Clean Kitchen, Clean Start

Spring cleaning is a commonly observed phenomenon that occurs when winter begins to relinquish its icy grip, thawing and slowly awakening all creatures across the still barren tundra. That is, barren aside from the overstuffed caves we’ve been hibernating in. Piled high with the remnants of parties passed, forgotten novelties, and simply neglected staples, we need this collective reminder to take a step back and take stock. However, that alarm bell starts ringing not at the vernal equinox, but the threat of a looming New Year. Inspired by the time-honored custom of “o-souji” (literally, “big cleaning”) in Japan, I find myself knee-deep in Goodwill donations and floor polish while most other people are picking out their perfect cocktail dresses and pre-gaming over the most opulent sparkling beverages.

Disclaimer: I’m not the most tidy person in real life. Mismatched forks and knives spill out of the kitchen drawer, plates of all colors tower in endless stacks on the shelves, and there’s a bottomless pile of new products to review waiting in limbo just off to the side. Years of living alone, being a borderline slob HAS prepared me to know exactly where to draw the line, though, when the weight of this physical clutter shifts to mental baggage. The greatest offender here is found in the pantry, where odds and ends accumulate with no final destination in mind. Shuffling things around only does so much good, so let’s break it down into a few simple steps towards controlling the chaos.

1. Check labels and dates. I frequently violate this rule, squirreling away packaged goods despite the clearly printed numbers that indicate expiration. In most cases, these numbers are relatively arbitrary and can be taken with a grain of salt, but know your limits. A week or two passed the due date? Totally fine. A month or two? Maybe not; always go by a visual and olfactory inspection before diving in, discarding if anything seems remotely off. If you stumble across anything a year or older, those are grounds for instant dismissal. Don’t try to donate this stuff either. The 99 cents lost on those ancient black beans are not worth getting sick over. For more specific guidelines on various foodstuffs, try StillTasty.

Bear in mind that this is only applicable to food. Immediately toss any expired medications you may come across, and be very careful when checking cosmetics as well. Things like nail polish or mascara won’t kill you when they’re past their prime, but they dry out, separate, and don’t work as intended anymore. When in doubt, throw it out.

2. Re-home leftovers. Dozens of depleted, open bags litter the battlefield when I’m done working, making it awfully tempting to tie them up with rubber bands and stuff them back out of sight when the war is won. Inevitably, this leads to broken seals, messy spills, endless duplicates when I accidentally purchase the same things over and over again without checking the surplus. Contain and consolidate loose flours, sugars, dry grains, sprinkles, seaweeds, herbs, and spices into clean glass jars. It helps to be able to see the contents at a glance, while keeping all like ingredients together. Label clearly, including the date it was opened, for easy reference. I find this more helpful than the date on the package since it’s a more obvious reference to how long it’s been exposed to air, becoming more stale by the day.

3. Digitize your stockpile. Take photos of packages before transferring the contents to more long term storage for easy reference and better accountability. In case you forget exactly what’s in that pancake mix, or need to know how much fiber was in that wild rice blend, you can just pull up the picture without all the baggage. It’s also helpful to keep on your phone while you’re shopping to prevent the usual double purchase. You’ll know at a glance that you still have some chickpea flour kicking around somewhere if that picture is on file. I like to keep everything together in one folder on your Dropbox, but you can also make an album on Google Photos, EverNote, and so forth; pick your favorite app and make it work for you.

4. Cut your losses. While working through that excess, know when to let go. If there’s a half a cup or less of flour, for me, that’s a sign to just give up the ghost and toss the rest. It’s really not enough to make anything out of, right? You’d have to buy more, end up with an even greater volume of leftovers, and you’ve just made the problem worse in the end. Start fresh with a new batch altogether if you really do end up needing it.

5. Freeze your assets. Make the most of your edible investments by stashing anything with volatile fats in the freezer to prolong their lifespans. That means whole grains, flours, nuts, and seeds especially should go into the icebox, not the closet. Nothing is forever though and even ice cream needs to get the boot at some point, so check every six months for any off flavors or the tell-tale signs of freezer burn. Minimize all exposed surface to help prevent this, wrapping things tightly with plastic, placing disposable wrap on the surface of all items if they don’t quite fill to the top of their containers. Resist the urge to use plain foil because it can’t form a proper seal, and you can’t see the contents within. Don’t forget: Label, label, label.

6. Share the wealth. I’m one of those people who just has to try everything, no matter how bizarre or obscure. In fact, the more unusual it sounds, the more attractive it becomes. Thus, I end up with hundreds of things that I no longer have any use for (or desire to use) after the first or second taste. Did I really need to buy five pounds of teff flour to make one (failed) batch of injera? Where did all these extra green peppercorns come from? Why on earth do I have seven different containers of protein powder? For items that are perfectly good but have no purpose in the kitchen, offer them up at your next potluck and treat your guests to a little giveaway. There’s a good chance that they’ll have similar curiosities, along with a matching propensity to edible oddities if they’re friends with you. Especially if they’re food bloggers, such a random stroke of luck could kick start the inspiration for a new post (speaking from personal experience, at least!)

7. Take baby steps. You can’t make decades of disorder disappear overnight. Every time you find yourself standing in front of the microwave or the oven, waiting for dinner to be ready, start rifling through the cabinets. Make small goals like cleaning out one drawer each day. Break down the project piece by piece to let the bigger picture develop over time.

New Year’s resolutions typically inspire little more than my disdain, but this time around, I’m fully embracing that annual call to arms. 2019 is officially the year that I pledge to clean up my act… In the kitchen, at least. How about you?

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Vital Hit

No one could ever accuse the preeminent pioneer in blending technology, Vitamix, of being too limited in its scope, and yet the industry leader continues to innovate with cutting edge adaptions to the original. Seemingly out of left field, the Vitamix Aer Disk Container has landed to pulverize the competition in an entirely different way. The famously razor-sharp blades are replaced here by a perforated disk, designed not to chop and puree, but to whip, foam, muddle, and emulsify. Rigorously testing out each prime function with unscientific glee, my 10-year old classic 5200 base felt like a brand new toy all over again.

No need to lug out the stand mixer anymore to put a fancy finishing touch on your desserts. Instantly churn out whipped coconut cream, fresh and fluffy, firm enough to stand at attention in high peaks, with just the flip of a switch. That said, my greatest disappointment in this trial was in an attempt to make meringue; even the thickest aquafaba refused to do more than bubble and foment from the agitation. There is clearly a trick to this whip, but I haven’t unlocked all the secrets yet.

Cold foam is all the rage these days thanks to the relentless marketing push from Starbucks, who now whip it up in a variety of flavors. The thing is, they don’t offer a dairy-free option! As with making lattes, different brands can create very different results, but a bubbly beverage takes just a flip of the switch, no matter your “milk.” Start with at least 1/2 cup of steamed liquid, fully covering the disc, for most effective frothing. Compared to a dinky handheld electric whisk, this matrix of trapped air bubbles is much denser, consistent, and long-lasting.

Muddling is really not my style, as I rarely drink, let alone create cocktails, and let’s not even start with the alternate meaning of the word that alludes to my typically jumbled, disorganized state of mind. However, I quickly found that there’s much more to the concept than just mojitos and caipirinhas. Lemonade made with whole citrus means no zesting, no juicing, no waste and no mess. This trick works for plain old, straight-up fresh orange juice, too. Equal parts lifesaver and party starter when summer rolls around, you can even pop a handful of ice cubes in there to instantly chill your brew without crushing or diluting while you’re at it. It’s a nifty trick designed to wow a crowd, since it works best when you start with at least 1 1/2 – 2 cups of liquid to keep the citrus slices moving.

Water and oil, sworn elementary enemies, would never be caught dead mingling in public, let alone wrap each other up in a full, cohesive embrace. It takes considerable force to smooth things over in a proper vinaigrette, hollandaise, or mayonnaise, with every additional drop threatening to break this uneasy truce. Just call VitaMix a seasoned peacemaker because the Aer has some impressive diplomacy skills. While the standard canister can ace this test as well, I was genuinely surprised to find more consistent results with the risk of over-processing safely out of the picture. Notice that the herbs and spices remain fully intact in the mix despite the merciless blending, allowing each component to shine more brightly within the harmonized liquid mix. Joining balsamic with EVOO harmoniously, till dinner do they part, my dressing game has never been smoother.

Compatible with all full-size (Classic and Smart System) Vitamix blenders, there’s officially nothing this indispensable tool can’t whip into shape. Like any other Vitamix attachment, the Aer Disk Container can clean itself in 30 – 60 seconds with just a drop of dish soap and a quick bliz, no disassembly required. If that’s not a gift that keeps on giving, I don’t know what is.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and Vitamix. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning typically entails a purge of non-necessities, ousting not only the cobwebs but the excesses that support their tangled strands. Taking out the old and broken, the useless and the antiquated, the pieces that no longer serve their intended purposes, is just as important as any efforts made towards vacuuming and polishing hardwood floors. The rationale is that with fewer things to collect dust, there are fewer things that need dusting.

What that doesn’t mean, in most sane approaches to organization, is adding to that collections of odds and ends- but who ever said I took that conventional route for anything? Determined to lighten the load in my cramped quarters, I first set about letting go of the warped, beaten, and rusted pans that always gave me grief for even the simplest of recipes. One can’t simply go without proper cookware though, so immediately I set off on a new spring cleaning mission of renewal, rather than removal.

Admittedly, this kitchen equipment renovation began months ago, giving me time enough to torture test these new tools for all they’re worth. Now that this season of revival is upon us, it’s with great pleasure and confidence that I can trash the previous set of decrepit pans in favor of my gorgeous 10-Piece Circulon Baking Set, in a very fetching shade of chocolate brown, no less. What could be better for a dessert fiend?

Not all baking sheets are created equal; a critical element that’s sadly overlooked when it comes to most recipe disappointments. Having a reliably non-stick surface that cooks evenly, browns properly, and retains heat as expected is the single most important component of any edible creation that goes into the oven, sweet or savory. For baking dishes of any depth, having wide enough handles for easy removal is also key, lest you plan on feeding your latest creations directly to the floor below. From the loaves to squares to sheets, this new set has proven its worth through every trial by fire, coming clean with equal ease once its duty is done. The matching cooling rack and covered rectangular lid for easy transport are truly the icing AND cherries on the heavy-gauge steel cake.

Equally matched in beauty and functionality, my gleaming behemoth Anolon Vesta Cast Iron Umber 12-inch Skillet has the capacity to feed an army with a serious sweet tooth. This workhorse is truly a beast, with the weight and heft to withstand any amount of heat. Transitioning from stove top to oven like a champ, I’ve used it to make everything from glorious golden brown pancakes, crisp grilled cheese sandwiches, juicy fresh fruit cobblers, and far beyond. The porcelain enamel exterior adds flair to this kitchen essential, adding a touch of personality without compromising performance.

Is it time you considered an equipment refresh of your own? When was the last time you examined your arsenal of tools with a critical eye, taking stock of their true shortcomings? Pots and pans aren’t forever, and making one small upgrade can have a huge impact on all of your culinary exploits.

These pieces were provided for the sake of review, but there was no obligation nor expectation of a feature. All opinions and content are my own.