I recently read a book called The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks.** This was one of the first non-fiction books I've really enjoyed in sometime. In the book, the author does an experiment where she goes into the kitchens of nine self-professed horrible cooks, sees what some of their mistakes are both in what they stock in their fridges and how they prepare food, then leads them in weekly classes to improve their kitchen confidence and skills.
In reading this book, I realized that a lot of the common mistakes people make in their kitchen are the same ones I make in cooking, too. For example, people are so married to the notion that you have to follow a recipe. When really, if you just throw things together that complement each other and add your favorite spices and seasonings, you can make a pretty yummy meal. So I started making more soups from scratch, and it's been pretty rewarding and delicious! The only problem is that my food processor isn't so patient with liquids, and I keep getting soup on the kitchen walls. But I can deal.
I've also been working on my knife skills. My aunt gave me a gift card to take this class for Christmas last year, but I never got around to doing it. So I went and learned much about knives and how to use them, and I've since been cutting things the right way. I asked for a better cutting board for Christmas, too.
I'm updating my spices. Spices should be replaced every 6-12 months. I haven't yet thrown away my old and defunct spices, and it's hard for me to admit they're no good, because they look okay, though some of them are seriously years old. But I have started to acquire new, fresh spices.
The last thing I've been working on is using up what's in my fridge and repurposing leftovers. We all know we should eat produce, and a lot of Americans will go to the grocery store and stock up on loads of the stuff, but then not know how to prepare it. Or, they'll buy the giant bag of spinach because it's a better deal, but they won't be able to eat it all. It ends up rotting in their fridges, and they end up throwing it out. Thus, Americans throw out 18% of their groceries a year.
Anyone who's spent more than 5 minutes with me knows I am obsessed with saving money — that travel habit of mine ain't cheap! So I decided to do a little experiment to see if I, too, threw out 18% of my food. I labeled the price of all my groceries for the week with Post-It notes.
Here are some of the rules I followed:
- Grocery shop with specific meals in mind. Planning meals saves money.
- Don't buy the bigger portion just because it's cheaper. So, for example, I bought a small amount of loose spinach instead of a whole bag of it.
- Don't buy fruits for the whole week. Buy enough for the next 2-3 days. If you eat it all, you can go back and buy more. You'll notice I only bought three apples.
And once I brought the food home, I tried to follow these rules:
- Save the meals with non-perishables for last.
- If something's starting to get mushy, eat it already! It's not going to get any better.
- Try to be creative with meals by using whatever's left from previous meals.
Throughout the week, every time I threw away a Post-It note, I felt great accomplishment. To try to use leftover tomatoes and basil, I mixed them with pasta and Parmesan cheese. It wasn't the tastiest thing I've ever eaten, but it was okay. To use up the rest of the buttermilk, I made biscuits. Even though the raspberries and strawberries were looking a little sad within a few days, I threw some yogurt over them, gobbled them up, and hardly noticed their overripeness. They tasted like saving money. Yum!
At the end of the week, I did have to throw some of it out. I couldn't use all the basil, and the tomatoes were pretty awful, even when I first bought them. I didn't finish the cucumber, and I don't even know why I bought it, as I don't even really like cucumbers that much. There was a little bit of spinach I never finished, so that went in the trash, too. I'd say I threw away 10%, which isn't bad, but I can do better.
I don't think I'd do the Post-It note thing again as it is a waste of Post-It notes and paper, but I will try harder this week. It'll be challenging with Thanksgiving; I know I will be sent home with tons of leftovers, and I will do my best to eat them all.
** Does anyone else think book titles are getting especially long for better SEO?