Thursday, April 13, 2006

Five Principles of Kitchen Management

My mother was a fabulous cook; my grandparents ran a popular restaurant for many years and they passed along some secrets of creating great meals at the best price per serving. Unfortunately, Mom was such a great cook that I never learned much growing up except how to do the menial meal preparation: washing and chopping vegetables or stirring constantly. Once out on my own I started to realize how managing a kitchen is an art unto itself and learned all I could from my Mother.

Here are Mom's Five Principles of Kitchen Management:

1. Get real.

Only you know what you and the family like and want to eat. While it's good to try new things, be realistic about the meals you prepare. Are you really going to cook & eat that bag of rutabagas? Your basic food items should be things you know you enjoy and feel comfortable preparing. When you want to experiment, start small. If you've never cooked an artichoke, start with one and not a dozen.

2. Buy in Bulk or Sale.

Buy your basic food items in bulk or on sale. Marked down meat can go into the freezer. Pasta on sale keeps nearly indefinitely. One of the best bulk buys you can make is on spices and seasonings. For example, a small jar of oregano costs over $2.00. I bought the same amount for .37 cents. Loose tea made with an infuser rather than individual tea bags is also very economical. Wash and save glass jars to label and refill. This is also a good environmental practice.

3. Watch the Bulk Per-Pound Price.

Bulk buys are not always the better buy. Compare per-pound prices. True story: I was shopping for orzo pasta. I found the bulk bin and checked the price: $1.19 per pound. However, on the shelf nearby was the packaged orzo and it was selling for .99 cents per pound.

4. Stock the Pantry with Basics.

Stock the pantry with basic food items. This is not only economical, but good practice to be prepared in case of emergency. I could probably make about 47 meals with the basics in the cupboard and freezers. I'll put up a separate post about what I use as "basics." Essentially: grains, pasta, rice, oil, tomato paste, garlic, frozen spinach and peas, cheese, tuna, evaporated milk, etc. Buy perishable items like fruit and vegetables once per week.

5. Daily inventory to Prevent Waste.

Take a peak in the refrigerator, fruit bowl and cupboard once a day, usually in the morning. This takes only 30 seconds. Check what needs to be used soon and what can wait. Plan meals around the foods that need to be used. Even if the celery is wilted and the carrots are sighing, they can be made into vegetable stock. Take the leftovers for lunch. Grate that last drying chip of cheddar onto the meatloaf. Wasting the food you bought is the single most expensive thing you can do in the kitchen. According to the Food Waste Municipal Solid Waste site, 183.9 pounds of food per person are wasted each year:

"The USDA estimates that higher percentages of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and grain products are thrown away, while lower percentages of meat, dried beans, nuts and processed foods are disposed of."

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