Cooking seems sooooo easy on TV food shows, doesn't it? Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, Emeril, choose whichever TV chef you like: they all seem to whoosh into their studio kitchens and whip up amazing meals without any stress, annoyance or effort.
Of course it's no coincidence that in the entire history of broadcasting, no TV chef has ever washed a dish.
Hmm. That's why cooking seems so easy on TV! All that annoying and time-consuming cleanup happens off-screen, after the show's over. Some intern probably does it.
Sadly, we don't have interns here at Casual Kitchen. When I cook, the person who cleans up is... me. And, as many home cooks know, cleanup can take as long as the entire cooking process itself--which means that many of those seemingly easy recipes cooked on TV actually take twice as long to make once you consider cleanup time.
Finally there's the emotional cost involved in cleaning up. It's draining enough to try out a complex new recipe for the very first time, or to host a big dinner party for a group of friends or family. But once dinner's all over, and find yourself facing down a mountain of dirty dishes, crusty pots and greasy utensils precariously piled up in every corner of your kitchen....well, I don't know about you, but that's when I usually curl into a ball on the linoleum floor, whimpering.
I can't have my readers whimpering. So in today's post I'll share with you my top tips for managing and minimizing the challenges of cleanup. And PS: if you'd like to share any additional tips with all the readers here at CK, please add your thoughts in the comments!
1) Recipe Selection
Believe it or not, you can make a big dent in the dishes before you start cooking. How? By choosing the right recipes. Recipes that involve multiple steps or separate processes typically yield many more dirty dishes, mixing bowls and additional utensils--all of which will need to be washed. In contrast, big batches of soups (see tip #3 below) or healthy, simple and laughably cheap dishes like CK's own Black Beans and Rice will leave you with very little to clean up beyond a cutting board, a knife and the dishes you use to eat.
2) Clean As You Go
Possibly the most discouraging thing in all of cooking is a gigantic mound of dirty dishes in your sink at the end of a big dinner. Readers: don't whimper on your linoleum floor like I do. Instead, wash as many of these dishes as you can while you prepare the food.
You're likely to have frequent down-time periods while preparing most recipes. Perhaps you'll find yourself waiting for water to boil, waiting for an oven to preheat, or standing around doing nothing while a cake or casserole bakes. Put that time to maximum advantage by cleaning and putting away a few dishes. A few minutes here and there of efficiently-used "intra-recipe" time will keep you on top of the cleanup--rather than letting the cleanup get on top of you.
3) One Pot Dishes
There's a certain type of ideal recipe that's perfect for the dish-phobic cook. The one-pot recipe. Soups, stews and many sauces are classic examples. You make them by simply chucking everything into one pot. Best of all, when you're done eating you can put the whole pot right into the fridge to be reheated for your next meal. Heck, why not leave the ladle and spatula right in the pot too?
The result? Not only do you have only one dirty pot to wash, you can even defer washing it until days later--after you've finished off all the leftovers! See CK's Laughably Easy Lentil Soup, Groundnut Stew, Yellow Split Pea Soup, and the popular variation Fiery Sausage and Split Pea Soup for textbook examples of one pot meals.
4) Don't Wait--Do It Now
The only thing worse than a mountain of dirty dishes in your kitchen.... is a mountain of dried dirty dishes in your kitchen the next day. Keep in mind that dishes get harder to clean the longer they sit. Which means your cleanup task grows in duration and difficulty the longer you put it off. Don't wait and make this job even worse--get it over with now.
5) Enlist Help
Sure, you might not have your own unpaid intern at home. But many of us have kids, a roommate or--in rare instances--a compliant spouse. Any of these hypothetical beings might be surprisingly willing to trade cleanup duties up for a delicious hot meal. Here at Casual Kitchen, Laura and I have successfully used this technique for years to cajole each other into helping out. Face it: cleanup just isn't so bad when there's somebody else doing the cooking.
Readers, what are your favorite tips for making cleanup easier? What have I missed?
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