I don’t know about you, but I sure love interrupting a lively conversation or a good movie, with a stomach full of delicious food and half a glass of wine left on the table, so I can roll into the kitchen and wash a bunch of dishes. But what’s even more fun is indulging in that after-dinner glow, leaving those dishes for the morning, and stumbling across them before even having coffee (I’ve actually never done this because it drives me THAT CRAZY).
Obviously, this is never a fun situation. In fact, it drives a lot of people away from cooking and towards take-out if they are looking forward to a particularly enjoyable night. And maybe one of your New Year’s Goals was to cook at home more often, but you just can’t get past the dreaded task of doing the dishes. Well, maybe the best way to get through the after-dinner dish pile is to avoid it all together! Here’s how:
- Start by cleaning any dirty dishes and putting away clean dishes from the dish rack and dishwasher. This way you’ll have plenty of space to cook and to pile up dishes as you create them. You can, however, keep out clean dishes if you know you’ll need them. Also, set the table before starting- you probably use the same dishes for dinner every night, so it’ll get dishes out of the way without having to put them in the cabinet and then taking them right back out. It also makes plating faster and easier, leaving more time to do a quick clean up before eating.
- On that note, prep ahead for leftovers. Have out any food containers you’ll need, whether it’s for large quantities of food you’ve prepped ahead of time, or smaller portions of dinner that you’re packaging for lunches. If you can move leftovers into their appropriate containers right as cooking is finished, the pots and pans are a lot easier to clean when they are still warm, and you’ll be less likely to overeat!
- Reuse dishes as you can- use the same pot you boiled pasta in to heat sauce in after you’ve drained the pasta. If you’re making spinach artichoke dip, defrost the spinach in the same bowl you’ll mix the dip together in- since the spinach is in the dip, you don’t even have to clean out the bowl in between! Use the same cutting board to slice bread, then chop veggies, and then prep the meat (but never the other way around!!!!). Pour liquid ingredients into the same measuring cup, assuming they’re all going in the same dish (even better, estimate amounts when you can and eliminate extra dishes all together!).
- As a corollary- weigh, don’t measure, when possible. Weighing is much easier, since you can just “tare” a scale and add the next ingredient to the same bowl instead of dirtying a lot of measuring cups. It’s also more accurate and kitchen scales are very inexpensive. If your recipe does not have weight equivalents (most of my favorite cookbooks do!), measure and weigh the first time you make the recipe and write in the weight equivalents on the recipe. Assuming you like the recipe, next time you make it you have the weights already written in!
- Use disposable items to reduce dishes- cover baking sheets with tin foil or parchment (depending on the food), grate cheese on to wax paper, marinate meat in plastic bags. Yes, it’s worse for the environment, but it’s way better than the trash generated by getting take out!
- Prep ahead- make large batches of the same food that you will need later in the week (meal planning!!). There’s no point in using the same dish for the same food every night one week if you can safely make it all at once.
- Find a helper- like the Little Red Hen, if they don’t help, they don’t eat. Not really, but having someone there to clean dishes you no longer need while you are cooking can save a LOT of time. Having everyone bring their own dishes to the kitchen/dishwasher after dinner also saves a lot of time, and you won’t have to interrupt conversation if you all go to the kitchen together!
- Use ergonomics- have a trash can that is easy to access and open, have the dish rack next to the sink, and find a detergent dispenser that doesn’t require two hands to use.
- Most importantly, clean as you go. Don’t leave all the dishes in an intimidating pile in the sink. As soon as a dish is done being used, put it near the sink (not in, unless you have a double sink) and clean it (or have someone else clean it) as soon as there is dead time in the recipe. Having the dishes in your way will encourage you to clean them sooner rather than later. Waiting for a sauce to reduce or pasta to cook? Don’t just stand there- do the dishes! I even build-in dead time towards the end of cooking during which I can clean up. For example, while pizza or lasagna is baking, there’s plenty of time to do every dish except for the one currently in the oven. Meat resting? Plate the sides and the meat, then do the dishes before slicing and serving.
Now, at the end of a meal, you can throw the utensils in the dishwasher and enjoy the rest of the night, knowing that there are perfectly preserved leftovers for use tomorrow. Go enjoy the rest of your wine.