Three Kitchen Time-Saving Tips

kitchen tips

I won’t sugar coat it. Eating right takes work. There’s planning, shopping and of course… the cooking. It can feel like a full time job trying to stay on top of it all. And then you get through a week – “whoa, I did it!” And Monday comes again…

I’ll let you in on a secret though… it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little strategy you can save yourself hours in the kitchen and make more time for the things you really want to be doing… like the other kind of vegging. Here are a few tricks you can use in the kitchen to help you save time and sanity….

Use Leftovers – A Monday night is very different from a Thursday night. We all have the best of intentions at the beginning of the week, but by the end the take-out menu stack can be all to enticing. So set yourself up for a healthy week by harnessing that “it’s a new week” motivation and make a few things that will give you plenty of leftovers to work with when you run out of steam. Spaghetti squash can be combined with other veggies and sauce for a pasta, or add it to a soup as “noodles.” Cook up pots of grains, beans, lentils and combine them with your favorite veggies and seasonings later in the week. With part of the work already done, you’ll cut your cooking (and clean up) time in half.

Multitask – My philosophy is if you’re going to mess up the kitchen, make it count! And get as much done and prepared when your kitchen is already a disaster as you possibly can. For me, this means making my lunch for the next day while dinner is cooking. If you have kids, it could be making baby food, snacks, lunches, anything easy and edible while you’re at it. You already have the things out that you’ll need. And you’ll already have to clean up the kitchen anyway. So knock it out. And it’ll be one less thing you have to do (and clean) later. Plus it gives you something to do other than checking Instagram while you wait for the water to boil.

Prep Ahead – Again, here’s where that “it’s a new week” energy can really serve you well. After going to the store, instead of shoving all your veg in the fridge, chop them up first and store them in containers. With that part out of the way, most of the work is done. And putting a meal together is just a matter of combining a few ingredients. Use your chopped veg in salads, stir fries or whatever else you have planned to make for the week. And in the time you would have spent chopping each night, go for walk, read a book, catch up on the DVR, or whatever else YOU want to do.

Want more tips? Hop on over to my friend Sarah’s blog to read about our grocery store tour. She has all sorts of great shopping tips from our time together. Still want more? I offer personalized shopping tours that can help make the whole planning/shopping thing a breeze. Contact me for more info.


How to Build a Whole-Foods Pantry

As anyone who’s new to cooking knows, getting started can be quite an investment. You may have experienced this: You’re looking online for something to cook for dinner and find a recipe that looks delicious, but it calls for oils, vinegars and spices that you don’t just happen to have in the pantry. When you add those items to the shopping list, a simple home cooked meal is now more expensive than take out. Sound familiar?

Whether you’re just getting started in the kitchen or transitioning to a more whole-foods diet, building up to that point where a trip to the store is just for the fresh stuff can take a lot of time and money. Thinking about all the spices, oils, vinegars, grains, condiments can be quite overwhelming. But don’t let it intimidate you. To get started all you need are a few basics, and from there you can grow your pantry as you continue to experiment in the kitchen.

For sanity sake, stay away from recipes with more than handful of ingredients. Most of the time, the best dishes are the ones that only have a few. If something calls for umi boshi vinegar, novices: keep browsing. No need to get all exotic, when your pantry is still missing balsamic. That’s one you can build up to. But if curiosity gets the best of you, I’m the last person to stand in your way. I’d be lying if I said that my pantry grew out of practicality and a stick-to-the-essentials approach. I’m a sucker for new food stuffs. I always end up picking up a new spice or grain to add to the collection. That’s why my pantry looks like this….

Full disclosure: This is what our pantry used to look like. We’re in the middle of moving so it got packed up last week and now sits in storage until we can move into our new house. We have about three weeks to go until we can unpack after a few renovations are complete — one of which is the kitchen (eek!). As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m pretty excited about that one. For now though, let’s get back to the pantry….

I actually took these photos months ago with the intention of doing this post, but it’s taken me awhile to get around to it. Part of my delay has been the whole house hunting/buying/renovating/moving process (there hasn’t been time for much else), and part is that for some reason posting pictures of our pantry feels like showing the Internet my underwear drawer. It may sound odd, but, there’s a reason pantries have doors… I’m happy to put modesty aside though and expose my madness for the sake of helping others. I say madness because, well, I may be obsessed. I get excited when I have an excuse to pick up a new spice. I feel compelled to fill up the walnut container when it’s only 1/4 full. And if we’re out of quinoa, sound the alarm. OK… it’s not that bad. But, if you understand my obsession, you must be a whole-foods cook too.

What I’ve learned is if you’re really going to cook, the pantry has to be approached as an evolving collection – and one that’s developed with joy. Once you get going with your own and you have a few of the basics on the shelves, you can just continue to add one or two items with each trip to the grocery store.

Here’s my approach to organizing the panty and starting a collection of essentials for oils, vinegars, spices, grains, beans/lentils, produce, and packaged items. By all means, do with this what you will and feel free to start with what makes sense for you and what you like to cook and eat. Just always bear in mind, like nearly all processes, it’s a journey. The only destination is your pure enjoyment in the kitchen. So have fun!

Organizing the Pantry
No two pantries are alike so what works in ours may not work for you. Take into account the number of shelves you have, door space, etc. as well as which items you use most frequently and which items you use the least.

I keep the items that I seldom or occasionally use at the very top, and the items that are used on a regular, or daily basis in the middle, or at eye level. For us that means the top is baking ingredients – different flours, sweeteners, etc. Since I do a lot of gluten-free baking, I store a variety of gluten-free flours in a big air-tight container way up there out of reach. And I keep some of the more delicate flours in the fridge. I use those flours every few months to make a flour blend which gets  stored in an air-tight container that’s more easily accessible.

The shelf below that one holds coffee and tea, as well as cooking/storage items like plastic bags, aluminum foil and wax paper. And below that, just above eye-level (for me) are cooking essentials spices, oils and vinegars. Since we do a lot of cooking, I wanted these items to be easy to grab. Spices are on a turnstile, and oils, vinegars are organized with our favorites at the front.

The lower set of cabinets are organized the same way – with the most used items kept within reach.

I use nut butters in smoothies and put them on rice cakes for breakfast so they fall into our frequently used category. Nuts, seeds and food bars get snacked on. Nuts and seeds also end up in my usual lunch salad too so I like having those right there.

I store dried grains and beans in air-tight pop top containers. I keep them in the back and on the side of this shelf, just below eye level – accessible, but out of the way, along with oil containers that just happen to be too large to fit above (we make due with the space we have, right). Fresh cooking essentials like garlic, onions and root vegetables are kept in a glass bowl on this shelf too. I consider these types of produce to be pantry staples because they have a longer shelf life than other produce and can be kept in a cool, dark place for weeks and even up to a month. Onions and garlic are also the most basic of flavorings for every dish. Those are the real staples.

The last two shelves are mainly storage for things like baking dishes, bulk containers (that white vinegar in the back), hoarded shopping bags, and snacks not to be kept at eye-level – like those bags of M&Ms there.

The key to a well organized pantry is taking into consideration how you cook and eat. Your pantry should serve your needs in the kitchen and make cooking easier. It’s all about setting the stage to save time, money, while also making the experience as enjoyable as possible for you, the cook.

Pantry Essential Checklist

Starting from scratch and not sure where to begin? Here is my list of pantry essentials. With these in stock, you can make a number of fantastic dishes by simply adding a few fresh ingredients like fresh herbs, dark leafy greens, other veggies, and meats, if you like.

extra-virgin olive oil
virgin coconut oil
sesame oil

balsamic vinegar
mirin (rice wine vinegar)
apple cider vinegar

sea salt
black pepper
crushed red pepper

dijon mustard
cocoa powder

almond butter
chia seeds

brown rice

black beans
garbanzo beans

packaged items:
teas (herbal, green)
whole-grain pasta
whole-grain crackers

root vegetables


Fish with a Kick

Here’s a southwestern seasoning to use on white fish if you want a little kick. I’ll sprinkle it on tilapia and bake it in the oven, or you can pan fry it on the stove too. It’s a good, quick, dinner-for-one meal. You could even make the seasoning in advance so you have it ready to go on a night that you just want to throw something together fast. I did this last night with cilantro-lime rice and the Mexican Explosion. Perfect combo!

For the rice, just make long grain white rice following to the directions on the package. Then when it’s almost done cooking, add some chopped cilantro, squeeze in some lime juice and stir. Easy. And so much better than a package!

And for the fish…

Here’s what you need:
(Recipe serves 4)

1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (add more if you want more kick)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lime

Here’s what you do:

Prehead oven to 450 degrees. Mix the garlic powder, chili powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Squeeze lime juice over both sides of the fish. Sprinkle seasoning evenly over both sides of the fish. Spread 1 tbsp olive oil on baking sheet. Place fish on sheet. Drizzle remaining olive oil over the filets. Bake 7-9 minutes or until fish is opaque and flaky.

Whole Foods’ Web site has lots of tips for preparing and cooking fish, plus nutritional highlights for different types of seafood.


Mexican Explosion

I’ve had this explosion-in-your-mouth salsa many a time – my Mom makes a fantastic one, so does Em-lee and one of my roomies … we’ll call her Bride-to-Be for now (she’s getting married in November). But, I ended up making an improvised version myself last night because I had two avocados that looked like they either needed to be eaten immediately or trashed. Never one to waste food, I chopped them up and combined them with some diced tomatoes, a can of black beans and a can of corn. I added some cilantro (bought for our original intention of making guacamole) and squeezed half a lime over it all. I’ll call it Mexican Explosion; when you mix it all up, that’s what a looks like – a big colorful mess of fresh.

Without any chips in the house, I ate it plain. The ultimate versatile dish – it can be a dip at a party, topping for fajitas, thrown in a salad or a simple side.

Here’s what you need:

1-2 avocados, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1/2 red onion, chopped
1-2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lime

What you do:

Mix the avocado, tomatoes, black beans, corn and onion in a bowl. Stir in olive oil. Add cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over the mix. Refrigerate before serving.

Bell peppers would be a good addition to give it some crunch.
Want it spicy? Add jalepenos.