Freshen fridge, purge pantry

Try these tips for giving kitchen a spring-cleaning

Posted: May 03, 2007

IT TAKES TWO people to pry open the jelly-splattered refrigerator door.

Every time the grunge-coated stove heats up, the kitchen fills with smoke.

And you can't remember what color your countertop is, since it's been cluttered with appliances and gadgets for so long.

If this sounds like your kitchen, it's time for a spring cleaning and organizing boot camp.

We enlisted the most hard-core instructor possible, someone who's not averse to scrubbing appliances with toothbrushes, freezing individual servings of pesto in ice cube trays, and bagging and dating every food in the house.

Her name is Sandy Gluck, the intrepid food editor at Martha Stewart Living's Everyday Food magazine, and she's ready to get your kitchen in shape this spring.

Gluck spent years as a kitchen tester and recipe developer for publications such as Good Housekeeping and TimeLife books before joining Martha Stewart's magazine empire in July 2003. She offered Daily News readers tips on how to properly clean out the kitchen, stock up on essential spices and foods, and keep only the necessary gadgets, tools and appliances on hand.

_ Every spring cleaning should start with the fridge, according to Gluck.

First, pull everything off the door, clean the shelves with warm soapy water, then go through the products, throwing away anything that's outdated, or that you haven't used in six months. Then, wipe the goop off the ketchup and other condiment lids to remove any bacteria and mess.

Next, move on to the vegetables bins, washing them with warm soapy water and tossing any veggies and fruits that are more than a week old. Gluck tries not to buy more than a day or two's worth of veggies and fruits, because more than that will be left to rot in the drawers. Repeat the washing process with the interior of the fridge, removing all the products and dumping anything outdated.

Fresh staples to keep in the refrigerator: lemons, limes, eggs, hunk of cheese, milk, onions, garlic, carrots, cream cheese, mustards.

_ When the fridge is clean, remove everything from the freezer and toss any meats or fish more than 6 months old. Toss any freezer-burned items.

From now on, each time something new goes into the freezer, Gluck suggests, bag and date each item, even break down packages of meat, such as chicken or sausage, into individual servings. And if you have cooking sauces in the refrigerator that aren't frequently used, such as tomato sauce, coconut milk, tomato paste or soup, pour them into ice cube trays and freeze them for later use in recipes that call for small portions or stocks.

What to stock in the freezer: Bacon (to use in various soups and sauces), an extra pound or two of butter, nuts (which stay fresher when frozen), vegetables (peas, corn, etc., for salads and soups).

_ Next, tackle the pantry, that overflowing monster that houses everything from eye-covered potatoes to stale bread. Toss any perishables more than a week old (bread, desserts, etc.) and reorganize shelves to include one for baking goods (flour, sugar, etc.), another for canned foods, yet another for boxed, prepared starches (pasta, rice, couscous, etc.) and a final shelf for cereals and breakfast foods.

Contrary to what most people think, having a packed pantry does not mean you'll be a better cook. Gluck believes in going to the grocery store a couple of times a week to get fresh foods, keeping just the staples at home. Gluck also believes in keeping a written inventory of what you have in the fridge and freezer, so you don't buy duplicates.

"Keep just a few things, so when you get home you can pull out a few ingredients and make a dinner."

Staples to keep in the pantry: canned tomatoes, tomato paste, olive oil, several kinds of vinegar (red, balsamic, etc.) canned beans, pasta, tuna, potatoes, spices, a few hot sauces, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, flour and sugar.

_ Unclutter the counters. There's nothing worse than having overflowing canisters and cabinets because you've jammed them with duplicates of all your vital tools. Having three spatulas or two food processors does nothing more than cramp your cooking space, said Gluck.

Store all those waffle-makers, emulsion blenders and other fancy doo-dads somewhere else. To operate daily in your kitchen, all you really need are some basic tools and appliances, according to Gluck.

First, make sure you have a chef's knife, paring knife, serrated knife, a few skillets, a cutting board, a kitchen timer, a spatula, vegetable peeler and tongs.

When it comes to appliances and extras, most cooks can make do with a blender, toaster, two coffee grinders (one for spices, another for coffee beans) and a spice rack.

"And make sure to hang the spice rack away from heat to keep spices fresh," Gluck said. "And alphabetize them."

Guess that's a good thing. *

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