Dish draining racks

Although I have a dishwasher and the majority of my kitchenware is dishwasher-safe, I usually wash a sink-full of dishes by hand every day. Some of these dishes include non-dishwasher-safe items such as chef knives and wine glasses, small plastic containers from school lunches that would get tossed around inside the dishwasher and large, oddly-shaped items that don’t fit in the dishwasher like my ceramic crock-pot insert.

Over the years, I’ve tried a variety of dish racks. One was made of such flimsy plastic that it broke when I placed a heavy pot on it and the tray underneath that was supposed to drain the water back into the sink, warped so the water pooled in the middle of it instead. For a while I was using a drying mat but it was too small for what I needed.

I finally settled on the Rubbermaid Space Saver Dish Drainer (which seems to be available only in Canada). However, there are many other types of dish draining racks available depending on your needs.

People who have double sinks may prefer a dish drainer that fits over one of the sinks so they have more counter space available. This silicone-coated steel rack can be suspended over a sink to let dishes drip dry. It is very easy to clean and rolls up for convenient storage.

A basket-type dish drainer can fit inside a sink or be suspended over a sink using its telescopic handles. It is rust-resistant and the bottom and handles are rubber coated so they won’t slip or scratch sinks and counter tops.

For those that do not have a double sink, there are folding counter top dish drainers. Bamboo dish drying racks are very popular, as are chrome-plated ones. Both can hold a fair number of dishes and when collapsed, they take up very little space. They should be placed on a drying mat. Some people may wish to purchase a utensil-drying rack to hook on to the dish rack as well.

The Full Circle Smart Rack is a drying rack and draining board in one and it folds away neatly. It may not be sturdy enough for a large family with no dishwasher but it would be great for those who only have a few dishes to wash. The OXO Good Grips dish rack can be configured several ways depending on whether you’re larger or smaller dishes. It also folds away to save space.

I’m always very nervous about putting my wine glasses on a dish rack or drying mat. Every holiday season one or two get broken by tipping over or falling off the dish rack. I thought about purchasing a drying rack just for stemware. I quite like the Kohler collapsible wine glass holder. It would allow me to easily carry wine glasses from the sink back to the cupboard plus it folds away for easy storage.

Is there a style of dish drying rack you prefer? Share your experiences with our readers in the comments below.

Storing leftovers

As the holidays approach many of us will be cooking more than we typically do. Some will serve elaborate meals to their families and guests. Much food will be consumed, but not all — and that means leftovers.

We’ve written about leftover storage before, as well as tips for eliminating food waste but today I want to share a product I’ve been using for about a year with great success: the “Brilliance” containers by Rubbermaid.

When my wife first brought these home, I became nostalgic for the great glass containers from Pyrex that my mother used. The Brilliance containers are about the same size in shape, but made of plastic with a tightly-sealing lid. They stack nicely and offer a few great advantages while in the refrigerator.

First, they are completely transparent, so you needn’t play that fun guessing game, “What’s In This One?” A quick glance answers that question. Because they are made of BPA-free plastic, it makes them lighter than glass containers and less likely to break when dropped.

What really sets these apart from their vintage counterparts is the tight locking lid. There is a strip of sealant that runs along the inside of the lid, which has two strong clips, one on each side. To secure the lid, simply push it into place and click down the two clips. Voilà, it’s closed. In the year that we’ve been using these, we’ve never had a leak, even when I used one to bring soup to work in a lunch box that got jostled around. When not in use the nest for easy storage.

However, I have observed that after a year of use the formerly crystal-clear plastic has gotten a bit cloudy. I’m sure the many passes through the dishwasher had something to do with that. Not overly cloudy — you can still see the contents easily — but they’re not as brilliant as they once were. Of course, that does not affect functionality in the slightest. I really love these containers and I expect to use them for many years.

Now my question to you: how do you store leftovers? Have a favorite container or routine for avoiding the “science experiments” that happen when leftovers sit around to long? Please share in the comments below.

What we can learn from potato mashers

We keep a potato masher in a drawer because sometimes it’s fun to not be able to open that drawer. — Simon Holland

When I saw this on Twitter, I grinned. How many of us have struggled with potato mashers at some point? I know I have.

But the possible ways to work around this problem extend beyond this one object. There are a number of questions you might ask yourself about the potato masher that would be equally relevant to other items.

Do I even need to own this thing?

How many times have you used your potato masher recently? Do you have one you got years ago, before you changed your eating style to move away from potatoes (and other mashed vegetables)? If you just make mashed potatoes twice a year at the holidays, could you just borrow a potato masher from someone?

Alternatively, do you already have other tools that would do the job as well or better, such as a ricer or a food mill?

Should I replace my thing with one that would serve me better?

Assuming you feel you do indeed want to own a potato masher, is this the right one? William Morris said you should have nothing in your house that isn’t useful or beautiful, in your estimation. Marie Kondo suggested that everything we own should bring us joy. No matter which way you approach the topic, a potato masher that continually gets stuck in a drawer isn’t as useful as it could be and certainly isn’t bringing you joy.

One way to resolve this would be to get another potato masher that would bring you joy — or at least not make you annoyed. Two options are the folding potato mashers from Prepara and Joseph Joseph. And then remember to donate your old potato masher!

Could I just store the current thing better?

Potato mashers don’t need to be stored in a drawer. If your potato masher is the kind with a stick handle (rather than the kind with a horizontal handle), a utensil holder might be the easy answer. If you don’t already have one and don’t want to buy one, you may have something sitting around your home that would serve that purpose. My utensil holder is a tall ceramic mug. A wall rack for utensils is another option.

You might also be able to store the masher in another drawer that’s deeper, even if that separates it from the other utensils. Of course, then you’ll need to remember where you stashed it, if it’s not obvious.

Sometimes, though, the answer might be to unclutter the drawer that holds the masher and then organize the remaining contents. My potato masher lives in a drawer, but it’s always lying flat, within one section of a drawer organizer. If your masher is in a drawer that’s a jumble of various kitchen utensils, it’s more likely to get positioned in a way that causes the drawer to jam.

Reader question: How store loose leaf teas?

Reader Jeni sent us the following question:

I was hoping you might have suggestions for storing loose-leaf teas. I’m a pretty avid collector and drinker of tea, and my collection has gotten to the point where it’s taken over my available pantry space. The traditional tins used for storing tea may keep it fresh, but they’re also big and add to the clutter. Any thoughts? Thanks!

As the weather turns cooler (at least in theory, we’ve had highs of 85 degrees in the Mid-Atlantic region all week), drinking a warm pot of tea is a terrific way to start a morning or settle in at night. Regardless of if you drink loose-leaf or pouch teas, storing the tea can be a cumbersome task.

To maintain its freshness, tea should be kept dry, at room temperature, away from direct light, and in an air-tight container. Additionally, tea should be stored away from other strong scents.

If you typically drink mild aroma teas, then my first suggestion for you is the following low-cost method. Start by moving all of your teas out of their tins and into appropriately sized Ziploc bags. Using a permanent magic marker, label the exterior of the bag with the name of the tea and its purchase date. Finally, put all of the teas into an opaque storage container of your choice. I use a decorative canister for my teas to hide the utilitarian design of the Ziploc-style bags.

If you tend to drink strong aroma teas, then my first suggestion isn’t going to work for you. If you put all of your teas together, their scents will infuse with each other and you’ll have bizarre flavored concoctions. In this situation, I suggest storing all of your mild aroma teas as described previously and then keeping your strong aroma teas in their supplied tins (as long as the supplied tins are air tight). My assumption is that you only have one or two strong aroma teas, so they will take up a limited space in your cupboard.

Another option is to use air-tight spice bottles and a spice rack of your preference. It isn’t as financially friendly, but it will certainly take up less space. You will need to store the spice rack in a dark pantry or drawer to keep the teas out of direct light, but the glass or metal will keep strong aromas from cross infusing.

Good luck, Jeni, with your endeavor to free up space in your pantry!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

Is everything in your home in its best place?

Imagine your kitchen for a moment. What is the one thing that you use most every time you’re in it? Your refrigerator? Your stove? Your trash can?

Most people don’t think about their trash can as being an integral aspect of their kitchens, but it is. During the course of preparing a meal, a trash can needs to be accessed numerous times. That is why I am always surprised when I walk into a kitchen and don’t immediately see one easily accessible from all aspects of the room. Even worse, I’m confused by kitchen designs where the trash can is behind a door, under the kitchen sink.

Yes, a trash can hidden behind a cabinet door looks clean, but it is completely impractical. You have to touch a cabinet nob, likely with dirty and full hands, to access it repeatedly. When it’s time to change the garbage bags, you have to strategically pull out the full canister without dropping anything inside the cabinet. A poorly placed trash can doesn’t help you in the kitchen, it hinders you. And, with the sexy, foot controlled, stand-alone models that are on the market, you shouldn’t feel that you need to hide this essential item.

I have a friend who hides her trash can under her sink and she says that she avoids the constant opening and closing of the door by keeping a large bowl on her countertop for trash while she’s cooking. (I think Rachel Ray promotes this idea on her show, too.) That makes some sense, but by doing this she dirties an extra bowl every time she cooks and adds steps to the cleaning process. An accessible trash can seems like the more efficient solution to me.

Think about the rest of your house. Are you creating extra, unnecessary steps for yourself because of poor organization? Are your pot holders in a drawer no where near your stove? Is your vacuum in a basement closet and not in a closet on the floor where it is used? Remember that good organization and design should be based on what you use and how you use it. I continue to support the idea that everything in your home should have a place to live, I just want you to think about if everything is living in its best place.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in September 2007.

Bulk food buying may lead to a more cluttered lifestyle

I enjoy taking advantage of my parent’s membership at their local bulk food store every now and again. Some of the items I see in these warehouses, however, make no sense to me for personal use.

Obviously, bulk warehouses like Costco and Sam’s Club cater to small business owners. You need to be careful not to let the prices entice you into purchasing a gallon of Frank’s Red Hot when you will never use all of that hot sauce by the expiration date. The giant condiment aisle should be bypassed unless you are the owner of a restaurant or on the planning committee for the next extended family reunion or school barbecue. There is no rhyme or reason for an individual to buy a tub of mayo. Your family can make due with the regular size condiments at your local grocery store. Don’t clutter your cupboards with drums of mustard, mayo, or whatever else you can purchase at the bulk food stores. Realize that you are getting a great deal per unit price, but the deal is not always worth it for the storage space you have to sacrifice.

Another thing to consider when buying food in bulk is the temptation that all of that food presents when it sits in your home. The more food you have, the more food you eat. If you have a huge supply of snacks cluttering up your cupboards, chances are your family will be more inclined to polish them off simply because they are there. If you are going to buy snacks and treats do so in moderation and don’t buy junk food in bulk. Cluttered arteries are worse than cluttered cupboards.

Bulk buying has its positives and negatives. You can definitely take advantage of prices by buying bulk, but don’t let the deals lead you to buy things that you otherwise would not purchase, cannot physically consume before the expiration date, or have to sacrifice unreasonable amounts of space to store.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

Simple solution for small packets in your kitchen pantry

Card FileHere’s a simple solution for packets of dry goods in your pantry: Store them together in an index card file.

I store packets of yeast in a 3×5 card file and larger packets of taco and stew seasonings in a 4×6 card file. These card files keep small packets from getting lost behind boxes of pasta and cereal and they make inventory simple when creating grocery lists.

An index card file is just a simple, inexpensive way to keep clutter at bay in your pantry!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

The slow cooker: Uncluttered kitchen cooking

As fall nears and the weather cools, I start looking forward to a good bowl of chili while watching my favorite football team play on a Sunday afternoon. My thoughts of chili then progress into musings of stews and soups and all the wonderful things that can be made in my slow cooker.

I like using a slow cooker because it means that I dirty it and no other pots or pans during meal preparation. There are a few exceptions when an additional pan is needed to brown or sear meat, but these instances are rare. After the meal has been served, cleanup is as simple as moving the empty crock from the slow cooker to the dishwasher. The slow cooker is definitely an uncluttered kitchen solution.

If you don’t currently own a slow cooker, there are really only two features that I see as essential components. The first necessary feature is a separate, removable inner crock. The second feature is a temperature indicator that has at least three settings: Off, Low, and High. I have never found use for any of the other slow cooker features currently on the market. A crock pot with these two features also has the benefit of usually costing less than $30 and will last you many years.

The majority of the recipes I make in my slow cooker are in my head. However, I took a trip recently to my local bookstore and saw that there are now dozens of slow cooker recipe books in publication for people seeking printed recipes. Also, an internet search for “slow cooker recipe” yielded thousands of recipes from online sources. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of the slow cooker cookbooks on the market:

Enjoy your uncluttered cooking experience!

 

This post has been updated since it was originally published in September 2007.

Unitasker Wednesday: 60 second salad

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

Facebook knows me well. Often its ads are kitchen-related and the other day it suggested that I might want to buy a 60 second salad cutter. When I saw the video for this kitchen tool, my first thought that it would make an ideal item for a Unitasker Wednesday post. When a knife all you need to make salad, why would you want another bulky item filling up your cupboards?

Then I got thinking as well about mobility issues. For anyone with wrist problems or perhaps the use of only one hand, the 60 second salad tool would be a fantastic solution.

Although I have no mobility issues, I’ve been making a lot of salads recently. While cutting up the veggies is a simple task with the knife, it’s not the fastest process. When making a lunchtime salad, often at six o’clock in the morning, the last thing I want to do is spend a great deal of time cutting up the various components of the dish, the 60 seconds in the name of the tool is the real attention-getter here and it may just end up on my Christmas wish list.

What are your thoughts? Do any of you have the 60 second salad and swear by it? Or are you chuckling at the idea of buying this classic Unitasker item?

Collapsible measuring cups

I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to close the utensil drawer in our kitchen when a measuring cup gets caught up in the drawer. The process of fishing the measuring cup out of the partially closed door is maddening.

This collapsible measuring cup set is a great solution to that problem. The silicone cups collapse and nest into each other for a space saving solution that will surely remedy my drawer closing problem. We featured a collapsible colander here a while ago. Why can’t everything in the kitchen be collapsible?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in August 2007.

An idea for inherited china

Since the 1880s, when a woman in my family has raised her children and finds herself getting along in years she has picked up a small paint brush and signed her full name and birth date to the bottom of her china’s tea cups and saucers. Then, as she sees fit, she distributes the tea cups and matching saucers to her family and friends.

My mother has a collection of seven tea cups and saucers on a shelf in her dining room’s china cabinet. As a child, I would ask about the tea cups and my mother would pull them out and tell me the stories of the people to whom they had belonged. Not all of the tea cups and saucers were signed, those had come from my paternal line where signing the china hadn’t been the tradition. My mother had collected the unsigned pieces from my father’s family members so that when she one day passes on the collection to me that I will have a set including pieces from more than her family.

It seems a bit cluttered to collect seven different tea cups and saucers to store on a shelf of a china cabinet, but in comparison to keeping seven complete sets of china it is quite uncluttered. Also, with the sentimentality of past generations being passed on in tea cups, it means that other, more clutter-prone objects, are eliminated guilt-free from the inheritance process.

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Reader question: How to dispose of old knives

Recently, a reader wrote in with a question about disposing of old knives:

Most were cheap knives [with] handles that are in extremely poor shape. The blades don’t look all that great either. A charity would not want any of them for sure. What options are there for safely disposing them?

I’m sure this reader is not alone. Often times knives simply wear out their usefulness and get replaced. Of course, disposal is not as simple as tossing them into the trash. Here are some safe and effective options for safely disposing of unwanted knives.

First, check with your local recycling facility. Here in my neighborhood, it’s the town dump (or “transfer station” if you want to get technical). Often they accept metal including knives. There may be a fee involved, but it’s likely very small.

If recycling is not an option for whatever reason, and you’re not going to donate the knives, you can in fact throw in away, as long as you do some preparation first. Start by contacting the town or company that hauls your trash away, as they probably have guidelines for disposing of “sharps.” If you live in an area that requires you to take trash to the dump yourself, like I do, ask an attendant there for advice.

There are general safety guidelines to follow as well. Find a piece of cardboard that’s longer than the blade and fold it in half. Place the knife inside so that the blade is against the fold. Next, tape it down so that the cardboard won’t slip off.

You can also wrap it in newspaper — five or six sheets will do it — and then again in bubble wrap. Also consider dulling the blade a bit beforehand. The knives are ready for disposal.

I hope this was helpful. Again, my first hope is that you can recycle these knives. If not, contact whoever handles your trash for guidance, and then prepare the knives so that they’ll be safely handled. Good luck.