Organising storage in a small kitchen (and a Joseph Joseph Nest product review)

Caveat. This post contains a review of a Joseph Joseph Nest product sent to me for testing which I was allowed to keep after use. There is no monetary involvement and this post was long in the making before I was approached and included it. I would only product test if it was a clear match to a recipe or a post’s subject matter. I also would only test an item if I felt it was not a disingenuous / inappropriate ‘freebie’ and a product I would probably have bought (or do buy) myself.  I firmly believe in giving an honest appraisal, not just an automatic positive review. This approach is very important to me and as such very few products will be appropriate for this blog (I have already turned down many review offers as they did not a ‘fit’).

With the proliferation of food I make you might well think I have a luxurious, spacious and beautiful kitchen. The truth is just the obverse: I have a kitchen with a pretty awkward layout (we’ve decided it was put in by someone who never actually cooked), hardly any storage, about a square metre of usable worktop, it’s 18+ years old and has areas that are literally falling apart. A cramped playground for a cooking and baking geek.

I thought I’d share a few ideas about storage, as I bake and cook every day in this cramped space. In order to cope, I have to be:

  • creative with food storage and organisation;
  • clever how my ingredients, gadgets and cookware are laid out and located;
  • mindful of how much and what ‘stuff’ I own (clever purchases, reusing, recycling and decluttering);
  • ruthless with making sure things fit (together, on the shelf) and are conveniently to hand, and;
  • dedicated to keeping my kitchen clean.

Over time I’ve collected kitchenware that goes together well or will even stack, Russian doll-like, and a few space and money saving tricks to keep my kitchen in order.

I’ve now honed down what I own (although there’s always excuse for a mooch for new things) and items that don’t fit in have been taken to the charity shop, given away or swapped. They’ve been replaced or replenished with a mix of brand new items, junk and charity shop finds and swapped or gifted items. Some things I own I’ve kept since I started cooking as a student and some things are way older than me (gifted or discovered in a second hand store and some very old indeed). I also have some brand new things. Any piece of kitchenware that makes the grade and gets kept has to do its job well and fit neatly for space saving.

oraganisingHaving organised, neat ingredients and kitchenware also saves time in the long run. By regularly reorganising I know where it all is; if something gets put back in the wrong place, in a mislabelled jar or simply eaten and not put on the shopping list or replaced I can spend too long looking for it. If I’m busy cooking dinner after a full day at work and can lay my hands on a pack of exactly what I want first time then I’m a happy bunny.

To save my limited kitchen space for everyday items, less perishable and infrequently used ingredients and most bakeware is in tough, lidded boxes in the garage. Items I use regularly are on a wire rack in the kitchen by type (for example a box of my many Asian cuisine ingredients or a wicker basket of fresh veggies). We’ve recently added a double cupboard (what a godsend this was) in the hallway for cumbersome common items (stand mixer, pasta making tools, jars of dry ingredients). The few fitted cupboards are filled with crockery, glassware and saucepans which frankly have to go in a proper cupboard and two tiny wall cupboards house spices, condiments and tea and coffee as they’re close to the hob and kettle. The dining room accommodates ‘posh’ glassware, breakfast cereals, my flour stash and the toaster. We’ve had to adapt to use racks, pinch space from other rooms and encroach on the garage space but now it all works happily. I’m now not sure I wouldn’t find having a large kitchen a really freaky thing!

I’ve written up my notes on ingredients storage, cookware storage, labelling, reorganisation and a couple of cleaning ideas to make the most of a small space. I’ve given my thoughts on cookware storage, ingredient storage, labelling, organisation process and a couple of relevant cleaning notes:

Gadget, bakeware and cookware storage

  • Much of the issue with my kitchen storage is less about the small space available but the size and shape of the items
  • Big items like my stand mixer, food processor, Panini press and toaster for example are simply non-compromise items and have to be accommodated first (though my mixer and processor are in the hall cupboard, the Panini press sits in its box in the garage and the toaster’s decamped to the dining room)
  • I prefer glass casserole dishes, although I do have one posh stoneware oven-to-table casserole [a present: thanks Mum!] but this is kept in a stack with my sauté and frying pans as I use it on the hob as much as in the oven.
    JJ_nest
    Joseph Joseph nest of casserole dishes

    I have been careful to select glass casseroles that fit together in the cupboard. I have one very large Pyrex dish (bought second hand) and a slightly smaller one with a plastic lid. These fit comfortably in one another and luckily are both large enough to now fit a Joseph Joseph Nest of four lidded dishes in as well. I have a neat stack of six different sized dishes ranging from huge to individual lasagne-size. The Joseph Joseph Nest set comes with colour coded lids which mean they’re quick to find while fumbling in the cupboard. Lids and glass go through the dishwasher and have so far coped with some pretty tough baked recipes including lasagne and roasting veggies, all washing up well. If you are short of space, as the glass casseroles fit inside one another with their lids on, all four take up no more space than the single large dish on its own.

    While the older glass dishes I have fit together, they do so more because it’s a happy accident (even though they are the same make) and they rock about considerably if I nudge or move them. The Joseph Joseph dishes fit much more snuggly together and when the lids are in place these slightly buffer the other dishes, stopping them rocking about too much (though sadly the lids aren’t quite a total solution to clinking dishes). The only negative thing I’d say is that the lids at first are quite tough to prize off, but after a couple of uses this has eased. The lids really do enhance the set as they enable storage of leftover food more safely, without resorting to cling film, foil or decanting into yet something else. See Joseph Joseph for the whole Nest product collection

  • Some items are natural stackers even if they’re not all from the same brand, such as measuring cups and bowls. I have a large number of mixing bowls, from giant (and enough for a 750g+ loaf) to almost pinch-bowl size. While I have a set of Joseph Joseph nesting bowls (these I purchased myself and have owned for years – actually they came with a set of measuring cups which my Mum liked so much I let her keep) I also have a motley collection of others of plastics, Pyrex, Mason Cash ceramic and metal, which I’ve collected, but they all bundle together in one stack
  • hangingPansLarge and/or heavy pans I’ve hung from S hooks off a kitchen rack so they hang vertically. This keeps them flat to the storage rack, saving space and also ensures their surface isn’t damaged
  • I’ve also hung long thin items as they then remain easy to hand, not buried in a drawer and are less liable to damage. These are my glass bulb sugar thermometer, my hand blender (a Billy blender with handy ‘ears’ for hanging), microplanes (so I’m not going to take the skin off my hand rummaging in a drawer for them)
  • I group smaller items and store them in lidded boxes – so for example all my cookie cutters are together, all my piping nozzles are in a small tub, my bread making tools are altogether and my pasta tools are in a lidded basket, kept with my pasta machine
  • Anything that’s stored in my garage is kept in a plastic box with a tight-fitting lid. I learnt to my cost that even a modern garage away from the countryside can easily attract mice
  • Check the quality of the fit of the lid on any boxes you buy which are for outside the house or long-term storage. It matters less how cheap or expensive the boxes are and more that the lid is not going to pop open while you’re not there (even expensive boxes sometimes have dodgy lids)
  • Likewise check that a box destined for outside the house does not have air vents/holes. You’ll be surprised how small a vent a mouse can get through, plus it also needs to be insect- as well as rodent-proof
  • My fine cake and chocolate making tools are stored in a large DIY toolbox. I find these are extremely handy to pick up and carry plus the internal trays are useful for separating items. I have a number of different sized tool boxes (some very cheaply obtained) for other things too, like my art materials and paint tubes
  • Saucepans are stacked and the lids I keep separately in a storage box so they don’t rattle around
  • Frying and sauté pans are treated the same as saucepans, stacked with cloths separating and protecting any non-stick surfaces
  • I lay an old (but clean) tea towel or J cloth on the inside of any non-stick items so other items can be stacked on them without damaging the non-stick surface
  • Bakeware tins are stored in large lidded plastic boxes in my garage, apart from a select few baking trays and tins which I use regularly and these few I keep in my empty oven when it’s not in use

Ingredient storage: recycle and reuse or buy clever new

  • I’ve got a mix of begged, borrowed, recycled/reused and new storage
  • Kilner/other clip lidded jars are fabulous for both ingredients storage, preservation and fermentation and worth having a few in various sizes from tiny right up to the largest. (I’ve picked up such jars from charity shops as well as bought spanky new)
  • Reused glass food jars, coffee jars, big tubs of yogurt with hard lids, plastic zip lock food bags all store wet and dry ingredients well (just be careful with wobbly food bags – I put mine inside cardboard boxes to stop them falling over and spilling)
  • I confess I sometimes buy a jar of something I need based on what the jar looks like for future recycled use – a handily sized or nicely designed jar will get bought over a plain one of a similar content!
  • Dried yeast tins (the little Allinson metal ones with plastic lids) make excellent spice jars
  • Baking powder (and the like) plastic tubs – especially the wider-sized ones from Dr Oetker – are also great for spice jars and small amounts of dry ingredients
  • Reuse spice jars – buy refill packs of the same spice, or clean out and refill and label for something different
  • JarsGlass coffee jars are normally sizeable and therefore great for storing pulses, nuts and flours. I luckily get to keep the finished Kenco ‘posh’ coffee jars when they’re empty from the office tea and coffee stash – you may be able to obtain some similarly?
  • As the smell of empty coffee jars is quite strong, give them a normal wash then stick them through your dishwasher on high or then steep in boiling water and a little lemon juice (if you don’t have a dishwasher)
  • Ice cream tubs are great for (unsurprisingly) homemade ice cream, keeping other foods separated in the freezer such as pre-made ice cubes or frozen fruit, for biscuits and meringues that aren’t going to hand around long until they’re eaten and for small tools like piping nozzles or cutters
  • Yogurt tubs can be used for decanting out tinned foods to store in the fridge
  • Cereal boxes can be cut down and used as partitions on shelving or for storing the lids of tupperware-type boxes neatly
  • Any sized glass jars are good for preserve making – I try not to use many for storage so I have a stash in the garage for jams and such. Find advice on sterilisation on my lemon curd recipe page
  • Not related to food storage but old tin cans, olive oil and spice tins (especially authentic Italian, French and Spanish tins) and glass jars are all great for things like pens, paintbrushes and potting up herbs for the windowsill
  • If you want a cohesive look, you can always buy a can of spray paint and give all your upcycled objects a new shiny coat of colour

Labels

  • Label your ingredients clearly and briefly so you don’t have to hunt through
  • Add use-by or best before dates to the labels if you are decanting ingredients
  • You can buy beautiful pre-printed or plain labels online or from places like Lakeland or stationery shops, but personally I use a range of cheaper things
  • Permanent markers write straight on the jar
  • Printing/address labels are great (and a box of white labels can be cheap and you get tons in a pack)
  • Blackboard labels bought from craft shops
  • Strips of masking tape are good as labels and you can now get brightly coloured masking tape
  • ‘Permanent’ marker pens are particularly good on tubs and food bags in the freezer (I’ve found these permanent markers actually wash off very easily from glass and plastic)
  • If you like doodling, add a few little pictures to your labels
  • Involve your kids – mine loved making the labels for jars when they were smaller (not so cool now they’re teens…!)

My process and tips for reorganisation of storage

  • Take all the items out of one cupboard or off one shelving unit (don’t do it all at once: you’ll lose the will to live and your whole kitchen will be upside down)
  • Vacuum up any major spills and wipe down
  • Wipe over any jars, tins or boxes that are sticky, have ingredient residue or any dust and dry them off
  • Spice jars often need a little looking at. Clip top lids that don’t close are liable to be due to small amounts of the spice getting caught. Take any messy lids off and wash them, making sure you get into any corners. They have to be bone dry before you put them back on the jars, else the herbs or spices can get mouldy or go rancid
  • Check the quality of the herbs or spices. Often many can still be used past their best before date (still edible just that potency and flavour will be diminishing). I sometimes keep certain things a bit longer than I should, but if you’ve got a jar of something that’s very out of date, it’s time to get rid
  • Recycle or bin any items that are out of date or items you genuinely are never going to eat to reclaim space
  • Test which items of kitchenware will fit together, but keep fairly similar items together in a stack/group (or you’ll lose where you put things)
  • Similarly to thinning out your wardrobe, put kitchenware you’re sorting into separate piles: a definitely keep pile, a charity shop pile, a pile for friends (give or swap!) and a past it’s best pile. Clean and re stack the ‘definitely keep’ pile first, then review the rest
  • Duplications of dried goods can be repacked together – for example two part-used bags of rice to save space
  • Small amounts of dried items can be combined: dried fruit and nuts make trail mixes; lentils, split peas, pearl barley or similar can be a casserole or soup base mix. Remnants of different pasta shapes can be put together as ‘pasta mista’
  • Open packets can sometimes be damaged or ripped, fix them with duct/gaffa tape or put in a zip lock bag
  • Is an ingredient mismatched to the size of the container? Can you put something in a small jar and reuse the original to keep something else as a better fit
  • If you transfer to a jar from a packet, write the use by or best before date on the jar or cut off the use by/best before date and any cooking advice from the packet and tape it or clip to the new container
  • Keep dried items away from the cooker (and the sink) so steam from cooking doesn’t affect them
  • Have you got anything that could be moved to a shed or garage that you don’t use often? This will free up a lot of cupboard space
  • Can any items be hung and have you got a side of a cupboard or a wall where it’s appropriate to put up a rack or a few hooks?
  • Rotate items like they do at the supermarket: shops put the oldest stock at the front and the newest at the back. This ‘stock rotation’ enables older items to sell first as a) it’s good practice for them and b) it reduces food waste. (If you grab items in a shop from the back of a shelf you get longer lasting dates!) You can do this in your fridge, in your freezer (this is an especially good idea) and on your shelves too, so you use the older items before they go out of date

Cleaning

  • I put my cloths through the washing machine and cellulose sponges, washing up brushes, thicker pads and brushes and the like can all go through the dishwasher on the top rack
  • I use a few natural items alongside commercial products: lemon juice and vinegar to degrease the cooker top or glass and bicarbonate of soda as a soaker or rub on difficult items
  • I don’t use anything unnatural on my dining table, which is where I knead my bread. Yeast is a living organism and I’m worried it would suffer if it comes into contact with antibacterial cleaner residue. I err on the side of caution on my table as it is wood, and wood being permeable will retain some of what’s been applied to it. I have no issues wiping down my hard kitchen surfaces with antibacterial sprays and then rinsing off with water as that is impermeable. While I’m kneading my bread hard into the surface it’s bound to be picking up everything that’s on the table, so it’s a different kettle of fish to formica, granite, quartz, corian etc. On the wood table I use a clean scourer dipped in hot water with lemon juice or vinegar. My table is ‘worn in’ (read: battered) and solid wood, so using a scourer doesn’t matter to me. A softer cloth with more elbow grease for a delicate, expensive or treasured table would be in order – check your table won’t get scratched by rubbing the pad on the underside of the table first in a hidden area. I finish with a light covering of olive oil using a kitchen towel.

cupboard

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