How To Organize Your Kitchen

The start of something delicious

Set yourself up for success this new year by following these tips in the kitchen

Start fresh in the kitchen and beat culinary burnout with these pro-tips from a restaurant chef.

Katie Couric Media: This year has forced a lot of people to get comfortable in the kitchen. But many of us have been experiencing burnout over the past few months. What can we do to get inspired and enjoy cooking again? 

Whitney Cardozo: During the pandemic, I would say kitchen fatigue has set in from the responsibility of feeding yourself or your family 3x a day along with working and schooling from home. The pressure of gathering the ingredients can lead to frustration too. The product that is always on aisle 12 but now nowhere to be found can turn a planned recipe turn on its head. 

Some strategies to get back to thinking of cooking as less of a chore: 

1. Give yourself some extra time to plan and cook. Think about the foods that are comforting and bring you warmth. 

2. Look for inspiration on social media, in cookbooks, and on blogs. 

3. Think about flavors you are curious about and dive into some new spices. 

4. Lastly, travel through your food. We can’t get on a plane now, but we can go to Vietnam for Pho next Thursday and stop by Paris on Monday for a crepe via our kitchen. Plan your virtual culinary vacation. Once we get through this pandemic, all you will have to do is book your flight.

A big part of cooking is your kitchen. What are four things people can do to make sure their kitchen is set up for success?

Organization, organization, organization! Decluttering is top of the list. Most kitchens are the center of the home for everyone, but you need adequate space to work. Here are some easy zero-cost ways to be a star in your kitchen:

1. Tools: Go through and see which ones are still in good working condition and get rid of duplicates. (You only need one zester!) Then group them accordingly — whisks, spatulas, wooden spoons, pots & pans – and put them where you use them, making them easily accessible. The goal is to make it easier for yourself.

2. Physical Space: Create your zones like a commercial kitchen, putting tools/ spices/ dry goods (baking) where you work. It cuts down on time by not having to travel and dig around for the things you need.

3. Inventory: Take everything out of your pantry or cupboard, check  expiration dates, and make a cheat sheet of what you have so you don’t keep buying garbanzo beans when you already have five cans.

4. Refrigerator and Freezer: Go through and check dates. Make a note of condiments (right now, I have four random bottles of hot sauce — 3 are duplicates!) For the freezer, if you can’t identify it or see a date throw it out. Are you going to use that gnarly freezer-burned Ziploc mass? Make room for the new year of organized, labeled, neatly-portioned items.

What are five things people should always have in their pantry?  

I am a big fan of creating and cooking with what you’ve got! I call it MacGuyver cooking, and I always try to have these fab-five staples (all gluten-free and vegan) in the cupboard.

Olive Oil: The base for a vinaigrette, sautéing, or bread dipping. I can’t live without it!
Grains: Rice, Pasta, Quinoa – can be a breakfast (quinoa), a dinner (pasta), or a dessert (rice)
Lemons: There are so many things to do with a lemon. Use it with your olive oil for a vinaigrette, a marinade, sauce, and most importantly, a drink.
Onion: So versatile, use in a meal with your grain, or an omelet, make it crispy for a topping or use it for a sauce with your lemon.
Tomatoes: Canned tomatoes are great for making soups, sauces, or adding to a grain. 

What’s one kitchen product people should splurge on? 

Invest in a good 8 “knife, your wrist and fingers will thank you. When you try to chop a carrot or onion with a dull knife, you risk losing a finger because it slips and slides all over the place. A good knife that gives you a clean, crisp cut makes cooking more productive and pleasurable.

You can find a substitute for almost every other tool for the kitchen. I have whipped cream into peaks using just a wire whisk and rolled a pie crust with a wine bottle. Sure it’s nice to have all the gadgets, but nothing substitutes for a good knife. They also last for a long time if you take care of them and please don’t put them in the dishwasher.

I think we need to be optimistic first! It will get better, but until then, I believe we still need comfort foods. Preserving and pickling will also be popular. This past summer I brushed up on preserving and made jam like my grandmother did. I believe Heritage cooking — looking into your family history or other cultures — will be an inspiration for cooking. This leads to exploring global flavors. We can’t jump on a plane to France for soupe à l’oignon* but we can make it at home. Now that eating out has become tricky, I think home cooks will be exploring different spices and ingredients.

Here are two of my favorite winter recipes:

French Onion Soup

¼ C butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 onions sliced thin
¼ C fresh thyme leaves 
1/2 cup of dry vermouth or dry white wine 
2 bay leaves
2 quarts of beef stock or Vegetable for vegetarian (if you don’t make your own just buy a good quality stock)

Melt the butter and the onions and cook over low heat for about 40 -60 min- until they are caramelized. Stir occasionally. Don’t worry you are not burning them; they are supposed to look caramel colored.

Add the stock, season with salt & pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and cook for about 10 min.

To finish, serve with a slice of toasted baguette and Gruyere cheese.

A note on Caramelizing Onions:

Caramelize the onions: In a 5 to 6 quart thick-bottomed pot, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and toss to coat with the olive oil. Cook the onions, stirring often, until they have softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the butter and cook, stirring often, until the onions start to brown, about 15 more minutes.

Parsnip Puree

1 pound parsnips, peeled, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt

Bring parsnips, garlic, cream, milk, and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until parsnips are very soft, 10–15 minutes. Uncover and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes; season with salt. Purée in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Do ahead: Purée can be made 1 day ahead. Let cool; cover and chill. Reheat over medium-low, stirring often.

Whitney Cardozo is a Chef-Owner of Chez Foushee, a French restaurant in Richmond, VA now delivering three-course fine dining experiences to customers’ doors. A multi-hyphenate chef with an MFA, M.Ed., Whitney is passionate about increasing the number of women in the industry and loves working with her all-female kitchen staff.