I love to cook. And I enjoy inviting guests for dinner parties or more casual meals. What I hate is the big, ugly mess that happens in the kitchen as I'm cooking and concentrating on getting everything on the table. My kitchen is right out there in the open for all to see, which is why I've come up with strategies to cook and keep the kitchen clean at the same time.
This means an empty dishwasher; an empty, clean and shiny sink; and cleared-off, clean counters. Starting out with these three areas neat and tidy makes keeping the kitchen clean throughout the entire process so doable. You won't believe the difference this makes!
USE A PREP SINK
This is an old restaurant trick, and it is brilliant. Fill a sink or large bowl with hot water and a couple of squirts of dishwashing liquid. This is where you will be depositing cooking utensils as you are done with them, such as whisks, spatulas, spoons and tongs. Just drop them in the prep sink to soak. If you need something again, simply lift it out and give it a quick rinse, and you're good to go.
As you have downtime, such as when onions are sauteing or you're waiting for water to boil, give all of the soaking utensils a quick scrub and rinse, and put them back into the drawer ready to be used again. Empty and refill the prep sink as needed.
Caution: Anything that touches raw meat should not be dumped into the prep sink, but rather cleaned and handled separately. Also, avoid putting knives into the prep sink. This is not the time you want to deal with cutting your hand on a sharp blade.
GET A GARBAGE BOWL
My garbage bowl is big and bright orange. That is by design, because I want to see it and know exactly where it is at all times while I'm prepping and cooking. It has a single purpose in my kitchen -- to collect everything headed for the trash and recycling bins. I don't want to be running back and forth to the kitchen trash area as I'm chopping, prepping and opening things. I keep my garbage bowl within arm's reach, no matter where I am in the kitchen. It goes with me as I'm cooking.
Everything to be disposed of goes into the garbage bowl -- cans, shells, lids, cuttings, bones, fat, peelings and so forth. If it's not part of the meal and will be discarded, it lands in the garbage bowl to be separated later.
Also known as "prepping," this means getting ingredients all chopped, cut, peeled, sliced, measured and otherwise prepared before the actual cooking begins. If you chop, measure and portion out what you need ahead of time, you'll reduce the mess created from a frantic scramble to prep. Set out plates or small bowls that will contain all your ingredients as you go.
Pre-treating is an amazing concept that makes it easy to start cleaning as you cook. It makes the final cleaning up -- while the roast is roasting, the bread is baking and the salad is chilling -- a breeze! My pre-treatment is a wine bottle that sits at my sink at all times that is about 95% water and 5% Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. It's pretty, because it has no labels.
I use this to pre-treat just about anything as soon as it's cool enough to do so. If a dish or pan cools off too much, things can start to cake on and become really tough to clean -- and ugly! So, I give these items a generous splash of this solution and let them soak until I have a few moments to get them into the dishwasher or hand-wash them. The goal is to get things cleaned and back into their storage spot.
CLEAN SPILLS ON THE SPOT
I'm mostly talking about the cooktop. Spills and splatters can quickly derail an otherwise clean kitchen. A fresh spill is a thousand times easier to clean than one that has become cooked or baked on. If you spill it, clean it up right away. This includes spills on the floor, counter and backsplash, too. A good splatter screen will help immensely with keeping the cooktop clean.
And now, if you will excuse me, I have family coming for Christmas, and I have a lot of stuff to do to get ready!
Mary Hunt's weekly column, "Everyday Cheapskate," can be found at creators.com.