23 February 2009

Cleaning up.

It's my least favourite part about having friends come over: the aftermath. I usually end up cooking a fair bit of food, and realised that I could make my life easier by skipping the middle-man. This will not work for everyone, and this will certainly not work for a full on formal meal, but it did work for having a few friends over, and eating a casual, potluck style dinner. 

What I usually end up doing when people are coming over is that I'll do the long cooking things in the morning, when I wake up, then start the rest of the dinner about an hour and a half before everyone shows up. Since produce doesn't take too terribly long to prepare, it's usually just a question of getting it all together, and making it happen, then seasoning everything in the last 15 minutes or so, including the slow cooking things, like beans. What do I mean?

Say for example that I'm making a split pea soup. I'll start cooking the split peas in a slow cooker early in the morning. I prefer for mine to be cooked till they fall apart, which is why I prefer to give it as long as it wants. Others may prefer less cooking, and can do it in an hour or so. Then, I go about my day, just clearing up the house, or relaxing. Let's say that everyone is set to arrive at 7 PM. Around 5:30 PM, I get up off my duff, and begin prepping the vegetables for cooking. I do my washing, chopping, and salad-y type stuff first. Then, I season up the beans, so they'll have time to simmer with the spices, until my guests arrive. Then, I do all the vegetable cooking itself, which will take me from around 6:20 - 7:00, give or take. Then everyone arrives, I bring out the food and the eating stuff (plates, spoons, forks, bla bla bla), and set out everything on the table. Everyone takes what they want, and eats until she or he is full.

For something sweet, if everyone has room, I'll usually slice up some fruit (pears, apples, whatever), and serve it up. Usually people are too full for anything more by this point, so I often never reach this point. 

Then, when everyone leaves, I put everything away into the boxes I have to get them in the fridge or freezer. Then, I have to do the cooking dishes. They're often too large to efficiently go in my dish washer, and by now, the food has set in, because the hot food has been cooling in that pot this whole time. Meanwhile, the dinner dishes are still sitting there. By then, I'll usually feel too tired to bother with anything, and just leave it for the next day. The next day, my counter is still a disaster area, and the dishes are staring at me ruefully.

Let's be honest. You still don't attack them. I generally heat some leftovers up in a plate or bowl, and watch TV for a bit, to recuperate from the previous night. Then, when I find that the entire sink is still full of dishes, and I have to wash my eating dish, I realise that it's time to get some work done. By now, it's probably well into the next afternoon (around 3 or 4 PM). I do all the dishes at once, and stuff the dishwasher with whatever I can get in there in terms of dinner plates, glasses, mugs, spoons, forks, knives, etc.

Around 7 PM or so, I'm about done, and now the counter top, the stove, and the kitchen floor need to be cleaned. By then, I'm pooped, so I go make Steve his dinner, and set a pot of rice on again. 

Around 10 PM that night, I'll be done with cleaning the counter, and that night's dinner dishes. Then comes sleep, and the next day, I'll usually finish off the floor and stove by around noon~ish.

All for a single dinner event.

There HAD to be a better way. This time, I used those oven safe pyrex dishes that can go directly in your fridge. I cooked everything I needed for Saturday's dinner on Friday. Then, I put the food away into the pyrex containers, and kept them in big enough portions for four people. Because I was immediately putting the food away, the cooking pots were very easy to clean, and that job was done in about thirty minutes or so. 

The next day, I just heated everything up in the oven, did some last-minute jobs. I had plenty of time to get the kitchen back in shape by the time my friends arrived. Everything was piping hot from the oven, and tasted great. If you have microwave safe plastic food storage containers, this would go even faster, because you'd just have to nuke everything for a couple of minutes to reheat it to the right temp to get on the table. Then, when dinner was done, everything was already in the storage containers, so I just put it back in the fridge, and dumped the dinner dishes in the dishwasher. It was so much less work. The next day, all I had to do was some final touches to the kitchen, and it was nice and clean again. :)