Thanksgiving kicks off a whole season of gathering, giving, and gratitude. Consider gearing up for the holiday season by doing a few things to streamline and simplify your kitchen. You may find that a little preparation on the front side may make the holiday season (and new year) merry and bright!
My husband, Chris, is a wonderful cook and truly enjoys being in the kitchen. I can’t say that has been my relationship with the kitchen—but that is changing. I am finding that a well-stocked and intentionally equipped kitchen makes a huge difference for a cook like me. I thrive in an organized space and have found some ways to make our kitchen work for master chefs and novice cooks alike.
Take Inventory and Stock Up
Start by taking inventory of what you have on hand—pitching expired items and organizing what is left as you go. Then create a thorough shopping list of the items you need to replace, as well as the additional ingredients you will need to prepare your holiday favorites. You may even go so far as to label specific ingredients as OFF LIMITS as you restock and organize your shelves and refrigerator. You don’t want to reach for the milk and find that it was finished off an hour ago with the last of the Lucky Charms! That being said, you may want to consider replenishing or having the following items on hand:
- Dried Herbs and Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cardamom, cloves, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, salt (table, kosher, sea), pepper (black, white), vanilla extract, almond extract
- Fresh Herbs and Produce: basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, dill, parsley, ginger, garlic, onions, shallots, celery, carrots
- Pantry Items: flours, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, bakers chocolate, tomato paste, chicken/beef broth or stock
- Dairy: eggs, milk, half and half, heavy cream, salted and unsalted butter
- Storage Staples: zipper-style baggies, plastic or glass containers for food prep and leftovers, plastic wrap, regular and heavy-duty aluminum foil, parchment paper, wax paper
Streamline and Simplify
Some people can block out the rest of the world and lose themselves in their cooking. I am not one of those people. When I cook, the kitchen often looks like it is staged for a cooking show. Before I turn on a burner or preheat the oven, I cut, chop, measure, and group all the ingredients and cooking implements according to the order they appear in the recipe. This way, I can enjoy the cooking process without rushing to mince garlic or realizing too late that half the salt was for step 1, and the other half was for step 3. I know that may sound crazy, but I get called on to do the darnedest things at the darnedest times, and I employ every safety net I can to keep myself on track!
Another way I save time and mental energy in the kitchen is to annotate my cookbooks. As I read a recipe, I mark the ingredients and cooking times to make following the recipe as at-a-glance easy as possible. I also note the type or cut of meat in the cookbook index to streamline my shopping. When bone-in chicken thighs go on sale, I can look up my bone-in chicken thigh recipes in a matter of seconds. (I know my former students are probably not surprised that I annotate my cookbooks. Work smarter, not harder!)
Tools, Tips, Timesavers
My approach to cooking may seem a bit rigid, but you have to learn to walk before you can run! I never thought I would be sharing cooking tips (hacks) or listing my favorite kitchen tools, but here I am, 51 years old, learning something new every day and passing it on.
These are a few of my favorite things:
Spice and Nut Grinder: We grind most of our spices as we need them.
Immersion Blender: Great for blending sauces and soups in the pot you are already using—no need to get the blender dirty! And we whip up our own whipped cream in seconds—YUM.
Fat Separator: This is a 3-in-1 deal. It is a strainer, measuring cup, and fat separator.
Metal and Ceramic Ramekins: We use these to prep all our ingredients before we cook. Tip: If the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of olive oil, but 1 tablespoon is used in step 1 and the other tablespoon in used in step 4, use two separate ramekins to avoid mistakes as you cook.
Multi-Measure Shot Glass: I call it my liquid measuring spoon. Tip: Save your measuring spoons for dry ingredients.
Other Tips and Timesavers
- Better Than Bouillon: We use this in place of broths and stocks. You simply add one teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon per cup of water. It saves shelf space and allows you to mix the amount you need when you need it.
- Double Up: Double recipes that freeze well, so your efforts today do double-duty for later. The same goes for any recipes that make great leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
- Dress the Part: Wear an apron to keep spills and splashes from staining your clothes.
- Kids Can: grate cheese, wash vegetables, measure ingredients (learn fractions), organize ingredients according to the recipe, set timers, grind spices, and taste test.
Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and my kitchen and I are ready. I have given thoughtful consideration to what we need to have on hand and how to do what I can before family arrives next week. Sure, something unexpected will come my way, but I am already ahead of the game, so it will be okay.
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