Archives for Kitchen Organizing

The evolution of my tea storage

Am I weird or does anyone else love the first few months after a move when it’s time to really grab a hold of the new space and make it your own? Like many of you, my kitchen is where I really dig in to achieve ownership.

I moved into a new place recently, and those first few meals in the unfamiliar environment came together with a side of confusion. Meal creation was accentuated with haphazard bumbling around boxes, making my way to the hastily put away silverware so I didn’t have to eat with my fingers. Which of these boxes had the bowls? Eventually things felt a bit normalized once the spices and major utensils were put away. This time I noticed something: organization seems to be weak on the first arrangement. In my new place there’s plenty of shelf space to store all my stuff, but once everything is put away the spaces felt cramped. I knew my organization needed revision.

I dig finding little storage and organization revisions, like the recent changes I made to my tea collection. I used to store my tea in a squarish wire basket while living in my RV, but I often poorly squished the tea boxes and pouches into it like an irritating game of Tetris. The basket kept everything together, but it was mostly a pain to use. With all the teas in one place I could at least grab the basket and rummage around to find the right flavor. Too bad it took up shelf space.

One day I went to make my morning tea and noticed there were just two bags left of Irish Breakfast tea. I decided to clip the front of the box and discard the rest of the packaging, combining it with the remaining tea into a little zip-top baggie. It’s funny how little space it took up without the clumsy container. I thought I’d try keeping the rest of my collection in plastic bags as well. This ended up saving even more space and cut out the hassle of trying to fit all the boxes back into the basket every time. Some of the tea bags have labels on one side, so I kept them facing outward and easily recognizable. It all fit MUCH nicer. Hooray for organization revision!

Lately I’ve been looking for more excuses to hang my kitchen utensils so additional shelf space will be freed up. So far I’ve hung all of my commonly used spatulas, spoons, and tongs under a cabinet, and used some hooks to hang my measuring cups and spoons. With a few boxes full of screw hooks and removable 3M hooks it’s easy to find lots of new places for storing your kitchen wares.

After some brainstorming I came up with this back of the pantry door tea tree. I remembered buying these nice shiny magnetic clips for another project that never happened and I had a great magnetic strip that I wasn’t using which would work perfectly as the base to hang all the clips and baggies of tea.

After installation I noticed the whole thing clanged around a bit when opening or closing the pantry door. To fix this, I squished some removable putty behind the magnetic strip to give it some sticky cushioning. Now it holds tightly as the door moves and doesn’t make a sound.

Now the teas are visually accessible, allowing for easier selection, and they’re off the shelf so heavier things that are tougher to hang can have a place to sit.

Got any fun little kitchen organization hacks to share? I’d sure love to hear more great ideas.

Own This, Not That in the kitchen

Over on Unclutterer today, we’ve been talking about ways to reduce clutter by doing things like substituting multitaskers for unitaskers. Similar to the book Eat This, Not That, a reader wondered if we had guidelines for what to keep and what to toss.

This is especially easy to do in the kitchen, where unitaskers reign supreme, and I thought it would be fun to do a kitchen-specific round here on SimpliFried. It’s meant as part real suggestion and part fun, so don’t worry too much if you have some of the items in the “not” category. Own This, Not That:

What suggestions would you make for this list? Share your serious and fun ideas in the comments.

What unitaskers are lurking in your cupboards?

On Unclutterer, we have a humorous feature every Wednesday that highlights a unitasker. A unitasker is an object that has only one purpose and has very low utility for the majority of people. So, although an item like a fire extinguisher only has one purpose, it is not a unitasker because it has extremely high utility (we call these items single-use objects). An item like the Corn Kerneler, however, is a unitasker since its utility is well below that of a knife you already own or even a corn stripper.

One thing about unitaskers, though, is that they often are the perfect solution for one person. If they didn’t meet someone’s very specific need, there wouldn’t be a market for the device at all. I know there are a handful of unitaskers in my kitchen that other people would laugh if they saw, and you probably have a few, too. Instead of being embarrassed about our unitaskers, I think we should flaunt them. Let’s have a laugh together about the fun and ridiculous items we have lovingly made space for in our kitchens:

The SodaStream:

My husband and I like the sensation of drinking soda pop, but don’t love all the calories. Carbonated water is a wonderful alternative for us, and with this device we don’t have to buy bottles of sparkling water at the store. I’m sure everyone who sees the SodaStream in our kitchen thinks we’re weird that we don’t just drink tap water. I’ll admit, it’s a little abnormal, but it works for us.

ClickHeat Baby Bottle Warmer:

We got this item as a gift when my son was three months old, and we never once used it on his baby bottles. However, the gel pack snaps open to be flat, and so we use it whenever we need a heating pad. If we pull a muscle or break our nose (like what happened to me a year ago when my son accidentally head-butted me), the baby bottle warmer is a reliable friend.

Pasta Maker:

First things first, the official name of this pasta maker is the “Marcato Atlas Wellness 150 Pasta Maker.” I love that “wellness” is part of the device’s name. Cracks me up every time I pull it out of the cabinet. Anyway, homemade pasta is a lengthy process, I only make it a few times a year, and this pasta maker takes up a good amount of cabinet space. It works great, but buying dried pasta from the grocery store is really easy to do. Thankfully, I’ve learned how to use the pasta maker for dumplings, so it comes out of the cupboard a few more times a year than it did in the past. Still, I could use my tortilla press for dumpling skins and just buy dried pasta from the store if I’m in the mood for pasta … but, alas, I continue to hold onto this device.

So what unitaskers lurk in your cupboards? Share your unitaskers with us in the comments.

Questions for cooks: Grilling for apartment dwellers

Reader L submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

With summer approaching, more and more recipes are for grilled foods. These sound delicious, but I live in an apartment and the logistics of grilling are challenging, to say the least. There is a concrete pad about 20 yards away from my back door and that is where I set up my small charcoal grill (I tried a gas grill but was constantly afraid I’d blow myself up!). So, all the ingredients, utensils, etc. have to be carried there and then I have to keep watch to ensure that no small children or pets get into the danger zone around the grill. My question is, first, do you have any tips for simplifying the task given the restrictions that I have? Second, is a grill pan or a broiler in the oven equally usable for a grilled recipe? If not, can some recipes be adapted to use this equipment, and how would I know which recipes they are? Do grill pans always smoke? Thanks for any suggestions you can offer!

I’m likely about to upset some folks, but I don’t believe cooking food on gas grills is grilling. In my opinion, it’s simply broiling food outdoors. There isn’t anything you can do with a gas grill outdoors that you can’t do with your broiler on your oven. I believe the purpose of grilling foods is to cook them outdoors, over an open flame, and infuse the foods with flavors from burning wood (which you can get from logs on a campfire or hardwood charcoal in a grill). So, I think the little grill you have on your patio is perfect for grilling.

Although I don’t face the same space restraints you do, I typically grill on a small Smokey Joe during the week if I’m just making dinner for my family. What is nice about these small grills is you don’t have to use much charcoal, they heat up quickly, they’re small enough not to have inconsistent heating issues, and the charcoal goes out faster after you finish. Larger grills are perfect for entertaining, but can be a waste of time and resources for your regular, daily grilling needs.

I have a metal box with a flap I use to store and transport all of my grilling supplies. It includes a bag of hardwood charcoal (I love the Trader Joe’s brand), a chimney starter, long matches, ash pans (I usually just get disposable, aluminum turkey roasters for cheap from the grocery store), grilling tongs and spatula, an oven mitt, a water spray bottle, meat thermometers, and a tool for scrubbing/brushing off the grill grate. It’s not the most portable solution, I’m certain, but it is nice to have a single place where all of these supplies safely live when not in use. (And, obviously, don’t ever put ashes into the storage box. When cool enough after grilling, I collect all of the ashes into the disposable roasting pan, completely submerge the ashes in water, let the wet ashes in the ash pan sit on my patio for a day or two, and then dispose of the entire soggy mess.) I think a portable grill kit like this could work well for you, so you’re at least reducing the number of trips indoors and out when grilling.

If the weather is nasty or if you just don’t feel like firing up the grill one night, you can always achieve a similar effect with your stove or oven. A grilling pan works reasonably well (technically you’ll be frying your food), and you can get ones that cover one or two burners on your stove top. If you buy cast iron, you can also use these pans on your outdoor grill, in your oven, and directly on a campfire. A broiling pan (one likely came with your oven) is great to use for grilling (technically broiling) foods in the oven. Simply adjust the top rack in your oven to be the same distance away from the flames that you would choose for your grill rack to be away from the charcoal (I prefer the second or third height from the top — the top height is too close to the flames in my oven). When broiling, be careful to monitor the meat and keep a box of baking soda nearby in case you have any grease flare ups. Small fires are rare, but you want to be prepared in case they happen.

Good luck to you with your summer’s grilling adventures! Thank you, L, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Also, check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Keeping chaos out of your junk drawer

Most kitchens are similar in that they have a refrigerator, stove, oven, and sink. They are also typically similar in that they have a junk drawer.

The junk drawer usually contains stray batteries, rubber bands, paper clips, coupons, pens, pennies, matches, receipts, spare keys, and recipes torn off food boxes. At one time, the drawer was probably organized and uncluttered. Now, it might be disorganized and overflowing with clutter.

These catch-all drawers are useful when they’re orderly, but frustrating when they’re chaotic. I’ve found that a drawer organizer can help to keep the space organized longer than it will without one. Like a clothes closet, though, this drawer does need to be cleaned out a couple times a year to ensure it is best meeting your needs.

In my dining room, we use the two-level Madesmart Junk Drawer Organizer:

I also like the Expand-A-Drawer Desk Organizer that works with many drawer sizes:

The wood Axis Junk Drawer Organizer also looks nice:

Consider using a drawer organizer when looking for ways to keep chaos out of your junk drawer.

Moving — for real or pretend — as a way to reduce kitchen clutter

As I announced yesterday on Unclutterer, my family is moving. The kitchen in our new house isn’t much larger than our current one, but it does have the benefit of an attached walk-in pantry. I literally gasped when I saw the floor-to-ceiling shelving — it’s the equivalent of a walk-in closet, but for food and small appliances.

I know there are some people who love moving, but I am not one of them. I dislike packing, moving, and unpacking. I especially loathe moving kitchens. Everything in my current kitchen is where I can find it, where I want it, and is very comfortable for me. In the new place, it will take a couple weeks to get all of the stuff settled and I’m going to fumble for awhile as I become accustom to the new layout. As I have been packing up my current kitchen, I keep repeating to myself, “walk-in pantry, walk-in pantry, walk-in pantry.” It’s a weird mantra, but so far it has been a decent motivation technique.

Even though the new kitchen has the extra pantry, I’m still getting rid of any clutter I encounter as I pack. I found three pizza cutters, eight flower vases, some packaged food items containing nuts we should have purged when we found out my son was allergic, two lone placemats, and one stray bowl from our old dishes pattern. As I continue to pack, I’m sure I’ll find even more clutter that doesn’t need to be moved to the new place. I’m of the opinion that you never bring something along because you can, only move it because you use it.

If you’re not on the verge of moving, now is still a great time to pretend you are and get rid of the clutter from your kitchen. Clear off your dining table and put everything from your kitchen except for the large appliances and perishable foods on it. Give your kitchen a good cleaning, repair anything that needs repairing, and replace anything that needs replacing. Then, begin sorting through the items on the dining table.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this item expired? If it is, throw it away.
  • Is this item damaged? If it is, ask yourself if you’re willing to put forth the time, energy, and money to get it fixed or replaced. If you are, do it in the next three days. If you aren’t, put it in the trash or recycling (if appropriate).
  • Would I pay professional movers to move this item? If not, recycle it or donate it to charity.
  • Do I want this item in my kitchen? If not, recycle it or donate it to charity.
  • Have I used this item in the last year? If the answer is no, seriously consider getting rid of it.

When returning items to the kitchen, remember:

  • Store items where you use them. (Oven mitts should be stored next to the stove.)
  • Put the items you use most often in the most accessible spaces.
  • Group like items with like items. (Silverware should be stored with silverware, mugs should be stored near the coffee pot, bowls with bowls.)

Good luck purging the clutter in your kitchen.

Maintaining sanity in your tiny kitchen

Ever feel like there just isn’t enough room to comfortably work in your kitchen? Maybe your kitchen really is small or you have given up stationary life for one in an RV? Does the thought of cooking without much counter space cause you to single-handedly keep a local Thai place in business with all your delivery orders? Does putting away leftovers into your tiny fridge make you feel like you’re playing the most annoying version of Tetris imaginable? Well, you can stop daydreaming about that 150 square foot kitchen because with the right checklist and a little planning you can grow to love even the tiniest space. This this is the checklist I follow when I work in my RV’s kitchen:

  • Before anything else, start with a clean sink. Wash any dirty dishes or utensils from previous meals, then set them to dry in the drying rack. You can go a step further and dry everything with a towel so you can put away the drying rack, thereby giving you even more counter space while cooking.
  • Read the recipe twice, then tape or tack it up in a place where it can be easily seen. Do you have all the required ingredients? This would be the time to check by gathering them up in preparation for measurement and set up. Does the recipe mention specific cooking tools or vessels and do you have these ready to go? Gather these items as well. Finally, make sure to check over any cooking times mentioned in the recipe to make sure you aren’t starting a five-hour roast at 6:00 p.m.
  • Check to see if you have enough room in your fridge or freezer to store what you are about to cook. If leftovers keep taking up too much room, try using an elastic recipe to reuse them as ingredients for something new.
  • Try to anticipate how many ingredient cups you’ll need to hold chopped and prepared ingredients, then gather them up and place them nearby. I like to reuse margarine/butter-spread containers for this task. Also, now would be a good time to search for bigger plastic or glass storage containers for the expected leftovers. If something in the fridge can be transferred to a smaller container, I do this now so I can wash and reuse a larger one.
  • Now that you’ve got an empty sink, it’s time to take care of any cooking ingredients that need washing. Scrub down vegetables and have a towel or two ready for drying. While optional, this would also be a good time to prepare a large bucket with hot soapy water for holding any used cooking utensils once they’ve been dirtied. Keep this nearby, but out of the way of your feet.
  • Measure out any non-perishable ingredients into the ingredient cups mentioned earlier.
  • Begin prepping any vegetables. Chop them according to the sizes mentioned in the recipe, then measure and place in additional ingredient cups.
  • Prepare any meats for the meal, chopping them according to sizes mentioned in the recipe, then measure and place in additional ingredient cups (I like to use paper plates for this).
  • Wash and dry any cutting boards or knives used during prep so they are ready to go by the end of cooking. This is so the finished product will have a nice place to land for any slicing or further prep.
  • Time to maximize counter top space. If you live in an RV, you’re probably familiar with sink covers. Since everything has been washed and you no longer need the sink, you can set these up now to add even more usable work area. This would also be a good time to set up a folding table in your kitchen to use as another useful surface.
  • Cooking time!

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t exactly have this checklist printed out or anything, but these tricks are ones I try to keep in mind whenever I begin preparing something big (rather than, say, weekday breakfast).

Do you have any tricks like these for staying sane in your tiny kitchen?

Time-saving steps in the kitchen

I’m always on the lookout for ways to save time in the kitchen. Here are some of my favorite tips for shaving a few minutes off my chores:

  • The trash can and compost pail are the two most important devices in your kitchen. Make sure both are at the center of everything when preparing a meal. If you store your trash can and compost pail under the counter, pull them out while you work so you aren’t constantly having to touch a knob to open the cupboard door with dirty and full hands.
  • During the day, we load dirty dishes into the dishwasher immediately after a meal. Before heading to bed, we run the dishwasher. Then, first thing the next morning, as I’m waiting for water to come to a near-boil for my coffee, I unload the clean dishes. Dishes won’t ever pile up on the counter because everyone in the house knows the load is dirty. If you wash dishes by hand, immediately wash them after a meal to avoid attracting bugs and pests.
  • It won’t work in every kitchen, but in mine it is best to open all the cupboard doors and drawers before unloading dishes from the dishwasher. I leave the doors and drawers open during the entire process, and then close them when I’m finished. You don’t waste time opening and closing doors.
  • When cleaning the counter after a meal preparation, I wipe all the crumbs directly into the open dishwasher instead of into my hand.
  • Store the items you use most often in drawers and on shelves that are easiest to reach (usually between your knees and your shoulders). You don’t want to bend over or grab a step stool to reach high shelves every time you’re working in the kitchen.
  • Store items where you use them. All coffee supplies should be near the coffee pot. All pots and pans should be near the stove. Protective oven mitts should also be near the stove so they’re easy to grab right when you need them.
  • When you know you’ll be cooking foods that tend to splatter, wet a washcloth or sponge and add a dollop of dishwashing detergent to them before you begin cooking. Then, wipe up splatters off the stovetop as they happen so you won’t have to invest a bunch of elbow grease later scrubbing down the mess.
  • If you have an electric stove, lay a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil under the coil on the oven floor. Replace the foil once a month or more often if you know something spilled during baking. This simple trick makes oven cleaning a lot simpler.
  • When waiting for water to boil, the oven to preheat, your tea to steep, or the timer to run down on something you’re making, use those spare moments to clean the toaster or another quick kitchen chore. Over the course of a week, your kitchen will get cleaner without investing any extra time.
  • Instead of wasting time scrubbing pots with stuck-on food, pour a tablespoon of baking soda and a few cups of water into the pot. Bring the baking soda-water mixture to a rolling boil and then turn off the burner and let the water cool. You shouldn’t have to do much intensive scrubbing on the pan after that.

What time-saving steps do you take in the kitchen? Share your tips in the comments.

Assorted links for January 31, 2011

In case you missed them in the news, these are some wonderful articles from the past week about food, kitchens, and cooking:

  • The New York Times is doing a two-part series on food through their Freakonomics podcast. The first episode explores Nathan Myhrvold’s science of cooking, and Alice Waters’ response to it: “Waiter, There’s a Physicist In My Soup, Part I.”
  • In what has turned into a controversial article, the Los Angeles Times reports that “Eating bad food may make you sad.”
  • If your kitchen is also the place where everyone in your family dumps his or her stuff, you might be interested in The Washington Post’sIt’s a kitchen, not a chatchall.”
  • This article is a year old now, but I’m going to try following this technique the next time I season our cast-iron skillet. Sheryl Canter suggests in “Chemistry of Cast Iron Season: A Science-Based How-To” to use food-grade flaxseed oil instead of other oils. When I get around to it, I’ll definitely document the process and report back to you.

Have you spotted interesting food-related articles in the news recently? Share your findings in the comments.

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