How to maintain zen in the kitchen

June 16, 2015

I am quite an organised person (some might say bordering on obsessive…). And never am I more organised than in the kitchen.

My kitchen is not the tiniest kitchen I’ve ever had to work with, but it does have extremely limited cupboard and surface space – exacerbated by the fact that I don’t have a dishwasher – so I need to run a tight ship. This is how I make the most of the space I have, ensure I have most of the things I need most of the time, and maximise the potential of what I like to call ‘the magic cupboard’ – aka my freezer.

How to maintain zen in the kitchen

1. The blackboard

I have a blackboard from Ikea stuck to the side of my fridge, and whenever we run out of anything I write it down immediately. That way, whenever I want to go grocery shopping, I can just take a picture of the blackboard with my phone and away I go with a ready-made shopping list. Simples.

2. The magic cupboard

The freezer is simply my best friend in the kitchen. If I over-order on my weekly shop, surplus food goes straight into its drawers. If we have anything left over from an evening meal, I freeze portions of it for Oscar to eat later that week. Spare egg yolks and egg whites get frozen for my next attempt at a fussy dessert recipe. Oh, and while I was pregnant with Oscar, I cooked a LOT of meals in advance that sat safely in the freezer until he was born – I cannot tell you what a relief it was during those first few months of parenthood to enjoy a home-cooked meal every night with zero effort.

3. Doubling up

Another good use for the powers of the freezer? Doubling up recipes to save you time in the future. Whenever I make a laborious dish – something that requires homemade curry paste or making pastry from scratch, for example – I tend to make double the quantity. Then, I pop half of whatever I’ve made into the freezer for another time. The beauty of the two examples I used above is that they defrost so quickly that even if you forget to take them out of the freezer ahead of time, within an hour or so of you remembering, they’re good to go.

4. Washing up as you go along

Although I regularly bemoan the fact that we don’t have a dishwasher, I have never been afraid of washing up – I spent a couple of summers working as a pot wash in my local gastropub when I was a student, so I know what it’s like to spend whole days arm-deep in sudsy water. It was probably partly down to the time I spent in that professional kitchen (and partly my mum’s example) that taught me the discipline of washing up as you go along. Yes, it sounds like a drag, but it makes such a difference to your stress levels when you’re cooking – especially if you’re working in a tight space. The same goes for tidying up as you go along – I use a plastic bag to collect vegetable peelings and the like when I’m preparing ingredients, and I try to de-clutter the kitchen surfaces after each step in a recipe. I sound very goodie-two-shoes writing this, but if you saw my kitchen, you’d understand.

5. Keeping things sharp

I love the satisfaction of cutting up food with a thrillingly sharp knife – but I have to admit, I’m rubbish at keeping my knives sharpened. How many of us asked for posh knives as a wedding present? And how many of us maintain them appropriately? Yup, thought so. I think this is a job that’s meant to be done weekly, and even though it only takes about three minutes to sharpen my three good knives, I probably get around to it once a month at best. It’s a case of do as I say, not as I do…

6. Fridge best practice

Whenever a grocery order arrives at my flat, I’m always tempted to just shove everything into the fridge to get it out of the way, but I try to be a bit more strategic about this job. I put the newest ingredients at the back of the fridge (or bottom of the vegetable drawer) and bump the old ingredients I still haven’t got round to using to the front. That way, you don’t discover a soggy, blackened lettuce underneath all your spankingly crisp veg two weeks after you’ve re-stocked the fridge…

7. Resisting the urge to hoard

It’s easier said than done, but a regular clear-out of your store-cupboard and fridge is a good habit. I have one store-cupboard, and I know for a fact that lurking behind the workaday tins of tomatoes and chickpeas and packets of pasta are: some rice-paper rolls that I last used in summer 2011; some extremely pricey pistachio purée that I bought for making a posh soufflé a year later; and half a packet of ladies’ fingers from the last tiramisu I made, circa 2014. They are taking up valuable space that could be given over to more useful foodstuffs – and they make the likelihood of something falling out of my fit-to-bursting cupboards much more likely. And cleaning a bottle’s worth of extra virgin olive oil off the floor is not a fast track to kitchen zen.

How about you? How do you keep things together in the kitchen? Leave your tips below!

PS – A few ways to use up store-cupboard ingredients: vegetarian sushi, Thai-style noodle soup and ensaladilla rusa.

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