More kitchen tips

Here are a few kitchen tips from an article in The Telegraph in 2007:

  • Uncluttering tips: A time study revealed that most people use the same four pots and pans over and over again. Take an objective look at the other seldom used items. Consider eliminating them or storing them elsewhere.
  • Recipes: A three-ring binder with magnetic photo pages can be used to store recipes collected from family and friends, magazines, newspapers, and the internet. Avoid those that require ingredients you will never buy. If your family doesn’t find a recipe to be a hit, then toss it out. Discard unused recipes yearly. It takes only minutes to do this. Consider displaying special cookbooks on your bookshelf or coffee table as a conversation piece.
  • Paper and mail: It’s best to open mail right beside a recycling bin or trashcan. Don’t put it in a pile to “sort later.” This delay tactic only wastes time, as you’ll have to review the mail a second time. It takes seconds to pitch junk mail and unwanted advertisements now. If you can’t get your magazines read, do not renew your subscription, instead use the library, or pick up an occasional copy at the grocery store.

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

Creating extra storage and counter space in a small kitchen

You’ve been a good unclutterer and gone through your cabinets and discarded the items you never use. You’ve put away the rarely used appliances that sat on your countertop. For those with a good size kitchen, you’re done. Your kitchen is uncluttered. But what about the rest of us?

If you’re like me and you rent an apartment or own a condo with a tiny kitchen, your counter space still doesn’t offer enough room to cook a complete meal. I have size and poor design to deal with in my kitchen. I can clear my counters completely and still have a difficult time finding space to cut vegetables. To work around this dilemma, I have found a solution: A kitchen cart.

I used to think kitchen carts were silly. That is, until I had a real use for one. Now, I can’t exist without it.

My cart won’t fit inside the kitchen, so I have to store it against the wall across from the kitchen entrance. When it’s time to cook, I just wheel the cart over to the kitchen and, suddenly, I have all the counter space I need. It also blocks off the entrance, keeping my husband and the dog out of my cooking space.

Here is what to look for in a kitchen cart:

  • Sturdy – You need to be able to chop things on it, so go for something that won’t rock or cause you to slice your fingers.
  • Wheels – You should be able to move it where you need to use it.
  • Wire Racks – This feature is great for holding mixing bowls and other items used for cooking.
  • Hooks – If you’re also short on drawer space, the hooks are nice for utensils.

Keep kids’ POV in mind

In February 2007, Arizona Republic had some great organization tips for parents. My favorites are the kitchen tips which keep in mind the children’s point of view.

Establish a pantry snack shelf at the hand level of little tykes.
Why it works: Children and their friends can serve themselves without having to climb on chairs or interrupt parents to ask. What you need: Matching clear, stackable containers.

Arrange a continental breakfast nook.
Why it works: Little ones can serve themselves in an expedited fashion since bowls, cereal, sugar, fruit, muffins and any other breakfast foods and utensils are kept in the same space. What you need: An hour to rearrange the pantry and cabinets and possibly resize shelving to accommodate cereal boxes.

Are there any tips you can share with other readers on how to make things easier for children?


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

What’s a kitchen for?

Today’s kitchens are used for more than just preparing food. They are often playrooms, offices, mail centers, and TV rooms. When you mix up so many purposes for the same space (or even the same countertop), you’re not going to get good results. Something as simple as making a ham and cheese sandwich is impossible when your countertops are covered with bills and other papers. Instead of succumbing to this fate, set up different spaces for different tasks.

Ideally, your kitchen should only be for cooking, but realistically that’s not going to be the case–especially since kitchens tend to be the center of family activity. Designate some countertop space that’s off-limits to anything but cooking or eating, and make it a point to keep it clear when it’s not being used. That way, when you’re ready to use it again, it’s ready for you.

If you must bring mail and bill-paying paraphernalia into the kitchen, set up a space for just that activity and don’t let it spread out of that area. (A desktop organizer or mini-shelf is a perfect solution.) Even if you can’t dedicate surfaces to specific activities like bill-paying, storage in the kitchen can help. For example, when you finish eating at the kitchen table, you take away the dishes to wash and store in the cupboard. Why not do the same with everything else? If you pay bills, do homework, or play games at the kitchen table, make sure to clean up when you’re done. Keeping a drawer or cupboard for each activity will make it as easy and second-nature to put away your stuff.


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

How many salad dressings are enough?

Salad DressingNot to pick on my mother or mother-in-law, but they both have an odd habit of collecting salad dressing in their refrigerators. The salad dressings may start out neatly lined up on the refrigerator’s door, but they somehow end up in the back of the main shelves never to see the light of day before they expire. With a quick inventory of my refrigerator, I count two dressings. For our family, that is reasonable. If you’d like the choice of six to ten dressings, go to a restaurant. Stocking your fridge full of dressing is overkill.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to do an inventory of your food supply. You may be a bit embarrassed when you find out how much you actually have in you fridge, but there is an easy way to curb your inventory. Stop buying more dressing. (Heck, make your own.) Before you head to the grocery store take stock of what you need and make a list. If you have more than one dressing per household occupant, then you most likely don’t need any more. So when you head out to buy groceries you may want to skip the salad dressing aisle.

I guess taking aim at salad dressings isn’t fair. I’m sure there are many condiments that can be purchased in over abundance. The main thing to take from this post is to make a shopping list when heading to the grocery store. Making a list and sticking to it will help curb your appetite for more food.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Storing coffee

If you’re a coffee aficionado, take a few minutes today to evaluate your home coffee situation. Do you have an unnecessary number of mugs? Is counter space for food preparation being unreasonably sacrificed for your coffee supplies? Can you rearrange your current setup to be less cluttered and better contained? A few minutes is all this simple check should take.

While you’re giving your coffee situation some attention, don’t forget to evaluate how you’re storing your coffee beans. Are you using airtight canisters? Are you keeping them at room temperature? Coffee beans you aren’t going to grind and brew within two weeks can be kept in the freezer, but they should not be stored in the refrigerator. Moisture isn’t good for coffee, well, unless you’re actually in the process of brewing. Don’t believe me? Here are a few insights from people much more informed than I am on this issue:

  • From the Joy of Cooking: “The best way to store coffee beans, ground or whole, is in an opaque airtight canister at room temperature.”
  • From Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: “Once roasted, whole coffee beans keep reasonably well for a couple of weeks at room temperature, or a couple of months in the freezer, before becoming noticeably stale. One reason that whole beans keep as long as they do is that they’re filled with carbon dioxide, which helps exclude oxygen from the porous interior. Once the beans have been ground, room temperature shelf life is only a few days.”
  • From Coffee AM: “When to Refrigerate Coffee? Never, unless you are conducting a science experiment on how long it takes to ruin perfectly good coffee. The fridge is one of the absolute worst places to put coffee.”

When I looked in on my coffee supplies last week, I found that I had more than 20 mugs in my cupboard. I donated 12 of those to a local homeless shelter and now have enough space in my cupboard to store all of my coffee supplies. I hope your efforts produce similar positive results.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Take-out menu filer

Ever wanted to order in something other than pizza, but you can’t think of anything other than the usual Chinese place? Something I’ve done for quite a while is file take-out menus in an Itoya portfolio that I keep on a bookshelf for easy access. Whenever I come home to find a Mexican, Salvadoran, Kabob, or whatever menu slipped under my door, I stick it in my portfolio. I use one pocket for each type of cuisine–all the Chinese menus go together, same goes for the pizza menus, etc.

When we feel like ordering in, we just flip through the pages and pick a cuisine. Then pull out the menus and make our choice. The key here is always dropping in menus when you get them in the mail or with your order, and throwing out obsolete ones when you find them. This beats piling them on a table by a phone, sticking them to your fridge, or cramming them in a drawer. And if you prefer, here’s a binder designed just for menus.


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

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.