By Kaui Philpotts
Special to The Advertiser
Entertaining begins long before guests arrive: It starts in the pantry, kitchen and linen closet as you plan the gathering.
But its difficult to plan in the midst of chaos, so one of the best ways to jump-start this new year is to clean out your kitchen. Sound daunting? Then dont do it all at once.
Start with the refrigerator, then move on to the pantry and finish with the dishes, pots and pans, and cutlery. If you put aside an hour or two every weekend, it will be done in time to throw a Super Bowl party.
When you are finished, you will have a pile of things to be donated to your favorite charity, a shopping list of needed items to take to the January sales, a whole slew of new dinner ideas and, best of all, a kitchen that functions.
At this post-holiday point, your refrigerator is probably stacked with cartons of aging leftovers and your freezer is full of plastic containers of old stew, or was that Portuguese soup? Who can tell?
Dump anything thats older than a few days. Next go through the refrigerator door. Toss out half-used jars of things you bought for a dish you will never make again. I like to consolidate bottles of salad dressing. Youd be surprised what great dressings you can create this way.
Check the produce drawer. Out goes anything that looks like its been there more than a week.
Now wipe it all down, the shelves and the drawers, with warm, soapy water and a sponge. (Some folks like to use a baking soda solution.)
Dont forget the freezer. If somethings been there more than six months, toss it. If there are things that need to be used, start planning meals for the next few days.
Remember that green stuff in the bag with the directions in Chinese? That bag you picked up last summer on a spin through an Asian market just because it looked so interesting? Well, its time to figure out what to do with it, or toss it.
I know how hard this is to do; it kills me too. But if youve had jars of herbs for more than a year and theyve lost some of their color, you can bet theyve lost much of their flavor, too.
Spices will last longer, but keep them out of the bright sunlight.
Now is the time to consider storing things so that you can see them. Glass, airtight canisters and jars work best. Use them for macaroni, rice, flour and beans to keep away the bugs and so that youll know immediately when you are running low.
You dont need to invest in costly decorative jars; sterile mayonnaise or jam jars, or canning jars are fine. Second-hand stores can also yield some surprising finds in the jar area.
As you explore the backs of your cupboards, youll likely find that youve been doubling up on things without realizing it. Who knew you had such a thing for diced chilies, or canned tuna?
Plan meals to use up the excess. But first, check that your cans are not rusted and swollen. Toss those immediately. Its also a good idea to question anything youve been holding on to for more than a year or so.
Pots, pans, etc.
This is the part thats going to get you to the January sales with a list. You will also be dropping things off at your charity or planning a tag sale.
Begin editing your dishes. Are sets chipped and broken? Do you have 15 coffee mugs but only two people in your household?
You dont have to give everything that doesnt match away. Mixing and matching can be fun. Chipped dishes can go under plants, and the coffee mugs can hold pencils or chopsticks, or be filled with gourmet jelly beans and wrapped as a hostess gift.
Inventory the pots and pans. If youve been making do with pots that scorch and pans that are too light and thin, this may be the time to shop the sales and trade up. Is there a type of pot or pan youve always wanted and think youd really use? Fill in those blanks in your collection.
Do you have a decent can opener? Is your vegetable peeler a disgrace? Are your knives sharpened? Or do you simply have too much that you never use? When was the last time you had six guests for fondue? So why keep the pot and forks? What about that dice-a-peeler you fell for at the county fair a few years back? If you dont use it, lose it.
Begin to think of fresh ways to store kitchenware. We have so many options these days that a change doesnt have to cost a bundle and can add some charm and convenience to daily life.
Pitchers, jars and glasses can hold utensils and silverware. You can organize your junk drawers by buying inexpensive, sectioned silverware trays. Baskets, plastic containers with lids, and storage cubes available in places like Home Depot, Costco, Ross for Less and Sams Club can help you arrange everything from bottles of wine to paper products.
Look for interesting shelving at yard sales or the flea market. Or look for utility shelving in hardware stores or in catalogs.
Shelving often can be added above windows and doorways, on the backs of doors and under cabinets to double storage space.
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