Week 15: The ABCs of Cooking.

The simplest cleaning tip.
Diluted dish soap in a spray bottle.

ABC Always Be Cleaning

If you want one of the greatest cooking lessons ever, go buy Disney’s animated film, Ratatouille. The “Keep Your Station Clear” scene where Colette tells Remy/Alfredo to keep their station clear, Elbows In, Don’t make a mess. Basically Always Be Cleaning.

One of my favorite cleaning tips is to keep an industrial spray bottle of dish soap diluted about 1:10 with water next to the sink. Don’t use the one dollar spray bottles available everywhere. The pump wears out too fast. Buy a $5.00 bottle from any hardware store and they will last for years and they hold more solution. I love Dawn brand soap but any good soap will do. Just dilute it with water and spray. It is easier to add the water first then add the soap. If it gets foamy, just let the bubbles settle then finish filling with water or soap.

I just keep it on the counter next to the sink and use it as needed. I am far from a clean freak but I can’t stand working in a cluttered kitchen and I won’t put up with a filthy kitchen. My kitchen gets very dirty all the time but it gets cleaned. Filth is just unhealthy and completely avoidable. A cluttered kitchen is just a sign of not cleaning. No one likes to work in a cluttered kitchen so we don’t. Instead we head out the door to eat out. There is nothing wrong with eating out but to be self-forced to eat out all the time because your kitchen is too cluttered and dirty to use is inexcusable.

Always be cleaning. No one likes to cook a meal then need to spend a long time cleaning after the meal has been eaten so take proactive steps to avoid this. First start with an empty garbage can. At least empty enough to get through the evening. Second empty the dishwasher if it is clean. If it is full of dirty dishes, top it off and run it. If there is only room for a couple more items run it anyway or you will have a sink full of dishes at the end of the evening after you finally run it when you put the last couple items in it. Third clean the counters and stove off. Give yourself room to work with a clean station. Now you can easily cook efficiently, cleanly and safely.

Remember, always be cleaning. Don’t leave food scraps on the counter or cutting board. Little messes build up. Throw them in the trash. Never just sit and watch a pot or pan cook. Watch it but take literally a few seconds and clean something. Rinse something and get it in the dishwasher. Check the stove. Get a pan in the sink to soak. Just hit it with a spray of soap first. Check the stove. Spray a knife with soap, wash and dry. Check the stove. Wipe up a spill or spatter from the pan on the stove. Check the stove. You get the idea. In a commercial kitchen no one is paid to sit and watch a pot cook. Cooks must multi task and the default after everything else is to clean something. If you do this by the time diner is over most of the cleaning is already done.

Another great use of a spray bottle of soap if you are cooking something real messy is to lightly spray the stovetop (traditional electric or gas, not induction cooktops as there is a slight chance it could cause a crack) and countertop next to the stove before you cook and let it dry. Then anything that gets on the stove or counter is sitting on a thin layer of soap This makes cleaning extra messy meals very easy.

Another old mechanics trick is to rub a couple of drops of dish soap in their hands and under their nails before work. Then oil and grease come off of the skin because they didn’t get into the skin because of the soap was already there.

If you try the spray bottle trick you will find it is easier than getting a few drops out of a regular bottle of dish soap and you will find a lot of uses for it. One word of caution when spraying anything in the kitchen. Never spray around open food. You don’t want to contaminate your food. Remember, Always Be Cleaning. Your cooking will improve, you will save time and money and the whole evening will be more enjoyable.

This weeks menu was very simple, forced by some wonderful family events. I discovered some long lost family members. It was great but restrained some of my cooking. We ate a lot of sandwiches. Many were Panini style grilled sandwiches. It only takes a few minutes more to grill a sandwich but they are well worth the time. Salads. Soups. And an often overlooked classic. Sloppy Joes. Just fry a pound of ground beef and mix in a can of Sloppy Joe sauce (usually next to the Chili in the grocery store), serve on a hamburger bun with potato chips and you have a classic Sloppy Joe.

But why stop there? It is so easy to take them to a higher level. Mix some finely minced onion into the meat about half way through cooking. Reserve some onion to use as a topping. Just before serving add some finely chopped dill pickle into the mixture. Dice the pickle and squeeze on a couple paper towels to remove the juice or the mix will get wet. Top the sandwich with some of the reserved onion and a little shredded Cheddar cheese and serve. They are a wonderful throwback to the 60s and 70s that your family will love.

I will see you next week. John

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