To yield the best results from your culinary efforts, think of your kitchen as a studio for creating artisan meals ... a crafter's workshop for producing consistently high-quality, healthy dishes. Among pantry and frozen foods, cookware, utensils, appliances and other supplies, things come undone, fall apart, wear out or get old. Like any well-honed workshop, your kitchen needs an annual (at least) tune-up, compete with re-organizing and re-freshening.
We're not talking a major makeover or renovation, we're merely suggesting that you treat your culinary investments with a little worthwhile attention to get your culinary year off to a delectable start. One of my gifts this holiday was a cookbook by Monique titled "Skinny Cooks Can't be Trusted." While there may be a pinch of selfish truth to that particular wisdom, I do not adhere to the saying: "A Clean Space is the Sign of a Sick Mind." To the contrary, the culinary concept of "mise en place" (translation: everything in place) affirms that organization and preparation are essential to good cooking.
Epicure offers you a "boot camp" assessment and work-out plan for your kitchen fitness. Spend a couple days early on in 2008 assessing your epicurean domain and taking a few important steps to get your land-based galley in order.
• If you read Epicure last January, perhaps you dated your 2007 canned and shelf foods with a marker so you would know what to keep/discard this January. Regardless, check all pantry dates for expiration, discard items as necessary and date-mark all saved items this year.
• Check your staple supplies - flour, oils, vinegars, sauces, spices - and discard anything that you know was open but not used in 2007. Consider the benefit of re-stocking your cupboard with a few newly purchased staples, for less than $25.
• Most frozen foods older than one year have lost their taste and/or nutritional value. Unless it will render you totally foodless or wreak havoc on your morals (those starving children overseas), consider discarding anything in your freezer that you can no longer identify or can't remember when you bought.
• Whatever is kept should be date-marked and brought to the forefront of the freezer. Better yet, make a list of the remaining frozen foods and augment your freezer list as you purchase more. Aim to use (or discard) the older foods first.
• This is one of the critical tools of your artistry. Is everything in sound working order? Perhaps your stove is begging for a minor part or two? Contact your local appliance dealer to provide a temperature accuracy check for your oven; request a service check from your utility company.
Cookware & bakery
• If well cared for, quality cookware will last for a long time. However, some extra elbow-grease cleaning and polishing will help them serve you well.
• Sometimes we hold onto a well-worn pot or pan for pure sentimental value, though it is of minimal value. If you've got six fry pans, consider retiring the oldest ones.
• Discard pans and bakeware that have rusted or no longer get completely cleaned. They can retain smells and tastes that compromise your dishes.
• January and February sales may provide a less painful way to replace a few pieces at bargain prices.
Appliances & tools
• If you have a utensil or tool in your kitchen drawer that you don't even recognize, e-mail me. I'd love to tell you about it so it will get used!
• Cart your favorite knives to your local grocer for sharpening service, which most large grocers offer. After a year of labor, they (and you) deserve some sharp edges.
• Evaluate the major cooking appliances you own. Should something be upgraded or replaced? Consider purchasing a top-of-the-line item with one or two neighbors and sharing it cooperatively.
• If you are not using a particular appliance or tool that you couldn't live without a year ago, ask why/why not, then either donate/sell or re-commit to use it in the new year.
• If you've got a too-tiny kitchen like me, counter space is prime real estate. Stuff "creeps" onto counters without us realizing it. Scan your counters to see what is taking up precious space and move non-essentials back to their cabinet locations.
• Challenge creature-of-habit behavior. As a "rightie," I just realized that my spoon rest was positioned on the wrong side of the stovetop. Scan placement of counter-top items and consider moving items around for greater access or efficiency.
Cookbooks & recipes
• Where are those resources anyway - close at hand or buried on a shelf in the library? Peruse your favorite cookbooks and pull one or two out to remind yourself why it was such a smart purchase in the first place. Select a couple of never-made recipes to try soon.
Jacqui lives in Danville with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at email@example.com.