Whip your Kitchen into Shape
Organize your kitchen with tips from a pro
The kitchen is supposed to be the heart of the home, but too often all that cooking and bonding leads to clutter and disorganization. Before you throw out the dishtowel in despair, check these tips and tools.
Let us start with the stove area. How many times have you reached for a spatula only to wrangle four other implements to get it out of the drawer? Drawer dividers help, and if you do not have them, then definitely start there. But if your dividers are overflowing, then help is on the way! A large pottery jar (or two) placed by the stove is the perfect holder for spatulas of varying types and ladles. Place them in the jar blade up so they are easily identified, and your tools are now at hand.
Many cooks hang their pots and pans from a rack, but do you know that you can hang your utensils that way too? Craig Gay, manager of LeRoux Kitchen in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, suggests a pot/utensil rack as another way to manage wayward tools. "One like this from Rogar is perfect for tongs, spatulas, basting brushes—all those things that get tangled up," he says. "I advise fitting one along the counter next to the stove."
Knife blocks used to be the way to store knives, but they take up a fair amount of counter space. Gay notes that in-drawer knife blocks protect knives and free up counter space. Or you can try a new solution, a knife strip from Wüsthof. "It's a thin magnetic strip that allows you to mount your knives anywhere in the kitchen," he explains. "The knives adhere to the magnet so the blades are not coming into contact with anything that would dull them, yet they are out of the drawer so more space is available. You can also see which blade you need."
Every cook should have a good cutting board (actually two—one for meats, one for veggies) but what type? The battle has long raged as to whether wood or plastic was best, with wood proponents citing it being more knife-friendly, and others pushing plastic as easier to clean and thus more sanitary. A compromise is now possible with the debut of the paper pulp cutting board by Epicurean. Made of recycled wood pulp, the board is both knife-friendly and dishwasher safe; it is also very thin, so storage is no problem.
Everything in its Place
The kitchen is the obvious place for most food storage, including ingredients for cooking and ready-to-eat items such as cereal. However, the contents of those cute mushroom canisters can be a mystery if they are not labeled and the canisters all look alike. Similarly, closets full of mismatched boxes take up more space. The solution: clear storage units. "Clear jars or canisters can help you quickly identify where essential ingredients are and how much of them is left," Gay says. "They are also great for storing items such as rice, pasta, cereals, crackers, and the like. However, they are not a good choice for items such as coffee, which can be degraded by exposure to light. If you have a pantry or other cool, dark storage area, then going with clear is fine. Otherwise, I would use opaque storage containers for coffee, vinegars, and oils."
OXO makes a wonderful line of solid plastic containers in every shape and size imaginable. They are designed to work together so you can easily stack things in a variety of combinations. They are the perfect way to keep food items organized in your refrigerator or closet—think cookies, snacks, and crackers, for example, or a way to easily store those specialty baking items.
"Some people avoid plastic because they are worried about BPA," Gay explains. "But most food storage items never contained BPA, and today, almost all kitchen plastics are BPA free. I suggest a mix of glass and plastic—glass for those items you might want to run through the dishwasher, and plastic because these containers can take a beating—if you drop something, no worries."
If you are designing a new kitchen, consider including an appliance pantry for housing mixers, processors, and griddles. If that is not an option, stores such as Home Depot and Lowes offer a wealth of in-house advice and options that can help you maximize space. "Lazy Susans and slide-out shelves can go a long way toward helping you store items yet keep things accessible," Gay says. He also points out that if you do not have storage space for that big KitchenAid mixer, at least you can color coordinate. "They are heavy so they aren't easy to move around," he says. "But they come in every color so if they stay out, they blend with the décor!"
The time comes when all cooks must ask themselves, "Do I really need that?" Usually, the answer is "no." "I love to cook," Gay says. "But I don't have a full set of chef's knives. You only need two or three good multipurpose knives—a six- to eight-inch chef's knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. Anything else is nice, but not necessary. If you have good knives, you don't need specialty tools like egg slicers, mushroom slicers, or garlic crushers. A sharp knife will do the trick."
Gay advises that cooks invest in tools and appliances that multitask and take up minimal space. "A good example is an immersion blender," he says. "This is much smaller than the standard blender and can do anything from a breakfast smoothie to a cocktail to pureeing soup. It cleans up super easily as well."
Another item that tends to take up valuable space is the coffee pot. Most of us cannot live without that morning cup of joe, but unless you are brewing lots of cups, consider a French press. It brews a great cup and takes up much less space—it can even be stored in a drawer!
Pots and pans are another area where it is easy to go overboard—risotto pan anyone? Gay suggests skillets in small, medium, and large sizes, with the same gradation for saucepans, plus an open roasting pan and a stockpot or Dutch oven. "With these items, you can cook just about anything," he says. "A Dutch oven, like the one from Le Creuset, is perfect for chicken, pork loin, casseroles, soups, stews—you can even fry an egg in one! I save my specialty buys for those things I really love. If you love crepes and fix them frequently, then invest in a crepe pan, but for most dishes, the basics work just fine."
Because the kitchen is the family gathering spot, it is often the repository for to-do lists, school memos, reminder notes, and myriad other pieces of paper. Manage the clutter by commandeering one cupboard-sized section of wall and coating one half with chalkboard paint and the other half with cork board. Now you have space for posting schedules, deadlines, menus, and reminders—even the kids' artwork.
(photographs by Marko Bradic and Darren Brode - shutterstock.com)