How to get more organised in the kitchen

First published: 21-09-2015

As the cold nights of autumn and winter draw ever closer, we all dream of huddling around a cosy fireplace, tucking into hearty stews and piping hot pies.

While the call of the local pub is always tempting, it's an incredibly fun and rewarding experience to break out the kitchen utensils and craft your own perfect shepherd's pie, or whatever your ideal wintry comfort food may be.

This needn't be a daunting task either, as with a little planning and preparation, as well as keeping a keen eye on your timings, you can fool any dinner guest into thinking that you're a Michelin-starred chef.

Using our simple tips, you can have everything prepared and stewing away in the oven, while you put your feet up on the sofa with a glass of wine in hand, only moving to serve it up once it's ready.

Autumn Leaves

Before you get to the cooking stage

You can save yourself time in the kitchen by planning ahead when you're out shopping. Buying a week's worth of meals in advance can really help you to decide just how many items you'll need, so you don't have to hurriedly pop out to buy a last-minute onion.

You can also buy ingredients like minced beef or lamb in bulk, which means you'll be able to successfully adjust your recipe at short notice if you're not too sure of the specific number of guests you'll be catering for. If you end up with a bit more than you need, most ingredients can be frozen for another time, so nothing goes to waste.

What you can do the day before

If you have time, chop up all the vegetables you'll be using and place them on a plate, cover with Clingfilm and leave them in the fridge overnight.

Also, if you need to use any items which you've frozen, remember to get them out of the freezer in good time, so they'll be fully defrosted when you come to put your dish together.

Getting your timings right

When devising a schedule, it's a good idea to start by figuring out the time which you'd like to serve up the finished article. It's best to begin here, as you can then work backwards to decide upon the ideal time to begin your preparations.

It depends on what kind of meal you're cooking, but as a guide, we've devised a list of things which will probably need to be taken into consideration:

  • Have you prepared everything you'll need to use? (Meat, vegetables, herbs, and anything else)

  • Have you defrosted any frozen ingredients?

  • How long will it take you to set the table? This depends on how many people you're setting a place for, as well as checking whether your cutlery and table cloths are clean and ready.

  • Will you need to factor in making a sauce or accompaniments such as rice, pasta, or even naan or pitta bread?

  • How long will everything take to cook once it's in the pan or the oven?

  • Will you need to add toppings such as cheese towards the end of the cooking time?

  • You might also want to stick your plates in the oven to warm for around five minutes before you serve everything.

Let's practise your timings

As an example, we'll run through how to craft a shepherd's pie from scratch.

Step one: Chop up all the veg you'll need

Time needed: Approximately 20 minutes

To serve four people, we'd recommend: one large onion, two or three medium carrots and 900g of potatoes. You may also want to experiment by adding a bit of celery, swede, or turnip in too.

Each person chops their vegetables at a different speed, but as peeling carrots and potatoes can be a bit of a chore, we'd recommend giving yourself 20 minutes to accomplish this.

Step two: Take care of the veg and the mince

Time needed: You'll need to allow around 20 minutes for this and a further 5 minutes of potato-mashing time.

You'll need to cook your potatoes all the way through to make a smooth mash, although you can partially cook everything else at this stage.

In order to form the mashed potato topping, which is integral to any successful shepherd's pie, you'll need to make sure that your spuds are cooked and look all nice and fluffy!

As you leave your potatoes to boil away, you can brown your meat and soften your onions and carrots in a separate pan.

Step three: Create your sauce

Time needed: This will only take you around 5 minutes

You can make this as easy or as difficult as you want it to be, really. We'd recommend creating a medley of beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree, mixed herbs, salt and pepper, and even a generous splash of beer for good measure.

You can opt to heat it through or simply mix well and cook it in the oven.

Step four: Put everything in the oven

Time needed: 2 minutes preparation, 30 minutes cooking time

Grab a casserole dish and put all of your vegetables and mince in first, then pour your sauce over.

Spread your mash potato over the top, optionally adding a bit of grated cheese on top.

Once that's done, put it in the oven at 180°C fan for about half an hour.

Step five: Serve your shepherd's pie

Time needed: 5 minutes

Once your shepherd's pie is cooked, you should leave it to stand for a few minutes. This should give you more than enough time to get your serving spoon at the ready, as well as your warmed plates.

When it comes to dishing it out, use a serving spoon to dish out a suitable portion and try your best to keep the topping intact as you cut it into portions.

Step six: EAT!

Time needed: As long as you like.

How to keep track of everything

Timings are pretty important when it comes to cooking and serving a successful meal, so owning a clock or a watch with an alarm function can be very helpful in these situations.

The alarm function will let you know when it's time to get up and put something in the oven, saving you from checking your wrist every five minutes or potentially missing the point where you should have taken the potatoes off the boil!

Buying a small timepiece to help you get organised in the kitchen needn't be expensive. Take this Lorus model for example, which does everything you'll need it to without breaking the bank.

Lorus LCD Alarm Clock

Alternatively, you could opt for a wristwatch that will always be strapped to your wrist so you never miss a beep.

Casio have a range of watches, such as this unisex model, which not only have the desired alarm function, but also have a digital watch face. This makes it easy to tell the time at a glance, which is extremely helpful when you're busy chopping and stirring.

Casio Men's Classic Leisure Alarm Chronograph Watch

Cooking at home definitely doesn't have to feel like a chore. Taking the panic out of preparing food by keeping to the timings which you've laid out beforehand can really make cooking thoroughly enjoyable!


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