As you've no doubt determined, I am not a kitchen pro or even really a foodie--I love food, but I only read a few food blogs these days (who has time?) and mostly just look up recipes when I need inspiration. My knife skills are decent, but kind of a moot point given that my knives are not so good. Aaaand, I have not maximized the efficiency of my workspace.
However, I do have a few tips for you, especially if you are still tentative in the kitchen.
- Stainless steel gets the garlic stink off. I don't know about you, but much as I like cooking, I get tired of smelling like food. If you wash your hands while washing stainless steel (I usually use a knife blade--carefully--or a sink basin), the stink goes away.
- Yes, use a garbage bowl. I am no fan of eternally perky Rachael Ray, but she does have some good ideas--like keeping a designated container on the counter for all of your peelings and odds and ends.
- Don't futz around peeling garlic. You probably already know this, but smashing garlic cloves with the flat of your knife splits the skin apart and makes it very easy to remove. (I am of the bash and chop school of garlic prep--can't be bothered with a press.)
- Master onion chopping technique. If you are at all like me, you use onions for just about every dish you prepare. It's worth it to use chef-style onion chopping technique. Cut the onion in half through the stem nub. Cut the pointy top off. Peel the onion--much easier to do at this point. Lay the flat side of one half an onion on your cutting board, with the stem end pointing away from you. Make several parallel cuts toward the stem end, but NOT all the way through it. Then rotate the onion and slice across the cuts you just made. If any of this made sense and you executed it correctly, you now have diced onions. Hooray!
- Soup is the friend of the makeshift cook. Soup is forgiving. Soup is easy to stretch, alter, experiment with, tweak. I would have almost no cuisine without soup. Tomato-based vegetable soups couldn't be easier: chop up an onion, garlic, one carrot, and one celery stalk; saute in olive oil with any dried herbs you fancy; dump in a big can of diced or crushed tomatoes; add another can of water and some chopped up root veggies; add a can or two of beans, a handful of grains, and simmer; add leafy veggies or things like zucchini, summer squash, and bell peppers toward the end for best texture. As god is my witness, you'll never go hungry again.
- Leftovers=easy lunches. I know, it seems like a no-brainer. But if you are trying to brown bag it more often, this is a very easy way to do it. As for me, having grown up in a family of six, I have no frame of reference for cooking single servings or even two-serving meals, so leftovers are a way of life for me. I always make a bunch of everything and pack it in my Mr. Bento for the next day or two.
- Avail yourself of prep bowls and prep time. Here's an example: I had to work from home this morning, so I took a little break and chopped up my mirepoix for tonight's soup and chucked it in the fridge. This will streamline things when I get home later. If I'd had a bit more time, I would've chopped a bigger batch and frozen it. When I do the rest of the soup prep tonight, I'll put the remaining vegetable ingredients in bowls as I chop them, so that they're ready to add to the pot at the right moment. This really helps if you're working in a small space.
- Boiling water? Put a lid on it. Simple, but effective. If you're heating water and you don't have a lid on your pot, you're wasting energy and lengthening the time it takes to boil. If you're going to salt the water, wait until it's already boiling--salt raises the boiling point of water (just as it lowers the freezing point, which is why the streets are coated with it in the winter). One of the few things I remember from science classes.