“Mise en place.”
If you’ve ever watched a cooking show on TV, you’ve heard that phrase. It’s French for “everything in its place,” and chefs repeat it often to stress the importance of getting all your ingredients ready before you start to cook.
But for those of us who want to cook healthy food at home, it’s also a great phrase to apply to the whole kitchen. Take some time to get organized and you’ll save countless hours — and dollars — down the line.
Here are some ways to make your kitchen is as efficient, safe and clean as a professional chef’s:
1. Arrange your spices in alphabetical order
Surprisingly quick to do, alphabetizing your spices will save you time with every recipe you make. Not only will you know exactly where to find each spice, you’ll also be able to determine quickly whether or not you have something that a recipe calls for, which will help you avoid ending up with 3 half-used jars of coriander. Arrange the spices on a shelf or in a drawer, and remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect — if your cumin comes before your chili powder, that’s okay. The point is to be able to scan a section quickly to grab what you need.
2. Use painter’s tape and a permanent marker to label everything
Have you ever pulled something out of the freezer and had no clue what it is — or how long it’s been in there? Purchase a roll of blue painter’s tape and a Sharpie and keep them in a convenient drawer. Before anything goes in the fridge, freezer or pantry, give it a name and a date.
3. Simplify your storage with uniform, stackable containers
Everyone does it once: you purchase the 40-piece plastic container set only to lose a lid here or a bottom there until all you’re left with is a mismatched mess. Simple round plastic containers, all with the same circumference, solve that dilemma, which is why chefs swear by them. The lid for a 1-cup is the same as the lid for a 2-, 3- or 4-cup, and that uniformity means they also stack properly in pantries, freezers and fridges. They’re better for the environment than plastic bags because you can reuse them, and you can recycle them if they get too worn out. Plus they’re not as expensive as some options, so if you use them to take dinner to a friend, you won’t mind leaving a few behind.
4. Keep sauce in squeeze bottles
If you’ve ever wondered how chefs get that perfect drizzle of dressing on the top of a salad or those cute little dots of sauce on a plate, the answer is simple: it’s by using a squeeze bottle. Put your homemade vinaigrette or your signature BBQ sauce in a squeeze bottle for easy, spill-free access straight from the fridge. If it’s a thicker sauce like tartar, cut the tip so it’s a little bigger — there’s almost no sauce you can’t make squeezable with the right alteration. If you want to take your sauce on-the-go for a picnic or trip, unscrew the top, put a piece of plastic wrap over the base and screw the top back on. Now you can travel drip-free — and look professional when you get to your destination.
5. Turn old towels into reusable rags
Remember that lovely white dish towel you proudly displayed until your son used it to wipe smashed up strawberries off his face? Don’t throw that out.
Yesterday’s pretty towels are today’s reusable rags.
Pick one drawer to stash clean ones in and use them to wipe down the kitchen instead of running through reams of paper towels, which is good for the environment and will save you money. If you don’t have any dingy towels, jumpstart your collection with a box of gym towels. Just make sure that any towel that is more than a little damp goes straight into the washer rather than back in the cupboard.
6. Hang your pots and pans — and everything else
In a professional kitchen, space is often at a premium. Adding a small row of hooks inside your pantry, on the back of a door or even on a kitchen wall (if you find one you like the look of) can double your storage space. Use smaller hooks to hang utensils like spatulas or light things like aprons. Use larger hooks to hang frying pans, skillets or brooms.
7. Get into gloves
If you’ve ever wondered why your meatballs aren’t as consistent or your salad isn’t as uniformly sauced as the ones you see in a restaurant, gloves are likely the answer. Grab some latex-free ones at the grocery store, and the next time you see that your pasta dough or sausage balls aren’t mixing as well as you’d like, throw on a pair and dig in there with your hands. Gloves are also great for making salads — a quick toss will incorporate everything, and you can plate a salad more cleanly with your hands than with tongs or a spoon.