A Cook’s Tour of Useful Tips
Don’t forget the importance of the “work triangle”—the invisible lines which link your cooktop, refrigerator, and sink. Imagine these three hotspots of activity as the corners of a triangle, then measure the distance along the three sides. Even if you have a huge kitchen, the sum should be 26 feet or less. Plus, for maximum productivity (and avoiding family collisions), make sure none of the sides cross other traffic pathways in your home.
Organize related equipment in one convenient spot. Breakfast is a breeze when you place your toaster, coffee-maker, and juicer in close proximity to each other. Corralling all your electric gizmos onto one power strip also makes it easy to turn them all off with a single flick—and prevent them from tapping juice from the power grid throughout the day.
What’s the use of wiping down a serving platter or a countertop if your sponge is covered with a film of (invisible) bacteria? Sterilize wet sponges by zapping them in the microwave for two minutes. It’s time well spent.
Storage. Though it seems most convenient, herbs and spices should never be stored near your range or cooktop. Heat—even the heat generated by dishwashers and refrigerators—evaporates aromatic oils, robbing spices of flavor. Light and humidity are also culprits for swifter spice breakdown. For maximum freshness, avoid exposed spice racks and store your collection in a space that’s cool, dark, and dry. Use tightly-sealed, opaque jars (screw-tops are better than flip-caps), labeled with contents and date-of-purchase.
Shelf life. Stored well, whole spices can last 2 to 5 years. Ground spices, 6 months to 2 years. Leafy herbs, 3 months to 2 years. Dehydrated vegetables, up to 6 months. To check for freshness, just give a sniff. If they’ve lost their aroma, their flavor is compromised.
To pump up the flavor, forgo pre-ground altogether and grind whole spices with a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, just before cooking. You can also toast spices quickly in an oil-free skillet to rejuvenate their flavor.
Before choosing hardware for your cabinets, weigh issues of both functionality and style. Consider that, in the heat of preparation, fast-flying hands are more likely to grasp a long handle than a tiny knob. Remember, too, that hardware styles tend to date a kitchen—so think ahead to how handles might easily be updated in a few years. You might also ponder hardware-free doors that open via clever recesses in the wood itself.
Not everything needs to be hidden in drawers and cabinets. Consider open-shelf storage for oft-used items; hooks for favorite pots and pans; and baskets for larger things, like cutting boards and grilles.
And why stretch to the left or right when you’re focused on what’s cooking? Put a shelf directly over the cooktop for things you use all the time, like spatulas, stirring spoons, salt, and kitchen timers.
Shelves, in lieu of upper cabinets, are also ideal for the kitchen of a small apartment, especially if it’s open to the dining and living areas. If the shelves are properly curated, the entire space will feel integrated.
If you value the sharpness of your knives, never toss them in a drawer. A wooden knife-block is well worth the investment. Another way to ensure knives’ longevity?
Use wood or polyethylene cutting boards—as marble, glass, stone, ceramic, and other hard surfaces can all damage a knife’s blade.
It’s also important to wash and dry knives as soon as possible, after use. Avoid leaving them in the sink and never put them in the dishwasher. Prolonged exposure to water will quickly dull the blades.
The sink is the only spot in your kitchen that’s used while you’re prepping, cooking, and cleaning up.
To maximize its utility, think about installing a faucet that rises high over your sink. You’ll appreciate it when you’re filling a huge pasta pot or rinsing a bulky broiling pan.
And single-handed taps with pull-out spouts have become popular for good reason: they’re super-convenient for controlling water temperature and cleaning produce—as well as the sink and its contents.
Finally, consider a spout that swivels 180 degrees, especially if you have a multi-bowl model, as it will be flexible enough to reach every nook and cranny of your sink’s bin(s).
After you clear the cheese plate to serve the entrées, wrap leftover cheese in aluminum foil instead of plastic wrap. Your fromage will stay fresh longer, and the foil will fend off mold.
Add impact to even the most minimalist kitchen by displaying colorful fruit on a countertop—for example, a big glass vase filled with limes. The uniform color is eye-pleasing, and there’s no waste because you’ll use the limes over time.
A bowl of fresh fruit is a great lure for your family to eat healthy, but it can also attract pesky fruit flies. Here’s a tip: Fill a jar with an inch or so of apple-cider vinegar, poke small holes in the lid, and leave it near the fruit bowl. The flies will make their way into the jar—but (insert sinister laugh) they won’t find their way out.