Friday, November 04, 2005

The Organized Kitchen: toaster ovens, leftovers, menu planning

Mama Squirrel likes any kitchen ideas that make life easier and give her more time to do important things. (Like play checkers with Crayons.) Here are a couple of squirrel kitchen tips.

1. We are a microwave-less family, not so much by principle as just by the fact that we've never owned one and have never felt we really needed one. What we've always had, though, besides the big oven, is a toaster oven. Originally we had one from Mama Squirrel's previous life (before squirrelings), but when that eventually went kaput we acquired a more modern programmable one. It actually looks (and beeps) like a microwave.

The advantages to having more than one source of oven heat are that you can bake two things at different temperatures if you need to (like baked beans at 350 degrees and a pan of biscuits at 450), and that you don't have to heat up the big oven if you're cooking a small amount of something. We have a lidded casserole that just fits into the toaster oven space, and we've also baked many things in it in an 8-inch square pan. About the only things we haven't baked in it are cookies (our pans are too big), muffins (although I do bake muffin batter in it, in an 8-inch pan), and any recipe big enough to need one of our plus-size casseroles.

And it also makes toast.

2. Menu Planning: Mama Squirrel's current binge of planned-ahead meals is in its third week, and she's discovered something that makes this planning easier. The Squirrels always shop on Saturdays (and it's not usually possible to make another trip during the week). This means that certain foods are more plentiful, say, from Saturday to Wednesday. By Wednesday, the bananas are gone, the cold cuts are eaten up, and so on. So: our week's menu starts on Wednesday, rather than on the more obvious Saturday. I can plan the meals from Wednesday to Friday based on what's still left in the fridge and the cupboard, and make sure that anything we need for the after-shopping days on goes on the grocery list. If I want to make banana muffins, I write them in for sometime after Saturday, and make sure I buy bananas.

Of course this does mess up the lovely menu forms that you can print out online (nobody's menu form starts on Wednesday), but still it's working.

3. Favourite kitchen tools: a four-cup glass measuring cup (you can mix all kinds of things right in it), sharp scissors (for cutting open those irritating, harder-than-ever-to-open cereal box liners), clothes pins (for pinning all the opened bags back together again), lots of measuring spoons (check thrift shops), a rubber spatula, and a decent can opener. Mama Squirrel has had better luck with the first few than with that last one. Cheap can openers rust and bend, and even the expensive one we once bought doesn't cut the way it used to. Inventors of kitchen improvements: there is a niche there that needs to be filled.

Oh, and a permanent marker. You need one handy if you're going to be putting leftovers in margarine tubs or other non-see-through containers. There's nothing like opening a container of yogurt and getting diced tomatoes instead..


MommyLydia said...

...What is wrong with the can openers? I've got a basic one I bought from Wal-mart or Fred Meyer way back, used at work and is now in my current kitchen. Nice workhorse, still working.

Mama Squirrel said...

I dunno, maybe we've just had bad luck. When all else fails, I bring out the electric can opener that Mr. Fixit found at a liquidation place, but I always feel guilty for some reason plugging something in just to open a can. I'd rather have a nice sturdy manual one that lasts.