store extras (vegetables hold up quite nicely in tight-seal containers.)  Then see if you don’t find more vegetables weaving their way into your meals.
  • Save on Stress:  Square containers are the best because they stack conveniently and maximize space in the frig.  They leave the refrigerator organized, with everything easy to view and remove.
  • Save Money:  Americans pitch enormous amounts of food.  Instead of pitching, start capturing leftovers in convenient storage containers and see what affordable (and healthy) snacks and lunches they make.  Plus, when I finally started transporting our foods in actual containers, I no longer lost food that exploded and leaked from unreliable yogurt cups.
  • Please Your Kids:  Homemade lunches ensure that your kids’ mid-day meals are healthful.  Good storage containers ensure that lunch won’t be splattered all over their lunch boxes–and it minimizes waste.

No question about it, good storage containers are an essential.  But maybe you’re having a couple nagging questions:

  1. What about plastic containers–are they safe?  Valid concern, with all the press lately about the dangers of plastic.  This is my solution to date:  I use glass for storing hot leftovers and reheating in a microwave; tight-seal plastics for transporting foods and storing vegetables.
  2. How many containers do I need?  If you’re just starting out, 15-20 pieces is not too much, since some will always be in use in the frig and some will be in the wash cycle.  Should it prove too much, pass some along to a friend or child setting up house.  Alternatively, they can be used to store and organize an array of other household items, from batteries and crafting supplies to nails and sprinkler parts.

Immersion Blenders: Economical Alternative to Food Processor for Creamy Soups

Food processors can be expensive, not only in terms of dollars but also in terms of the counter space they consume (a “cost” that runs especially high in small kitchens.)  But don’t let these barriers prevent you from experiencing the comfort and warmth of creamy winter soups.  An immersion blender is a much smaller and less expensive alternative that serves as an effective substitute for most jobs.

Pic of Immersion Blender with Attachments

Blender with whisk and chopper attachments

Tips for Buying and Using

Maximize your dollars by buying a three part unit with not only the blender wand but also a whisk (great for quickly beating egg whites and pancake batter) and a chopper (great for nuts, breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, etc.)  Kohl’s features a Wolfgang Puck model for $59.99 that is the most attractive deal I could find.

Don’t bother with a mini-processor.  They don’t have the power or capacity to be of much help.  For the money and space, an immersion blender is much more effective and versatile.

Anti-Splatter Tip:  When blending small amounts, splattering is common.  Tipping the pot or other container creates a deep enough pool of food to immerse the blender fully and prevent splattering.  For extra protection, set the pot in the sink

Pic of Soup Blending Tip to Prevent Splatters

Blending a Spinach-Red Pepper Soup. For small amounts, tip pot so soup pools together and blender gets fully immersed

before blending.

Green Kitchen Tip: Use Citrus Bags for Herb Washing

Keep those yellow, green and red mesh bags that lemons and limes come in.  They are perfect for washing herbs and, more importantly, spinning them dry.  Surely you’ve attempted to chop washed herbs that haven’t been spun dry.  The waterlogged mass turns into a mess of green slush.

Of course if you are on top of things, you wash the herbs the night or morning before they’re needed, in which case they’re nicely dried.  Chopping them is easy and the end result is a fluffy halo of green garnish on a finished dish.

But in case there’s a day when you’re not exactly on top of things, here’s a pretty good option: Use a saved citrus bag as a makeshift spinner.  Cut off any tags, then close one end with a bag closer or simple knot.  Pop the herbs inside, then:

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Step 1: Wash herbs under spraying water, separating and shaking to loosen dirt.

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Step 2. Head outside and, holding the open end tightly, fling the bag up an down several times.

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In the End: Herbs that are washed but dry and perfect for chopping.

I got this idea from the Veggie Scrub, reviewed in yesterday’s post.  This handy invention does a great job scrubbing vegetables and can also be used as an herb washer/spinner–for small amounts.  however, when I’m washing large bunches (e.g., for pestos, pistous and salsas), a large citrus bag does a more effective job of both washing and drying.

While you likely need only a couple citrus bags for herb washing, you needn’t pitch all the others that find their way into you kitchen.  They are perfect for bagging onions, garlic, potatoes and fruit at the grocery store, sparing the earth a couple more plastic bags.  (FYI:  Each year, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide.  Each American uses between 300 and 700 plastic bags each year.  This tip can reduce that annual figure to  just 299, or 298 or 297 . . . .)

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