9 Kitchen Tasks You Should Take Care of While You Have the Time

Being home is more relaxing when things are tidy and organized. For me, that starts in the kitchen.

Published Mar. 20, 2020.

These days we’re finding ourselves spending more time at home, maybe alone, feeling restless and trying to figure out how to best utilize these moments. If you’re like me, you have a running list of things that have needed to be done for a while but you haven’t really had the time. Some of these tasks are on a continuum, like sorting through and swapping out seasonal clothes. While others, like organizing your freezer, usually only happen when you’re assessing space or food needs before a special occasion, like a holiday or family gathering.

Whatever the case may be, being home is certainly more relaxing when things are tidy and organized. And for me, this starts in the kitchen. When I feel inspired to cook I want to know that everything in my kitchen is ready for action. These are some ways any home cook can organize their kitchen with their unexpected extra time—and achieve some moments of zen in the process.

1. Season your cast-iron skillet

I get a certain sense of satisfaction from seeing my cookware look shiny and pristine despite them being used almost daily. And to be honest, it’s not simply aesthetic; cookware that is treated properly yields the best results when cooking. It may seem like a daunting task but it’s much easier than you think and it only takes a little time. Here are detailed steps for seasoning (plus some other information about caring for your cast-iron cookware).

2. Season your carbon-steel skillet

Just like cast-iron skillets, carbon-steel pans need to be seasoned. The process is different, though: There’s an “initial seasoning” that involves soap and a lot of scrubbing. (I know that sounds strange but I promise, it’s the right thing to do.) There are also steps to take for routine maintenance and in the case when re-seasoning may be required. (We’ve got instructions for both types of treatment.) Caring for cookware is important; I treat my carbon-steel pan at least once after each use so that it’s ready for the next time.

3. Organize your fridge

One of my favorite tasks, even on days that I’m not being forced to stay inside, is organizing my kitchen. I usually start with the fridge and freezer as it helps me create a more streamlined shopping list. I’ve picked up a tip or two from my restaurant days by treating my fridge the ways chefs treat their walk-in refrigerators. 

For one, I use storage containers that allow me to see what food is being held. The OXO Good Grips Storage Containers are as good as everyone says they are. Their lids have sturdy clasps that don’t break even after many uses, they don’t leak, and, most importantly, they don’t stain. I store my prepped food and cooked foods in them, and label them with the name of the contents and the date it’s going in the fridge. This is great for knowing what should be eaten or cooked first. We call that “FIFO,” which stands for “first in, first out.”

Another takeaway from my restaurant days is how to store raw meats: as low in the fridge as possible. This prevents any fresh foods from getting contaminated by any accidental leakage from the proteins. If you have limited fridge space, sealable storage bags can be just as effective here; seal the meat in its original wrapping in a bag. Sealable storage bags can also be ideal for holding herbs—but careful not to store them on the top shelf of a small fridge. Keep them far from the fan of the fridge so they don’t freeze before you can use them. (Though herbs can be frozen, as long as that’s your intention and it’s done properly.)

4. Oil your wooden cutting board

In my opinion, wooden cutting boards are one of the most neglected kitchen tools. Perhaps it’s because they’re not used as often so we don’t think of it as a tool that requires any attention—but it does. Wooden boards are porous, so they can absorb a lot of water and stain easily, and they’re more susceptible to warping. Here are some easy steps to keeping your boards treated and clean. They’ll make your wooden boards last longer.

5. Keep it clean

I know we all like to keep our kitchens clean, but now more than ever, we are all taking extra measures to ensure that we and our families are as germ-free and safe as possible. A great way to start is by keeping a clean kitchen workspace and adding a few extra measures along the way. Here are some simple steps you can take to keep things clean. You’d be amazed how something as small as cleaning your sponges can help keep your kitchen happier and healthier.

6. Start your own sourdough starter

Two things I can never have enough of is wine and bread. With that said, having a sourdough starter is the gift that keeps on giving! Imagine unlimited toast for jams and bread for sandwiches—all homemade. And like the sourdough starter, I could go on but I’ll leave it to you to start one up. If you’re running low on flour and don’t want to run to the store, check out resident Cook’s Illustrated bread expert Andrew Janjigian’s “quarantiny sourdough starter,” which uses only 10 grams (about one heaping tablespoon) of flour.

7. Organize Your pantry

Spring is here (technically) which means it’s time to clean out your pantry. This is a great way to check your inventory, check expiration dates, and discard old spices. Cleaning your pantry is also a great way to begin brainstorming meal prep ideas by using pantry items that will expire soon. I also like to make my pantry look sharp by using some simplified storage solutions.

8. Make and store DIY chicken stock (or vegetable broth base)

The sign of a good home cook is having a surplus of homemade stock on hand at all times. And seeing as how we are not too long out of the holiday seasons, I’m sure it’s time to refill your supply. First, you’ll need a worthwhile chicken stock recipe. (Or if you prefer vegetarian, try this amazingly flavorful and freezable Vegetable Broth Base.) Then once it’s cooked and cooled, you’ll need to freeze and store it. 

To store your stock, use one of three handy kitchen tools, depending on how much stock you’re storing:

  • Use ice cube trays for small amounts you’ll need for pan sauces and stir-fry sauces. 
  • Use muffin tins for medium amounts you’ll need for casseroles and braising/steaming/poaching liquids
  • Use zipper-lock bags for large amounts for rice, gravy, soups, and stews

9. Meal prep!

A lot of us are working from home or home-schooling the kiddos (or both!) and need some structure to it all. Well, meal prepping is still the way to go. Planning meals and snacks is still the best way to go about organizing your week. It also helps you to keep your pantry inventory updated. Check out some of our favorite Cook’s Illustrated recipes that you can make ahead, and then check out this guide to the best equipment to make them. Plan meals using ingredients you have, or, to keep up your spirits, plan meals you want to prepare when everything is back to normal.

For more cooking resources and recipe recommendations, check out these posts:

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