When you’re in the kitchen cooking up a storm, sometimes by the time you’re done, it really DOES look like a tornado and a hurricane combined passed through and left their mark.
An organized, clean kitchen creates a calm and peaceful environment.
Why? You’ll be be able to focus on the cooking better, season the food properly and your food will be less likely to over cook, burn or boil over.
You’ll also cut down on unplanned trips to the grocery store in the midst of cooking dinner, when you realize that the ingredient you were 110% sure you had, turns up missing.
Here are a few tips that I use myself on a regular basis:
1. Start with a relatively clean kitchen.
When I look around and see piled up dishes, potato peelings, packaging from food, spilled stuff on the counters and stove, I can feel my stress level rising and my temper getting shorter. All I want to do at that moment is run away and hide in another room. The problem with that option is that I don’t have magical fairies who clean up after me, so I’ll have to eventually come back and do it myself.
Not only does it look awful, but it’s also pretty dangerous. When stuff is piled up, it tends to spill, topple over, and get lost much more easily.
When you can’t find a single spot to set down the wooden spoon or the cutting board, you know it’s time to start clearing out the area. Just recently my counter was so cluttered, that when I set aside a huge knife that I was using to chop a bunch of ingredients, I accidentally knocked it off when I moved the cutting board to make a little room. It landed right on my big toe, thank God with the handle, not the blade! I sure saw the twinkly stars at that moment, limped all day and still have a gruesome black bruise.
On the other hand, a clean kitchen gives me energy and puts me in a creative mood to start cooking or trying out a new recipe.
2. Clean as you go.
You probably knew I was going to say this, didn’t you?
I feel so much more focused, organized and in control if the space around me is neat.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t let a single dish pile up in the sink or am feverishly and compulsively putting things away or cleaning the stove and counters. Nope. I look for lulls in the cooking. If my sauce needs to thicken and cook for 5 minutes or I put something in the oven, I tackle the dishes in the sink, either washing them or putting them in the dishwasher. When I’ve peeled and chopped the carrots, potatoes, onions and celery, I put them all away at the same time where they belong.
My best friend for minimizing messes is my garbage bowl.
This is one of my favorite tips. I can stand in one spot, do my thing and keep emptying the bowl whenever it’s full. Your counter space will stay clean and your garbage is confined to one spot. I usually use a bowl that I was using for something else. When I defrost meat, I place the package into a large bowl, to keep it from leaking all over my refrigerator. When I start cooking I take out the package with the meat, dump the liquid out of the bowl, (if there is any) and use that bowl to hold all the garbage. Carrot, onion and potato peels, packaging from food that I open up, etc, it all goes in there instead of strewn all over the counters. Whenever, it’s full, I dump it.
Sometimes I use another container or bag instead of a bowl. Often I use the bag that holds the potatoes, peel the potatoes over the bag, and place the rest of the garbage into the bag as I continue cooking. When I’m done cooking, I just throw out the bag with all the garbage in it.
Usually, when I’ve finished cooking, the kitchen is almost clean. Dump the contents of the garbage bowl, wipe the counters, sweep the floor. DONE.
3. Use plates, utensils, pots, pans, etc. multiple times.
You’ll save time and energy if you don’t use every item that you own. For example, when I make soup and use my homemade chicken broth, I pour the chicken broth into the pot, and then cut up the potato and put it into the same container that just had the chicken broth in until I’m ready to put the potatoes into the soup. Use the same skillet to cook different elements of your dish. If I’m serving pasta and green beans, I bring a pot of water to a boil, blanch my green beans in it, scoop out the beans and use the same pot and water to cook the pasta. The pasta doesn’t taste like green beans at all, and even if it did, I wouldn’t mind. When I make pancakes, I mix all the liquid ingredients in the measuring cup, instead of dirtying up another bowl.
4. Mise en place: prep and plan ahead of time.
This is a fancy French expression which means “putting in place”. Essentially, it’s when you prep all the ingredients that you’ll need before you start cooking. It’s a brilliant idea and makes cooking such a breeze. Whenever I prep all the ingredients ahead of time, the cooking process is so much smoother. I chop and prep all the ingredients that need it. However, I don’t bother measuring out the spices into small prep bowls, or other things like mustard, garlic, etc. like they do in cooking shows. I think it’s a waste of a bowl and makes more dirty dishes. I do take out those ingredients, but I measure them out and add them to the dish at the time that they need to go in there.
Not only should you prep the ingredients before you start cooking, it’s also a great idea to plan ahead and prep as much as you can in the beginning of the week or in the mornings.
Since I work at night, I’ll often come home in the morning and prep the dinner ingredients before I go to sleep. In the afternoon when my husband comes home from work, it’s a cinch to complete the finishing touches and have dinner on the table in no time. I like to do this on my days off too. Usually, I have more energy in the mornings anyway. The crazy 5 o’clock dinner routine will be much less hectic if most of the work is done ahead of time. When I have some free time, sometimes I’ll chop a bunch of onions, cover them really well in a bowl or container and use it in many recipes throughout the week. (Cover the onions REALLY well, better than you think you need to, or else all your food in the refrigerator will taste and smell like onions and every time you open the refrigerator, you’ll get a strong whiff.) There are so many things that you can prep ahead of time.
- Wash fresh herbs and lettuce, dry them in the salad spinner, wrap them loosely in paper towels and store in the refrigerator in a ziptop bag.
- Pound out chicken cutlets.
- Grind meat.
- Cook rice.
- Chop veggies and fruit.
- Grate cheese.
- Take a day or two to do some Freezer Cooking.
Think ahead to everything that you need to do for dinner. If you need an onion in the soup and in the meatballs, chop them both at the same time. If you’re going to whip cream, place the bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer at least 15 minutes before you need them.
5. Read the recipe all the way through before you start cooking.
I remember well the sinking feeling I get when dinner needs to be on the table in half and hour and I am shocked to find out that the meat needs to brine, marinate or rest for an hour or even overnight. Oops. Preheat the oven to the temperature you need. Sometimes the pastry cream needs to cool down completely or the cinnamon buns need to rise until they’re double in size before we can move on to the next step. In some recipes, the eggs need to be separated. Other times, an ingredient needs to be divided and added in later in the process, such as using 1 egg in the cookie dough and another to brush the cookies with egg wash before baking. You get the idea. Reading the recipe all the way through FIRST will keep mistakes at a minimum.
6. Cook in large batches.
I cook 3 gigantic pots of chicken broth at once, store them in take out containers and store them in the freezer. My ample supply lasts me for a while, and I don’t have to make chicken broth too often. Make extra tomato sauce and use it for numerous dishes – Lasagna, Pizza, with pasta, etc. When you roast chicken, roast an extra one. Cooked chicken can be used SO many different ways. Planning ahead will save you time, cut down on waste and diminish your stress.
I know there are people for whom my methods may feel uptight and may stifle their creativity. I get it and it’s totally cool with me. Everybody is different, so do what works best for YOU and your family.
I am far from perfect and sometimes my kitchen looks like a disaster. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Here’s a trick that I save for those sticky situations: Turn off the lights in the kitchen, so you don’t see the mess, and sit at your dining room table eating your dinner in peace.