Quick Tip – Peeling Garlic

For awhile I’d heard this rumor that if you put a head of garlic in between two stainless steel bowls and shake it violently, it would remove the skin.

Sounds a little unreliable, don’t you think? Like, too good to be true?

I finally did try it, and guess what? It worked! And it’s so simple! Just put that garlic in between the bowls, and shake it like a Polaroid picture (Shake it! Shake, shake it!)… Okay, not really – more like a bartender shakes a drink mixer.

I did have to do this 3 times before it removed ALL the skin. So each time I separated the bowls to check on the garlic, I put the skin in one bowl and the garlic cloves in the other:

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

After 3 shaking sessions about 10-20 seconds each, I ended with this beautiful sight:

All cloves were free of peel!

All cloves were free of peel!

Now, if I only need 1 or 2 cloves, I probably wouldn’t use this method as it takes more time and effort than it’s worth; you should definitely wash the bowls to remove any residual oils or small pieces of peel. But when you need lots of cloves (I was studding a beef roast with them) it’s definitely a time saver. And it keeps your hands clean of that sticky garlic residue!

Plus, who doesn’t love a built-in workout? 😉

Semi-related articles: How & When to Plant Garlic and 5 Ways to Grow Garlic (because I want to this year!)

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Maximize your Time & Minimize your Waste in the Kitchen

I have never been one of those people that could have a marathon cooking day once a week and freeze meals in advance. I just don’t think I’m organized enough for that. Honestly, I don’t usually have that much time carved out in one day either.

But today I probably got the closest I ever will to that concept. (And it felt AWESOME!)

You know if you read the blog frequently that I almost always make substitutions on recipes from my OHI (On Hand Ingredients), for two main reasons:
1. To use up an OHI before it goes bad
2. To prevent purchasing an ingredient solely for the purpose of one dish, thus increasing savings

I have a hard time buying fresh herbs for this reason; I generally don’t need an entire bunch of a particular herb for a recipe – it usually only calls for 1-2 sprigs, or a handful of leaves, etc. And then I throw the rest away once it has been sitting in my fridge long enough that it goes bad.

But – with proper meal planning, and by beginning to make more things from scratch, I think I’ve begun to master the art of using all parts of every ingredient.

Prepping station!

Prepping station!

With just a few hours in the kitchen today, I made:
*Grilled Chuck Steak
*Chimichurri
*Quinoa with celery, corn, and parsley
*Creamed spinach
*Prepped veggies for chicken noodle soup
*Prepped veggies for homemade vegetable stock
*Celery sticks for snacking

From left: Veggie Stock ingredients, Veggies for chicken soup, chimichurri, quinoa, steak

From left: Veggie Stock ingredients, Veggies for chicken soup, chimichurri, quinoa, steak

Not only does this save me time for tomorrow because I did all the prep work at once, but I used up every part of the celery and parsley and used almost every other ingredient in more than one way.

Here’s the meal and prep plan.

DINNER, NIGHT 1:
Grilled Steak (cut and season)
Chimichurri (parsley, cilantro, garlic, EVOO, RW vinegar, jalapeno, oregano, S&P)
Quinoa (corn, parsley, celery, lemon juice, EVOO, mozzarella, salt)
Creamed Spinach (frozen chopped spinach, cream cheese, half and half)
Avocado (I like it with my steak – it cuts the saltiness of the chimichurri)
wpid-IMG_20140226_175022.jpg

OVERNIGHT STOCK:
Onion
Carrots
Celery
Parsley
Garlic
Asparagus (which was almost ready to be thrown out)
*Stock to cook in crock pot overnight

LUNCH, DAY 2:
Steak wraps with chimichurri, cheddar, lime, avocado, tomato
I might even try the leftover quinoa IN the wrap… I’ll let you know how that goes


DINNER, NIGHT 2
:
Homemade stock (from crock pot)
Chicken
Prepped veggies (carrot, parsley, celery, onion)
Homemade whole wheat bread
*Soup to cook in crock pot all day, after straining veggies out of stock

So, when you’re doing your meal planning, think about multiple uses for each item you’re buying – especially produce, since this expires quickest.

The steps below outline my thought process for meal planning to maximize your time and minimize your waste. Give it a try and let me know if it works for you!

1. Choose one night to try a new recipe and/or a new ingredient.
2. Think of other ways to use the ingredients in that recipe, or a different way to use that new ingredient. Implement meals according to those thoughts.
3. Always keep in mind ideas for leftovers so you’re not just reheating old meals, but you’re also not throwing things away.
4. Do prep all at once, as much as possible.
5. Research ways to use the ‘throwaway’ parts of produce and protein.

Pantry organization, Meal planning, and OHI pars

Dream pantry?!

Sometimes I wish my pantry looked like the one in this picture. Alas, all I have is an abundance of cabinets! Thankfully I do have a lot of them. But at this point in my life, my ‘pantry’ organization is based on what I allow my kids to get into or not. Yes I put locks on cabinets, but not all of them, because it’s way too much of a hassle. I limited myself to locking the ones that have glass or harmful things like cleaning products in them. Part of the reason is, I didn’t want to have to bother opening it myself. However, the biggest reason is this: I do believe, although it’s more work, to use all opportunities possible to TEACH my kids. Also I purposely put their snacks and dishes in low cabinets where they can reach, so they are able to help themselves. (Think cereal, crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars, fruit cups, etc.) Even if they can’t open the packaging themselves, they will bring it to me and ask if they can have it and if they can open it. Our youngest, at 14 months or maybe earlier, would go in the kids’ dishes cabinet and bring a cup over to the fridge if she was thirsty. I learned accidentally that kids are actually a lot more capable and at a lot earlier age than we give them credit for. Another example: when Aubrey (our eldest) was 2 and 3, she wanted to help me with everything: dishes, baking, laundry, cleaning, you name it. At first I kept saying no (which led to big-time disappointment on her end, and extravagant distraction methods on mine). Finally one day I figured, what the heck? I would wash the dishes and she would dry them. When she was 3 I learned she was actually quite good at folding her and her brother’s laundry – they were small enough for her to handle. Ah HA! I thought. A learning opportunity. I can teach her how to do these chores now, while she WANTS to, and I was getting help too. Why be a domestic martyr if it wasn’t necessary? I didn’t have to do everything myself, and she was learning valuable life skills she’d use the rest of her life. Win-Win.
Anyway, I am sure that once my kids learn to suppress their desire to dump my sugar all over the floor and play with it like sand, I will be again re-organizing categorically instead of according to what I can afford them get into or not 😉

That said, as I sit down to plan my weekly grocery trip, I wanted to share with you a list of my essential OHIs. Produce rotates seasonally, so they’re not listed specifically. These things are on the list because I know I can make meals spur of the moment from them if necessary. Here it is:
* 2 dozen eggs
* White and Whole Wheat bread
* Parmesan
* Shredded cheese of some variety
* Some lunch meat & cheese
* Milk, Half & Half, Sour cream
* Butter – sticks and spreadable
* Refrigerated rolls (Grands)
* Various Oils and vinegars
* Salad dressings and/or salad dressing mixes
* Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, low-fat mayo, peanut butter, grape jam, sriracha, BBQ sauce
* Cream of mushroom soup
* Spaghetti sauce (usually Hunts in the can or jarred Prego)
* Canned tomatoes  – various varieties
* Bananas – this is my yearly consistent fruit. We ALWAYS have bananas. Quick for snacks, and great for baking.
* Onion and garlic
* Dry snacks: crackers (wheat or Ritz usually), granola bars, fruit snacks
* Dry pasta (whole wheat when possible): angel hair and various shapes of boxed dry pasta
* Mac n Cheese
* “Cheater” sides: Instant mashed potatoes, Knorr rice and pasta sides
* Rice
* Cereal
* Waffles
* Frozen pizza, frozen chicken nuggets
* Frozen mixed veg, Frozen steamed microwavable veg (Green giant or Steamfresh)
* Hot dogs
* Baking supplies: whole wheat flour, white sugar, cocoa powder, semi-sweet chips, baking soda and powder, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, allspice
* Seasonings: kosher salt, sea salt, table salt, pepper, pepper grinder, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, taco seasoning packet, country gravy packet
* Seasonal fruit for snacking: berries, grapes, etc.
* Seasonal fresh veg that I can build a meal around, or build into a meal
* Protein – generally chicken breasts or thighs, some kind of pork, ground sausage or beef, occasionally fish, red meat, or ham

Now I’m going to be straight up with you. I work 3 nights a week at a restaurant. On those nights I allow myself to make ‘cheater’ meals. I have to be there at 5, which means dinner should be finished by about 4:30.  This means a combination of the following items, usually following the ‘meat, veg, starch’ guideline: pizza, fries or tater tots, mashed potatoes, Knorr sides (rice or pasta), frozen steamed veg, raw veg, fruit, chicken nuggets, mac n cheese, hot dogs. I felt really bad about this for awhile, like I’m feeding my family crap. But you know what? Until I don’t have to work at dinner time any more, or we don’t need my income anymore, it’s a necessary part of our life, so I just learned to be okay with it. I don’t have to extend too much mental energy making these things, and they’re pretty much no-brainers. Sometimes if I do have extra time, I’ll make a casserole or maybe a chicken pot pie, something that can be in the oven while I’m getting ready for work. Every once in awhile I’ll do a crock pot meal, but generally I don’t have time to eat dinner before work, and I like to enjoy my crock pot meals, so that doesn’t happen often.

So before I make my grocery list, I take stock of my OHI. I figure out what I need to replenish and then do my meal planning based on what’s on sale that week. That plus coupons determines my list for the week. And that’s another post entirely 😉