Minimalist Cooking Hacks

09.26.2017

0600

As someone who likes to make my routines as simple as possible, I also try to create simple cooking habit routines as well. This approach simplifies the ingredients I buy and my grocery shopping haul trips. Here are seven simple tips and tricks for cooking hacks.

 

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1. Focus on Whole, Single-Ingredient Foods

  • Whole, single-ingredient foods are the key to good health.
  • Foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fish, poultry and eggs are great examples. These foods are incredibly nutritious and satisfying.
  • When you focus on whole foods and high-quality ingredients, you will automatically start to eat less processed junk foods.
  • Processed foods often come with misleading health claims and long lists of ingredients, many of which you can’t even pronounce. However, truly healthy foods don’t even need an ingredients list. They are the ingredient.

Bottom Line: Eating healthy can be quite simple. Stick to whole foods and avoid processed foods made with refined ingredients and artificial chemicals.

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2. Use Simple Flavorings

  • If you buy high-quality ingredients, you don’t need to add a lot of flavoring. Olive oil, salt and pepper may be enough.
  • Fresh herbs can also do wonders for a meal.
  • Try to avoid buying new flavorings unless they are something you think you will use often.
  • If a new recipe requires hard-to-find spices and condiments, you can most likely replace them with something you already have.
  • A rare ingredient that you will end up using only once is a waste of money and space in your kitchen. Most of the time, you can stick to common ingredients that you already own and know how to use.

Bottom Line: You don’t need to own a lot of rare ingredients in order to add flavor to your food. Simple ingredients like high-quality olive oil, salt and pepper can be used in almost anything you make.

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3. Clean Out Your Spice Cabinet

  • Most people keep a lot of herbs and spices on hand. That’s perfectly fine, as long as you use them regularly and don’t have duplicates.
  • If your spice cabinet is disorganized and overflowing with spices you never use, you might want to tidy it up a bit.
  • Try to combine duplicates into one container and donate spices you never use. Throw away/compost spices that are old or bland.
  • Having a tidy spice drawer will help you cook faster because it will be easier to find the spices you’re looking for.
  • A good rule of thumb is to go through your spices at least once per year.

Bottom Line: Having a tidy spice cabinet will make you more efficient in the kitchen. Keep spices you use regularly within reach and combine duplicates. Throw out old spices and donate the ones you never use.

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4. Keep an Organized, Minimalist Pantry

  • Keep a clutter-free pantry stocked with quality foods you use regularly. Preparing healthy meals will become much easier.
  • A clutter-free pantry also makes your food less likely to spoil, since you’ll be able to see all your food items neatly organized.
  • You’ll find it easier to navigate your pantry and locate the items you’re looking for when cooking. Here are a few tips to help you organize your pantry:
    • Optimize storage: Store items you often use on the bottom shelves or near the front. Items you use less often can be stored in the back or a little higher.
    • Sort and group: Designate shelves for similar items, such as keeping your canned foods on one shelf and your breakfast foods on another.
    • Label everything: Label all of your pantry items and store them in clear, well-sealed containers so that your foods don’t spoil.
    • Increase accessibility: Try to place items so they are either directly accessible or you can reach them after moving just one item.

Bottom Line: Taking the time to plan and organize your pantry will make both shopping and cooking easier and more enjoyable.

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5. Simplify Your Kitchen Tools

  • There are tons of clever gadgets you can purchase for your kitchen.
  • Yet many are nonessential, single-purpose appliances.
  • You don’t need fancy kitchenware to cook a great, healthy meal. Simple meals require just a few basics.
  • If your kitchen is cluttered with items you rarely use, consider selling or donating them. Focus on keeping the functional items you use on a regular basis — it’s a plus if they serve multiple purposes.
  • However, figuring out what’s essential is entirely up to you. This varies, and something you regularly use may seem unnecessary to someone else. What you use depends on your lifestyle, how you cook and what kinds of foods you like to eat.
  • Try storing the items you rarely use in a box. If you haven’t opened it in six months, then it’s probably safe to sell or donate those things.

Bottom Line: You don’t need highly specialized, fancy tools for most tasks in the kitchen. Consider selling or donating kitchenware you don’t use often and keeping only the most useful kitchen items.

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6. Think Before You Shop

  • You should think carefully before you purchase a new kitchen gadget.
  • Start by asking yourself if you really need it. If you’re not sure, think it over for one week before you decide to buy it.
  • Setting yourself a rule of “one in, one out” may also help. So for any new item you bring into the kitchen, another needs to go.
  • Think creatively and you might even be able to use something you already own in a different way than you’re used to.

Bottom Line: When it comes to kitchen appliances, less is more. Think carefully before you decide to add another item to your kitchen, especially if it’s an item that’s designed to perform just one specific task.

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7. Clear Your Kitchen Counter

  • It’s time to de-clutter your kitchen counter.
  • Store kitchenware you use less frequently in your cabinets and drawers instead of on the countertop.
  • This is especially important if you live in a small apartment with limited counter space.
  • You’ll have more room to prepare meals and you’ll probably enjoy cooking more if there is less clutter around you.
  • This will also allow you to be more organized and focused while cooking.
  • If you need to keep items on the kitchen counters because of limited cabinet space then make sure they’re frequently used and essential for food preparation.
  • If you like to store items like keys, mail and wallets on your kitchen counter, make sure everything has a place where it belongs.

Bottom Line: Kitchen counters tend to attract clutter. Keeping them clear will give you more space to prepare meals and enjoy your time in the kitchen.

 

 

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The Problem With Teflon

08.08.2017

0600

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Teflon became popular because it is non-reactive due to its strong carbon–fluorine bonds; it reduces friction and energy consumption of machinery when used as a lubricant. Though it was claimed to be the best-known chemical inventions of the 20th century, today, Teflon has been touted as a serious health hazard to humans as well as animals. When I found out about the dangers of teflon, I transitioned over to cast iron and stainless steel pots and pans. The research behind teflon is dangerous and jarring.

Non-stick cookware may cause cancer

The non-stick coating, used in Dupont Teflon pans, has been found to release one or more (up to 15) different toxic gases when heated to high temperatures. Did you know that non-sick cookware is made with a chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been labeled carcinogenic by a scientific review panel that advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
This is a chemical that is being used in many household products from cookware, coated paper plates and even microwave popcorn bags. The side effects have been known for a long time, and one of the most written about is its effects on pet birds.

The worst issue behind Teflon pots and pans

As careful as we try to be – Teflon pots and pans can easily get scratched at some point. In fact, the truth is many people tend to use battered and scratched Teflon cookware. Teflon is usually used to cover aluminum which in itself is a dangerous metal – implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

What are some of  the health hazards faced?

  1. Male Infertility- The chemicals emitted from the heating of Teflon pans have recently been shown to be linked with higher rates of infertility. A recent Danish study suggested that exposure to PFOAs in fetal or later life accounted for decreased sperm production and morphologically abnormal sperm.
  2. Thyroid disease – A recent study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), goes on to confirm the association of thyroid disease with human exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Also the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) revealed that higher concentrations of PFOA in the blood of the surveyed people were linked to the occurrence of thyroid disease.
  3. Childbirth and reproductive problems – PFOA contamination of food, air and water supply has the potential to damage the reproductive systems of a large population of women. Inevitably causing difficulty in childbirth or birth defects. Scientists based at the University of California-Los Angeles, found that women with higher concentrations of PFOA in the blood stream (more than 3.9 ppb) experienced greater difficulty in conceiving than those with lesser PFOA concentrations. Also the chances of them being diagnosed with infertility were greater.
  4. Birth Defects – an individual living near the DuPont factory that produces Teflon products was born with one nostril and other facial defects. He claims that his mother who was working in the factory was exposed to PFOA while pregnant therefore he acquired those birth defects.
  5. Kills bird – when Teflon is heated to a high temperatures toxic fumes are emitted that are known to kill pet birds especially small birds such as budgies, finches, and cockatiels. Considering this the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) states that cookware and heated appliances comprising of non-stick coatings must carry a label that warns the hazard caused by the coating to pet birds.
  6. Carcinogenic – a recent study showed that when rats were injected with PFOA they developed brain tumors. PFOA the coating material used in Teflon products was also shown to be present in trace amounts in blood samples of people and lasted four years in the blood stream.
  7. Causes other diseases – animal research has shown that liver cancer has propelled with more exposure to PFOA’s and case reports suggest that the PFE fumes emitted by very hot Teflon coated utensils have caused pneumonia and inflammation in the lungs.
  8. Non Biodegradable – PTFE is non-biodegradable as it is made up of strong molecular bonds that make it durable and resistant to natural processes of degradation. Thus it tends to accumulate in the food chain causing sever damage.

How to avoid these circumstances?

The best way to protect you and your family is to use cookware made from: ceramic, stainless steel or glass. There’s clearly no argument as to whether conventional non-stick cookware has a negative impact on human health, so with that in mind, what are the alternatives?

1. Ceramic

Ceramic cookware is gaining popularity fast thanks to its ability to create a non-stick cooking surface while containing no traces of PTFE or PFOA.

Brands such as Neoflam are using the most advanced ceramic technology to produce durable and heat efficient non-stick coatings that are safer and more environmentally friendly than conventional non-stick cookware.

2. Cast Iron

Companies like Solid Teknics are manufacturing some incredibly high quality cast iron products which have a myriad of advantages over conventional non-stick cookware.

Cast iron is extremely rugged, easy to clean, and if properly seasoned, it’s also “non-stick” (minus the toxic cocktail of chemical compounds). Cooking with cast iron is a great way to experience many of the benefits that come with using non-stick cookware while also minimizing your exposure to harmful substances.

3. Heatproof Glass

Glass isn’t the most dynamic cooking material and it’s somewhat limited in the styles of cooking that it can accommodate, however, for oven baked dishes there aren’t many materials more safe and affordable than heatproof glass.

When choosing glassware for cooking, be sure to check that the glass is heatproof and of high quality construction. Pyrex has a great range of kitchen glassware for all sorts of different applications, including cooking.

4. Stonewear

Similar to ceramic, stonewear cooking equipment is a non-toxic alternative that usually involves a combination of crushed stone and a PTFE-free coating in order to achieve similar results to those of typical non-stick cookware.

Brands such as Stoneline, Swiss Diamond & Ozeri all provide good products in this range.

5. Stainless Steel

Tried and tested, stainless steel is one of the safest cookware materials in existence and is an excellent non-stick alternative for many forms of cooking. It’s worth noting that using frying pans and skillets that are made from stainless steel will sometimes result in ingredients sticking to the surface of the cookware when exposed to high temperatures. However, if you use ample amounts of a high quality cooking oil, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

Cooking & Serving Preparation Hacks

07.18.2017

0600

Quick, easy and simple are always my goals when I do any type of task. If I can hack a procedure to simplify steps in any task, then I will. I find more value and satisfaction in saving time and energy when I do tasks. I’m simply not the type to make extravagant dinners or parties. There are always ways to simplify life and that is always a goal in life for me. My personal hacks might cut out one extra step but one less step is still saving time.

Cooking Preparation Hacks

When you’re in a hurry, and you need to eat or prepare food fast, here are some hacks that I use so I can speed up the preparation process.

  • Using a spoon to scoop and round produce or vegetable that fits in the palm of your hands
    • Hard boiled eggs, avocados, kiwis or any other small round produce that will fit in the palm of your hand

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    • Dicing or Cutting on a cutting board
      • To change the direction of the cuts, rotate the cutting board or move your own position towards the board. Don’t move the produce on the cutting board.

 

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  • Sliding produce to pan from cutting board
    • Once done with dicing or slicing your vegetables on the cutting board, use the opposite side of the knife blade to slide the chopped items the pot or larger container. This way, you don’t ruin the blade of the knife.

 

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  • Cutting oranges
    • Cut oranges in half by cutting the first slice horizontally, and then create the divides from there. That way you create small triangles when you peel bech each individual slice.

 

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  • When cutting long vegetables
    • When cutting long vegetables, always cut the produce in half for each cut, so it takes less cuts to reach the desired length.
    • When I cut carrots it’s in a similar manner. I cut them in half and then split the halves into halves. I pretty much use this method for most any vegetable I cut.

 

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  • Extracting garlic
    • Gently extract garlic out of its skin by using the side of a large knife and simply pressing on it, on the counter. The garlic will loosen from its skin and simply cutting off the end of the garlic will release the skin from the garlic meat

 

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Serving Food Hacks

A lot of my workday consists of time management so my hacks really stem from my desire to save time.

  1. Serving Food
    1. I use glass tupperware bowls when I eat, that way, if I have leftover food, I throw on the tupperware lid and I’ll have leftovers for a snack or for another meal. Also, there are less dishes to wash after the meal.
    2. Mugs with handles are our friends for foods that have temperature issues such as hot soups, or cold ice cream.

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Upcycling Shelves

06.13.2017

0600

Materials:

Tools:

  • Miter saw
  • Electric drill  and drill bits

So my family usually keeps leftover material from previous house projects or from items that were disassembled. A lot of the time wood planks are left over. These vary in sizes so I try to upcycle them around the house. My father had a book shelf a while back and it had two 42″ shelves that were 1″ thick and two 72″ shelves that were one inch thick.

I  knew those shelves could be used elsewhere in the house so I designated the shorter shelves for the upstairs kitchenette and created shelves with the other two longer pieces, in two other separate areas of the house.

I bought four grey Everbilt 10 in. x 8 in. Gray Medium Duty Shelf Bracket for the kitchenette and I bought two white Everbilt 9.75 in. x 7.75 in. White Elegant Shelf Bracket for the shelf in the bedroom. The shelf in the hallway will be mounted up with two wood 2x4s on each side.

For the kitchenette, I located the studs by knocking on the wall (you can also use magnets to locate the nails located in the studs as well) and since I wanted the top shelf to have at least 16″ of space from the shelf to the ceiling, I had to create two marks that marked both the top and bottom of the top shelf. I then measured another 11″ below the bottom line of the top shelf and made two marks for the bottom shelf. I wanted to leave at least 22″ above the countertop so there was enough room for using the countertop surface.

Because the shorter shelves didn’t reach across the wall of the kitchenette, I offset the shelves to make the weight of the items on the wall even. I measured the distance between the studs for each shelf, and transferred that onto each shelf. It’s easier to attach the shelf brackets to the shelves first, and then attach them to the wall. My studs were 30″ (on center) between each, so I knew to leave half an inch from the edge of each shelf edge and then measure inwards 30″ to mark the next center of the next bracket.

Once I attached the brackets to the shelves, I had to pre-drill the holes for the screws in the studs on the wall. If you screw in the top screw on the bracket closest to the wall (where the blue arrow is pointing to), and then place a  small level on top (where the violet arrow is pointing), then you can swing the other bracket up (where the maroon arrow is pointing), until the level shows that the shelf is at an even plane.  This seemed to be the easiest way for me to attach the shelves and also double checking the correct balance of the shelves.

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For the shelf under the window, I first located where my studs were and made sure I cleared the electrical outlet. Ideally, I would have place a bracket where that electrical outlet is located, but there wasn’t any room. I wanted the height for this shelf to have an 8″ clearance, so I simply measured 8 inches below the existing shelf and marked two lines for the top and bottom of the shelf. For this shelf I trimmed the edges so it would fit the width of this space better. I also drilled a hole above where the outlet was located, so there would be access to the outlet.  I attached the brackets to the shelf based on the width of my studs. For this shelf, I literally held up the shelf with one hand, and traced the inside of the drill hole locations with the other. As long as I continued to press the shelf against the wall, it didn’t move much. I did this because I wanted to mark where the drill holes were and also to pinpoint the center of the holes. There wasn’t room to swing the shelf up to level it out, (such as the kitchenette example), so when I placed the level on the shelf, I only had to adjust the shelf slightly to even it out. Once the first screw was placed, it pretty much held up it’s own weight until I could drill in the last three screws.

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The shelf in the hallway was mounted with a different method. I actually had to cut this original shelf piece in half. It was the other 72″ long shelf piece, and by placing each of the halves next to one another, I created a  18-1/2″ depth shelf. I first located the studs in each wall and measured 11″ height clearance for the space above this shelf.  The width of the space was so small, that putting up brackets would have taken up too much room. I pre drilled the holes in the 2x4s based on the width of my studs I had located. Always remember which 2×4 belongs on which wall, so you’re not accidentally drilling extra holes. After that, I placed each piece on the new mount and held the shelf pieces in place with finishing nails.

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This was just one of my upcycling projects using materials I found in the garage. If you can find materials that are still in fairly good shape, I would try to upcycle it for a useful piece of item that you may need. It’s cheaper than going out to buy brand new material- especially since you’ll still have your extra supply of material laying around.  I like to use up what I buy, it’s habit of mine and it’s saved me money over the years. I hope this post helped jog some ideas for you!

How to Store Vegetables and Fruit Without Plastic Bags

04.25.2017

0700

When I was growing up, I understood that fruits and vegetables were stored in the refrigerator. As I slowly transitioned to being an adult, I realized that my assumptions were pretty wrong.

Living a more zero waste lifestyle makes you more conscientious and aware of your choices as a consumer. Not buying excessive food and buying a reasonable amount of perishable foods so that extra trash isn’t produced is also a part of the lifestyle. I had to learn that even as I continued on this journey. This meant that I had to really understand how certain fruits and vegetables ripened and why. There are a lot of articles and diagrams for how to store vegetables and fruit, but I thought I would draw up my own diagrams and create my own chart (which you can download here, Store Vegetables and Fruit Without Plastic Bags)

It’s amazing what you realize you don’t have to store in your refrigerator and how much room that frees up is also a gift in itself. There are a lot of ways to store vegetables and fruit, which will keep them from ripening too soon.

I organized my chart by color coding them with the different ways you would have to store the produce. The images below illustrate how to store the produce listed in the chart.

  1. Vegetables
    1. Yellow = Open Container in a location
    2. Orange = Open container with shallow water on countertop
    3. Green = Airtight/Open container in Refrigerator
    4. Dark Blue = Dry/Damp towel in Refrigerator
  2. Fruit
    1. Red = Open Container in a location
    2. Light Blue = Open container with shallow water on countertop
    3. Pink = Airtight/Open container in Refrigerator
    4. Violet = Dry/Damp towel in Refrigerator

Store Vegetables and Fruits Without Plastic Bags

3d illustration of empty cupboard

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Download my chart in PDF format here, Store Vegetables and Fruit Without Plastic Bags.

I hope this post gives some helpful ideas as to how you can store your vegetables and fruit without plastic. I certainly have used it and it works great. It’s a lot less work in my own life to organize my refrigerator this way, so Happy Grocery and Produce Storing!