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Getting started - Your tryst with the Kitchen Part 2

This blogpost is written by Payal Kapoor, who is currently working with the Justa group of hotels as a part of their sales and marketing team. This is the second guest post by Ms. Kapoor in a series of posts about mastering the kitchen. Read the first post here. Please note that Eyeway's Blog entries reflect the opinions of the author and contributors, meant to encourage debate and discussion, and not necessarily Score Foundation's official policy position.

We’re back!  Since we had established the rules to organize the kitchen in the last post, it is now time to get going into the next phase of our tryst with the kitchen. This time we are going through the pre- preparation before actually getting down to the real thing, cooking at the cook top. We’ll now suit up to begin.
The first rule when beginning work in the kitchen is to establish hygiene standards for yourself. Remember, you are dealing with food and any deviation from cleanliness could cause trouble. It is a good idea to use an apron, not to look fancy and cool, but to protect your clothes from spillage and staining. A kitchen napkin also comes in handy to wipe hands as and when needed. It is important women ensure their hair is kept out of the way when working at the counter. Clean hands are paramount. Most of us use our hands extensively and hence need to ensure we clean them each time we handle something different.  
Organizing yourself for the task at hand will allow you to save time and work efficiently. Gathering all your required ingredients for cooking will keep you from scrambling around and end up exhausted even before you’ve begun. Storing ingredients like dals in a dry area of the kitchen is important. I use the grading method to identify what is stored where. This means, the largest grains like chana and rajma are first, followed by the whole dals and then the broken ones. Your touch is of course the best judge. You can refrigerate lesser used flours like besan, suji and maida to keep them fresh longer, under air tight conditions of course. Did you know instant coffee lasts longer when refrigerated in an air tight container?  
Vegetables can be handled in different ways. Many of us, who work, buy vegetables once a week and keep them refrigerated. Personally, I wash, dry and cut the vegetables to their required shape and size and store them in zip lock plastic bags or air tight plastic containers. This enables time spent in cutting the vegetable at the last minute to be substituted with doing something else.
Peeling and cutting vegetables is an art, easily achieved by sufficient and regular practice. The knives and peelers need to be sharp, but handled with utmost care. No unnecessary bloodshed in the kitchen please! Depending on your choice, you could either use the chopping board or hold the vegetable in your hand to cut. The right amount of pressure on the peeler will ensure you get only the peel off, not the whole vegetable! Cutting on the chopping board requires you to hold the vegetable with your non-cutting hand with your fingers tucked slightly inwards. This will keep them away from the blade of the knife. Sure, confident cutting strokes will cut the vegetable right. There are choices of vegetable choppers available in the market too. 
Storing the regularly used masalas in one place proves helpful. You could use a container with individual compartments in it to keep them. Identifying them is also a matter of practice. I keep salt in the centre, whole grains together, and powders to one side. Coriander powder can be identified by its rough texture, as can turmeric powder by its relative smoothness. Red chilly powder is graded between the two. You could also smell it, but watch out for chilly powder going up your nostrils and causing havoc! I use my fingers to add the dry masalas to my cooking. This gives me the real feel of how much has gone in. Unless specified in a recipe by spoonfuls, this is my preferred method and has never failed me.
The cooking utensils should be chosen to not only save time, but to give you the end product with the required texture and appearance. There are substitutes like the microwave and steamers which have now replaced certain time consuming processes like boiling vegetables. This, of course is entirely upto the comfort factor and availability of equipment in your kitchen. At the end of the day, it is about cooking without looking and what works best for you is the primary consideration.
My romance with the kitchen began years ago with fear and uncertainty. Constant practice and never giving up made it possible for me to be as confident as I am today. Remember, if I could do it, you can too.
We are now ready to embark on the final leg of our journey... join me at the cooktop in the next segment.

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