Conquering Your Kitchen: So you don’t have to spend all day making meals
Reading Conquering Your Kitchen by Annemarie Rossi is like having a friendly coach visit your kitchen to help you maximize your efficiency and get the most out of the time you spend there. If you’ve made a commitment to cook from scratch, avoid GMOs, and stay within your budget, you’ll love the friendly voice and experience expressed in this book, a beacon on your journey to getting the most out of your food budget.
I looked for a reason to fault this book, but the only weakness I could find was that it wasn’t around 35 years ago when I was making starchy perogies, and baking whole wheat door stops bread and runny jam syrup. I needed this book then. And even after 35 years as slave queen of the kitchen, I learned a few actionable tips that I’m going to apply as soon as I finish writing this review.
I was expecting a cookbook that would give me some scratch cooking recipes – like many of the Cook Books bloggers come up with. While you’ll find lots of easy to follow step by step, scratch cooking recipes here, this book also addresses the other part of successful cooking — organizing your kitchen, and meal planning. In fact, that’s what makes this book stand out.
If you walked in my kitchen right now you’d see a whole lot of empty wide-mouth canning jars on the counter. They’re clean but I have no cupboard space to store them. I am constantly moving them out of my way to plug in the slow cooker, or chop vegetables on a cutting board. Tonight they will be filled with raw goat’s milk, and put in the fridge, but today they are in my way. This morning I tossed out a few moldy bread crusts and 1/3rd of a rhubarb coffee cake. And I won’t even let you look in my fridge. Moldy bread and coffee cake is like throwing $20 bills in the garbage. Even the chickens don’t want it. But I found some actionable tips in Conquering your Kitchen, which are going to help me right away.
Let me share 3 actionable tips that really make the book exceptional. Chapter 1 begins by setting the stage for your kitchen success. The organizational tips were just what I needed. It’s not that I haven’t thought about getting more organized but I just didn’t have time to think through exactly what I was trying to accomplish. Annemarie takes the guessing out of the equation.
Actionable tip 1: Organizing the kitchen
“Good organization is the essential first step toward taking ownership of your kitchen. Learning how to meal plan is the next tool you’ll need in order to save time, money, and sanity. Savvy grocery shopping is the final piece that will help you bring together everything you need to get the job done in the kitchen.” (p. 18)
So how do you organize a room that is used 3+ times a day and gets new supplies added once or twice a week? It’s in constant flux. I used to tease my best friend because her spices were in alphabetical order in the cupboard. Actually, I was jealous of her organizational abilities. My spices were in bulk bags in a plastic container on the bottom shelf of my fridge. I excused my lack of talent in this area, because, afterall, I’m an artist and I’m homeschooling. I really wanted to be organized and stay organized. In my heart I knew that if I was more organized I could actually do more art – who stole hid the potato peeler? Why are my tools always disappearing? Can you identify with my dilemma?
Annemarie points out that your kitchen layout – where you put things – is important for your success. Ideally you want to minimize the number of steps necessary to get a meal on the table and clean up afterwards. You can do that by choosing carefully where you store both food and tools that you need. After you read this book, you may have an urge to clean out a few cupboards and reorganize your kitchen.
“Most kitchens are designed with a triangle setup based on three key points the sink, the fridge, and the oven because they are the most utilized appliances in the kitchen. In an ideal kitchen, the number of steps between the points in this triangle is minimal. This is your kitchen’s prime real estate, and you should place your most frequently used tools and food items within this zone.” (p. 22)
Dishes should be stored near the dishwasher. Pots and utensils near the stove. It sounds simple and doable. Another tip Annmarie offers is to minimize the electric appliances that come into your home. Yes, there are some that really improve your efficiency, like a Kitchenaid standmixer, a food processor, and a crockpot. (I already gave away my candy floss maker – used only twice in 15 years.) Looking at my own cupboards I can see underutilized space where I might be able to store those canning jars, if I put some of those under-used appliances in the basement.
Actionable tip 2: How to avoid throwing away food
What about the food that inevitably gets thrown out because it gets lost in the fridge or sits on the counter too long? Annemarie offers a way to stop wasting money by wasting food.
“After an item has sat in the refrigerator for a few days, find a way to use it or put it in the freezer. Even perishables like kale or scallions can be used up by putting them into quiche or soup. Set aside a few minutes twice a week to evaluate what’s in your refrigerator and find a way to move it through your meal plan. This beats throwing away rotten food any day.” (p. 25)
I’m a fan of the pantry method of menu planning, and this tip fits right in. For it to work for you, you need to assess what needs to be used up quickly and what you have on hand in staples, and work it into your menu plans in the next couple of days. That rhubarb cake could have been served with fruit and whipped cream on Monday night, instead of the dish of strawberries and whipped cream we had for dessert. Just a simple change that saves money and guilt, I’m going to incorporate this habit into my week.
Actionable tip 3: Plan your meals ahead of time based on the food you have on hand, and what’s on sale
This is something I strive for – planning ahead for what we are going to eat. If I had a plan I would know when to put beans on to soak the night before or what to take out of the freezer to thaw in the morning. I can do better at this. Annemarie offers a printable blank menu plan to get you started.
“To make your meal plan, pick out a variety of foods for each meal of the day. Come up with at least three or four different breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks that you ll eat throughout the week. Look at what s on sale and what you have on hand, and try to use up the food that s already sitting in your fridge. This is more practical and affordable than setting a meal plan based solely on what pops into your mind when you sit down to write the plan.”
This book is a treasure trove of tips, recipes, and encouragement that will improve the efficiency in your kitchen and let you spend more time pursuing the creative endeavours that you love. To celebrate the launch of this new book, Annemarie has a giveaway on her blog, so pop over there and enter the draw.
Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes. This review represents my honest evaluation of this book.