Monday, September 26, 2016

Organizing your kitchen, part 2: the nitty-gritty

Something as simple as this can make a big difference in your kitchen.
Last post was all about the big picture in your kitchen, primarily placement of stove, sink, refrigeration and a few other things. Get those right — or have a layout that you can make work for you (I’m thinking galley-type kitchens here, for instance) and you’re well on the way. I get it that not everyone can renovate their kitchen at the drop of a hat. Unless your kitchen is huge and incredibly ill-thought out, you shouldn’t have too many problems, regardless of where the big — and immovable things — have been placed.

[One last thought before I move on to this post’s details: make sure your kitchen has adequate lighting. The areas where you slice and chop need to be well-lit. This is not a difficult retrofit if your kitchen has poor or dim lighting. A good electrician can help make it happen without too much expense.]

I’ve found that what really makes the most difference in terms of cooking enjoyment through organization is where you put all those little things, the small tools, specialized utensils and often-used minor appliances.

Directly to the right of our stovetop is a smallish drawer. This is where we keep things that are used often: tongs (we have 3 we use constantly), extra spatulas, ladles (3), peelers (2), can and bottle openers, wine opener and a few other similar items.

Next to that is another wider drawer. This holds items that we don’t use quite as often or are small and fit at the front of the drawer a bit better. Here you’ll find our rolling pin, some small spatulas and scrappers, lifters (3), oyster knife, micro graters (2), a mini strainer (for skimming), a couple of small whisks, ice cream scoops, and such things that are very useful but generally used only now and then.

Also to the right of the stove is a large can-like thing into which we put cooking spoons, some more spatulas and scrapers, and our large whisk. We use these things every time we cook and they’re placed here because they can be grabbed really quickly.

The key to making this system work is that anyone cooking or cleaning knows exactly what goes where and puts it there every single time. Cooking can get very hectic at times and we’ve all ruined dishes because we’ve been on a utensil hunt at a totally wrong time. Here’s another (hard-won) hint: try to lay out all the utensils you’ll need during the prepping stage. It’s not all about prepping just the food, is it?

As for the rest of the “hard good” things we use to cook, they’re either in a big catch-all cabinet under the above-mentioned drawers, in an upper cabinet where we also keep our plates and bowls, or across the room on two shelves we put up (for less-used items except for colanders and strainers). Baking pans are either in a wide drawer underneath our built-in oven or in another small cabinet nearby.

The only mid-range appliances that we keep out on the counters are a microwave (next to the oven), a blender, toaster, Cuisinart, coffee grinder and coffee maker, and our Kitchen Aid mixer. Any other things like these are kept in that lower catch-all cabinet.

I’ll say it one last time: this will only work if anyone using the kitchen regularly understands that everything must be put away correctly. It may sound difficult but it really isn’t.

During our very busy days when our two boys were young and we both worked long hours, we didn’t think like this. Stuff got stuffed into drawers and cabinets willy-nilly and just to get it put away somewhere. It was often hell to find them again. This was also when a lot of food got burned or otherwise overcooked. Honestly, it just never dawned on us that we could save massive amounts of time and aggravation through simple organization and diligence. I could slap myself upside the head for being such a dolt to not recognize this. It’s not as if I hadn’t seen it at work in the kitchens when I was doing those cooking gigs.

To boil down this discussion to its essence (like reducing a fine stock to a single tablespoon of intense flavour), cooking is most enjoyable when you have time to enjoy the process and to pay full attention as heat works its magic on what you’re going to plate and then enjoy at the table. Even the most hair-raising meal of the year (take your pick between Thanksgiving or Christmas in our household) becomes manageable and can sometimes be almost enjoyable.

All it takes is some reflection on what you generally do in the kitchen, making a plan and then sticking to it.

My guess is that if you do this, you will also find yourself less tempted to give up and order take-out, pull out the store-bought frozen food or simply head out to a restaurant. Because cooking when everything is organized is relaxing and enjoyable, you may even find yourself looking forward to cooking that evening meal at the end of a long day!

And wouldn’t that be nice?

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