There are some basic things we need to talk about before you begin to cook. Today we will talk about the very, very first things you must do before preparing food. In my Life Skills class, when I say, "OK, Ladies, we are ready to cook.", they exclaim in unison, "WAIT!"
(Now I have to start with a side note. It is obvious why you would wash your hands before you handle food so washing hands definitely has to be in the list. HOWEVER, you REALLY need to wash your hands AFTER you have handled your hair and the trashcan so I recommend washing your hands last but A.I.T.W. doesn't spell anything so washing hands had to go first. So, there.)
Let's start with A, shall we?
A is for "apron". It is important to protect your clothes from your food (and to protect your food from your clothes) with the use of an apron. Aprons come in various shapes and few sizes and make a great first sewing project (no zippers or buttonholes, doesn't have to leave the house, simple construction). Wearing an apron is basically like wearing a dish towel on which you can dry your hands.
I learned the hard way about wearing an apron. It was a Sunday after church when I was wearing my REALLY AWESOME WHITE skirt while stirring SPAGHETTI SAUCE. Yep. I tried everything to get that stain out to no avail. And it can take much less than spaghetti sauce to ruin clothing, like a grease spot, for instance. Some aprons have handy dandy pockets--the perfect place to keep your ponytail holder for your hair. Your hair must be pinned back while you cook to avoid dropping a hair in the food [shiver].
It's either that or a hairnet. 😳
(Hair had to be included with apron because there was nowhere else that it fit in the acrostic. W.H.A.I.T.? W.A.I.T.H.? W.A.I.H.T? No, it just wasn't working. Plus, they are closely related in that the apron and hair both have to do with protecting yourself and the food. Call it A for appearance if it makes you feel better.)
I is for "ingredients". (I is? I am for ingredients? THE WORD "INGREDIENTS" BEGINS WITH THE LETTER "I"!) The ingredients to make a recipe should be gathered before you begin to cook so that you can be sure you have everything you will need. Even if you are sure you bought everything you need, some family member may have used it up, not that that ever happens at my house. Sometimes eggs, butter, and cream cheese need to sit out to become room temperature before using them in a recipe. It's just smart to do all your gathering up front instead of running hither and yon while following a recipe.
T is for "trashcan". Cooking is a trashy business. You create a lot of trash while opening packages and cracking eggs. It is best to bring the trashcan near your cooking area rather than banking shots of dripping tomato cans and egg shells or running back and forth to the trashcan, especially if there is a cabinet door to open with each use. If you are using the last of anything in a carton such as eggs, oats, cake mix, flour, or sugar, you can use the empty carton as your countertop mini-trashcan and then toss the whole thing when you are done.
W is for "wash your hands". You must have clean practices when cooking food for others. NO tasting from the spoon and putting it back in the sauce! NO pets on the counter [shiver]! NO nose rubbing, coughing, or sneezing in the kitchen! NO hanging your head over the pot! Most contaminants would never be detected but a hair of any length [shiver] will tell on you every time. Most unappetizing. The stuff nightmares are made of. Practice being a trustworthy person by keeping your cooking clean for those who will be eating it.
This brings us to the topic of dish towels, and who doesn't LOVE a good discussion about dish towels?! I've seen people dry their hands on a dish towel and then use the same towel to dry a dish. Some families use the kitchen sink to wash their hands after cutting the grass and use the dish towel to dry them. A kitchen needs some ground rules for towel use. Is the towel for hands or dishes? (Hint: It's a DISH towel. Not a HAND towel.) How many times do you hang it up and let it dry before switching it out for a clean one and how do you keep track of how long it has been in use? And, by the way, if you have a dish "rag", it's time to toss it and replace it with a dish "cloth".
My practice is to use a dish towel to dry dishes. It is not used to wipe up a mess on the counter or to dry my hands. Once food touches it, the towel is no longer clean. (By the same token, the hand towel in the bathroom is not for WIPING toothpaste off your face but for DRYING your face and hands.) At the end of the day, the towel I used that day goes in the laundry and I bring out a clean one the next day.
I use a paper towel to dry my hands. I suspect that I'm rubbing more than just water off my hands when I dry them. I'm probably getting a bit of dirt off, too. I then leave that paper towel lying on the counter to wipe up any spills I may have and then toss it in an effort to save money and get the most use out of the item. It seems like a waste to get a clean paper towel to wipe up a mess when I just had a paper towel that I used to dry my hands.
Granted, you can call a family meeting and train each member on which is the hand towel and which is the dish towel and hope that everybody gets it just right. I'm not choosing teams over dish towel use, but I hope to give you food for thought concerning the sanitary practices of your kitchen. (If you really want to think about cleanliness, think about the practice of washing kitchen towels in the same load with bath towels. Maybe it's ok. Maybe.)
Before you cook, you should W.A.I.T. It's like putting on your seat belt. It should just happen without any reminder. Every time.
So, quiz yourself. Can you tell me what you should do before you cook?
And now that you have that down, you can practice W.A.I.T.ing until the next cooking post. 😊