Contain your mess
1. One of the best ideas I’ve seen in this category came from Rachel Ray—yep, I said it—for the good old “GB” (that’s Garbage Bowl to the uninitiated). The idea is to have a dedicated bowl that you throw all of your scraps into so that you don’t have to walk back and forth to the trash can, or amass an enormous pile of who-knows-what that you have to deal with later. You just tip the GB into the trash, and you’re done. I like to go one step further and line the GB with a plastic grocery bag. This has the advantage of not coating the GB with nastiness that you have to clean out later—instead, you can just lift the bag right out and throw it away.
2. It’s much easier if you clean as you go. As you finish with each cutting board, knife, or container, rinse it out—maybe even stick it in the dishwasher. Or, if you’re lucky, you have a husband/partner like mine, who industriously cleans up after me if I don’t get to it first.
3. We practice “division of labor” in our house: if I spend the time to make healthy, home-cooked meals—frequently made after I get home from work and before I sit down—then those who benefit from said meals clean up the kitchen.
The pros call it “mise en place”: it means “get your sh#t together.” Okay, not really. But almost! The literal meaning is “put in place”, which means that all the ingredients you need for a meal are appropriately prepped, measured out, and in easy reach before you turn on a single burner. If you are following a recipe, this practice forces you to read through it completely so that you not only know how much of an ingredient to add, but when to add it.
Think about it. Say you’re sautéing garlic, and you have to stop to check your recipe to see what comes next. As you scan through the recipe, you begin to smell something acrid wafting through the air. You turn around to see that your carefully minced garlic has turned into an unappetizing, stinky, dark-brown mess.
You can avoid this situation by setting out your ingredients in the order that you will add them, and if you have a general idea of the recipe game plan. I have a ton of different-sized bowls and ramekins for this very reason. To minimize dishwashing, I put ingredients that are added at the same time into the same bowl.
While you don’t have to memorize the recipe, you should know it well enough to have an idea of stopping points during the procedure, when you can safely check the recipe without danger of burning or scorching. If I’m using a cookbook, I sometimes mark stopping places by laying a bookmark across the page to highlight the text where I know I’ll need to look next.
I usually devote one weekend morning or afternoon to a big cooking project, where I make large quantities of, say, a sauce, that I can put in Ziploc containers and freeze, then bust out and reheat on a busy weeknight. Or I might make a stew that won’t actually be eaten until 1-2 days later (like on a weeknight! Beginning to see a theme here?). Sauces, soups, and stews almost always get better after they’ve had a day or two to mellow anyway! Got bones and vegetable odds-and-ends? Broth is always a wonderful thing to have on hand, and is best made in bulk. #ThanksgivingLeftovers
In addition to the big cooking projects, I also do my grocery shopping on the weekends. When I get home, I take the time to wash and prep vegetables for easy veggie sides during the week. Sometimes I parboil and blanch green beans, dry them, then Food-Saver them to store in the freezer for busy times when I don’t have veggies on hand. If I’ve planned frittatas, stir-fries, salads, or stews, I chop the vegetables the night before: this saves me beaucoup time when push comes to shove!