It’s the new year. Time for a fresh start. You’ve cleaned out your car, your closet and your garage over the holidays, but when was the last time you purged your fridge, freezer, pantry, spice cabinet or cookbook shelf?
Sometimes, this isn’t an easy task. A visiting friend last year took one look at the 20 glasses filling the lower half of one of my cabinet shelves and said, “I could Marie Kondo the (heck) out of your kitchen” – a reference to the best-selling de-cluttering author.
After I got over the sting of being seen as a clutterer, I realized she was right. I needed to cut the fat. A kitchen diet, if you will.
Maybe your kitchen is like my kitchen this time of year. As I’ve been cooking my way through the dark, colder months of winter, the canned goods, utensils, spices and stack of cookie trays overfloweth. There are corners of my pantry I haven’t seen in a year. The 10 packages of dried pasta that all have exactly 1 1/2 servings left are not cooking themselves away.
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My cookbook shelf also gets fresh scrutiny. Does this book spark joy? If I’m not sure, I put it in a pile of “maybes” on the counter and set the intention to try to use it. Can I use it in the next 48 hours to be reminded of that joy? If two days pass and I haven’t found cause to open the book – or, in the case of the other kitchen supplies under investigation, use those canned butter beans or that Bundt pan – it goes in the giveaway pile.
This Christmas break, I yanked out dozens of cookbooks that I wanted to get rid of and replaced them with the new cookbooks I’d let pile up around the house and at work that I knew I wanted to keep. I then updated my virtual library on EatYourBooks.com, a website that allows you to keep track of your physical cookbooks and search their indexes.
It didn’t take long to do, and that website is particularly helpful if you’re trying to find, say, grilled eggplant or cheesy grits and don’t want to hunt and peck your way through the books to find those specific ingredients or dishes.
Thanks to that website, I know I have room for about 125 cookbooks in my house, so I'll have to stick to a one-in-one-out policy this year. Even though my cupboards can hold more, I’ve cut the number of glasses in half. (Almost.) That little green plate that I always hated using but kept around anyway? It’s in the thrift store box.
Your kitchen self changes just as much as your regular self. Turns out, I don’t need so many wine glasses because we usually drink out of those little mason jars these days. All those healthy soup and slow cooker books? One of each will do. The cookbooks about making baby and toddler food will be of better use in someone else’s hands.
What do I get for all this sifting, besides a less cluttered kitchen? A better connection and sense of what I do have, from the 20,000 recipes that Eat Your Books tells me are indexed in my cookbook collection to that packet of Thai peanut sauce that my cousin brought me from Thailand last year.
As we enter a new year of cooking, it feels good to reset the kitchen, just like nearly every other aspect of our lives.
Declutter the pantry, fridge
Here are some ideas from The Bee’s Kathy Morrison, who says she is trying to do her own post-holiday declutter this month:
To use up jam, jelly or marmalade: Make jam bars or muffins with jam centers. You can melt the jam or jelly (with a little bourbon if you like) and brush it on roasted meat or ham, or drip the melted jam over pound cake. Stir stone fruit preserves or berry jam into plain yogurt for breakfast.
To use up those odds and ends of fresh vegetables: Make vegetable stock. Just about anything works here, but especially celery, carrots, mushrooms, onions, shallots and leeks. (Avoid broccoli or cabbage, which can overwhelm the stock’s flavor.) Scrub the vegetables, cutting off any unsavory bits. Put the veggies in a stockpot or slow cooker with some pepper, salt and bay leaf. Cover with cold water and simmer a couple of hours. Strain out the veggies (compost them if you like) and use the stock for soup, chili, sauces or risotto.
To use up canned beans, tomatoes and other veggies: Make soup or chili.
To use up odds and ends of pasta: Cook until al dente and add them to your homemade soup, or any canned soup.
To use up leftover nuts, grains or dried fruit from baking: Make granola, or chop it up and sprinkle it over your morning cereal.
To use up dairy: Make a sweet or savory strata or a milk-based soup. Yogurt or sour cream can be used in muffins or pancakes, which then can be frozen. Buttermilk, by the way, can be frozen in small containers for baking, though that won’t work for other dairy liquids.
5-minute skillet granola
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
From “The Clever Cookbook: Get-Ahead Strategies and Timesaving Tips for Stress-Free Home Cooking, “ by Emilie Raffa (Page Street). You’ll have extra cinnamon sugar butter to keep in the refrigerator for another use.
Feel free to change up the nuts or toss in some dried fruit at the end.
Cinnamon sugar butter:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cinnamon sugar butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup quick oats (not instant or old-fashioned rolled oats)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (or other nuts)
Cinnamon sugar butter: Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until blended. Set aside what you need for the granola, then shape the remainder into a log, wrap in parchment paper, roll and refrigerate or freeze.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Melt 3 tablespoons cinnamon sugar butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the honey and swirl to coat the pan. Pour in the oats, stirring constantly. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, until they just start to change from beige to golden brown. Add the walnuts and cook about 1 minute longer.
Spread on the lined pan. It will crisp a little as it cools. Refrigerate in an airtight container about a week, or freeze up to 3 months.