Organising your kitchen can be a fine art if you have mountains of food, utensils and cookware.
However, there are ways to maximise the room you have and boost convenience, such as the following methods that will help to reduce wasted time and space.
Make the most of your freezer
It's so easy to let the freezer become a graveyard for unwanted food, where it lingers for months or even years until it becomes grey, frosty and unappetising and has to be thrown away. By learning to use your freezer effectively, you can save money, time and precious ingredients. Start cooking soups, stews, pestos, hummus and sauces in double batches, then freeze for an almost-instant ready meal or to defrost and enjoy for lunch during the week. Every few weeks, try and have a week where you just eat up things from the freezer (such as home-cooked meals, or a frozen piece of meat or fish) rather than going shopping - this will save you time and money, and prevent food from languishing in there for too long.
There are lots of ingredients that you may not have thought of freezing, but which can make cooking easier in the long run:
• Ginger. It's much easier to grate for a recipe when it's frozen, so keep a stash in the freezer. You can also defrost it in a few minutes and chop for other recipes as you need it.
• Herbs. Tough herbs like thyme or rosemary freeze well, and can be used from frozen as you would fresh. You can also freeze the stalks and tough bits of bunches of parsley and coriander - these have lots of flavour and can be blitzed into a delicious pesto or used in curry pastes, saving you from buying a fresh bunch and letting the stalks go to waste. Incidentally, pesto also freezes very well.
• Egg whites. If you find yourself with lots left over after making ice cream, simply put them in a freezer bag, label it with the amount of whites, and defrost at room temperature later to use in meringues, cakes or financiers (little almond cakes). No waste, and an opportunity for baking!
• Chillies. These freeze very well and can be used straight from frozen - they're also easier to chop when slightly frozen, too. This is also true of lemongrass.
• Rice. If you have leftover cooked rice, cool it quickly, freeze, then defrost in the fridge to use later in a fried rice recipe (try an Indonesian nasi goreng). Fried rice works much better with cold cooked rice than with freshly cooked.
• Bread and breadcrumbs. Leftover odds and ends of bread can be blitzed in a food processor and stored in a box in the freezer - just keep adding to it as and when you find yourself with leftover bread. The crumbs can be used from frozen in meatballs and on gratins, or you could gather them all up when you have enough and make a delicious treacle tart.
• Seasonal fruit. Berries, chopped rhubarb and ripe bananas (peel off the skins) freeze very well. The bananas can be used from frozen in smoothies or defrosted to make banana bread or muffins, while berries and rhubarb can be used from frozen in baking. Strawberries don't freeze well if you want to bake with them later, but you can add the frozen berries to a smoothie with very good results.
• Cakes, scones and tarts. Most baked goods freeze well, and can be defrosted at room temperature and then either enjoyed as they are, or warmed up a little in the oven before serving. Good if you like baking but can't eat up all the results in one go!
• Coconut milk. If you've got some left over from making a curry, put it in a plastic box and freeze until the next time you're cooking with coconut milk.
• Bones and stock. Use the bones from a roast to make stock by simmering them gently with water, a carrot, an onion, a couple of celery sticks, some peppercorns, salt and bay leaves for a couple of hours. Freeze the stock in bags labelled with the quantity, and use later in soups and risottos. If you don't have time to make stock straight away after a roast, freeze the bones until you have time and simmer them straight from frozen for stock. You can also freeze odds and ends of veg until you have enough for stock (carrot tops, the ends of leeks, leftover celery - they all make great stock).
Get smart with tupperware
Clear out that cupboard full of old bits and bobs of food in half-empty bags. It can be a nightmare to navigate and find what you want. Invest in a set of sturdy, stackable tupperware boxes in a range of sizes, and some sticky labels. Decant your ingredients into boxes, label them with the contents, and stack neatly on the cupboard shelves, with those you use most regularly at the front. This works particularly well for things like nuts, dried fruit, pulses and grains. For bigger quantities (for example flour or pasta), use large Kilner-style jars, stack them carefully and keep them in a lower cupboard (to avoid risk of breakage).
Make a spice box
Buy a cheap wooden box with lots of drawers (Ikea are good for these, or online), and use it to organise your spice cupboard, rather than having lots of packets or jars sitting on the shelves. Keep chillies and hot spices in one drawer, sweet spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg) in another, Indian curry spices in another, salts and peppers in another, et cetera. Label the drawers with their contents to remind yourself.
Have a baking box
Use a large plastic box or a nice cake storage tin to hold all your baking ingredients, so that you just need to take one box out of the cupboard when you decide to bake, rather than having lots of pots, jars and packets cluttering the shelves. Use it to store things like baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, vanilla extract, food colouring, marzipan and cooking chocolate.
Use a shallow cupboard to store oils and liquids
Make sure its shelves are fairly far apart (to allow enough room for a tall bottle of olive oil, for example), and keep your cooking oils, sauces and vinegars inside. A shallow cupboard is best for this so you don't have to stack the bottles and risk breaking one as you reach for the one at the back of the cupboard. It also means you can see instantly what you have.
Use things up!
Every couple of months or so, sit down and plan a week of meals to use up what you have in the cupboard, fridge and freezer, aiming to buy as little extra food as possible. It's a good idea to make a list, writing down what you need to use up soon, and using that as a basis to search for and invent recipes. This is a great time to use up half bags of pasta or pulses, frozen pieces of meat or fish, and sauces in the fridge. It also helps you get creative with your recipes - you might discover something new!
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes, she is studying for a PhD on children’s literature and the Arthurian legend at the University of York.