kale, stemmed and ready for slicing

Kale: How to Love It Again

I first encountered kale at a Portuguese Christmas dinner. But not like this.

kale, stems removed, ready for the knifeSo a little background—but if you want to jump past the story straight to the cooking, click here. My first husband was half Portuguese on his mother’s side, but looked entirely Portuguese. The German half of his genes always eluded me, probably just as well given that neither of us ever got along with his father. His mother didn’t either; when I met Karl, they’d been long divorced. Karl was born in New London, CT, then moved to New Milford before coming to New York to act. He made his living as a bartender. I knew him for exactly 5 years. We met on July 10, 1984, and he died on July 10, 1989. He was fond of saying, “The 80s are NOT my decade.”

Since my family was all in my native California when Karl and I were in love in NYC, we would spend Christmases with his mom and her many Portuguese relatives and friends near Danbury, CT. That entailed a huge Portuguese dinner, complete with Bacalhau, salt codfish, and a lot of other stuff I wouldn’t eat. Alas, I grew up picky, and before I learned to eat—which was about when I learned to cook, a few years later—even true love couldn’t get me to sample food I deemed “weird.”

But one dish passed my muster: Kale Soup. You cannot, at least in my experience, go anywhere with Portuguese cooks and avoid kale soup. It is wonderful stuff, the green leaves stemmed, rolled into tight cigar-shaped rolls, and sliced into perfect ribbons, alongside grated potatoes cooked to disintegration, and spicy linguiça sausage adding a tiny amount of fire and savory fat to the mix.

The holy trinity of kale, potatoes, and pork unite ever and again in cuisines around the world; when meat is scarce or simply opted out of, kale and potatoes do just fine. But what separates cooks who did kale before it was cool is the cutting technique. Karl’s Portuguese relatives knew this; apparently, most prep cooks dishing up inedible lacinato salads at high-end delis across the country do not.

Because kale is sturdy. Hell, it’s downright tough. It’s a winter crop, and it’s been growing for literally millenia. Dinosaur kale is a thing in more ways than one—as in, not only does it look like the stuff that friendly stegosauri tread underfoot in those 19th century engravings, they actually chomped it down.

You, my poppets, should not feel as if you need T-Rex choppers to finish your kale salad. Yet often, I do. My son brought home a bag of pre-cut kale from Trader Joe’s the other day; the leaves had been cut, but the stems kept intact. People, those stems could dent a molar. Meanwhile, those clueless prep cooks referred to earlier merrily tear the leaves into 1-inch squares and then toss it with a simple dressing. Time after time, I’ve seen kale salads languishing, unfinished, on otherwise clean plates. They looked like a great idea, but nobody had the stamina to chew, chew, chew more than a bite or two.

So here’s how you get the kale-traumatized back into the garden.

Kale: Two Musts

  1. Chop finely. You can do the cigar style roll, which isn’t difficult at all and looks impressive. Or you can just de-stem, stack, and chop. But cut it fine, whether you’re going to cook it or eat it raw. The only time I can countenance tearing the leaves is if you’re going to make chips, which alters the texture to a shattery crunch. For either cooked or raw dishes, I reiterate, CUT IT FINE.

shred kale by slicing it finely

2. Pamper any kale you intend to eat raw with a little oil and salt massage. You don’t need much of either. Then just put on a short-ish song—Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs is a good one—and rub, rub, rub the toughness away. (BTW, if you’re adding cabbage to the mix—a combination that works nicely and that I’m seeing fairly often—don’t massage the cabbage along with the kale unless you like really soft cabbage. I don’t. )

pamper raw kale with an olive oil and salt massage

Kale: The Treatment

I do love this stuff, so it will be coming up a lot. For now, I leave you with my favorite super simple sauteed kale…

sauteed kale, simplest side ever

and an easy salad.

kale, served raw in a salad

Either makes a welcome addition to your holiday table, a relief from the truckloads of starch and sugar, and a bounty of fiber on a day that can be a bit rough on the belly.

And watch over the next couple of months as I revisit my first husband’s family soup, as well as incorporate these glorious prehistoric leaves in other surprising ways.

cranberries in their raw state

Cranberries in the Kitchen

Cheery and garnet-colored when raw, deep rich ruby when cooked: Cranberries beautify any harvest or holiday celebration. Bags begin to appear in U.S. stores right around Halloween. I recommend you stock up; they freeze well, and their tart, spiky flavor cuts through rich fare like a sharp knife through a tomato. And while November and December tend to be especially indulgent months, you may still get a craving for cranberries off-season. You’ll be able to whip out a bag, thaw it in no time, and slam together a sauce that you can use to perk up all sorts of dishes, from cheesecakes to a sandwich, to a super healthy bowl.

cranberries

A little background: Cranberries hail from North America. Native Americans harvested them for food and medicine; they’re essential to pemmican, that paste of dried meat and berries that was an early (if not the first) energy bar. Loaded with vitamin C, antioxidants, pectin, and fiber, cranberries pack a health whallop in a small package. (For ridiculous amounts of data on their health benefits, see this article.)

Here’s the rub. Cranberries are CRAZY SOUR. To get them palatable for modern tastes, most of us need to sweeten them with a good amount of sugar. One part sugar to four parts cranberries is most often recommended, but that doesn’t exactly boost the nutritional value. What’s a health-conscious cook to do?

Here at Le Chou Fou, we try to help. So we recommend any of the following.

Cranberries: The Cooked

The cranberry sauce that I grew up was shaped like a can, complete with a bulge around the middle. Then Mom discovered how easy it was to make the stuff from scratch. Cooking the cranberries with some liquid and some sugar until the skin pops releases the pectin; let the fruit stand for a while—overnight is great—and the sauce thickens, giving you that nice jammy texture that’s so good on a sandwich.

Mom did the old school method: A package of cranberries, a heaping cup of sugar, and some water. But you can knock that sugar way back by getting creative with the liquid. You can use fruit juice that you have on hand, or diluted port wine (port full strength is a bit much). Maple syrup, honey, or coconut sugar can substitute for table sugar at about 1/2 the amount; try a 1:8 ratio instead of 1:4. Mince an apple or pear for more pectin and sweetness. You can even add Stevia if you don’t find the taste too weird. (I always taste bitterness with Stevia, but Steve doesn’t mind it.)

Additionally, cranberries love spices and strong flavorings: cinnamon, clove, fresh ginger, rosemary, thyme. All of those contribute to a richer, more interesting cranberry sauce that isn’t so heavily dependent on sugar. Here’s my recipe blueprint for cooked cranberry sauce. Feel free to to make it your own.

ruby red cranberry beet sauce

Cranberries: The Raw

Raw cranberry relish sparkles—literally, from all the sugar crystals. It’s lovely and wonderful, but the most difficult of the three options to make without sugar. Nonetheless, the same rules apply. Grate in an apple or pear dipped in cider vinegar (less puckery than lemon juice and helpful in keeping the apple or pear from turning brownish). Be generous with orange peel and chopped orange flesh. The great thing here is that you can add the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Steve and I like it with just 1 tablespoon; that a 1:16 ratio, which we think is pretty cool. (The courageous can substitute Stevia.) Always, always, always taste test until you hit the proportions that work for you and any people who may be joining your table. Here’s my recipe blueprint for raw cranberry relish.

Sparkling Raw Cranberry Orange Relish

Cranberries: Ketchup!

My head remains on my shoulders; I assure you, I have not lost it. Despite what the Heinz corporation would like you to believe, “ketchup” simply means a thick sweet/savory sauce. It can be made with any number of fruits, and the variety made from cranberries is particularly nice. It also works on anything regular old tomato ketchup will work on. The primary difference between cooked cranberry sauce and cranberry ketchup is the addition of onions and vinegar, as well as more savory spices than you’d typically use. But don’t kid yourself that you can eliminate the sugar altogether. Ketchup is meant to be sweet. And man, does it make a dandy topper for a potato waffle (I promise to do a video and post on vegetable waffles soon.) As above, start with a 1:8 ratio, then increase as you taste. Here’s my recipe for sweet savory cranberry beet ketchup.

Sweet Savory Cranberry Beet Ketchup, made from cranberries, beets, and spices

Cranberries: Other Uses

Cranberries act like a shocking pink pillow in all white room, a welcome kapow or tartness. You just don’t want too many; imagine a dozen shocking pink pillows and you’ll get the idea. Toss a handful of cranberries into a smoothie with plenty of sweet fruit like bananas and mangos; they add beautiful crunch, a hint of pucker, and a ton of antioxidants. Add them to a bowl of vegetables destined to be roasted, coating everything with oil and spices. Fold leftover sweet cranberry sauce or raw cranberry relish into a cheesecake or batch of muffins to turn those comfy sweets into jewel-studded divas of the dessert table. Add any of the recipes in this post to sandwiches, or as the sweet component of a bowl meal. Throw some on top of mashed sweet potatoes. And know that, thanks to a little forethought, you can indulge your cranberry love whenever you like.

Salad Principles: Simple, Healthy Greens and Dressings

Salad principles are simple: clean, dry, ultra-fresh lettuce, and a straightforward dressing to help wilt that lettuce just enough to make it palatable.

But while they may be minimal, there’s an art to mastering the classic side dish. It’s easy

Salad Principles, Part 1: Clean, Dry Greens

You gotta dry your greens, kids.

I do buy boxed greens, especially baby spinach for smoothies, because spinach is annoying to clean. But there is tremendous variety in the plants that one can serve—thoroughly cleaned, spun dry, lightly crisped, refreshingly cold—in this thing called Salad.

Two possible approaches to dinner salads

Click for a great guide to making your own salad mixes from Bon Appetit.

If you do make your own mixes, and/or are lucky enough to get lettuce from a garden or local farmer, you need to wash the greens in 3-4 changes of water. Only when the washing water is clear—you won’t believe the interesting things that get caught in the folds of lettuce—do you then subject your leaves to a hearty spin. If there are any kids around, they LOVE this part. Make them salad spinners in chief. Then wrap the dry greens in a clean kitchen towel, and put the towel in a plastic bag. Voila! Salad, ready to be dressed, every night.

Don’t be tempted to just tear off a leaf or two and throw it in a bowl with some dressing. The greens get crisper when they’ve been washed and dried, and there’s also the critter/dirt factor. Biting into grit is a nasty experience.

Salad Principles, Part 2: A Simple Dressing

Salad dressing is so easy to make, and you can tailor it perfectly to whatever you’re serving. The flavor’s in the fat, as many a cook will tell you. A small bit of top quality olive oil cut with an even smaller amount of acid, whether of the citrus or vinegar families, turns a bout of dutiful roughage chewing into a sensual palate cleanser. That’s the goal, right? Nourishing the senses and the body at once.

But do not, under any circumstances, buy salad dressing. It’s got weird stuff in it. Have you ever in your life thought, “I’m REALLY craving some xantham gum!”?

And salad dressing is so ridiculously easy. The simplest of all is the classic French vinaigrette. My kitchen-stained and ancient copy of The Silver Palate Good Times cookbook contains this easy to remember formula, know as the four people needed to make a vinaigrette:

  • A miser with the vinegar
  • A spendthrift with the oil
  • A wise woman with the salt
  • A madman with the pepper

Pretty self-explanatory. Be stingy with the vinegar or citrus juice, generous with the oil. The standard ratio is 1:3, but 1:4 on up to 1:8 can yield a superb dressing. Salt and pepper are very much to taste, but in general exercise a judicious hand with the former and a free hand with the latter.

Now, let’s say you see a dandy looking salad in some magazine. Just keep your salad principles in mind and check that acid to oil ratio. I often see recipes where acid and oil are mixed in equal amounts, a guarantee of soggy, lackluster greens overpowered by too much pucker-making liquid.

Salad Principles, Part 3: No Water. EVER.

Even worse, sometimes salad dressing recipes call for water. NEVER DO THIS. If you see a salad recipe that looks attractive but has water and/or a high proportion of liquid that’s not oil in the salad dressing, I beg you to NOT USE THE WATER and scale liquid way back to the minimum 3 parts oil to one part liquid proportion.

Wilted, wet greens are gross. I love water to drink; it is absolutely the worst thing in the world to add to a bowl of raw vegetables. Lettuce and other leaves—spinach, chard, arugula—are delicate. A mixture of oil, salt, and acid wilts your greens a little, making them a more manageable volume to eat. Water just drowns them. Yuk.

This is what simple vinaigrette looks like before adding pieces of flair and greens to it. NO WATER.

Vinaigrette made according to salad principles, with greens and tomatoes standing by.

The exception to the no water rule is some Asian salad dressings. Often, by the time you add soy sauce and a little liquid sweetener (often the rice-based wine mirin), you are ending up with a dressing on the liquid side. Keep in mind that many Asian salads feature naturally crisp and sturdy veggies like cabbage and carrots, and some protein and/or noodles, all of which can stand up to a hearty pour. But delicate lettuce is miserable if it gets wet. That’s why we say someone wilts under pressure. We don’t mean they become delicious. We mean they become a mess.

Salad Principles, Part 4: Adapting Recipes.

The rule with following a salad dressing recipe: Be careful. Recipes that yield a large amount of salad dressing often are meant to be used sparingly, so don’t dump it all in your bowl. Add a small amount, toss gently but joyfully, and only then, after you’ve tasted and determined that you need a little more, add some. And for those folks who think soggy food is awesome, bring the extra to the table in a cruet and let them trash their own meal. Enable if you must, but set a good example.

For those who like to see proportions spelled out, I offer the following recipe, cautioning that it is meant to be adapted to your taste. Steve’s favorite vinaigrette, which he makes fresh every time he’s in charge of salad, has pesto. I am fond of a bite-y fine mustard, like Dijon or an artisan one we pick up someplace or other. Artisan mustard is cool stuff. Either substance (not both, please) adds a nice bang of flavor to your greens, and, while optional, I feel that without them, the salad’s a little naked and edging into “Eat the Damn Thing, It’s Good For You” territory. I find the surest way to not eat something is because I Should. The best way is because I Want. Experiment away and discover the combo that is unmistakably yours.

Enjoy.

The Life Beyond Recipes philosophy from Le Chou Fou

Life Beyond Recipes: Getting Started

What does “life beyond recipes” mean?

In my book, it means being able to do all of this:

  1. Know Yourself as a Cook.
  2. Understand Ingredients.
  3. See Recipes as Springboards (as opposed to “join-me-or-die!” decrees from the Powerful Cooks That Be).
  4. Become a Substitute Boss.

All of which leads to: Embracing your power in your kitchen.

Le Chou Fou* is here to help you do all of that, to show you life beyond recipes, and to help you become a Powerful Cook That Is.

Here’s what the points above mean in a little more detail:

Life Beyond Recipes Step 1: Know Yourself as a Cook

Life Beyond Recipes: Know Yourself as a Cook

Set aside about 20 minutes to start a page that you add to through the week. If you want something ready-made and fun to write on, sign up here for my mailing list, and you’ll get a super cute worksheet and all future downloads, exclusively available to subscribers. (See Step 4 for a preview of the substitution list currently in the works). Or just take some scratch paper and write down the following:

  1. Foods I/we love. These are the things you return to again and again, probably things where you’re already living beyond recipes.
  2. Foods I/we hate. Whether you’re cooking for one or for you and other folks, list your quirks.
  3. Foods I end up making a lot  but are kind of meh.
  4. How often I try something new.
  5. How often I’d like to try something new.
  6. If there’s a discrepancy between the 2 above items, what’s the issue?
  7. My routine. Everything from “I Hate Mondays and Never Want to Cook Then,” “Crazy Schedule Day,” to “Taco Tuesdays: non-negotiable.”
  8. My top kitchen goals. Pick one thing you’d like to do more than anything in the kitchen. Maybe it’s “try one new vegetable a week,” or “get my family to eat more salad,” or “make a killer meatloaf without cracking open a cookbook.” Star the top priority.

Once you understand yourself and what you eat, the right cooking path—one just for you—is a lot easier to define.

Life Beyond Recipes Step 2: Understand Ingredients.

If you know how a particular ingredient works, you’ll know how to prepare it. In the “Ingredients” section of this site (under “Kitchen How-to” in the main menu), I’ll be adding posts about how to put the building blocks of great meals—vegetables, sauces, spices, and more—to work for you. And please feel free to get in touch with any how-tos you’d like me to cover.

Life Beyond Recipes Step 3: Engage in Recipe Improv.

Recipe Improv: Be Inspired, Not a Slave to someone else's great idea

Life beyond recipes does not mean you never look at a recipe again. I love to look at recipes. I do it all the time: blogs, cookbooks, magazines.

But they’re not scripts. They’re inspirations.

I will follow a recipe fairly closely if it’s for something new, because that’s how you expand your repertoire and learn new things. I follow them very carefully if I’m baking, because baking is precise. But for our mains 80% of the time, I’m just cooking stuff.

This post, Recipe Improv, shows you how to get inspired by someone else’s great idea without being enslaved to it (hence the subtitle). The recipes you find on this site also invite you to adapt as you like, telling you what you can expect by switching it up.

Above all, have fun. Give yourself permission to fail. I cook a lot, and at least once a week, I’ll say to whoever I’m eating with (usually Steve, sometimes my son Henry), here’s what I’ll do different next time. Perfection is dull. Live it up.

Life Beyond Recipes Step 4: Become a Substitute Boss.

Life Beyond Recipes: Become a Substitute Boss

One of the most valuable things you can know in your kitchen is how to substitute. Coming soon: the handy Master Kitchen Substitution List (free when you sign-up for my email list, along with the “Know Yourself as a Cook” cheat sheet, available now).

Key to making the most of substitutes is the “everything out” rule before you start cooking. I doubt there’s a cook on the planet who hasn’t gotten halfway through a recipe, only to find that the one thing that basically makes or breaks the meal got eaten or tossed or just wasn’t there. This is pretty bad when you’ve hit the “point of no return” and you’re not prepared.

But with the “everything out,” even when you don’t use a recipe, you’ll be in great shape. But if you don’t have, say, BBQ sauce or salsa, a good grasp on substitutes helps you figure out how to fake it.

So Dig In.

Le Chou Fou is here to help you experience Life Beyond Recipes and total Kitchen Confidence. Because I want you to know that, with a little basic knowledge, you can cook faster and have a lot more fun while you’re doing it.

Shine on, crazy cabbages.

*Le Chou Fou is French for “the crazy cabbage.” “Chou” is also a term of endearment in France, usually used for children.

Recipe Improv: Be Inspired, Not a Slave to someone else's great idea

Recipe Improv: How to Let a Recipe Inspire and not Enslave You

If you wanna move into life beyond recipes, you gotta feel confident about recipe improv. And recipe improv requires a decent understanding of how certain foods work.

Case in point (and if you’re not in the mood for a charming little story, this link takes you straight to the Recipe Improv how-to): My husband has spent months at a time living in Germany. At Christmas one year, he decided to bake stollen (prounounced “shtollen,” or like “stolen” if you’re sorta drunk). It’s this classic German sweet bread thing and it looks like this:

Stollen from the King Arthur Flour website, not recommended for recipe improv!

(Steve’s only kinda looked like that, btw. The above image was lifted from the King Arthur Flour website, a fine recipe source.)

OK, so he’s not big on candied fruit, which is sort of what stollen is all about. But ok, he used raisins and dried apricots instead. So far, we’re good. The bigger problem was that his recipe, no doubt purloined from some German elf in a tree, included almond paste. Steve didn’t have any. So HE LEFT IT OUT.

Sigh.

Now Steve and I had not been together long when this debacle occurred, so he did not quite understand that if you are in doubt of any cooking type of thing, you can ask me and if I don’t know the answer I’ll figure it out. But here’s the thing: you can’t leave out almond paste and not replace it with something that will do what the almond paste will do. And what can do what the almond paste can? NOTHING. He really needed to just go buy almond paste or make something else.

The stollen was not so excellent that year. And yet, we remain happily married. Very important: True love can easily survive a cooking fail.

Honestly, this is kind of a crappy example because I would say that baking is where you don’t want to improvise. Baking is super precise and you really do have to follow the recipe, which is why I have the everything out rule (which is just a matter of getting out all your ingredients before you start cooking because otherwise you could be missing something crucial like almond paste, and if you don’t catch this ahead of time, you will be sad, sad, sad).

So now, I’ll deconstruct a recipe I riffed off of earlier this week.

Recipe Improv: From Pizza to Spaghetti Squash

I get a lot of cooking magazines because I like a ton of variety. Leftovers work for me one time at most, never more. I saw this pic in the October 2017 Cooking Light magazine and thought, wow, that looks good. Right? (Click this link for the original Arugula Pesto Pizza recipe.)

Cooking Light Recipe: Arugula Pesto Pizza, a candidate for a recipe improv make-over

Photo credit: Caitlin Bensel

I’m sure it is good, but Steve doesn’t do pizza crust. He’s just not a bread guy, something that mystifies me because, seriously, bread rocks. But I really wanted to make this. I love the idea of pairing arugula pesto with squash. Also, lately, I’m really digging roasted walnuts.

Now any pizza topping can be thrown over pasta instead, just as any pasta sauce can be thrown onto pizza. But then I thought, well, I dunno that I’m really in the mood for pasta either. The pizza crust, or pasta, serves as a foundation for the all the other cool stuff, one that would soak up the flavors without introducing yet another flavor that might mess up the balance.

And then I remembered, hey, we have a spaghtetti squash in the pantry, and that would pair up awesomely with arugula and Parmesan and walnuts, all of which are listed in the ingredients. It would soak up the garlic oil nicely. I loved the idea of pairing butternut squash with arugula and walnuts, but it didn’t make sense to have it and the spaghetti squash. But that wasn’t a big deal, because now we get to eat b-nut squash another day.

I also had some cherry tomatoes, and next thing I knew, I’d thrown together this recipe for Spaghetti Squash Arugula. Classic recipe improv.

Classic Recipe Improv: Pizza becomes Spaghetti Squash Arugula

Recipe Improv: Benefits

I wouldn’t have thought of that combo if I hadn’t seen the recipe, so thank you, Cooking Light. (I use Cooking Light a lot, but typically in an improv mode.) But what I ended up with made Steve and me happy in ways that a slavish adherence to the recipe would not. Here’s why:

  1. Low carb; I have nothing against carbs, but Steve limits his intake of them so I play along so we can eat the same thing. (About half the time we don’t, and I just have what I feel like.)
  2. Lots of fresh veggies that we had on hand, meaning we cleared out the refrigerator, which we love to do.
  3. The original recipe called for getting out the food processor and making an arugula pesto. I was SO not in the mood. This way, we got the arugula goodness without the pesto hassle.

Now, despite that it may be a bit oxymoronic, I’ve written a recipe for what I made in case you can’t figure out what to do with a spaghtetti squash, because they’re pretty odd creatures. But you know, feel free to riff and make it your own.

Most of the types of dishes you throw together for a quick meal lend themselves nicely to recipe improv (and eventually just plain improv). The main thing is, understand the property of the foods you’re not using. In this case, that included thinking outside the pasta/pizza box to come up with a good foundation, the squash, but also realizing that deconstructing the pesto into its components would work just fine.

Got questions or ideas? Send them my way, please! Le Chou Fou is a work and community in progress, and I welcome your input.

Affordable Kitchen Makeover: Before and After

The Easy Kitchen Reorg

I must tell the truth: My humble kitchen, from which I hope to offer up delicate morsels of cooking wisdom, was simply not Company Ready. I needed a fast, affordable, easy kitchen reorg. And when I say “fast, affordable, easy kitchen reorg,” I mean one that’s going to cost as little as possible, not take up too much time, and be totally DIY.

My kitchen is inherited, and it’s swell. I didn’t need a new stove or to knock out a wall or anything. My problem was disorganization. Not an insane amount, but enough that cooking was frustrating. And if cooking’s frustrating, well, you don’t want to do it.

Below are the specifics if you want to read. Or just watch the video.

I had a deep drawer that held ALL my spices. I would reorganize it about once a year in a well-intentioned way. But it never worked.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: The before, super-messy spice drawer.

I had  a drawer I could easily label “Weird Stuff I Really Need When I Need It, Which Is Hardly Ever.”

Easy Kitchen Reorg: The before, super-messy baking drawer.

Because my other big deep drawers were filled in a nonsensical, semi-logical manner, I had  all sorts of crap on my counters, including a bunch of vitamins (out of frame) that were there because I was supposed to remember to take them or something. I’d occasionally clean them off, but the crap always crept back on because of how that Broken Window thing works. (And if you don’t, here’s a link on Broken Window Theory as applied to housekeeping.)

Easy Kitchen Reorg: The before, mildly disorganized counter.

My sister loves organizing. So I gave her a drink that she also loves because she will do a lot for that drink. And I said, will you please fix this?

No, she wouldn’t, because I was the one who needed to do the fixing. But she did analyze my work flow. Here’s what that meant.

The Easy Kitchen Reorg: The Steps

I had to empty everything out of the drawers and to my dining room table at full extension. If you don’t have a table, I’d use the floor with a blanket on it, but the everything out thing is key. This only took about 5 minutes.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Everything out of the kitchen drawers and onto the table.

I set out cookie trays on the table and started to group things by category. I dreaded this step, but it only ended up taking 45 minutes. Also, it was kinda fun in that kindergarten “clean up, clean up” way.

I moved things directly on the trays over to the new cleaned out drawers, one drawer at a time. This only took about 10 minutes.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Everything out of the kitchen drawers, organized for new placement.

Spices now lie flat in rows in the 2 shallow drawers on either side of the oven; savory on the left (because I use those more and even though I write with my right hand, my cooking tends to orient left, which works out nicely for my left-handed husband)…

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Savory spices after organization.

….and baking spices. I repurposed our extra-large silverware tray for this, and I’m happy with it, even though it’s not Martha Stewart gorgeous. And since there’s more room in the baking drawer because I don’t have nearly as many sweet spices as I do savory, I could get all the vitamins hidden away but still accessible.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Baking spices and vitamins after organization.

With the baking spices on the right, they’re just above a drawer of mostly baking type of things that I now use more because everything is organized.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Baking and miscellaneous items after organization.

Silverware is next to the dishwasher. This was our one purchase, a smaller silverware holder. And I have to say, this is my favorite part of the redo and I actually look forward to unloading the dishwasher.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Silverware drawer, newly placed next to the dishwasher.

Finally, we re-allocated the “Hardly Ever” stuff. Sometimes it fit with the baking or cooking things, but much went into a closet in a nearby room.

The Easy Kitchen Reorg: The Math

5 minutes to empty the drawers

45 minutes to organize

10 minutes to put the organized stuff in the drawers

60 minutes total

The value of this was tremendous. Cooking went from being this mildly stress-inducing process to a super streamlined one. Now, gathering all ingredients and tools ahead of time and stashing them back in almost no time takes a lot less energy.

So I highly recommend setting aside about an hour to just think about how you cook and what will work for you, and then taking the other hour to take everything out, reconfigure it, and put it all back. I’d love to hear from you, too; every kitchen is different, and if you have a cool way to deal with something, please share.

Cook joyful!