Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Odds & Ends

So…as I was finishing the whole “clean your kitchen from top to bottom thing,” I started thinking about little tips or suggestions for the kitchen. (By the way, my kitchen cleaning took longer than 30 minutes on a Thursday. Shopping at Costco in bulk creates new problems to be dealt with. And lots of rearranging. Geez.) Here are a few that I came up with or use (meaning someone else came up with them and I thought, “Yeah, that’ll work.”). Please share any tips that you have. I always love new time-saving or space-saving ideas. That’s all part of simplifying, right?

Anyway, here are my ten. I hope you will share yours with us as well! Pretty please?

Blessings, Lynne

NOTE: Some of these you may have seen in other posts. Sometimes I need to see them in “writing” again to get back to doing them, so they’re for me. 🙂

1. Clean the fridge out every week.

“Yes, Lynne, every week. On Monday. The day before trash pick up.” Otherwise, when you go to the store, you will be doing some creative cramming to get everything in your fridge. (If I get brave enough, I’ll post a picture of what mine looked like before yesterday’s cleaning out.) When you creatively cram things into your fridge, you will inevitably need whatever got put the furthest back on the shelf. Without fail. And then you have to take it all back out, get the thing you needed, and re-cram the stuff back in. It’s very frustrating and occasionally leads to kicking and yelling at the refrigerator. The poor innocent refrigerator.

2. Make a note of the date you open something.

When you open a carton of chicken broth or jar of spaghetti sauce and you don’t use it all, mark on the lid or top – with a permanent marker – the date that you opened it. When you do the following week’s refrigerator cleaning and find that the carton or jar is still in there and unused, freeze what’s left. Measure it and pour it into a freezer bag (or bags), label the bag with contents and date, and lay it flat in the freezer. And then remember that it’s in the freezer the next time you are cooking and need it, rather than opening another carton or jar. Failing to note the date you open a carton or jar can result in you opening the carton and being knocked down by the smell of some rotten broth, or discovering that your spaghetti sauce has enough mold on it to make your own antibiotics. (Do not make your own antibiotics.)  Neither is very pleasant.

3. Schedule one dinner (or Sunday lunch even) to be a leftover “buffet.”

I love leftover buffet night because: 1. I do not have to cook that night. 2. I can eat mashed potatoes AND pizza if I want, and no one looks at me like I’m weird. 3. It gets half of the cleaning out the refrigerator taken care of.  (I usually eat leftovers for lunch anyway, and yesterday I ate a slice of spinach Alfredo pizza with a side of braised carrots. Because I could.) I wish that Thursday night could always be leftover buffet night, but I choose the night based on whether or not my husband needs leftovers to take for lunch the next day. I won’t make him eat leftovers for lunch and dinner. At least, not usually. Sometimes he just has to deal. On those days, I strongly suspect he pops into a fast food place and has a little something more. Just a suspicion.

4. Putting a little bit of rice in your salt shaker keeps the salt from clumping.

Here in good old South Carolina, we have ridiculous humidity. I mean, really, we do. Occasionally, I fill the salt shaker and forget to add the rice. For example, last week we had several humid, rainy days. I had filled the salt shaker and forgotten the rice. I’d go to add salt to something and, of course, it wouldn’t come out. It was just frustrating. This is not a huge deal, just a minor aggravation. But still.

5. If you cook any kind of chicken on the bone, take the time to make your own chicken broth/stock. If you cook a whole chicken or chicken breasts with the bone in, or even if you buy a rotisserie chicken, throw the “carcass” into the slow cooker, add an onion (cut into 4-5 large chunks), a couple of carrots, a bay leaf, and a pinch of poultry seasoning. Let that stuff cook on low overnight in your crock pot. Turn off the crock pot in the morning and let the carcass cool. Remove as much of the bones as you can, then pour the broth/stock through a fine strainer into a bowl. You might need to strain it again into another bowl. When it’s completely cooled, measure it out in 1-cup, 2-cup or 1/2- cup amounts, label freezer bags accordingly, and pour it into the bags. Freeze them so that they are flat and then stack them when they are frozen so they take up less room. The next time a recipe calls for broth, you’ll have it on hand. And it’s better – and more flavorful – than the canned stuff.

6. Try new recipes.

Be brave. Be bold. Try new stuff. Make a point to try new recipes at least once or twice a month. Or even once a week. Not necessarily “exotic” stuff, just things you’ve not made at home before but enjoyed at a restaurant. I remember the first time I made chicken Marsala at home. I said to my husband, “We will never have to pay “$50 for two people to eat chicken Marsala at a restaurant again!” If you eat at someone else’s table and they serve something you really enjoyed, ask for the recipe. Most people are happy to share. And if not, you can find recipes for almost anything online. I love trying new recipes! Sometimes they don’t turn out as good as they sounded, but sometimes they’re even better and go in the “keepers” file. I like when that happens. 🙂

7. Spice it up.

It was a long time before I ventured past the salt, pepper, and cinnamon on the spice aisle. But, boy, when I did, it was a happy day! Now when recipes call for thyme or dry mustard or paprika, I’ve got it covered. I have a drawer full of spices and a basket full of spice blends. And if you’re on a low-salt diet, there are lots of options available to give your food some flavor without the sodium. But, by the way, there’s regular table salt. And sea salt. And my personal favorite – kosher salt. And freshly ground pepper…mmmm. And, yes, your spice drawer or cabinet should be alphabetized. I mean, really. How else will you be able to find the one you need?

8. Don’t leave dishes in the sink overnight.

Sigh. This is my least favorite thing to do: wash dishes in the sink that didn’t fit in the dishwasher after dinner. Or that mysteriously got dirtied after dinner was over and I thought the kitchen was closed for the night. Or that just can’t go in there. I mean, I really do NOT like to wash dishes. At night. When I’m tired. Or I just want to go to bed and read. BUT (and yes, that’s a big BUT), I really, really hate to get up in the morning to a sink full of dishes. I also don’t want to issue an open invitation for little critters and creepy-crawlies to pay a visit to my kitchen for a midnight buffet. So, even if I’m tired and don’t want to, I (almost) always do the dishes in the sink before I go to bed. I appreciate my hard work in the morning.

9. Recycle and compost if you can.

Recycling is one of the easiest things you can do to help our little planet. Most cities offer a recycling service. Most counties have a landfill where you can take your recyclables if you don’t have pick up service. Really. It’s not hard. Just get a container if one isn’t provided and drop the stuff in there. I rinse everything out (again, no invites to critters) and drop it in the recycling bin. We don’t have to sort ours, but I would if I needed to. My recycle bin sits just off my back deck, so I can just step out there and drop things in. If you can compost, keep a large, inexpensive bowl on the counter top and drop your veggie peels, egg shells, coffee filters, tea bag, etc. in throughout the day. Once a day, trek out to the compost bin/pile, and empty the bowl. When you come back in, rinse or wash the bowl and sit it back on the counter. Leaving the compost bowl full and sitting on the counter is yet another invitation to bugs to meet up with their buddies in your kitchen for a snack. (Are you aware that I don’t like bugs? Especially roaches. Eww. So I don’t want to do anything that would give them the idea that they are welcome in the house.)

10. Every once and a while, cook through your stockpile (if you have one).

If you have a grocery stockpile, every once in a while, it’s good to cook through it and empty the cabinets. Say every couple of months. I am in need of doing that right now. My pantry overfloweth. My cabinets are filled to the brim. I realize that this is a blessing…food a’plenty. However, I’m ready to see some empty shelf space. Since I’ve already made my menu plan for this week, I’ll plan for next week to be a “cooking through” week. And, in the meantime, I’ll try not to add much to it. I’ll ignore those “buy one, get one free” ads. I will! I must! So I’ll pull out two or three cookbooks one afternoon this week, sit at the table gazing into the pantry and plan according to what I see. I’ll be looking for some new recipes to try. Certainly something with pasta as I seem to have an abundance of that.

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