After reading a recent Huff Post piece on appliances you don't need in your kitchen, I was struck by the reader comments. While I was initially in agreement that air popcorn makers had to go, one reader noted that she ate popcorn every night and over the year she'd spared herself five quarts of oil she would otherwise have devoured. As for rice cookers, I have never wanted one because I find a decent pan and the age-old adage, "when cooking rice, water twice," to be an easy enough recipe to follow, but I know others swear by them. As for the immersion blender, I love mine and don't know a serious chef who doesn't have one. So I got to thinking, while I concur with the spirit of the article, there's another way to think of paring down in the kitchen. So here's my list of ten things your kitchen really doesn't need.
1. Pretense If you bought a $300 stand mixer but only use it twice a year, you have pretense issues. After 15 years of twice-yearly mixing you'll have added ten bucks more to each cake or plate of cookies you've mixed up, though chances are you'll give up completely after a couple of years making your cost per batch about 75 bucks. Is it really worth it? Think cost per use for everything you buy and you'll find you don't need most of those trendy "must have" kitchen gizmos at all. But if you do bake a lot, a stand mixer makes sense, so go for it. Put your money and your kitchen space to good use and buy the things you'll use, not the things that look cool.
2. Paper Unless it's a recipe you're using at the moment or a discreet shopping list magnetized to the fridge, you don't need paper in your kitchen. Gather up all the bills and receipts and newspapers you've got piled on the counters and shoved into kitchen drawers and put them somewhere else. Get shoeboxes, baskets, file folders, whatever, but get paper out of the kitchen and don't ever bring it back there. You're probably suffering from a pretense deficiency. Fortify yourself with a trip to Williams Sonoma and bring home some twenty dollar dish soap. It's a start.
3. Television If you have a television in the kitchen get some help. You do not need to be watching TV that much. Same for computers, though if you bring your iPad into the kitchen to follow a recipe or cooking show, fine, just don't leave it there. Electronics are just high tech paper and have no more place in the kitchen than parking your Prius next to the sink.
4. Clutter You know that clutter does not belong in your kitchen but you've still got a spice cupboard that looks like a junk drawer and a junk drawer that looks like a diabolical brain teaser you'll never figure out. We all do. So here's what you do. Get rid of the old stuff. Go through the spice cupboard and pantry and get rid of anything you haven't used in a year and don't kid yourself you one day will. Do the same for rusting aluminum bake ware, all those extra plastic food containers that only increase with every tub of yogurt you finish off, coffee cups and dishes you've accumulated over the years but are too ugly to ever use. As for that waffle maker you pull out every other month -- it's taking up valuable kitchen space -- clear a shelf in the hall closet and store it there. Pills and vitamins on the countertop? Put them in a box and store it in the bathroom, another room, or a kitchen cupboard if you have to, but keep the meds and supplements off the kitchen counter. It makes you look crazier than you really are. Be brave and clear out all the crap and things you never use and you'll have double the space in no time.
5. Confusion Is your ice cream scoop in the drawer beside the stove and your baking sheets in a pile underneath the broiling pan where every time you look for them the entire neighborhood can hear the clatter and curses? If you were a surgeon you'd never dare organize your operating room like some dyslexic hoarder, so why do you do that to the room you cook in? Put the things you use for cooking by the stove, the things you use for serving somewhere else. If you use it daily, perhaps it's best to hang it within reach. Assess your kitchen use and store accordingly.
6. Countertop Décor Did some well-meaning friend give you a wedding gift of one of those cute little pigs with a checkerboard chef's outfit and a chalkboard announcing the evening's menu? You thought a basket filled with a dried flower arrangement would look nice on the counter? It doesn't. It looks dusty and in the way. You don't need to decorate your counters; they decorate themselves with things that function. If you must have plants, make them herbs, but keep decorative stuff out of the way.
7. Dirty Dishes Chances are, there are some dirty dishes piled in your sink right now. Empty the dishwasher every night or first thing in the morning, and clean up after yourself. If you don't have a dishwasher, keep a sponge and soap nearby and your dishes washed and dried and put away after every snack and meal. Think of it as exercise. Better yet, don't think of it at all. Just do it. And if you slipped up and bought a house with an "open kitchen," you've probably realized by now that the last thing you want to see after cooking a great meal is a dirty kitchen while you dine. So get some screens or drapes that you can close when you sit down to eat. (Nothing ugly.) Then you'll probably forget about the dishes altogether and go to bed without doing them and wake up to a mess. That's okay. Life is full of messes. It's a Zen thing. But do your best to keep the dirty dishes out of sight the best you can.
8. Grease and Grime Nothing makes a kitchen look messier than it really is than grease and grime on the chrome and stove and cupboards. Wipe it down now, then make a habit of cleaning the faucets and stove and backsplash as you cook and wash the dishes. It's easy once you make a habit of it because it doesn't have time to build up. Same for your appliances; keep them clean. Store your favorite cleaning products and a rag where you can reach them without thinking, and it's not a chore; it's just something you do to put off joining the rest of the family and interacting with people you love but drive you crazy.
9. Fire Hazards Once the paper is gone, the clutter is cleared and the dried flower arrangements donated to Goodwill, you're much less likely to set the place on fire. But there's more. Make sure there are no flames near open windows and no fabric near the stove. Keep a timer near the stove and use it, especially if you're cooking with hot oil -- it will burst into flames if you start heating it then leave to answer the phone or go to the bathroom. Teach everyone that the handles of pots and pans are always turned away and never protruding where you can bump into them and spill hot grease or boiling water on the hapless cat and your brand new outfit. And whatever you do, keep the potholders away from the burners, even when they're turned off. That's non-negotiable.
10. Apologies Julia Child once said, never apologize for your cooking. The same goes for your kitchen. It's your space, so even if you've turned it into a hoarder's comfort zone piled high with TV sets and an avalanche of paper, if that's what brings you peace and joy, then it's just right for you. Create the kitchen that works for you and feels right to you, and that's all you'll ever need. But if you do want a kitchen that is easy to cook and clean in, one that doesn't require a lot of thought and prep just to get started fixing supper, then paring down the clutter and confusion and things that don't belong will help you get there. But your kitchen needs no apologies, especially if a guest has slipped on an olive oil spill and is suing you, because that's just going to make it worse. Blame it on their slippery shoes and excess psychotropics. Remember, love means never having to say you're sorry, and you love your guests as much as your kitchen, don't you?
Next up, ten things your kitchen really does need . . .