My Practical Kitchen

You know how annoying it can be when you’re in the middle of cooking, reach for a whisk, and it gets tangled up with other utensils. Well, I have some tips to share from my ‘practical kitchen’ that might help you untangle and simplify your kitchen.

Having worked in the test kitchens at Del Monte headquarters in San Francisco for more than ten years, I learned some useful ways to organize and store foods, utensils, pots and pans et al. Adding to my college food lab training, I’ve applied those learnings to make my own kitchen practical and efficient.

So here are some of my favorites (13 in all), along with quick snapshots. If you have your own favorite kitchen tips, please share! Just leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

#1  Always store dried herbs and spices below the counter top where it’s cooler than an upper kitchen cupboard. Mine are placed sort-of alphabetically in a drawer. Frequently used ones are on top usually.

#2  Springy tongs take up a lot of room in drawers. Place them in empty rolls from bathroom tissues. (Sorry, I find counter-top utensil containers irritating.)

#3  Containers that store multiple ingredients (baking items in this case) make storage easier. Just grab the container rather than sifting through ten different items in the cupboard. Likewise, drawer dividers and/or utensil trays for drawers are a must-have in any kitchen to keep measuring spoons in one place, whisks side-by-side etc.

#4  These days it seems that grains, cocoa powder etc come in bags. For me, they are not convenient for storage. So if you still have original containers, reuse them.

#5  Honey getting low? Store it upside down in a ramekin for an easy squeeze.

#6  I still use original containers for some ingredients; they are more user-friendly compared to newer ones. Just transfer those seeds or spices from the new to the old.

#7  Toaster ovens seem to have a short-ish life span. Keep the pan that came with the oven you’re replacing. I’ve collected 3-4 which makes toasting nuts very efficient.

#8  I always toast more coconut (and other ingredients) than I need for a specific recipe, and store it in a below-the-counter cupboard or in the fridge. Yes, I’ve already used that coconut!

#9  Whether they’ll be re-used or recycled, stuff lightweight plastic produce bags in a sturdy plastic-wrap roll. Tidy storage!

#10  Notice how brown sugar gets hard even when wrapped tightly in its box? I have a jar that fits an entire box of brown sugar. Stays nice and spoon-able for a long time.

#11  Ever taste a tad of garlic or onion in that quick bread or cake? Keep separate wooden spoons just for baking sweets.

#12  Cotton bags are terrific to dry freshly-rinsed herbs or small salad greens. Whether you buy the bags at a cookware store or use an old cotton pillow case, they take up a lot less room than salad spinners and are much easier to clean.

#13 (a bakers dozen :o)  I freeze many ingredients ahead of time. So when figuring out what to have for dinner I don’t have to handle that chicken again or peel and chop ginger for stir-fry or…  See my previous post In Your Freezer and Ready to Go


16 thoughts on “My Practical Kitchen”

  • Lots of good reminders, Rita! Thank you.
    One other thing I learned years ago from professional baker Nancy Kux: I keep all of my baking spices and extracts in a separate shelf, away from my dried herbs & other savory blends. Both are stored alphabetically on plastic turntables, but keeping them separate makes it even faster to locate what I need.

    • Very smart, Peggy. I keep baking supplies together, but never thought to separate baking spices from savory herbs. Tell me what your baking spices are. And turn tables are a great idea; so much better than digging deep into a cupboard.

      • One turntable holds the ground versions of allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, espresso powder, ginger, lavender, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice. Baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar also have a place there.
        The other turntable holds almond and vanilla extracts–along with vanilla bean paste and a jar of vanilla beans–and cinnamon sticks, whole nutmegs, etc.

          • Although I grow fresh lavender, I always keep dried lavender on hand. It’s available in the spice section of many well-stocked supermarkets–and online, of course.

            The Provence variety of lavender is the one used for cooking; the jars are sometimes just labeled “culinary lavender.” Other varieties may contain too much camphor. (You don’t want your dessert to taste like your grandmother’s lingerie drawer.)

            I still make a lavender ice cream from one of my earlier cookbooks. It is also wonderful addition to lemon cakes & cookies; and white chocolate and blackberry desserts.

            Espresso powder really boosts chocolate flavor in baked goods. You can find it in small jars, alongside instant coffee in most supermarkets. King Arthur Flour also sells a nice one.

  • These are great tips! I store my spices in a cabinet in mason jars with plastic lids. I love that I can a) stack the jars, b) I can pinch, scoop, or spoon right out of the jars–even with a tablespoon!, and c) use big jars for spices I buy a lot of at once and small jars for smaller quantities. Also, when a jar is empty, I just pop it in the dishwasher and when I buy more of the spice, just grab an appropriately sized jar from the cupboard. Most spices I can tell what they are by looking, but for those that aren’t super obvious, i just write on the jar with a sharpie (yay sharpies!)

  • What a great selection of tips, Rita! I’ve just organized my kitchen in a house we just bought here in Tahoe, and do several of these, but there were some new ones for me that I plan to use now!

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