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Efficient Kitchen

I for one am sick and tired of notable chefs and cooks selling out and buying into the whole "30 minute meal" phenomenon. I won't mention any names Nigella... Delia... ahem! I cook 98% of my food from scratch and it rarely takes me more than 30 minutes to prepare a meal, usually much less. I am of the persuasion that you should not substitute quality to get something on the table quicker.

So instead of bringing you ten ways to save time in the kitchen I am bring you a list of simple changes you can make in your kitchen to ensure fresher, more efficient and better tasting food whilst making the kitchen a more enjoyable place. Ultimately some of them will save you time and money, but taste wise you won't sacrifice a thing!

Use fresh herbs. Most recipes require seasoning of some sort and if not, adding some can make quite a difference. Even if you insist on making casseroles with canned soup (and I'm not judging, I made one last week) adding a pinch of fresh chopped thyme brings it to a different level. Most supermarkets carry fresh herbs these days, but it's also very easy to grow a small herb garden on your kitchen window. Currently I have basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, bay leaves and flat-leaf parsley growing. I would have coriander (cilantro) as well, but I haven't been able to get it yet. If you don't have green fingers, like me, I suggest buying the plants already grown. I love just being able to snip a bit here or there and really enhance my cooking. Before growing them myself I would make sure to always have parsley in my fridge and usual a bit of basil too. Ultimately growing your own will save you money and time! I am not opposed to dry herbs, except for parsley, but fresh makes such a taste difference!
Grate your own cheese. Seriously. This takes maybe thirty seconds longer, but the taste difference is unbeatable. Pre-shredded cheese usually has a flour or starch coating added to it to separate the pieces. You can often buy one block of cheese for the same price as 3-4 bags of an equal amount of grated cheese. Yes, it will take you a little longer to grate your own, but it's cheaper, tastier and just plain cheese!

Buy free-range eggs. As someone on a budget I often have to make concessions and pass up on the lovely organic food I long to buy. However, one thing I will not concede on is eggs. I know battery chickens have a terrible life, but that in itself is not why I choose free-range. I truly believe they have a superior taste and texture. If you don't believe me, buy a battery egg and an organic or free-range egg. Crack them both and look at the colour difference. The free range will have a lovely yellow yolk and a nice thick white. Now fry them up. Add a little salt. Which tastes better? Honestly now! It is worth the small price difference even in baking.

Get a good knife. Yes I did say a knife. If you can afford it and want the whole set, don't let me stop you, but really all you need is a decent chef's knife. Some brands to look out for include Wusthof, Global, Sai and Henckel. Personally I love global as they are contemporary looking and weighted. Chefs knives come in all sizes, so pick one that works for you. Personally I don't like a big blade and use a 6.5 inch chefs knife. I also have the hots for Global's smaller santoku knife, which my Mom has. Keep your knife sharp. I give mine a little love every day before using it. Just a few swipes on a steel. If it cuts through a tomato without any pressure you're all set. Take care of your knife. Name it, mine is Al. Never put it in the dishwasher. Learn how to use it. You don't need to go to culinary school to have good knife skills. Just buy some cheap vegetables like onions or cabbage and start practicing, it's all in the wrist. You can even watch some videos here. Ultimately you will save so much time with a good knife and it's a lot less dangerous than a blunt or poor quality knife. Easy and fun!
A stick (immersion) blender is all you really need. From someone who at one point had everything BUT a stick blender, take it from me, these babies rock! I used to have a beautiful Kitchen Aid (sniff) and a fabulous Cuisinart food processor as well as various other chopping gadgets back in the US. Now I have a stick blender. It chops, it whisks, it purees, it makes smoothies, it rules! I do have a very nice food processor, but I rarely get it out as the stick blender is sufficient for nearly everything I do and a big time saver in terms of the hassle in getting the processor out and put together and then cleaned up again. Now having said all that if my US KitchenAid worked here I would take it back in a flash, but mainly for the dough hook.

Use real garlic. I know how easy it is to buy the jar of already minced stuff, but don't, compared to the real stuff it is NASTY! If you have a garlic press it will take you just as long to crush a clove as it would to open a jar and spoon some garlic flavoured goop out. And for goodness sake no garlic powder in place of fresh garlic in a recipe ok??? I use Al to chop my garlic and I keep promising myself a garlic press, so it takes me a good bit longer than using the jar, but if you have a press or other handy garlic chopper you've no excuse! Use some caution with fresh garlic. I never trust a recipe that has me add garlic with the onions. Garlic burns SO easily and burnt garlic is bitter and horrible. I usually saute onions first and add the garlic for a minute at the end and then follow the recipe as written. Same goes for ginger. Use the real deal and grate it. And lemon juice too. Buy the lemon. Please.

Use good chocolate. If you enjoy baking, try not to sacrifice on chocolate. I used to pass on the organic cocoa powder, but I have yet to find anything remotely comparable to Green and Blacks. It is top notch and makes your brownies SO much better. I also always have some high qulaity chocolate bars on hand. This means at least 70% cocoa solids. My favourite at the moment is the Lindt 80% bar, although I plan on trying some of mad Willy's 100% bar as soon as I can source it.

No substitute for real butter. If a recipe calls for butter, use butter. If a recipe calls for margarine, use butter. Forget the fat, it's just milk, whereas that other stuff is full of chemicals and tastes like crap. I'd rather cut back on butter than spraying my food with chemicals. A little butter goes a long way. If you like eggs on toast but don't want to sacrifice calories on the butter, add 1/4 teaspoon of butter to the eggs as they are cooking and you will get the taste with less of the fat. I love sauteeing everything in butter, but to cut down on saturated fat I usually use extra virgin olive oil, but toss in a sliver of butter to get the taste I crave. Add a sliver of butter to finished sauces for a velvety finish. If you are in the US and can afford it, I strongly recomment you buy a European butter, as the taste and colour are far superior. I used to buy the French President butter when we lived over there, but you can get our own lovely Kerrygold here as well!

Alliums are your friend. Onions, shallots, scallions, leeks, chives and garlic are essential in cooking. No matter how much you think you hate them I can guarantee that all your favourite restaurant foods are full of them. Most soup bases are full of onions and would be tasteless without them. Try sauteeing a few diced shallots before making your normal bechamel or risotto. It adds such a wonderful dimension. Shallots are my favourite in the allium family as they add an almost wine-like presence to food. Leeks are another wonderful vegetable. Just sauteed in a little butter they make the most wonderful acompaniement to any dinner. If you don't like the strong taste of onions, then leeks might be for you. I use alliums in everything. If I looked at my most frequently purchased grocery onions would top milk or bread!
Try baking your own bread. I used to be terrified of yeast breads, but now I love them. There is something so incredibly satisfying about kneading your own bread and after awhile it becomes instinctive. I recommend starting with pizza dough and working your way up. It's really not hard - I promise, but if you're still scared, try some beer bread instead.


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