Cooking Chaos: 3 ways to successfully navigate the endless flow of recipes

Whether you are a foodie, have food allergies, are on a special diet or just love real, whole foods, you are probably a hoarder of recipes. I’ll be the first to raise my hand on this. When you have access to gobs and gobs of recipes, cooking tips, nutrition info…literally at your fingertips…well, a vast collection begins to accumulate. Regardless of how you keep up with it (placing favorites on your Bookmarks, pinning them on Pinterest or plain old-fashioned print-outs), it can just get..well…a little out of control.

recipe booksI’m speaking from experience, in case you couldn’t tell. When I first began radically changing my diet due to health problems (see “About” page), I was a leech on the internet. I scoured and scoured for recipes and would print many new ones every week. It was such a great resource and really helped me through that rough transition period. But as time went on, everything became more cluttered. I attempted to organize it all in a binder, using dividers and sheet protectors, which was helpful to an extent. But I still found that I was having clumps of new recipes stuck in the back and was quickly running out of room. And then many that were already in the binder weren’t being used. So at some point, I decided to do a total 180 and quit printing anything, unless it was really unique. But this wasn’t a good solution either as I was missing out on new food ideas.

So why is it important to have a good organizational scheme in place when it comes to managing your recipe info? It’s not just a neat freak thing. Anyone who has been in the real food world for even a short amount of time, and is therefore cooking the majority of meals and snacks, knows that having recipes on hand and easily accessible is important. Sure, you have some that you just know by heart, and some can be altered and still turn out alright, but most likely there are still many others that you need to refer to time and time again. Here are a few of the issues I have experienced:

  1. If your recipe collection is unorganized, you can’t find what you need when you need it.
  2. You’ll forget about good recipes as they get tucked away behind the new and incoming.
  3. You’ll end up having new recipes, tried-and-true ones, mediocre ones, ones you can’t even remember ever looking at…all wrapped up together.

So how do we fix it? Here are three general tips that I’ve found can help declutter your stockpile and make it a bit easier to manage.

  1. Find an organization method that fits you (and then do it.) We are all different which means that the same thing probably won’t work for all of us. What I find helpful may drive you nuts and vice versa. So figure out how you like to manage your recipes and what’s easiest for you to use; do you prefer a computer or hard copies? Do you want to use an app, a spreadsheet, or a filing system? Is Pinterest the way to go? Once you find what works for you, start doing it.
  2. Be selective. This one is a bit challenging. There are oodles of great recipes out there, and narrowing it down can be just downright tough. But if you find yourself marking two or three new things each day…well, it’s going to pile up fast (unless you do have the time to try recipes at this rate). So begin with being just a bit more picky as you scan the latest additions. For some of us, that may be going down to one new recipe each day, others one each week and others no change at all.
  3. Toss what needs to be tossed. Ok, this one is really hard for me. I tend to be a pack rat. My inner dialogue goes something like this “Ok, you need to pitch this one. You found it two years ago, still haven’t tried it and don’t plan to anytime soon.” “But I may need it at some point.” “You’ve been fine without it this long. Plus, it will be easy to get again online.” “Yeah, but…” You get the idea. Go through your recipes regularly and don’t be afraid to toss ’em out. Again, this will look different for everyone, but in general, any unused recipes can go (unless it’s been unused by accident and you intend to try it soon) and those that were mediocre or flat-out bad. Note: I wouldn’t recommend pitching a recipe that you’ve just worn out (i.e. a favorite that you need a break from). Simply retire these kinds of recipes but make sure you can easily access them again when you’ve had a long enough break.

To wrap up, I’ll tell you how I’ve decided to organize my recipe stash. I decided that hard copies were best for me. I really like using the computer for almost everything, but when I’m actually in the kitchen, cooking? I need a piece of paper in front of me.

I continued with the binder system that I mentioned above. I placed labeled dividers and sheet protectors in it.

Then I began going through the recipes. I got rid of any that I hadn’t used (and didn’t plan to use anytime soon). I also found the ones that I had never tried and stuck them in a stack of “Newbies,” which is where I will be keeping all new recipes. So the binder is now full of recipes that we like and use, and the new recipes are separate from the tried-and-true ones.

How do you organize your recipe collection?

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Going Green,Thrifty Style: Recycling

Since we’ve relocated in recent months, we’ve had a lot of “new” things to uncover – a new mechanic, new grocery store, new hair stylist... and the list goes on. Among these “new” needs was a way to efficiently and economically recycle. In our previous neighborhood, recycling was picked up on the same day as your trash. You just put all your recyclable items in the nice, yellow can that was provided (free of charge I might add) and that’s it. No sorting, driving or paying required.

recycleNeedless to say, I was dumbstruck when I found out that recycling was not picked up this way at our new place. Sure, you could get curbside recycling service – but for a monthly premium. So I started researching our options and was able to boil it down to the following:

  1. Pay for a curbside service to pick up our recycling either 2 times each month or once every week.
  2. Just opt out of recycling.
  3. Sort our recyclable items ourselves and then drive it to the recycling bin.

So my husband and I mulled it over and weighed the pros and cons. We really wanted to keep recycling because of the many benefits it provides the environment and future generations (more on recycling benefits here) so option two was out. To begin with, option one sounded the best – the prices were reasonable and it just seemed much easier to throw all our stuff together and then set it outside for pick-up (which is what we’d been use to doing). We probably would have went with this option if both of us had been working and had tighter time constraints. However, in the end, we decided to sort our recyclable items ourselves and take them to the recycling center each week (option three). We went with this option for mainly two reasons: 1) being at home during the day with our son allows me more flexibility to make trips to the recycling center each week and 2) this is one less monthly payment we will be making, which is important for us as we’re learning how to live on one income.

We’ve been doing this for several weeks now and it’s worked out really well so far. I’ve become a pro at sorting our stuff, and then the recycling center is conveniently close by. Our only hang-up at this point is how to manage our recycling indoors. We typically have 2-3 trash bags of recycling each week, so it gets kind of cluttered by drop-off day. We’re thinking we can nick this problem by purchasing a couple of sturdy trash cans to place outside that will be dedicated to recyclable items. Then, on recycling day, I’ll go and sort everything and haul it off.

So is this a long-term solution? We aren’t sure, but it is the ideal short-term solution for us right now.

Have any helpful recycling tips? Feel free to share!

Kitchen Storage – Spices, Seasonings and Herbs

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I don’t know about you but I have a ton of spices, seasonings and dried herbs in my kitchen. Some I use all the time and some I’ve only used a couple times for a new recipe, but at any rate, there are a lot of them. We have recently moved into a new apartment, but at our previous residence, I had all the little jars combined on one shelf. And this shelf wasn’t even eye-level – I had to stand on tip-toe just to pick up a jar from the front row (and get a step-stool to reach those in the back). Then, if I wasn’t sure exactly where a particular spice or seasoning was, I would have to go through and pick-up different jars, hoping I’d come across it soon. This was not an ideal situation by any means and took up more time than necessary, especially when using several different ingredients for one recipe. So when we moved to our current place, I knew I had to do something different.

I looked through our new kitchen for some sort of nook, but by the time all the cooking utensils and cookware had been placed, there just wasn’t one. So I decided to re-visit an idea that I’d considered before but rejected: a spice rack. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the thought of having a spice rack. I just wasn’t sure how to make it work (albeit I hadn’t put that much thought into it). I already had a nice swivelly one that I received as a wedding gift several years ago (see picture). It contained 16 different jars, but they were pre-labeled and already contained spices/herbs/seasonings in them (just adding to my vast collection). A few of the jars were empty from where I’d used them up but most weren’t. So what was the best way to use this current spice rack to store all my current spices? I finally came to this plan:

1) Go through all my current spices/seasonings/herbs and discard any that were past the expiration date or that I just didn’t use/need.

2) Empty out all the jars in the spice rack (it was 6 years old anyway, so it was probably time).

3) Wash and dry these jars.

4) The ones that were already labeled correctly for the spice/seasoning/herb I wanted to use (for example, Oregano was already labeled) – fill these jars and eliminate them from my huge stash.

5) For spices/seasonings/herbs that I wanted in the spice rack, but had no labeled jar for – use a label maker to re-label these jars and then proceed to fill with the correct spice/seasoning/herb (then eliminate these from my huge stash as well.)

And wa-la! Just like that, all my spices were eye-level, easily accessed and identified, and took up far less space. I still have a small nook where I keep extras (I had 3 bottles of paprika somehow!) and additional seasonings that I couldn’t fit in the rack.

It was probably possible to purchase an un-labeled, un-filled spice rack, but I wanted to find a way to use what I already had (and hence, save money) and I’m pretty pleased with the result! But I think it’s definitely worth the investment even if I’d had to buy a new spice rack.

 

This post was shared at Homemade MondaysThriving on Thursdays