My favorite kitchen tips!

With the holidays coming most of us will be spending a lot more time in the kitchen. In our house, that means lots of baking, pre-cooking and freezing. I thought I'd share some of my favorite kitchen tips- many handed down, most learned the hard way!

~Plan your everyday meals (including breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners) around what is in season and what's on sale. This will save time in the store and money.
~Get out your favorite holiday recipes. Buy non perishables ahead of time.
~Measure out dry ingredients for cookies,brownies, biscuits, breads, etc. in zip-top bags. You can do this all on the same day and only clean up one set of measuring cups/spoons. I have the same bags I've used for years. I have the recipe written on the bag in permanent marker and I measure out the dry ingredients to store them in the bag. When it's time to make them, the recipe is right there and you even cut out a few steps and some clean up.
~Make ahead and freeze as much as you can. I freeze cookies, breads and meatballs. I am generally the appetizer-maker for our get-togethers. I like to get as many of these items out of the way as I can. when the day of your shin-dig rolls around, all you have to do is take care of fresh ingredients and maybe sauces.
~USE YOUR CROCK POT! I can't stress this enough. You don't always have to cook in it, use it to keep things warm while you clean up. Make your veggies, potatoes or noodles and pour them in the crock pot. You can wash the dishes up and, best of all, a crock pot doesn't have to sit on the stove! When Aunt Jane brings a hot pan, you'll have a spot ready for it. Always spray your crock pot with cooking spray before use.
~Don't make any new recipes. People like the usual favorites for holidays. Now is not the time for experiments, either. Something you haven't tried before may flop or not taste quite right.

~Use parchment paper! If you aren't savvy to this phenomenon, you'll wonder where it has been all your life! I line my sheet pans with it before I bake anything, meatballs, cookies, cakes, etc. You can also cut it and line the bottom of cake and loaf pans. It helps prevent burning, speeds up cleaning and helps your pans to last longer.
~If you don't like to freeze actual cookies, make the dough, roll it in wax paper or place balls of dough on a tray and freeze until you're ready to bake.
~Sounds gross, but when cooking ground meat, cover it with water and "smoosh" it with your hands. This cooks it more evenly, keeps grease from spattering and lets you drain off more of the fat. It's especially wonderful for taco meat or sloppy joes.
~Let the kids help! Kids can do a lot to help with cooking and baking. Even little ones can unwrap candies (buy extras- they'll eat some), stir and pour. I give my 4 year old a large tablespoon and let him spoon the flour into cookie dough after I've measured it out while I do something else. They even like to wash dishes!!!

~Run water in your sink before cooking and clean up as you go or let bowls and utensils soak before placing in the dishwasher.
~Wipe where you are. If you pull out your mixer, wipe the counter top where it sat before putting it back. This is also good for items in cabinets. Also, wipe down appliances before putting them back.
~If you wash just a couple of dishes, use the rest of the dish water to wipe down cabinets and large appliance fronts. I worked in a school kitchen and after prep (even before serving sometimes) we'd just give the cabinets/drawers/large appliances a quick wipe-down. You don't have to go hog-wild, just hit the handles and knobs. Work quickly.
~Wear an apron. I know it seems old-fashioned, but you can work faster because you won't be so worried about getting ingredients on you.
~Clean up all spills immediately and completely. It's easier to wipe things up while they're still wet or before they get scattered all over. It's also easier to wipe something off of the counter rather than after it's been brushed onto the floor.

Giving food as gifts
~Look online and in catalogs (the popcorn factory is my favorite) for ideas. You can make nice gift baskets with food that are just as colorful and fancy for a quarter of the price! I bought two bags of different flavored puffin corn (popcorn without kernels), pretzel sticks, candies wrapped in foil and made several types of cookies ahead. I then wrapped boxes in wrapping paper and put small baggies of each item in the boxes. They made GREAT gifts for my neighbors and I got several baskets from one bag of each treat. The neighbors went ga-ga over them and thought I had ordered them! You could also make some of these up and sell them to make extra $$!
~Make up cookie mixes in jars for gifts. You can find TONS of ideas and recipes online.
~Make the packaging a part of the gift! Buy tins, containers or trays at the dollar store or buy a set of holiday plates and use them for your food gifts.
~Make food baskets for kids and teens. You may think this is a funny idea, but I once took a shirt box, added some corrugated cardboard to the bottom of each side, covered it with tissue and paper shred and filled them with 20 oz. bottles of pop (or soda), a package of microwave popcorn and movie-size boxes of candy. You could also include a movie or movie money. Make sure you tape the items together to keep them standing and wrap the whole thing in cello-wrap or a gift basket bag. These were for teenage boys and they LOVED them! My kids were even jealous!

~Remove chicken and turkey from the bones and freeze in bags. You can use it for soups or in chicken/turkey salad later.
~Freeze soups in muffin tins. Place in zip top bags when completely frozen and you have single-serving sizes ready to go. This is also a great way to bake and freeze individual meatloaves for lunches.
~Take containers from sour cream, margarine, chip dip and cool whip to your gathering to take leftovers home in. We collect them all year and everyone brings their bag full to Thanksgiving and Christmas.
~Don't keep leftovers in the fridge for more than 3 days.

I hope these tips will serve you well during the holidays and afterwards. If you use these tips throughout the year, they'll be old habits by the next holiday. If you have a tip to share, leave it or a link to your post in my comments.

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