The cook and his kitchen. The Bert to his Ernie. The Tito to his Michael. The Lord to his Rings. Where there is one, there must be the other. My kitchen is a place where I can go to unwind. It’s a laboratory, a playground and (sometimes) a well oiled machine. But it wasn’t always this way! Over the years I have found a sort of Zen in having a small city kitchen and I believe, no matter your counter top square footage or the real estate of your cabinets, we could all use help with kitchen organization. There are some tips, tricks and products I have learned to use to my advantage along the way and would love to share them with you here, now! So, please take a tour of my kitchen. If you have any tips to share with me, please do so in the comments below!
Buying clear airtight containers and “steps” for your cupboards can help tremendously! If your kitchen is organized, you are more likely to cook and eat in more often! Make the things you use the most within arms reach. If you are constantly searching for the fennel seeds and they are your absolute favorite seeds… put them up front!
I was always reaching for the cinnamon or paprika only to learn that it was almost empty! Large labels on spice jars can be annoyingly in the way, but even worse is throwing away half a jar of cloves because it expired! That’s right, dried herbs can expire! I found a solution to both problems. These glass jars make seeing my spices easy and I buy them in smaller doses which means less waste! Lucky for me, my local herb shop at the market puts a label on each bag I purchase, which I just transfer to the bottle!
SO of course I could tell you the sharper the blade the less likely you are to cut yourself or not to store knives in a drawer because it dulls them, but we’ve all heard those before. My tip with knives is this simple: Have them ready! Having the right tool for the job is important, but having to hunt for that tool for even 5 minutes in the middle of a recipe can be a mood killer! Don’t lose steam in the execution of a dish because you had to spend time digging your pairing knife out of that drawer in your kitchen that also houses the batteries, a deck of cards and that button that you are sure went to a VCR. My knives are on my “prep” counter area and that’s where they live. I know some might like knick knacks or decorative things sitting around, but this is my kitchen, and so it shall look like one!
If you’ve watched “Top Chef” on Bravo, you know what this is about! Your Mise en Place is the ingredients for a specific dish, pre-measured. I do this before I start every meal and I have to say, it removes so much stress! I’m not worried about finding something or grating something while I’m supposed to be simmering something else. This is one element of restaurant cooking that my home kitchen cannot be without. You can find little finger bowls everywhere now which really help get you organized. It’s an extra step to take, but at the end of the dish, your blood pressure will thank you!
These might be the most used ingredients in the kitchen. And definitely the most overused ingredient has to be salt! I found that by using these cellars, I could control the portion of seasonings so much better. The cellars I bought serve double duty as they have shaker holes in the back and can be brought directly to the table. And for the record, I always use coarse ground black pepper and kosher flake salt. Both will go a longer way and take less to season!
Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
What is there to say? Two more staples my kitchen is never without! I can’t stress enough, if you use it often, make it accessible! These cruets sit on my counter 24/7! I fill them with the best olive oil and balsamic vinegar I can reasonably afford. Equal parts make the easiest and most delicious salad dressing ever. A little drizzle of the vinegar on ice cream, some olive oil on fruit in the morning, I can’t get enough of these essential elements. If I were one of those kids in “Captain Planet”, next to “Fire” and “Wind”, I’d have the ring that said “Olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar”, and when our powers combined, we’d make one heck of a steak rub!
I used to have an obsession with kitchen gadgets. A separate tool for each and every task. An egg cracker? Sure! Egg separator? Why not! Egg poacher, egg spoon, egg warmer? You bet! And then two problems. One, after breakfast I needed 4 hours to clean everything and second, where am I going to store my museum of egg contraptions? The solution called for me to elevate my techniques and pair down my every day tools into things that could serve double (or triple) duty. Cut to my micro-plane! It serves as my zester, shredder, grater, masher, shaver and, well, micro-plane.One of my favorite discoveries was made after the 100th time cleaning out the tiny holes in my garlic press. I now simply grate the garlic right over my bowl or dish and presto! Crushed garlic! I can rinse off the micro-plane, shave in some fresh nutmeg, zest a lime, grate some parmesan cheese and I have used only one tool to create a terrific creamed spinach! I wonder where I should keep such a prized tool? Did someone say right on my counter? Great idea!
Lemons and Limes
I think salt and pepper and oil and vinegar are pretty obvious on any cooks list of staples, but I’m adding citrus fruit! The zest of a lemon can transform a dish in seconds. It can brighten plain white rice in one shake of the micro-plane! Lime zest over a steak served with a salsa on the side is simple yet staggeringly satisfying. I always have lemons and limes on the counter in case something needs a twist!
This little guy is a workhorse in my kitchen! It’s a must have especially if you make a lot of salads. There is something about slicing a fruit or vegetable (or even cheese) paper thin that renders it fragile and decadent. If your knife skills are not that great, it takes all of the tension away and ensures you even cuts every time. I wouldn’t bother with a cheap one because it can do more harm than good. Even better for those with limited space, some of the nicer models collapse! If you are new to the world of mandolines, use the guide that comes with it, otherwise, keep a box of band-aides handy…just sayin’…
This tool is really no secret but I feel like it is under-used. I encourage everyone to cook a piece of meat, chicken, beef, pork and, using a thermometer, get a reading of rare, medium and well. For each reading, press your fingers or a pair of tongs down onto the meat. Take note to it’s texture. Does it spring back? Does an indentation remain? Did you break a nail? You will start to learn when a cut of meat is done to your desired temperature by touch alone. I use touch as a jumping off point, but there are still times when I use my trusted thermometer to dissolve any doubt to my steaks doneness. Overcooking and drying out meat might be the home cooks most frequent offense, but having a thermometer by your side is insurance. Instant reads are ok and becoming more accurate, but the old fashioned steel thermometers are my favorite!