Saturday, 17 February 2018

Simplicity in the Kitchen

Simple cooking is my mantra lately when it comes to meals.  Jim and I both have some specific dietary needs and we both eat low-carbohydrate most of the time.  We have limited energy for all things in life, including cooking although I do enjoy cooking at times. 

I cook with meat, vegetables, dairy, eggs and nuts, I use small quantities of fruit, and I keep starches, sugars and grains  low to negligible and this is what works for us.  I don’t worry about lean cuts of meat and I use olive oil, butter and sometimes lard.  Broth, herbs, liberal amounts of garlic, onion and tomato, salt and pepper lead to delicious meals and I have a handful of favourite recipes in rotation. 

Given a low level of energy and stamina I don’t have the ability to cook elaborate meals, so simple preparation is important, reliable methods for cooking food so it stays moist and flavourful, and being content to eat the same things frequently are all what make it work.  I roast or sauteĆ© vegetables and often I cook casseroles and stews.  I use my crock pot regularly and we don’t object to leftovers so I often cook in large batches, making enough for about three meals at a time and thus reducing the work load.  I rarely cook from a recipe unless I have seen something new and I need to make it a few times before I’ve internalised the ingredients and method. 

Simplicity matters in our household but we still want to enjoy our food.  Here are the main tricks.

Keep a variety of vegetables on hand.  Roast, sauteĆ© or steam a combination of vegetables to serve either as a medley or to have two options for flavour and texture variety.  I happen to think onions go with pretty much everything so they are almost a given.  Sauces can be lovely but  vegetables taste great with salt, pepper and a drizzle of butter or oil.  Cheese sauce is easy so sometimes I make that.

Chicken thighs stay more moist than breasts and are usually cheaper.   I fry them in butter and olive oil, add salt, pepper, garlic and onion ( often powder as it’s easier ) to season them and I can do a large batch one night and we eat them re-heated for a couple of days.  Dark meat stays moist even when re-heated.

leaner cuts of meat can dry out, but slow cooking in liquid is great for pork and chicken breasts.  Put some breasts in the slow cooker, spread some sun dried tomatoes in oil over them and blobs of cream cheese. 

I aim too cook with whole food ingredients, and there is little processed food in my home but I am also aiming for simplicity and ease because I cannot give a lot of energy to cooking.  As someone who grew up and learned to cook everything from scratch this was a tricky transition.  I purchase stock in tetra-paks, I usually have mayonnaise, sugar free ketchup, tins of tomato paste, natural peanut butter, tins of coconut milk, jars of sundried tomatoes and sometimes sundried tomato pesto on hand.

 One of my secret ingredients is Nutritional Yeast.  It adds that umami flavour and since it dissolves in liquid, works well stirred into sauces and can be mixed into melted butter, oil or any other liquid being added to a dish.  I first discovered nutritional yeast when I was vegan, many years ago as it is said to add vitamin B12 to the diet.  I believe that claim is debatable or dependent on whether or not the vitamin has been added to the yeast.  It is not apparently a natural component of the yeast, which is deactivated and thus does not foam or rise the way baking yeast does.  It has a yellowish colour and to me tastes somewhere in between chicken and cheese.  It makes a good vegan substitute for either one in terms of flavour. 

My pantry and spice cupboard both get a bit messy, and as I work at simplifying my kitchen I am paying more attention to what actually gets used. As there are now two of us in this home I am refining my cooking to suit both our tastes.  I seem to have given up using Dijon mustard or at least a small jar of it is going to last me ten years.  Condiments, spices and seasonings is the clear out next on my agenda.

I have cleared out surplus cooking pans and bakeware although I still own pans I can’t bring myself to get rid of despite not recalling the last time they were used.  I rarely use my tube cake pans or springform pan but a couple of times a year I do.    I probably use a few of the saucepans from my set more often than others but I hate to break up a set.  Fortunately it’s not my goal to become minimalist just for the sake of it.  It is my goal to eliminate the unnecessary, the surplus and the unwanted.  I can easily accommodate what I have right now even though I have a bit of surplus. 

The cooking utensil drawer does drive me nuts.  I haven’t got a method of organising the strangely shaped items that end up in a jumble, and I know there are things in here I don’t really need.  I thought funnels would be a great idea.  When I didn’t own any it seemed they would be useful. I sought them out and I’ve never use them.  I have a meat thermometer I’ve only used once and some items I no longer use because my diet and cooking style has changed over the past five years. 
Here is the utensil drawer as it was until recently and has been for years.

Here it is after the first clear out.  

Several items were removed and put away though not yet donated as I will wait and see if I miss any of them before I completely let go.  It doesn’t really look like a minimalist drawer but it is every cooking utensil I have and use.  Many minimalists will suggest getting rid of single use items but I have a few of those which I like, such as my zester.  I find using it easier than scraping a lemon along the fine side of a cheese grater and there are still two small knives, though their shapes are different so they have slightly different uses.  There are two large knives as well as one large serrated knife.  Two knives makes sense for when two people are both working on food preparation.  

That rolling pin you can see at the back of the drawer should really go too.  I no longer use it.  

What got removed:

 a wooden spoon, meat thermometer,  potato masher, an avocado slicer and pitter, various duplicate measuring spoons, a terracotta brown sugar softener, a set of funnels and a pastry blender, also some random plastic utensils which I probably felt too guilty about throwing out and a metal clip for which I don't even know the intended function.

I am storing them inside a roasting pan I've probably only used a couple of times.  I don't cook roasts very often and definitely not large ones.  These are all in the bottom drawer of my oven where I can pretty much ignore them to find out if I miss them at all.  I'm certainly finding the newly reduced utensil drawer an improvement and there is no more frustrated rummaging.  It seems possible that I will keep the roasting pan and potato masher for once a year use, since this drawer is available and they can live here nicely.  Everything else will most likely be donated in another month.  

Ahhhh the simplified kitchen is almost happening!

1 comment:

  1. I don't do complicated meals very often either. I love cooking but my motto is always the faster the better. I suppose it could be said I live on Mediterranean diet, that's where I'm from and that is how I learned to cook, it's my native cuisine. I made some alterations to my diet and I occasionally try something new. My diet is founded on vegetables but I also like fish. I'm not allowed much fruit.

    Sometimes I prepare traditional meals that take a lot of time, but then I freeze them. This is great as it saves future cooking time. Having a few prepared meals in the freezer is great.

    I need to organize my kitchen but I keep postponing it.


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