prep, prep, prep.
So I think that I mentioned that I live in Chicago...I may not have mentioned that I live in the city so in a small space. Living years in Japan, I got really used to small spaces and being able to walk everywhere. I'm not a huge fan of organized exercise so if I can get my daily steps in doing every day things, then it's a win win for me. I found this sweet little condo nestled between a 3 unit freestanding building that was a new construction so it's modern, clean and has all the amenities. It's also super small - like 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1400 sq feet small. It's a smart home which means that it's much more tech smart than I am but I love it. The thing that sold me on it the most was the kitchen. Complete open concept and instead of a formal dining area, the builder filled the space with a massive kitchen island that double duties. Now if you have thrown as many get togethers as I have, you would have noticed that when there is good food involved, most guests tend to congregate around the kitchen. So instead of having a formal dining room that gets unused most of the time, I get to spend most of my time in my favorite room.
Isn't it pretty? :). This was taken right as I was moving in - hence the absence of stuff. Although, I stand behind the principle that you should not have a lot of clutter around especially in a small open concept. I only keep my absolute essential appliances out that I use daily on my counter - my toaster, my Vitamix, my hot water kettle, and my soda stream - that's pretty much it. Also, because my kitchen is apart of my living room, all my appliances are white so that it esthetically fits and disappears into the space. I was lucky that I didn't have much since I lived overseas so I was able to purchase exactly what I wanted.
The other thing to note is that I don't have a pantry - all my kitchen cabinets are super high. I literally cannot reach past the second shelf so I keep a step stool tucked under the island for easy access. This means that organization and a well thought-out plan was essential. To me, food prepping also starts with lots of organization and storage of pantry items. We will get to that in another post.
One of the many reasons that I love a huge island is that it's the perfect area to prep food for the week. If there was ever a life hack for easy and quick meals for the week, it is prep, prep, prep. I usually take 2 days each week to prep for the next few day's meals. I used to take half of Sunday to try and prep for the whole week but I much prefer to plan out the next few day's meals than try and come up with a week's worth of meals that sounded good at the time but I don't necessarily feel like eating by the end of the week. Plus I love fresh ingredients so I plan on getting groceries twice a week and prep the food as I get it. Nowadays I get all my groceries delivered for safety so even though I used to love going to the grocery stores to linger over fresh produce and all the cheeses, like everyone, I had to adjust and adapt.
So my prep always starts with lots of veggies. The thing that I find takes the longest to do when you are ready to cook is the "mise en place" - fancy way of saying "everything in it's place". As I make more videos, you will see that all my ingredients are lined up like soldiers - ready to be added to the pan/pot/bowl at a moments notice. Not all cooking is done this way - it makes sense to cut some things while other things are slowly cooking to maximize time. However, there are certain things that can be done beforehand that can save you a ton of time during the week. MOST IMPORTANTLY, it will keep you from NOT cooking. Sometimes its super easy to just go online and GrubHub food when you start thinking of all the steps that need to be taken to put a meal on the table. If most of the ingredients are already prepped and ready to be thrown in the pan, you literally can get freshly made (non-processed and healthier) food done in no time!
So really think about what you cook at home daily. For me, I always cook omelets for breakfast (it's low carb and full of protein plus a way to get lots of veggies in my diet). I love adding veggies and meats in my omelet but I don't always want to be cutting all the stuff that early when I am zombie-like. So I prep those things when I get my groceries. I wash everything as soon I get my delivery - all the produce and let them all air dry. Then when everything is nice and dry, I put out my large cutting boards (if you can, invest in some large Boos Boards - they are awesome and those things make cooking and prep work a pleasure) and grab my Chef's knife (also a place to invest some money in -- a dull, shitty knife is way more dangerous than a great, sharp knife).
My next essential thing are my prep containers! I wish I could say that they are all glass and beautiful but they aren't. They are inexpensive, useful, lightweight and FUNCTIONAL. If you have ever gotten a to-go container at an Asian restaurant that has food that tends to leak, these are the containers that I basically use daily. On amazon, the ones that I order come in different sizes and the lids fit super tightly so no liquid escapes. They require very little storage space as they stack and I can put them in the dishwasher on the top rack and reuse them. Bonus is that if you have guests over and want to pack some leftovers for them, you are not heartbroken giving them these and never seeing them again. Also, when they get past their prime, you can throw them away and know that they finally gave their life for a good cause. I have also been know to throw them away when whatever is in there died a slow death in the back of the fridge because I couldn't see it or reach it without my step stool and I don't want to open it without a hazmat suit! I will have a link below for all of these things if you are interested because I could not live without them!
Here is the other thing. Cuts matter. Depending on the next 2 to 3 days menu - you might need super small diced onions (as pictured above that I use for my omelets in the morning and for curries that I prepare in my Instapot) or you might need thinly sliced onions (for pickling for my tacos or for mediterranean bowls for my lunches) that I might be planning.
The best part? You have plenty of storage containers to put all the different cut veggies in and they stack in the fridge and are clear so you can easily see what's in there for when you are ready to cook. I also try to make my menus so that they utilize the same ingredients whenever possible so that I can use up all my groceries and make my life simpler and less expensive.
You will also find that, end of the day, the prep doesn't even take all that long. If you were going to dice up an onion to put in your eggs, why not just dice up the whole thing and store it away for the next few day's omelet at the same time? Imagine, getting up in the morning with your eyes half closed and cracking 2 eggs into a bowl and literally just throwing in 3 or 4 different veggies/meats from your prep bowls and freshly grated cheese from another. You can mix and match different ingredients because they are all just waiting for you to use. Maybe because it's so easy and fast, you decide to get fancier one day and do a frittata or a crustless quiche? The possibilities are endless! And wait! If you were making a curry - guess what? Those onions, tomatoes and chilies are already diced! Wha what?? So all I have to do is throw them in like I have a sexy Sous Chef handing them to me! Plus no cutting board and knife and all the things for clean up?? It smells like a win to me!
Did I mention that my SubZero fridge that looks like just another cabinet from the front was my next favorite thing in my condo? It goes without saying really. Just look at how happy a well organized fridge with prepped food can look. My plastic containers are also perfect to store leftover food and because they come in 3 difference sizes, I can maximize my fridge space by choosing the perfect size to fit the food. I also found these great containers (the ones with the green lids above) that allows my fruits and veggies to last longer in the fridge. I will link those below as well.
Well that was a long post! As you can see, I need to get busy prepping for the next 3 days. I will do another post about my pantry and how I organized that later this week for those that are interested. Until then, happy prepping!!!
LINKS FOR ALL THE THINGS:
Boos cutting board (a great investment)
Chef knife (mine is from Japan so I picked another great knife that's not super expensive)
Paring knife (another knife that you will use a lot)
Knife Sharpener (you invested in the knives, now invest in their well being...this is the one that I have but there are many other cheaper manual options)
Plastic prep/storage containers (a game changer)
Fruit/Produce Containers (lets air circulate for longer shelf time)