What makes a professional craftsman? Tools? The workshop? Experience and skill?
Yes, to all of them!
It goes without saying that experience and skill are the most important factors. But a well organized workshop, structured work and a set of high quality tools allow for the best use of their trade.
The workshop presents an environment of inspiration and purpose.
Tools make the perfect execution possible.
Structure puts the focus on workflows that ensures efficiency.
Your kitchen can be the same.
So before we start chopping and frying and thinking about steaming hot delicious foods, we take a step back and have a look around in the kitchen.
Part 1 outlined a way to create a custom meal plan. In which you decide which meals of a week you want to prep and you choose healthy foods. With those ingredients you create meals that are tasty and nutritious. From that meal plan you compile a shopping list and dedicate a day for grocery shopping.
Keeping your foods fresh starts in the grocery store. Buy foods that need cooling last on your shopping trip. For the transport home get a cooling bag or insulated box. Especially during the summer or if you live in a warm/ hot climate.
The cooling chain should never be broken for longer periods. Transport the foods in the trunk and if you have long trips home: Make sure to buy frozen vegetables, fruits and berries as thermal packs which you stuff around anything that needs cooling. (Meat, dairy products, fish, beer, … )
Now that you have a bunch of super healthy and soon to be super tasty foods on your counter, the first thing to do is give them a place where they stay fresh. If shopping day is also your prep-day then the only foods that you need to worry about are the dry goods you buy in bulk. That can be oatmeal, rice and peas – to name just a few. They are best placed in a dark and dry place.
All perishable foods will be processed right away or go in the fridge or freezer. The second best method to conserve food is to cook it. Remember that one goal is to reduce the amount of food we throw away and storing it right is the first step. Always check the “best before date” and use the FIFO-principle (First In First Out).
Let’s take a closer look a the storing possibilities you have:
Cold air falls down, that means a fridge has different temperature zones. These zones are well designed to keep certain foods fresh. Below is a little table to show you where each product should be stored. You can find a print version of the table here.
The times recommended are not set in stone. Always look and smell! And when in doubt: dispose of the food!
I’d rather throw away something that might be still good for a day or maybe two than becoming sick.
On the flip-side, please don’t throw food away that is no longer good-looking but still fresh.
Hygiene is very important: Once a week swipe each shelf clean and deep clean seasonally (every 3 month). The weekly cleansing is best done on shopping day as your fridge is probably already very empty. Take a look at every products “best before date”, look and smell open products and containers.
Save energy: Never put hot foods into the fridge. Wait until they are cooled down to room temperature.
Considered for longtime storage. Most foods stay good for several weeks. Freezing can change or break the structure of foods and therefore alter it’s quality. They might still be good and eatable but will loose taste over time. Especially meat can get stringy. Many frozen products have best before dates or recommended freezing times on them. Theses duration’s display how long the quality can be maintained.
The occasional meal that you plan to freeze should be labeled with the date you freeze it. 2-4 weeks should be no problem. Again, food can stay fresh in the freezer for quite some time but look and taste will suffer the longer it’s frozen.
To defrost put it in the fridge the night before.
The classic “dark and dry” storage place. Darkness keeps the sunlight with it’s UV-rays out and dryness any molds away. A few examples:
bulk foods, dry or canned, oatmeal, rice, peas, chickpeas, pasta, canned fish and vegetables, spices and dried herbs, potatoes, onions, garlic, …
Ever used a knife with a dull blade? Ever made pancakes that stuck to the pan and got all crumbly and broke? No fun at all.
Even thinking about how that knife just wont cut or how hard you have to scrub the pan to get it clean again is uncomfortable. Still, no fun at all.
The tools you use in the kitchen play an important role. They wont help with how tasty your meals become or look. But they give you something that is often highly underrated and many times not even considered:
Fun. Tools of quality are fun to work with.
Set yourself and the kitchen up with tools of good enough quality so all that cutting, cooking and prepping is no longer work. This is huge step in making meal prep a part of your life. If something feels enjoyable and fun you are more likely to make that a part of your life.
Okay, now back to the topic of kitchen tools.
As with most things in the real world, and especially tools, it’s important to consider the quality, material and use of the tools we choose.
Here is a little list of the tools I have found to be most useful. I will not go into super detail with each category – that’s been saved for a whole article.
When choosing tools look for theses qualities:
See it as a “If I were to get a new set of kitchen tools”-list:
What differentiates knifes and their application are size and shape of the blade. Below you find a list of different types that I have found to be most practical and versatile.
Blade length: 25cm – 35cm (+)
Big all-rounder for meat, fish and vegetables.
Blade length: 12,5cm – 18cm
Allrounder for meat, fish or vegetables.
Blade length: 20cm – 30cm
Classic bread-knife but also great for most vegetables.
Blade length: 10cm
Perfect for peeling and precision work.
How to choose the perfect knife?
By testing! Go into a store and try. Some stores (the good ones) have cutting boards on display where you can cut different vegetables. Try different sizes and shapes. Especially if you are uncertain about the size. If you want a bigger blade but feel intimidated, this can be a great opportunity.
Bigger blades have the nice advantage that its easier to cut bigger pieces or more at once. Also they allow for better use of the cutting technique that chefs use.
Take your time and choose with consideration. A good knife with the right care can be a companion for life.
Which brings me to…
NEVER put a knife into the dishwasher! That is a surefire way to damage the blade.
Always clean and dry right after use. Just a little bit of soap and warm water. Rub dry with a kitchen towel.
Repeat after me:
“I shall never clean my precious, expensive knife in the dishwasher!”
You will be cutting quite a lot. In fact: It’s one of the biggest time factors when prepping!
Learn to cut with you knifes and practices on technique. The key-points below are a guide on the cutting technique every chef on this planet has mastered. Take the time, be patient. It will pay you back big time.
Cutting should always be save and in the beginning you will be not very fast. That’s why you should practice, speed comes over time.
Always be save when using knifes. Use and practice on technique with theses guidelines:
Please be aware that I will not take any responsibility if you use this technique and happen to cut yourself.
I was taught how to use it and practiced many, many hours over the years of cooking.
It will not keep you from cutting yourself if you are inattentive and careless. Practice on technique – speed comes with practice.
In case you cut yourself, follow these First-Aid-Tips.
Below you find a few pictures that illustrate how this technique works:
Always respect the blade!
It’s not a toy, be aware that if you do stupid stuff you can cut your self. Just sayin’…
Wooden boards are my recommendation as they produce an acid which kills bacteria and keeps the boards clean in a natural way when kept dry. Clean with hot water and soap right after usage especially if you cut meat and fish.
Make sure its big enough: 35cm x 25cm to 45cm x 30cm seems to be the sweet spot.
Never use glass boards as they hurt the blade of your precious knives. Make sure your board doesn’t slip while cutting. It’s annoying on one hand and can even be dangerous while cutting. A kitchen towel under the board is an easy fix. Rubber anti-slip mats provide even more stability.
A pan for frying and two pots – a small and a big – is typically all you need. Adding more is mainly a question of convenience and can help reduce the overall cooking time.
Make sure to have well fitting lids. This brings down the cooking time even further and saves energy.
If your pans have lids as well all the better. Once the pan is hot you can really bring down the temperature of the stove. I usually turn the heat down by two stages to save energy.
Nonstick and stainless steel are your all-rounder and suited for pretty much every food to cook. Especially good for sauces.
Cast iron skillets have a rougher surface and tend to better suited for roasting. Sauces should not be made in cast iron as it easily sticks is hard to clean.
Stainless steel is the most standard material for cooking pots and hands down the best option. It has nonstick qualities and can be used for anything from frying, cooking to sauces. Enamel hold the same qualities but is rather uncommon today.
Pots with nonstick surfaces are becoming very common and the surfaces are a lot more durable than they used to be.
As with a good set of knifes I can only encourage you to spend the extra dollar on quality. No need to go super expensive (beyond 100$ per item), but stay away from super low prices. You will find yourself buying knew items sooner that you thought you will.
Let’s start with the materials your containers can be made of and the different uses I see for each. After that we head straight to a sometimes even more important question: “how many containers do I actually need?”.
Can be heated (oven and microwave), very durable and easy to clean. Lids with sealing stay tight.
Should not be used for heating, durable, light weight, sauces may stain container.
Great for: Salads and snacks
Can not be heated in a microwave (read: should not), durable, light weight. Lids without sealing wont stay tight and make transport of liquids and sauces impractical.
Great for: Salads, snacks, sandwiches, rice beds, veggies, …
The big question is now:
The short answer is: Enough.
And the long answer: It depends.
Here are a few ideas to help you figure out how many you may need:
A container for every meal you want to prep plus one or two extra. This means something like 10 to 12+ (2 meals, 5 days a week for example).
If you keep the components of your meals somewhat separate you can get along with 2-4 container. Either the night before or in the morning you just fill the container with what ever meal you have. This heavy rotation involves regular cleaning of the containers every other day.
If you have a fridge at work and your company allows it you might as well bring the cooked food to work. This way you only need a plate instead of containers. But make sure your tasty home made food is safe and will not be eaten by jealous co-workers! (True story!)
Lot’s of options here. I personally used #2 for a couple of years. The dishes had to be done every other day anyways and I simply didn’t have the space for a lot of containers.
The stores are packed with any kind of tool you can imagine. This would probably make this list the longest in this section. Most of it is junk or yet another toy.
These questions I ask myself when I find something interesting that I want to buy are:
Some of the tools that have passed this test are listed below and which is by no means the complete set of tools that live in my kitchen. But they delivered the greatest benefit and are the ones I come back to most of the time.
“A place for everything and everything in its place.” As the saying goes.
You know your kitchen and you know where everything is. But is everything in a place that makes sense?
A place from which you can grab what every it is right away? Without the need to empty the whole cabinet or get a ladder to reach far up in that back corner? It should be!
I find it to be one of the biggest cooking-mojo-killers there is: looking for stuff!
What can you do about it?
I have my cutting board next to the stove so I can throw everything in a pot or the pan right away. Another great place is next to the sink. This way you can have easy access to everything you just cleaned. Wash it and leave it in the sink until it’s time to cut.
Give everything a permanent place to live. If you find yourself looking for your tools in other places make that the new home of this particular tool.
You can see the kitchen as your workshop and imagine yourself as the crafts-person. All the tools hang neatly on the wall in their special and with consideration chosen place.
I am serious: take the time and place all your essentials on the counter. Make room and find everything a nice place. Put the most important tools like knives and cutting boards on display. Have everything tidy, neat and clean.
When I moved into a new apartment it took some time to give everything its own dedicated place. Now I don’t have to look for anything, because I know where everything is. Unless, of course, it’s in the dishwasher! Duh!
Some of you might know that my dad is a head-chef with almost 40 years of experience.
Most of the knowledge I have today comes from his tutoring when I was a young boy who just asked: “Dad, what are you cooking?”.
He smiled and said “Oh, I am making schnitzel with kohlrabi in a white cream-sauce and potatoes. Wanna help?”
I smiled back and we cooked together.
So I gave my dad a call and asked:
“Dad, you know a few things about cooking, right?”
“Yeah, maybe one or so.”
“What skills and basics do you consider most valuable for someone who’s just starting out? And if you cook several meals at once: How’d you do that?”
With all his of experience I knew I was in for a treat. Here is the summary of our little chat. Enjoy.
Below you find the download link to this list. Print it or have it on your phone for later use.
Okay, you have your foods ready, you have you recipes prepared and you are pumped and ready!
Then let’s get goin’!
Many times you find people argue that meal prep takes a lot of time. And it can! That has to do with the kinds of meal they plan (remember to cook simple meals!). But also with the way they plan a prep-session. If you cook several big meals, one after another, it will take ages!
And I see why people don’t like that idea. But if you layer or overlap the cooking and work on different tasks simultaneously you can be a lot faster.
The magic word here is “sequencing” and the following will give you an idea about it and how to make use of it.
Before you start make sure that all your tools are ready (=clean). Take them out on the counter, get an extra trolley for extra space.
Then get an overview of the foods/ meals you are going to cook:
This will be covered in a lot more detail in part 3 of this series. There, I will show you the exact steps and my thoughts on how to shrink you cooking time. See it as a little teaser.
On to other good things….
The tricky part is now: How to divide all that food once you are done cooking?
You have a few choices here to portion your meals. Below are some of the ways I portion my meals that I have found work very well.
If you plan for a couple of days you will end up with bigger packs anyways. Say you have a 1kg pack of rice and 10 meals that have rice in it. Cook the rice, once done, you split it up evenly. Put all your containers in front of you and take a big spoon. Now give every container, one by one, a spoon full until there is no more rice. That gives you roughly 100gr per meal. Roughly, and that is good enough.
At the end of the week it doesn’t matter if one meal had 105gr and another only 95gr. Of course one could also eat everything in on session and then stop eating for the rest of the time. But that would leave you hungry after a while and increase the chance of eating more than planned. That is what I mean by “crazy things”. If you feed your body constantly – even if it’s less than you would normally eat – it still has something to work with and be cool.
Downside of this technique is that adjusting is not as easy as other options. A fraction of a pack is hard to measure without a scale. With a cup you can take out a part, but that would leave you with
I use this a lot because it makes things really easy.
Note: Pasta doubles and rice almost triples in volume. That means it still has the calories of the raw/ dry weight, but is now 2x or 3x the size. The mentioned quantities above therefore represent the calorie containing amounts or the “dry” / uncooked state.
They are great! Even if you don’t have the different standard sizes. A simple mug can do wonders.
Just open that big pack, take out what you need for the meals and split everything up once done cooking. This is an absolute no-brainer. They work with solid and liquid food.
You can leave the cup in the container if the food is in bulk and have a dedicated cup for that food. I have one cup in the oatmeal and one in the rice container. The oatmeal cup can hold 33gr and the rice cup 50gr. Go and figure out how much a certain cup can hold. Write it down, put a label on the cup or container. Using cups is also great for adjustments.
Say your breakfast has 100gr of oatmeal and you want to cut a few calories on the oats. Your cup can hold 33gr, so instead of 3 cups of oats you only take 2,5 cups. Super simple!
The most accurate way and the one people hate most. I get it! It looks tedious but is the best choice for certain foods. Best used for meat or anything that cannot be put into a cup. If you get used to the idea of weighing everything it can become second nature. Have an extra bowl or plate on the scale and weigh before cutting or cooking\ frying.
Here is a little trick: If you only need a certain amount of a packed food and want to leave the food in the packaging but still want to know the weight of what you take out: Get a scale that can display negative values. Then place whatever you want to measure on the scale but leave it in its packaging. The scale will show the weight of the packaging plus its content.
Now tare the scale to 0. What you see now is the weight of what you took out, but with a negative sign in front of it. It’s shown negative but the absolute value is the exact weight of what you’ve taken out. Great for meat that you want to leave in its container. You can do this multiple “rounds”. Take some out, tare. Take some out, tare.
Any dips, dressing and sauces you make should be spread evenly across meals. They contain calories that should be taken into account of you daily allotment.
At the end you will find that certain techniques work better on different types of food than others. With meat, potatoes and pasta I like the scale. For rice I use a cup-measure that’s left with the container. Once ready I split it without weighing again. A very usable approach is to simply buy what you need for a week and make sure it’s gone by next week. Split it roughly so you have enough to eat for every day.
How is that a tip? Well, its the one skill every cook has mastered. It is the art of cleaning the kitchen while you cook. Sounds hard and counter intuitive, but if your timing is good you will find gaps where you can clean up just a little bit. This adds up during the whole session and safes your precious time at the end. You are busy anyways, so why not be as efficient as possible and do some work instead of standing around?
Learning to cook basics meals is no that hard, with a little guidance and patience you can get great results, and over time you can build up quite a repertoire. From grocery shopping to filling your containers with tasty, steamy, cooked meals: This can be your prep-session:
Thank you so much for joining-in, up next is part 3. We stay in the kitchen, but this time it’s getting serious: I will show the exact steps on how to cook the meal plan from part 1. And how to condense all recipes of a prep-session into 1 big recipe.
What are your struggles in the kitchen? What do you wish to know better?
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