Unclutter your refrigerator before Thanksgiving

If you host Thanksgiving at your home, then now is the time to start making room for all of the dishes that need to be stored in your refrigerator. Use up the items that are currently taking up space. My wife calls the process of clearing out the ingredients available in the refrigerator as “creative cooking.” It consists of not shopping for groceries for a week while concocting dishes from the ingredients that remain in the refrigerator and cupboards. Creative cooking also takes place at our house prior to long vacations.

While you clear out the space in your refrigerator it is freeing up valuable real estate for the turkey along with the side dishes that will reside in there while they wait to be prepared. This also allows for room in your refrigerator for the all important leftovers.

With just a little more than a week to go, clear out your fridge and give it a good cleaning. Let us know about some of your favorite “creative cooking” recipes in the comments. One of my favorites is a good old fashion stew using up meat and savory vegetables.

 

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

An impartial participant can help get rid of clutter

Little League BaseballSentimental clutter can be the most difficult clutter to clear from your spaces. “Oh, I remember this!” is the exclamation that inevitably gets tossed around while trying to clean out a closet, basement, or attic. Until you went to organize the space, you probably had no idea that you were holding onto these items. You’re then struck with the pang of nostalgia and you flirt with the idea of keeping everything you’ve rediscovered.

If you are going to take the time to clear your home of clutter, it can be a good idea to get someone impartial to help handle your sentimental clutter. Whether you hire a professional organizer or you get a friend or spouse to help you, their impartiality may help you get rid of sentimental clutter.

Trying to get rid of things that you think you’ll miss or one day need is a problem for most of us (I struggle with it). This article in the San Diego Reader is entertaining and shows how the process of getting rid of clutter can be helped by having an impartial participant. From the article:

David sat on the floor and began unloading a large box; I stood beside him and sifted through a crate. Every few seconds, I would hold up an item and say, “You don’t need this. Trash?” I’d wait for him to nod before placing it in the big white plastic bag. David grumbled here and there, but an hour in, I’d filled three large bags and broken down four boxes.

If you’re struggling with clearing sentimental clutter, you may want to read the full article for some inspiration.

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: Capabunga Artisan Bread Saver

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

Artisan is a term used to describe food produced by non-industrialized methods, often handed down through generations but now in danger of being lost (also known as home cooking). An artisan baker is a craftsperson who is trained to the highest ability to mix, ferment, shape and bake a hand-crafted loaf of bread (also known as my grandmother).

Interesting though these definitions are, most people buy their artisan bread at a bakery where bread making can be automated to some extent. There are variable speed, electric mixers and blenders, and proofers and ovens with accurate timers and fine temperature controls — a long way from how my grandmother made bread using a bowl, a spoon, her hands, a clean linen cloth (which at other times acted as a tea-towel), and a wood stove.

I guess if some people buy their bread at artisan bakeries they would also purchase the Capabunga Artisan Bread Saver to ensure that their bread stays fresh as long as possible. To keep a loaf of crusty bread fresh, you have to cover the cut portion to keep the moisture inside the loaf while allowing the crust to stay exposed to keep it, well, crusty. My grandmother told me that. She also told me that waxed paper or foil wrap and an elastic band (all of which you probably already own) would work really well.

Thanks to reader Joy for bringing this unitasker to our attention.

Can a deep freezer save you money on meals?

This is the first in a two-part series on how you can use a deep freezer to help with meal planning.

Eating nutritious food is essential for my health. If I eat more than two high-fat, low nutrition meals in a week it takes longer for me to heal after injury and my energy level plummets. For most of us, more than two high-fat, low nutrition meals in a week also adds unwanted pounds and can mess with our hearts and arteries. The easiest way I’ve found to keep on track with healthy eating is to have the majority of my meals at home where I can control the ingredients.

On Unclutterer, we’ve written in the past about how to make eating at home easier with meal planning techniques. The process allows you to plan for healthy meals, create a simple shopping list, and avoid the stressful “what’s for dinner” moment in front of the open refrigerator.

Since our meal planning article initially ran, I’ve received dozens of emails asking if we use a deep freezer in addition to the refrigerator/freezer we have in our kitchen. We currently don’t have one, but it is something we discuss a couple times a month. One of the questions we’ve been trying to answer is if the expense of the deep freezer plus the cost of the electrical energy to run it is less than the amount we spend buying in smaller portions and driving more frequently to our butcher and local market.

Then, a PR guy from Frigidaire sent me a press release, and instantly I could ask someone all of my weird deep freezer questions. (I am certain this guy thinks I am one of the strangest contacts he’s ever made.)

So, to start off our brief series on using deep freezers for meal planning, I want to address my initial question of cost. Is it financially prudent to own and use a deep freezer?

Sticker shock?

The commonly purchased model chest style deep freezer is around $600. Upright freezers cost considerably more than chest freezers. If we were to buy one, we would go for a small chest freezer (under 10 cu. ft.), which has an MSRP of about $300.

Most freezers use between 100 and 400 W of power per day. This translates to roughly $175 of electricity per year depending on the size of freezer and your electricity rates. I would have a difficult time justifying the expense of a larger freezer solely based on convenience. But, if I lived in a rural area and shopped less frequently, had kids and more mouths to feed, then the increased costs would be reasonable.

The cost of food

To get a good comparison of food prices in bulk versus smaller portions, I want to look at the price of beef. I know not everyone eats beef, but I had to pick something to compare and beef figures are easily obtained.

I purchase my beef from an organic butcher who gets the majority of his stock from regional farms. In his butcher shop, I can order half a cow twice a year (butchered and vacuum sealed into meal-size portions) or I can make weekly trips into his shop to buy cuts of beef as I need them. Half a cow roughly translates to about $5 per pound, and beef I buy on a weekly basis usually starts at $5 per pound on sale and can be as much as $30 per pound for premium cuts. Without argument, it is cheaper to buy half a cow and freeze the bulk meat than it is to buy weekly.

Even if you don’t buy your meat from an organic butcher and pay grocery store prices, you’ll still spend more than $5 per pound for a cut of beef.

Final answer

Ultimately, the expense of a deep freezer plus the cost of the electrical energy to run it is less than the amount we’re currently wasting when we buy our food in smaller portions. My final answer is that it is financially prudent for us to purchase a deep freezer and buy in bulk.

 

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

Unitasker Wednesday: The Prepdeck

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

Reader Pete brought today’s product, The Prepdeck to our attention.

The Prepdeck is designed to organize and unclutter your kitchen work surfaces. It includes a fold-out cutting board, 15 containers in four sizes, a storage compartment for knives and utensils, an accessory drawer with prep tools (grater, slicer, juicer, etc.) and a removable trash compartment for collecting scraps.

The Prepdeck is large and cleaning all those little parts would be a challenge! As Reader Pete put it, “I shudder to think of the potential for cross-contamination, especially if you’re a meat-eater.”

In other words, Prepdeck duplicates everything that your kitchen already has, all of which can be easily cleaned in the dishwasher. Not to mention the fact that the little containers have to be stored in the fridge individually while the Prepdeck remains unused taking up almost all of your counter space.

Here is the thing though…

I just finish setting up my youngest kid at college. The Prepdeck would be very helpful. The cutting board would be easier to clean and sanitize than the chipped and stained countertops in the dorm kitchen. Having a small compartment for collecting scraps means they wouldn’t fall on the floor and attract pests. The Prepdeck’s little containers hold just enough for one person and are small enough to be stored in the fridge in her room. She could fill up the containers at home on the weekends and have enough fresh fruits and veggies for the week. Being able to store all of her own kitchen tools in one spot would be beneficial as well.

Actually, for anyone living in a dorm, small apartment, or RV, and doesn’t already have kitchen tools, the Prepdeck would be the way to go.

Should we call it a large, cumbersome, multi-tasking unitasker? I’ll leave it to our readers to decide.

Book Review: The Kitchen Shortcut Bible

When I agreed to review The Kitchen Shortcut Bible, I assumed that it would be just a book full of tips and tricks to keep your kitchen uncluttered and make meal preparation easier. It is indeed that, and much more.

The Kitchen Shortcut Bible is a recipe book like many others, full of healthy, sumptuous dishes including breakfasts, appetizers, dinners, and desserts. There are lovely glossy photos of the foods just like in every other cookbook too. But, the Kitchen Shortcut Bible differs from typical recipe books because there are time and money saving shortcuts on every single page and larger sections of helpful instructions and advice before and after every chapter.

One of the things I liked about this book is that the authors promote make-ahead meals which allow readers to do some meal planning but still have the flexibility to change their plan when the need arises. One of my favourite ideas was the make-ahead chicken packets. Foil wrap boneless, skinless chicken breasts in one of the marinade recipes provided and place the packet on a baking sheet in the freezer. Once the packets are frozen, pile them up in the freezer. When you are ready to make dinner, simply pull out the frozen packet and pop it directly in the oven. If you make one or two breasts per packet, you just pull out the number you need to make dinner — super easy if you’re dining alone or if guests drop in at the last minute!

There are dozens of slow-cooker, one-skillet, and sheet-pan supper recipes that allow you to create flavourful meals with minimal clean-up. The authors advocate time-saving preparations such as buying pre-cut or frozen vegetables, dried pasta, and canned beans, and they tell readers how to work with these ingredients to obtain the best results. They also provide guidance on choosing fastest cooking fresh meats and fresh vegetables without sacrificing quality or flavour.

There are suggestions for vegetarian/vegan options including a section on Better Veggie Burgers. (I can’t wait to try these out!) In the margins of some recipes, the authors indicate which processed food used in the recipe contain not immediately obvious ingredients such as gluten, peanuts/nuts, or high amounts of salt. This is very useful for those with allergies or on special diets.

One thing that made me smile is how they turn some unitaskers such as the waffle maker, garlic press, and coffee press into multi-taskers. There are ten recipes that use a waffle maker and only one of them is actually waffles (and it is a super-quick recipe too!). The section entitled, Better Living with a Garlic Press, explains how to make great rubs and marinades by using a garlic press for ginger, cocktail onions, pickled jalapeños and more. The coffee press is given a new multi-tasker life by making flavourful teas and infusions.

To be honest with Unclutterer readers, many of the food preparation and time-saving tips are not new to me. I have a Master’s Degree in Food Chemistry and I spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen. However, I did need to be reminded of a few things and it is always good to try different recipes! The Kitchen Shortcut Bible would be an ideal gift for someone new to cooking, perhaps a young adult who has just moved out on their own or someone interested in reducing their dependency on ready-made and restaurant foods. I highly recommend The Kitchen Shortcut Bible. You will save time and money in a uncluttered kitchen and enjoy restaurant quality meals with very little work.

Make your kitchen magnetic

When talking about kitchen magnets, most people think of those plastic alphabets we had when we were kids. But magnets can do more in your kitchen than spell “dog” and “cat.” Magnets, when used wisely, can help you free up valuable counter space, and keep all your most used kitchen tools close at hand.

Spice it up

One of the most common magnetic tool these days are magnetic spice tins, which are simply metal or plastic containers with clear lids. Some come with a special board that sits on your counter or attaches to the wall (like these), but you can also buy them individually and stick them to the side of your fridge. Some spice enthusiasts eschew these because they let light in which can damage delicate herbs, so pick a metal surface that doesn’t sit in direct light. Alternatively, choose these spice containers that come with labels which cover the transparent lid.

Wipe it up

Also very handy – a magnetic paper towel holder. If you don’t have much counter space, one of those freestanding ones can be a hassle. But with a magnet, it’s right on your fridge door, and you can just tear one off when your milk spills.

Hang it up

Next time you’re at the hardware store, see if they have inexpensive magnetic hooks. They are perfect for hanging spoons next to the stove or keeping potholders out where you need them. Hooks are one way to get commonly used items out of drawers and within easy reach.

Cut it up

My absolute favorite – a magnetic knife rack. Knife blocks are huge counter space hogs, and keeping sharp pointy things in a drawer can be dangerous for the clumsy-inclined like me. With a magnetic strip, the knives are always handy and out of the way. The magnets are powerful enough to resist a slight bump of the elbow, but pull off without too much force.

The only thing with magnets is that you’re somewhat limited by the number of metal surfaces you have in the kitchen. If you want to add more, try getting a few extra knife racks, or a magnetic memo  strip that can be mounted to the backsplash or any other wall in your kitchen.

What else do you hang in your kitchen?

 

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

Try giving your refrigerator a facelift

My refrigerator is not magnetic. I have no idea what the previous owners of my house did to it to make it that way, but that is its fate. I learned this the hard way, too, sticking magnet after magnet onto it and watching them fall to the floor. I was mesmerized. How could a magnet not stick to the refrigerator? What kind of a person would want a non-magnetic refrigerator?

Now that I’ve been in my house for many years, I’ve come to appreciate the refrigerator and its plain front. Most notably, I value it because there isn’t any clutter on it — no softball schedules from last season, no warped photos, no magnets with unknown real estate agents’ faces staring back at me. Its clean front actually helps to keep my stress level at bay when I’m in the kitchen. The previous owners of my home were more wise than I had given them credit.

If someone would have ever suggested that I could live without magnets on my refrigerator, I would have thought them batty. So, I will not be surprised if in the comments section people write about my sanity (or, rather, lack of sanity). I am making that very suggestion to you, though. Try clearing off the front of your refrigerator and develop other, less cluttered alternatives to distributing information in your home.

If you must use the front of your refrigerator for this purpose, then use something like a perpetual dry-erase calendar hung with Command poster strips. Command also makes refrigerator clips specially designed for hanging papers (like children’s artwork). These could also be used on other kitchen surfaces such as hanging a recipe on a ceramic tile backsplash. Lulalu makes a weekly calendar pad block that cling sticks to smooth surfaces such as stainless steel fridges, mirrors, and school lockers. Also, you could buy a few easy-change artwork frames and swap out your children’s artwork and well-executed homework on your wall instead of on your refrigerator. Honor their good work instead of losing it in a mish-mash of refrigerator madness. Give a magnet-free refrigerator a try and see how it improves the feel of your kitchen.

 

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

Rubbermaid products solve messy lid problem

I recently saw an ad for the Rubbermaid Premier and the less expensive but similar Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids food storage containers. I really like how the lids snap to the bottom of the containers so that they don’t make a mess in the cupboard.

From the original Rubbermaid press release about the products back in 2008:

The average American owns 15 or more food storage containers, many of which eventually lose their lids, get damaged or become stained. In a recent study, 71 percent of consumers said they are routinely unable to find a lid to match their container while another 52 percent had lost the lids completely. Other research identifies staining as the #1 reason that food storage containers are discarded. Rubbermaid is helping consumers to overcome all these food storage challenges with its new Premier line of food storage containers.

Rubbermaid Premier is making “lost lids” a thing of the past with its patented Easy Find Lid” design that allows the lids to snap to the bottom of the containers for storage, so the right lid is always at hand. Each lid fits multiple sizes of containers, and lids and bases nest inside one another to free up even more coveted kitchen cabinet space.

If you own either of these products, let us know about them in the comments section. I’m eager to hear if the reality lives up to Rubbermaid’s description.

 

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

Dishwashing safe products can save time

In her book The Simple Living Guide, Janet Luhrs suggests that people wash their dishes by hand. I like Janet Luhrs and agree with most things that she says, but when I read this piece of advice I laughed aloud. I grew up in a house without a mechanical dishwasher, and my daily chore was to wash the dishes by hand. Every night, for more than 10 years, as I stood with my hands immersed in soapy water, I dreamed of owning a dishwasher. I pledged that in my adulthood I would never wash my dishes by hand.

In the present, if I didn’t have a dishwasher, I cannot imagine how disorganized and dirty my kitchen would be. One of the things about committing to a dishwasher lifestyle, though, is that it limits what I can buy for my kitchen. The everyday plates and cups are almost always dishwasher safe, but many items beyond the basics typically are not recommended for the dishwasher.

If you’re just starting out or are a fan of the dishwasher like me, here are a few dishwasher-friendly, beyond-the-basics, kitchen products that I have found and use:

Stemless stemware. These wine glasses and champagne flutes have no stems so they easily fit in the top drawer of a dishwasher. They also save space in the cupboard.

All-Clad Stainless Cookware. The all-stainless version of this cookware is the only type that can go into the dishwasher. I registered for this when I got married and a kind family member bought it for me. It has held up wonderfully with constant dishwashing.

White Bone China. Surprisingly, plain-white china can be safely cleaned in the dishwasher. It’s durable and can easily be dressed up or down. I use my set all the time, and pair it with colorful chargers when entertaining. There’s no need to have two sets of dishes with one set as convenient and versatile as these.

Unfortunately, I do not have a knife set to recommend. I currently have a Henckels set and put the knives in the dishwasher against the suggestion of the manufacturer. I have been throwing them into the dishwasher for more than five years and the handles haven’t split. However, I expect to need to replace them earlier than they would have needed to be had I been washing them by hand all these years. If someone has a suggestion for a dishwasher-friendly knife set, please feel welcome to leave it in the comments. I’ve read the packaging on many stainless handle knives and found that they also suggest being washed by hand (Kitchen Aid, Ginsu, etc.).

 

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

The Tupperware is everywhere!

One of my pet peeves in my kitchen has been the Tupperware drawer. Most food storage containers aren’t that easy to stow away in an organized manner. In my kitchen, we had a plastic tub that barely contained the clutter of all the bowls and lids. They just didn’t fit together nicely and the overflow began to make me see red every time I reached for a container.

Our solution was fairly simple. We purchased a set of Tupperware FlatOut containers and happily dumped our old set into the recycle bin. The FlatOut containers are collapsible and flatten down to a half an inch which makes storage so much easier. Now when I reach for Tupperware, my blood pressure doesn’t rise and the clutter in that drawer is completely gone. I highly recommend these containers, which are dishwasher safe and also very durable.

Since the original publication of this post in 2007, Tupperware has ceased manufacturing FlatOut containers. However, Thin Bins are an ideal alternative. These containers are made from food-grade silicone. The lids have an airtight seal plus a vent so that steam can escape during microwave heating. They are microwave and dishwasher-safe.

 

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

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.