Easy Changes You Can Do RIGHT NOW to Improve Your Cooking Experience

My kitchen is pretty big (two big counters and a recently-expanded center island). So why the heck can’t I find a space to set down some serving plates, a hot pan, or whatever is in my hands? Why are the drawers always stuffed with utensils…but yet I can’t locate the ONE I need? Why do spices jump out at me when I open the spice cabinet…and then I don’t even recognize the spice that did the jumping? 

Do you sometimes feel like your kitchen is closing on on you? I know I sometimes do. So what are some things we can do to improve our cooking spaces to make cooking easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable? 

Let’s Simplify

Three (essentially the same) wooden spoons? Two virtually identical spatulas? The avocado scoop. A half dozen peelers. Really? Yup. And a few tools I can’t even remember buying or using. (Probably a sale at Sur La Table. LOL) Let’s take a page from Marie Kondo and simplify together, shall we?

Today. Right now. Choose one cabinet or one drawer or one utensil holder and take everything out. Remove the duplicate items. Remove the items you haven’t used in 6 months. Get rid of those single-use tools. They generally just clutter up the place, are used rarely, and can be easily replaced with another tool you already have.

Another change we made during our recent renovation is that we went from a double oven and a countertop microwave to a single oven and built-in microwave. Boom! Instant counter space! We looked at our needs realistically and decided that we used our second oven maybe once a year. Is that worth taking up all that extra space the other 99.999% of the time? We decided it wasn't. Just something to consider is your needs allow.

Freshen Up Ingredients

Here’s a rule-of-thumb I like to use. If you can’t remember when you bought a spice, it’s probably too old.

Start with spices. Take them out from wherever you store them and put them on your counter. Sniff each one. If a spice doesn’t smell at all, toss it. Don’t think twice. It’s done for. Kaput. Toss it. If you have more than one of something (yes, I think we have three containers of black pepper!), keep the newest, freshest, strongest-smelling one. Toss the other(s). And in the future, try to buy ONLY what you need. For a one-time ingredient, buy only what you need for that one recipe. For staples like salt, buy no more than you would use in 2-3 months. Find a store you trust that carries spices in bulk (note that I said “a store you TRUST”) and buy in small quantities. Just be careful, some stores leave bulk foods in  their bins waaaaaaay too long. Not good.

Do the same with fruits and veggies. Pull everything out of your fruit and vegetable bins. If they are getting old, use them. If they are already too old, too them. To prevent that problem in the future. just buy the quantity you need. If a recipe calls for an eggplant, don’t buy 2-3. Just buy the one you need. You may try to tell yourself that you’ll soon use the others you bought. Often they just sit there quietly...spoiling. Develop a weekly meal plan helps alleviate this problem too. Stick to your plan and buy only what's needed.

Sharpen those Knives

Imagine life with a very few (very sharp) set of knives. You only need a few. (See my post: "The Knives You REALLY Need".) Choose really good ones and learn how to care for them. Honestly, I think I have 7-8 paring knives in my drawer. I use the same ones over and over. Notice which ones you use regularly. Take the other ones out. Give them to someone who’s just starting out.

Learn to sharpen them at home. Get whatever tools you need to keep your knives sharp on an ongoing basis - a sharpening steel, a whet stone, a sharpener. Learn how to use them and use them regularly. Once every few months get your blades professionally sharpened by a reputable sharpening professional - someone who sharpens kitchen cutlery. I’d recommend NOT using the guy from the hardware store. Generally their equipment is a little too rough, too coarse. It’s just way too easy to damage your precious blades. A fine cooking store is a great place to start your search.

A good, easy-to-use home knife sharpener to consider is the Chef's Choice 15 Trizor XV EdgeSelect Electric Knife Sharpener [affiliate link]. It's about $160 on Amazon.

Cooktop-to-Oven MAGIC

These will serve dual-purposes and will limit clean-up. You can use them on the stovetop - then finish (or bake) in the oven. So, make sure you get ones that look good enough to even serve on your table. How great would that be? I assume you’re okay with LESS cleaning, right? Think cast-iron, stainless steel, or enameled stainless. A few of these pieces is all you need.

Why is it magic? Several pieces taking up space in your will disappear!

Get Lit

My recent kitchen remodel included installing under-counter lights. Do you have these? I absolutely love them! Whether they recognize it or not, one thing most people deal with is insufficient lighting in their cooking area(s). Whether it's over your stove or over your counters, make sure your prepping and cooking areas are well-lit. It is safer and truly makes a lot of difference as you cook. Imagine that..SEEING is important. Sometimes how a dish looks color-wise is important. And if your lighting is not right, you just won't be able to judge.

If you are considering a remodel I'd strongly suggest to do what we did - add under-counter lights (on dimmer switches) and the right lighting over your cooktop. If you don't plan to go to all that effort (and it IS a lot), then look into those smaller battery-powered LED lights that can be easily installed under a counter. Change the bulbs in the light fixture over your cooktop. You'll be surprised what a difference it can make.

Stash the Books/Recipes

Cookbooks are great! They are a constant source of inspiration and reference. People like use like to have them handy. But, really, do they need to always be on your countertop. Find a place to stash them. Trust me, you'll be happy you did. It un-clutters your countertop and opens up lots of counter space you didn't know you were missing. You may be shocked at how much space those books take up.

And the printed-out recipes! I had them all over, everywhere it seems. I bought a three-ring binder and some of those sheet protectors. All our recipes (except the ones on recipe cards) are now in there. I even tore out the ones that were in magazines (and, yes, I kept the entire magazine around just for ONE recipe!). And I guess if I get even more ambitious I could copy the recipe cards onto paper and stash the paper in the binder sleeves. I have to admit I like to have the recipe printed in front of me to look at (as opposed to electronically). Storing them electronically so you can just pull them up on your iPad saves even more space. But really, I think we almost all have printouts around.

"Well, there you go! Several things you can do almost immediately that will make a noticeable difference in the way you cook. Being in the kitchen will be much easier and much more enjoyable! And PLEASE leave a comment if you have other ideas to share with our readers. I know everyone would like to hear your input. Thanks!"