Today is January 3, 2015. It is the start of a new year and new kitchen adventures. This morning, as I was making coffee, I l started to empty the dishwasher and I discovered I had no room for glasses in my crowded cupboard. I decided to take action. I wanted to have time to get outside and snow shoe around the property! But I had a kitchen to start organizing.
After the holidays my kitchen is a disorganized mess, and it is time to organize. Kitchens tend to get cluttered and often you will find you have three or more of the same item. We all have busy lives and time is at a real premium. Being organized is your best friend; it is getting there that is all the work. I hate the "organized" word because it seems to me that the minute you purge, tidy, clean and organize it is all messy again.
Last night we were finishing up the last leftovers from the holidays. This morning I am facing a dozen Christmas coffee mugs, a huge amount of plastic containers and a series of platters and baking dishes that are impossible to stuff into my drawers. I came up with a list of things to do to get my kitchen back on track so that things are where they need to be, and I can find them when I am cooking or baking.
In the French restaurant tradition, we have a term called “mise en place,” which roughly translates as “everything in its place.” This is done so that when service starts everything is close at hand. I have found that “mise en place” gives you the freedom to be creative because you are not running around looking for things. This means not just your food but also your equipment. Make sure you have a knife block and canister holding your most used utensils close by as you prep and cook. This makes cooking much easier.
Many people have told me they hate to bake because it means too much time trying to locate items in their pantry. Organizing is a way of taking inventory to see what you have, what you have too much of, or what you may need. Before you know it your counters are filled with appliances and your drawers are stuffed with all sorts of good-for-one-job gadgets. You may be surprised at how few kitchen utensils you really need.
As a professional vhef, I have a large and busy kitchen; all the drawers are packed and I have stacking plastic containers to hold baking tools I have collected for decades. I refuse to give them up. However this Christmas, I decided I needed more space. I went through the entire collection of small appliances that I never use – ice crushers, juicers, can openers and salad spinners. I placed them in a plastic tub and told my daughters to go through them and the rest will go to a second-hand store.
Try to find the time to do one chore; it is overwhelming to try and tackle all the jobs
Here Are A Few Suggestions on Organizing Your Pantry and Kitchen
Keep a kitchen journal: As you know, I always suggest keeping a kitchen journal – it's a practice I began decades ago as a professional chef. Keep notes about what you need, what needs to get done, your menu planning and a log of meals cooked. It will become a handy reference and a keepsake.
Label, label, label: I have a sharpie and labels at the ready. Label your dry goods, your fridge goods, and especially label and date your freezer goods. Freezer food all starts to look the same after a while. In professional kitchens, we are required to label and date all food. It makes sense for health and safety, for food cost control and for eliminating waste.
Consider purchasing a vacuum sealer: I recently purchased a vacuum sealer to extend the life of food and to control costs. Vacuum sealers have one disadvantage: The sealer takes up quite a bit of shelf or counter top space. I think it is well worth having one.
Purge your cupboards of mismatched plastic containers. Try to buy one brand that stacks together; it will save you from cleaning up the avalanche that tumbles out of your cupboards.
Purge your table ware – dishes, mugs, glasses, linens – your food wrap and don’t forget your utensil container. It will save you time; there is nothing I hate more than trying to find places for things. Place your most used items in a spot that is easy to reach.
Purge your pots and pans, they take up so much space. I recently won a pair of Eaziestore stacking stock pots and I love them. Pots and pans are a huge space waste, so buy just a few good quality multi-purpose pots and pans.
Clean out your freezer and fridge: Discard expired food; you might be surprised what you find!
Clean your appliances and clean behind them, and, yes, vacuum or dust the coils.
Sort through your wine or liquor cabinet and decide what you will never use – you can use bits of leftover wine for cooking. I have tried making vinegar so many times and it never worked out. If you have odd bits of alcohol taking up space, considering making vanilla. It is simple: Add a vanilla bean or two to pure alcohol and let steep. Or use up some of the liqueurs when you are baking.
Clean out under your sink and figure out what cleaning products you have. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher.
Sort through your pantry and group things together as they are used, such as baking items or oil and vinegar. Try to keep spices at eye level in alphabetical order; I know it is tough.
Purge your pantry: Check for expiration dates and donate what you don't want or need to a food bank.
Be brave and clean out your “EVERYTHING junk drawer.” Empty it all out into a large container and only put back things you regularly use. If you can't decide, put things into a zip-lock bag, label it and put it away until you are ready to sort thorough it. I find myself doing that on a regular basis when I can't find a single thing. Buy a drawer organizer and use it. Throw out all the odd pieces of junk you have collected. You will never use the twist ties or corks.
Purchase: Every kitchen is unique and some have more room than others. The smaller the kitchen the greater the need to be streamlined and organized. Consider purchasing some of these organizing tools to make you life easier: Drawer separators, lid racks, unde-the-sink organizers, pot racks, a dish towel rack, a magnetic knife holder, lazy Susans. There are stores that specialize in these organizing tools. Good old Ikea sells quite a few. Just remember to consider if you have the space before purchasing.
I hope this helps you start your 2015 Kitchen Journey.
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