During the winter months, especially the busy time between now and the new year, my kitchen becomes a bustling hub of culinary activity. A pot of chicken bones and aromatics simmer on the stove as I make broth. A sheet pan of beets, carrots, and mushrooms is placed inside the oven as I prep ingredients for healthy weeknight meals. A bowl of creamy pumpkin custard sits in an ice bath chilling until cool enough to process in the ice cream maker. A mason jar filled with aged rum and espresso beans rests on the counter, slowly turning into homemade kahlúa. With so much going on, it’s crucial to have an organized kitchen. That’s why I like to take time during the first week of November to tidy up my kitchen—to make sure that there is a place for everything and that everything is in its place. An organized kitchen will not only make cooking easier, it will be more fun. You don’t have to dig through a drawer of mismatched tupperware to find your gravy separator. Simply set aside two hours and then walk through the following eight steps.
Clean Out the Fridge and Pantry
Start by going through your entire fridge and pantry. I know this is a painstaking process, but it will clear out space—which you’ll need if you are hosting Thanksgiving or any of the December holidays. Throw away old condiments that have expired, that you no longer use, or that you dislike. Channel Marie Kondo—if you simply don’t like the mustard that you bought while wine tasting, but it’s not expired and the jar is full, get rid of it. You’re not going to like it next week and it’s just taking up space in your fridge. Throw it away! Once you’re done with the fridge, move to the freezer and then the pantry. Yes, nobody wants to waste food, but if that box of Cajun blackened seasoning has been sitting on the shelf since your trip to New Orleans two years ago, get rid of it. Throw away any expired canned goods or old boxes of stale crackers and cookies.
Store Summer Supplies
Any items—be it a culinary gadget or beloved serving bowl—that you only use during the summer months should be stored, preferably in a place outside of the kitchen. Place popsicle molds, picnic supplies, and tropical print table linens in a big plastic bin. Label it ‘Summer Culinary Supplies’ then store it in the garage. Set a reminder in your calendar for May 1, 2017. Have it say: “Get out the summer culinary supplies. It’s stored in the lower left shelf of the upstairs linen closet.” Trust me, your future self will thank you!
Move Everyday Items to the Front
Now that we removed unnecessary items from the kitchen, it’s time to organize things. Any ingredients, pots, or tools that you use every day should be visible and easily accessible. If you like to start each morning with a bowl of Cheerios, don’t store the Cheerios box on the top shelf that requires you to use a stepping stool to reach. Store eye level in the pantry along with the other items that you regularly use. Organize by meal type and place like ingredients near one another. Keep breakfast cereals, oatmeal, granola, and tea in one area. Store grains, rice, and pasta in another. Cans of beans, seafood, stock, and tomatoes can go in another area. Baking supplies like sugar, extract, and vanilla beans should be placed in their own section of the kitchen.
Check Baking Supplies
Cookies, pies, layer cakes, trifles, edible gifts—’tis the season for baking! When organizing your baking supplies check the level of ingredients that you use in bulk. Flour, brown sugar, baking soda, vegetable oil are items that you’ll need a lot of, so if you’re almost out of cocoa powder and you’re in charge of bringing Great Grandma’s famous mocha chocolate cake to a holiday dinner, make a note to buy cocoa powder the next time you’re at the grocery store. Not into baking? Check the level of your dried spices. Bay leaves, dried rosemary, salt, and black peppercorns are in high demand, so stock up and save yourself a last minute run to the store.
Befriend Your Freezer
Don’t be afraid of prepping items in advance. Pie dough, stock, and sauces can all be made weeks before a special occasion dinner. I also like to fill my freezer with ingredients that can later be turned into an easy appetizer or impressive meal when an unexpected old friend stops by. When left with a surplus of herbs, make pesto or a compound herb butter, then freeze it. The pesto can be tossed with pasta, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and spicy Italian sausage for a delicious dinner, while the compound butter can top baked oysters for a decadent appetizer. Leftover homemade marinara? Freeze it until you’re invited to an impromptu cocktail party, then pull it out of the freezer mix with goat cheese, bake, and serve with crostini for a crowd-pleasing appetizer. Having a freezer stocked with an assortment of half-prepared dishes makes for a more organized cooking experience.
Create an Inventory of Serveware
Take stock of your serving dishes, platters, and wine glasses. Make an inventory of everything that you own: 12 white plates, 14 silver chargers, 8 teacups, 10 mini mason jars, an oval-shaped printed platter, two large wooden boards, etc. and refer to it when you are planning menus. In the inventory, note where the items are stored, so you can quickly pull out that marble slab when you need to roll out pizza dough or arrange an elegant cheese plate.
Read the recipes you always make during the holidays and if you need a bunch of pumpkin puree, make a note to get it early in the month when it’s plentiful (and maybe even on sale!) at the market. If you have a hostess diary or Thanksgiving folder, read it now. I always leave myself notes about what worked and what didn’t, so to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible learn from your past mistakes.
Don’t even think about leaving those dirty dishes in the sink! A clean kitchen is crucial to organization. You won’t want to put anything away if the counter is crowded with dirty pans and wine glasses—especially if you have a small kitchen. When preparing a big meal, clean as you go. Load the dishwasher, turn it on, and them empty it. Don’t leave pots soaking in the sink for more than one day.
What do you to stay organized during the holidays and year-round? Share below.