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March 2000 Issue
Maximize Space In Your Kitchen With Efficient Centers
by Wen Zientek-Sico
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Most people do not have a dream kitchen. Either it is too small, or you do not have enough storage space, or you don't like where the refrigerator is, or... These tips will not turn your kitchen into the perfect kitchen overnight. They should, however, help you utilize what you do have and make the best of your current kitchen. You will be amazed at how much more pleasant working in a well-organized kitchen can be.

The first step towards creating an organized kitchen is to analyze how you use your kitchen and what you have in your kitchen. Not everyone cooks the same, and not everyone has to deal with the same kitchen. Take a week and carefully watch how your time is spent in the kitchen. Make a list of those tasks that you do most often. Try to notice steps or processes that seem awkward or take up too much time. Once you have done that you can decide which of these ideas is of the most use for you and your family.

Every family has different cooking habits. Some cooks bake every day. Others do not make anything unless it can be prepared in their microwave. Many use a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in their cooking and spend a long time preparing them. Some cooks do not own a dishwasher and wash everything by hand. Others do not own a single dish, pot, or utensil that is not dishwasher safe. Not all of these ideas will be useful for every cook, but many should be useful for your kitchen.

Once you have an idea of how you use your kitchen and have made note of some of the problems you might have, it is time to arrange your kitchen into specialized areas, or centers. There are many different centers that you can add to your kitchen. While it may seem that one would have to own a mammoth kitchen to have all of the centers listed below, it is easy to incorporate the most important of them into your kitchen. Overlapping the centers and even mixing a few of them together to meet your needs and the physical limitations of your kitchens may be the best solution for you.

Baking Center

While modern kitchens are building in separate and specialized features for bakers such as lower countertops and marble slabs for rolling out dough, you can create a less expensive baking area in your kitchen. You probably already have the perfect spot for making cookies, cakes, and breads in your kitchen. It should be a fairly large area with a lot of counter space. Store all of your baking equipment as close to this area as possible. This includes everything from your mixer to baking sheets. Store your pie plates, cookie cutters, tart pans, cookie sheets, baking parchment, sifters, mixing bowls, pie weights, rolling pin, pastry cloth, pastry blender, and other tools in this area. Make sure to store a complete set of measuring spoons and cups in this area even if it means purchasing a whole second set. It will save you many steps. This is also a great location to store all of your baking ingredients. While it is common to see flour and sugar on the countertop in this area, set aside more storage for baking soda, baking powder, other flours, shortening, chocolate chips, baking raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other baking spices. Include any ingredients that you use exclusively or even mostly for baking.

Beverage Center

If your kitchen is like mine, there is usually a brisker business in beverages than in food. From that first cup of coffee in the morning to that last glass of water or warm milk before bed, being able to serve beverages from your kitchen quickly and easily is important. Store everything you need to make hot beverages in the same place. Cluster them around your coffee maker, stove, or microwave, depending on what kind of hot beverages you enjoy. Store mugs, cups, and saucers close to the area. If your family consumes or serves a lot of coffee, store the coffee grounds, filters, sugar bowl, artificial sweeteners, non-dairy creamers, and other essential coffee items in this area. If you are a cocoa or tea drinker, store your teas and cocoas close to your tea kettle or microwave if that is where you heat your water. Store a tea strainer, tea bag holder, sweeteners, marshmallows, and other items that you use exclusively for making these beverages in this area.

You can also create a cold beverage center. Store all of your glasses near this area. Include pitchers, drink powders, and spoons in this area. If you have children and allow them to get their own beverages, make sure to store child safe cups in this area in a drawer or cupboard that is easy for them to reach.

If you enjoy alcoholic beverages, or serve them frequently, turn a section of your kitchen into a small bar area. Store the glasses that you normally use when serving alcohol nearby along with the alcohol, mixers, bottle openers, corkscrews, olives, and any other equipment that you normally use. If you normally use your blender when making mixed drinks, store that nearby as well.

Breakfast Center

Many houses already have a breakfast center and don't realize it. For most households it centers on the toaster or toaster oven. Store bread, fruit, cereals, toaster pastries, bagels, muffins, and other items in this area. If you only use cereal bowls or juice glasses at this time of day, store them in this area.

Cleaning Center

For most kitchens your cleaning area should focus around the sink. Obviously, in this area you want to store your dish detergent, scrubbing brushes, kitchen towels, and sponges. Those items that are not used specifically for one purpose should also be stored in this area so that it is quick and easy to put away dishes and utensils after cleaning. Vases, pasta pots, watering cans, and other items that are always filled with water before using should also be stored close to the sink.

Cooking Center

The cooking center in most kitchens revolves around the oven, stovetop, and microwave. While pots and pans are the obvious choice to store in this area, there are other things that should be stored within easy reach of these appliances. Safety should always come first, so trivets, hot pads, oven mitts, and a working kitchen fire extinguisher should be close by. Store your cooking utensils in a drawer near the stove or else in a large sturdy crock or vase. If you have dishes that you use specifically for cooking items in a microwave, store them near the microwave. Oils, non-stick cooking sprays, herbs, spices, and other items normally added directly to the pan should be stored close, but not too close to the stove to prevent them from getting too hot.

Food Preparation Center

One of the newer trends in kitchen design is the inclusion of a small prep sink and a butcher block area in a specific area of the kitchen to isolate the clean-up area from the food preparation area. Most of us are not quite so lucky and have to make do with what we have. What you need is a space large enough to hold your cutting boards while you are cutting. Try to choose a location close to a sink to make washing your produce easier. Your composting bucket or trash can should also be close to this part of your kitchen to make clean up easy. Store your cutting boards, knives, graters, mandolins, choppers, food processor, colanders, scales, and vegetable peelers close by.

Refrigerator/Freezer Center

This section is probably one of the smallest in your kitchen, unless you have as many plastic containers as I do. This is where you store your plastic storage containers, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, plastic bags, and other items that you use when packaging food to be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

Serving Center

The serving center can be located in either your dining room or kitchen. Mine is actually on a wall bridging the two rooms, making it perfect for setting the table or putting away dishes. Here is where you want to store all of your tableware: your wine glasses, silverware, table linens, napkin rings, napkins, placemats, charger plates, vases, centerpieces, candlesticks, and other items that are placed on the table. You may also want to keep serving spoons, serving bowls, platters, bread baskets, and other dishes that are used solely for serving dinner here.

Specialized Food Center

This last section is harder to define than the others. This is when analyzing your lifestyle and how you use your kitchen comes in really handy. I have several of these areas in my household. We make pizzas once a week, so near the area of the countertop that I mix my pizzas is stored my pizza pans, pizza peel, pizza spices, pizza recipe books, pizza cutters, and the flour that I use exclusively for making pizzas. It makes this weekly task quick and easy. I also have centers in my kitchen geared towards cooking in my wok and using my bread machine. Items like sesame oil, five spice powder, gingerroot, peanut oil, and all of my utensils are all stored along with my wok near the stove so that I can grab them quickly and easily when I am ready to cook. The flour, yeast, and dry milk that I use exclusively with my bread machine are also stored right next to the machine. Look at what things you make most often, and store those items together.

Even the smallest of kitchens can be reorganized to be functional and efficient. All it takes is familiarity with the way that you use your kitchen and the courage to go ahead and move everything around. Make sure to reevaluate your kitchen every so often as well. As your lifestyle changes, your kitchen might need to as well, particularly as your children get older, your diet changes, or cooking fads come and go.



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