My Favorite Kitchen Tip, Ever

dirty dishes

This isn’t the most photogenic of posts, but one of the dirty secrets of writing cookbooks is the dishes. And this season, as the cavalcade of cooking tips comes tumbling forth in anticipation of all the holidays – and the cooking and baking that go along with them – this is the best tip I’ve ever been given.

Most of you probably know how many dishes to takes just to bake a simple cake: a stack bowls, a mixer and the whip, a gaggle of spatulas, and for my fellow Americans, a bunch of measuring cups and spoons. Now imagine if you made that same cake three times in a row, making a few other sets of dishes dirty. Then did it again.

In spite of that fact that I have a real dishwasher, I spend a few hours each and every day washing dishes. It’s funny because when friends call and ask me if I’m free for dinner, sometimes I have to decline because I have to work, and they don’t seem to understand that part of my “work” is washing and/or putting away dishes and pots and pans. It’s a cycle that’s part of my life and when I left the restaurant business, being able to hand off a bustub full of dirty dishes to someone else was something I missed a lot. (If you ask anyone who is the most important person in a restaurant kitchen, even more than the chef, it’s the dishwasher.)

tons of dishes to wash

The tip is one I learned from Marion Cunningham, who wrote a fair number of cookbooks herself, which I’ve adopted. Simply fill the sink with warm, soapy water, and as you finish with dishes, slide them into the water. Later, they’ll be easier to clean after a leisurely soaking, and you can usually just scrape or scrub them with a sponge and load ‘em up in the dishwasher. Or finish washing by hand. And with any luck, you’ll get to accept more of those dinner invites than I do.

sinkful of dishes

Contrary to what some believe, dishwashers are not necessarily a luxury and using one requires less water than handwashing. There are various opinions about that, but for someone like me who works for themselves, it allows me to do other things rather than stand in front of the sink. So the whole issue for me, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a wash.

dishwasher

Now if someone could invent a device that prevents people from calling you the moment you start rolling out buttery pie pastry, or stick your hands in a batch of sticky cookie dough, that would be great.

All-Clad pans


A couple of other useful home cooking and baking tips I’ve culled from my experience:

-Leave frequently used pots and pans on the stovetop. Putting them away and taking them out again, over and over, is a lot of wasted time and work.

chocolate cookies measuring cups and spoons

-Keep graduated measuring cups and spoons in a bowl on the counter rather than in a drawer, where you have to fish them out every time you want to use them. And you don’t have to fuss with stacking them together all the time. Or switch to using a scale. And if you use a scale, be sure to always keep spare batteries on hand; there is nothing worse than your scale running out of power when you’re in the middle of a baking project.

-If you’re space-challenged, set up an ironing board to use as a temporary extra shelf.

ironing board

-Never, ever run a cooking knife through the dishwasher. The high heat can ruin the blade, as can it being knocked around with other dishes and objects during the cycle. And there’s nothing less-enjoyable or dangerous than to try to cut something with a dull knife. If you don’t have them, the only three knives you truly need are a chef’s or Santoku knife, a paring knife, and a serrated bread knife.

-Avoid swapping out ingredients. Recipe writers spend a long time developing recipes so they work with the ingredients presented. If you use other ingredients, your results won’t be the same and for all your hard work (and dishes you’ll be washing) you won’t be happy. Keep things on hand so you don’t run out, especially during the busy holiday season.

-Buy in bulk, especially things like butter, sugar, flour, and chocolate. Even if you don’t have a lot of room, keeping the basics well-stocked in your pantry will save you a lot of time running back and forth to the grocery store. Butter stores well in the freezer and even though good chocolate is expensive, buying a 5- or 10-pound block reduces the price dramatically.

-Use excellent chocolate for dipping, okay chocolate for baking. I love chocolate and when I eat it, I buy artisanal brands or the best I can get. For baking, when the chocolate is going to be melted, then mixed with flour, sugar, butter, and other ingredients, I use a medium-grade chocolate. It doesn’t matter which one I like, choose one that you like, and what’s available to you. Around the holidays some stores sell chocolate in bulk in anticipation of customers doing a lot o holiday baking. Buy it. (If stored in a cool, dark place, dark chocolate will keep for up to five years.)

-Don’t toss that sponge. I’ve been using the same sponge since 1975 and it’s lived on three continents. (Just kidding.) But you can bleach a sponge and bring it back to life. (And yes, I am aware that bleach isn’t the most ecological item, but I live in France and if we don’t go through at least 2 liters a month, the locals start getting suspicious.) I put it in a bowl with a spoonful of bleach and add water so the sponge is saturated. Then let it sit. After about thirty minutes, I take it out carefully, and squeeze it clean under running water wearing my trusty rubber gloves.

-Speaking of which, wear rubber gloves for washing dishes. Your skin and hands will thank you after a few years of dishwashing. Invest in a good pair since the cheap ones break and tear easily, and need constant replacement.

-Get an oven thermometer. Ovens are notoriously off temperature and I keep one in my oven all the time to make sure baking temperatures are on track.

-Check before the indicated cooking time for doneness. Ovens may be the exact same temperature, but surprisingly, each can cook differently. Cooking times can also vary depending on the material of the baking pan or cooking dish, or perhaps if the item going into the oven is already warm or has been cooled down (as in custard mixes), so check for doneness before the time indicated. When I worked as a professional cook, I rarely used a timer. I found my instincts and senses could tell when something was done rather than slavishly counting seconds and minutes. Trust yourself in the kitchen. Chocolate cakes and other desserts are notoriously finicky, and usually benefit from underbaking rather than overbaking.

-Keep an open garbage can handy, rather than one that you have to keep opening a door or lid to get to. Rachael Ray recommends keeping a bowl on the counter for the same purpose (and she even sells one), although I suspect she has more counter space than I do. And I am pretty sure you could get by with just a tall bowl that you already have on hand.

-Buy extra spatulas, whisks, measuring cups and spoons, and an extra bowl and attachments for your stand mixer. Most of these things are inexpensive and last a long time. Having extras will reduce the amount of time you have to start and stop while in the middle of baking projects to clean up.

-Read recipes through before making them. Although I’m working on doing this myself when making someone else’s recipe, when I write a recipe, I try to say in a recipe what size bowl to use, since it’s kind of annoying to put a few spoonfuls of something in a large bowl only to find out you’re adding it to something else.

-Above all, stay calm and relax. There are some really serious problems out there. Having a cake come out goofy, burning a tray of cookies, dropping a bowl of custard mix, not getting everything to the table at the same time, isn’t the end of the world. When I’m having a bad day, or whatever, I’ll stop to think about how lucky I am to have electricity, heat in my apartment, a roof over my head, a comfortable bed to climb in to every night, friends and family to share good food with, and yes, even a sink to wash dishes in.

Happy Holidays!

-david


Favorite Holiday Recipes

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Apricot, Almond and Lemon Bread

Sidecars

Spicy Glazed Nuts and Pretzel Mix

Belgian Hot Chocolate

Persimmon Bread

Stollen

Vanilla Ice Cream

Glazed Citron

Chocolate-Cherry Fruitcake

Apple Spice Cake

Chocolate-Pecan Pie

Nonfat Gingersnaps

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Fruitcake Bars

chocolate cake non-fat gingersnaps
Wittamer's Belgian hot chocolate upside down cake
fruitcake bar chocolate pecan pie
pretzel nut mix cake

229 comments

  • david – the suggestion of sinking dishes in warm, soapy water is the same my mother gave to me, and her mother to her. old news, good news :)

  • Thanks for your words of wisdom, thoroughly enjoyed and everything made so much sense ie why hadn’t I thought of it before! Your last comment also got me teary as living in London I am struggling with news I heard during the night about a very good friend’s father passing away suddenly in Sydney and your philosophy is so true x

  • I LOVE the ironing board idea!! That is so helpful, just to give a little bit of extra space. Thanks for these great tips :)

  • Can I add one more that I’ve come up with after many a frantic feast? Make sure you run AND UNLOAD the dishwasher before the guests arrive. It is so nice once the meal is over and guests start insisting on helping clear to just put dishes straight in the machine instead of trying to find non-existent counter space to stack dirty dishes while you empty it. Of course a sink of soapy water (and not yet filled with dishes) would do the same trick…! ; )

  • Space. An issue in Europe for sure. We rented a small Gite for the winter, with an even smaller kitchen….and yet, it works.
    I might actually loose a few pounds, our fridge is the size of your average hotel room bar fridge, not much space to store all those fine foods I see at teh market.

  • Thanks, David, for these useful tips.I have planned to do Christmas baking on this weekend and -being German- that means lots of different cookies (17 varieties this year ;) )! Perfect timing for this post! Janina

  • Soaking the dishes first is a good idea if you have a professional restaurant dishwasher that does the job in 3-5 minutes and you want it to be filled completely before starting it for economic reasons. Even more so if you need a few hours to cook or bake and the dirt will dry, making it hard for highspeed dishwashers to remove. But any conventional household dishwasher will do the job of soaking as well, as it needs 30 – 90 minutes and more to run the program. While cooking or baking I need the sink a lot and dont want it to be filled with dirty dishes. I have a defined space for all dirty dishes in the kitchen, they wait there until I fill them in my dishwasher. I usually do that the next morning, so I can spend my evening after cooking with my wife and friends and not in the kitchen.

  • Meg: That’s a good thing to remember. I used to wonder about all those people with the money (and space!) to have two dishwashers, until someone explained to me that you never need to empty the dishwasher that way – you just use the clean dishes from one, and when finished, put the dirty dishes in the other!

    Peter: You’re fortunate because my dishwasher, if there is even a leaf of parsley, the machine will disperse it over the entire load and cake it on all the dishes. Chocolate also seems to also disperse in there, coating everything with fine dark bits, prompting me to have to re-rinse everything again afterward.

    Nikki: People forget about the ironing board, which is always folded up in the closet and can be called into service at a moment’s notice.

  • Great list! (And I second and third that ironing board tip). Another sponge tip is too zap it in the microwave for two minutes. That kills those nasty germs just as well as bleach.

  • I used to look at my mother-in-law with her gloves and scoff a bit but now I am absolutely pro-gloves for washing dishes. And yes, buy some nice ones, maybe even with cotton on the inside instead of rubber. It also makes washing dishes that have, ahem, sat in the sink a bit too long less intimidating because you won’t actually be touching them.

  • +1 for the sink of soapy water and the thermometer. I’ve been in France for 5 or 6 years now and only recently has it been easy to find cooking thermometers. I had to buy my first one here online. Of course, I’m in provence….
    I have a standing argument with my girlfriend : dishwasher vs washing machine. I vote for dishwasher because it’s a several-times-a-day repetitive task as opposed to a once-a-week-or-less-depending-on-the-socks-situation task. I do them both anyways so I think my vote should win!

  • A great list… am sure everyone will have their own variations, that’s only natural… but lots of good ideas.

    We have used a small wooden folding garden table in the same way as you used your ironing board. I dream of more kitchen work surface but that’s not feasible…

    I’d like to leave things out for easier access but with that limited workspace, that’s a no-no too. If we had higher ceilings in the kitchen, as we do elsewhere in the house, I’d get one of those things you can hang from the ceiling and hang pans and utensils from that… plus they look cute too.

    In one of my mum’s under-counter cupboards, she has a spring-loaded shelf on which her food processor lives. When she wants to use it, a light tug on the shelf pops it up and out to worksurface level, the plug is on the wall just near there. Quick to access and use, pop the washable bits in the sink/ dishwasher, shove the shelf back down out of the way when needed. I love this but even space for such a shelf is out of the question in our kitchen. Might help some people though?

  • Hi David, I found this post very useful, since all of us want to be efficient into kitchen. Refer to Keeping an open garbage can handy – I use plastic bag (ecological one, of course), put it on the counter and collect all garbage into it. Upon I finish all prepare work, I just throw it to garbage can.

  • Phil: Yes, it can be challenging to find kitchen thermometers. But a good tip is that Picard sells refrigerator thermometers (cheap!) – although I bring back oven and other thermometers back from the US. Even candy thermometers, since the “professional” one I bought at the professional pastry shop melted when I used it to make candy.

    Tanja: I find plastic bags you have to keep unfolding the lip, since they’re not ‘always open’ like a container. I used to compost everything I could when I lived back in San Francisco, but at present, there’s no composting program in Paris and no really effective (and non-stinky) composting methods I’ve found here yet. I hate throwing away so many kitchen scraps – since I generate so many of them – so perhaps that’ll happen in the future here..

  • Great tips, Merci. Best tip I’ve gotten recently: you should not rinse, or even seriously scrape, your dishes before they go into the dishwasher. Modern dishwashers are made to do heavy cleaning, and rinsing first is actually bad for your dishes, since the machine then works too hard on them.
    RE that open trash can, the Brits have an interesting solution. They often have a hole in their counter, with a lid (trash can in a closed cabinet below). When they cook they remove the lid and swipe everything off the counter right into the hole. Brilliant!

  • David, you need a new dishwasher! Crumbs, if mine couldn’t cope without me washing everything first, I’d not bother!
    I tend to make sure that my dishwasher is empty before baking, then as I finish using something, it goes straight in. I often run it twice a day, using cheap rate electricity between 10pm and 12 noon. About the only things that don’t go in are my Global knives – anyone THINKS of putting one of them in the dishwasher is in big trouble!
    Another TIP for you- to clean a grubby sink effortlessly, put in a scoop of laundry powder, fill sink with hot water, brush briefly with a washing up brush (helps dissolve the powder) and leave to soak for 30 min. Empty and rinse. Makes it smell nice too.
    Works really well on the modern composite sinks too.

  • Excellent post. I’m an organizational freak so i do a lot of these things already. I tried the Rachel Ray idea a few times before. I donno… sometimes it’s good, other times not so good. It depends on what I’m making and how much counter space I need. I like the idea of another open trash can. It’s inspiring me to go buy one and store it in our wine cellar which doubles as a pantry for me (small swiss kitchen, big-ass wine cellar–tells you a little something about the swiss, huh?… It’s freaking huge and as much as I adore wine, well, i can’t buy it fast enough to fill the entire space, so I use it for all that FOND, pastas and staples I store up on). I can store an extra trash can there and pull it out everytime I do a big dinner. That would definitely work. And I adore the ironing board idea! I always need counter space.

    If I’m not too tired, I actually enjoy the clean up and doing dishes after a party. It gives me time to talk about what worked and what didn’t with the dinner with my husband. He never wants to clean up after a party and always suggest leaving it til morning, which is my pet peeve. If I had to give one tip I would say: don’t leave a dirty kitchen to the morning! There’s nothing worse than having to come into a dirty kitchen having no available sink before you can make your coffee or tea or breakfast. I would make the exception to save a few dishes/wine glasses for the 2nd load the next day but by then I’m already in gloves so why wait, I just finish anything that doesn’t fit by hand. So my tip is: always get it done before bed. No matter how late. I’m always happy I did it.

    We built a home in CA back when I wasn’t a cook and now that I’m in this little swiss kitchen all I can think of is when I go back to my big kitchen we’ll swap the wine storage area in the island (which we can move to another location in the house) for a 2nd dishwasher. Heaven!

  • Great tips! I’ve heard that putting your sponge in the dishwasher is a great way to clean it.

  • Great hints, particularly reading the recipes through…I was in the middle of an already complicated Rick Stein vietnamese recipe when i realised that they were asking for a paste that I had thought I could whip up quicly. When i went to the back of the book to see how long it would take to make, it added an extra 3 hours on to the recipe. I was already invested so made it and cursed myself the whole time. Glad i did though as use it all the time now.

    Wild Dingo (sorry dont know your name) we are also in a weeny little swiss kitchen (though big for here, very small for Australia) and have one of those rediculous little fridges. I cant wait for a huge double door fridge and a chest freezer again!

  • Cool post.
    I did a cooking course in India, lavish feast prepared on a teeny table and single gas burner – enough for 6, a King’s banquet…it made me realise my swanky big kitchen back home in Australia was farcical.
    I am definitely making that fruitcake bar for Xmas and am still sourcing the confiture de lait to make your brownies, have to go to a Spanish merchant across town!

  • Hey. I’m smarter than I thought because I do the dish of warm water thing already. And Meg’s method of running the dishwasher before guests come is another favourite practice of mine.On the counter rubbish issue, I use an empty old take-away type of container on my counter which I empty frequently. It doesn’t take up much space but keeps things a little tidier.

    My kitchen isn’t too small but I’m always cooking with kids around my feet so the table is usually being used for colouring and my 2-year old calls the ironing board “the ladder” so that’s not going to work. Running the dishwasher frequently is the only thing that keeps my counter space free. I have a double oven so one of them is always used as a temporary holding area.

  • Hi David, I love these tips. My mum is a food writer and I think I learnt all of these by osmosis in her kitchen. Now I teach food technology at high school and I wish more people taught these things to their kids before sending them to me!

  • Greatest idea ever… using an ironing board as extra countertop! Living in France, as well, extra counterspace is more precious than I ever imagined. I wish I new that for my previous apartment. Luckily I now live in an apartment with a HUGE, fully equipped kitchen. The rest of the apartment… who cares! I have a huge kitchen in France!

  • Fabulous list – this should be included in the front of every cookbook or kitchen-related manual! I especially relate to “read the recipe all the way through” – there have been many a night where I am waiting on a dish because I didn’t calculate how long it would take to prep and cook… Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Thanks for your helpful tips, David!
    I usually pop wet sponges in the microwave on high for about two minutes (keeping an eye on them) or pour boiling water over them. That should do the trickt too.
    Happy Holidays! Adrian

  • Great list of tips! I’d include mise-en-place — setting everything out in advance, and even sometimes measuring them out, to prepare for a recipe. Even with limited counterspace, you can often condense some of the ingredients if you read your recipe (and avoid using too many tiny prep bowls). It helps to ensure you have everything on hand and also makes the process more leisurely.

    Thanks for the fun post!

  • This made me smile as I am glad I am not the only one with a sink full of pots! Unfortunately, my husband won’t have a dishwasher, as I am more economical, or so he thinks…!

  • Wait a second… Did my wife call you and ask to write about soaking the dishes?!

  • JOLLITY-HOLLY DAZE!

    just a thank-you for being the most consistently helpful blog i read.

    I wash as I go (thanks mum!)

    Am allergic to gloves (thanks again mum!)

    +Find dishwashers extremely redundant.

    and now have a decorated avocado tree on a green baize covered ironing board at the entrance to the house (thanks dave!)

  • Hey, thanks for the tips. I put my sponges in with my whites that I am using bleach on, they remain usable for a long time before they break down. I don’t know about Paris but, last time I wanted some Dobie sponges they were more that $5.00 for two!

    Thanks again.

  • I very much support the Rachel Ray garbage bowl idea. But definitely do not buy one or even get out a clean bowl for the purpose! Just use a dirty bowl, plate, or saucepan that is waiting to get washed anyway.

  • I just noticed your comment about composting. Have you heard of vermicomposting? It”s a type of composting that uses red wiggler earthworms. It can be done on a small scale indoors, without emitting strong or offensive odours. Based on my own experiences, I would highly recommend it. My cousin did it while living in France, so I presume red wiggler earthworms are available for sale somewhere over there…

  • Heather: I have read about them, but there were some problems that people reported with them. I know there is a Japanese-system that’s supposed to be effective, but think it’d be great if there was a city-wide initiative to collect compost. I know it’s not entirely simple, but it’s sad to see the end of the day at the outdoor markets when tons of greens, funky vegetables, and other matter, are swept away and tossed into a garbage truck.

    Frank: I know, it’s pretty silly. (I was surprised to see them for sale!) Definitely a good idea to use an already dirty bowl.

    Julie: That’s certainly true, although sometimes, my tiny kitchen counter is so cluttered that I might forget an ingredient (like baking powder) unless it’s in a tiny bowl of its own. Although you’re right – it’s best to see if you can consolidate things in a recipe.

    Erica: Big kitchen? France? I’ll be right over…
    : )

  • My favorite tip is to use a laundry softener sheet with hot water in pans that have baked on or left over crud in them. After a couple hours or overnight soak you just rinse it off. Works in those turkey roasters too.

    Happy Thanksgiving all.

  • I just talked about a second dishwasher yesterday. I also have tons of dishes left to do by hand. A day of baking and cooking just produces lots of dirty dishes. Oh, you can also toss your sponge in the dishwasher. It works really well.
    The first picture could be taken here at my house right now.
    I think the most important tip is reading the recipe first and staying calm. I also enjoy some good music AND nobody else in my kitchen.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you David.
    Kirsten

  • Does anyone have a good recommendation for male dishwashing gloves? I use Casa Bella in the states, which are smooth and don’t have that rough powdery texture inside, but all the ones I’ve found for my husband look more like fishmonger gloves.

  • The trick with the trash can is to get one with a lid that opens with a foot pedal. I didn’t want an engagement ring: I wanted a nice trash can. And that’s what I got. Plus a trip to Paris a few years later. A ring just sits on the hand, but a trip to Paris – that’s forever.

    http://diaryofagolddigger.blogspot.com/2010/03/in-which-i-get-engagement-trash-can.html

  • I’m working on a cookbook myself and agree the amount of dirty dishes came as the biggest surprise to me! I’ve solved the problem by offering friends to act as my assistant for a day of cooking and photographing – they end up doing much of the dirty dish work and in return I send home the food with them after we’re finished. I think that’s a fair trade!

    • When I lived in San Francisco, a friend who I worked with (who was also a baker) came over to help me sometimes. I kept apologizing for having her wash so many dishes, until she said, “I’ve got kids. I do this all day.”

      (I always thought people had kids so they’d have someone to do the dishes for them!)

  • I’d love to use rubber gloves for dish washing, but find they make my hands smell like… rubber gloves. Does it just not bother you, or do you have a nifty remedy?

    Thanks for the advice. Especially about relaxing – somehow harder to do around the holiday season…

  • Wish I could instill this habit in my significant other! It saves so much time and energy.

    Now, any chance you’ll share a recipe for those chocolate crackle cookies??

  • I love washing dishes. I have always been fortunate to have my dish sink lined up with a great big window where I can view my world outside. I spend hours washing dishes each day too and it is during that time that I do my best daydreaming.

  • David, bleach breaks down to be salt and water. It is not bad for the environment, according to my professor husband that is just a myth. Feel free to use it as you need! It’s fine, really. Just hard on fabrics. I love the tablets of javel I used in France–fewer splashes. I can now get solid bleach in the US, and I was thrilled to find it. I am a klutz and used to have lots of shirts with fancy little white dotted patterns on them.

    A tip that I have used when I had no counter space was to get a piece of extra counter or some sort of board cut to fit over my sink. It gave me a bit of extra space when needed and could be stored alongside my fridge because it was thin. Sometimes, those 3 square feet of extra space were a lifesaver.

  • Here’s another one: for the time when that phone call comes at just the wrong time, wrap the handset in plastic wrap before you start. That way the phone, and your hands, stay clean.

  • I was thinking the same the other day, working in restaurant is great, someone else is doing the dishes. And you are right, service will come to a halt without a dishwasher, I always treated them well even though they get very little respect and they are paid less than everyone else. As much as I love baking, it is the mess I can’t stand. I need to start making cookies for Christmas and I am dreading the aftermath.

    One thing I do when I prepare few things is to maximize the mixer so I don’t have to wash the bowl in between recipes. I start with a recipe without nuts, and keep the recipes with chocolate or cocoa powder last. I also made the wise choice of buying two mixer bowls and that works great.

    Great tips, thanks!

  • This is all excellent advice! Using the ironing board for extra space is brilliant. As someone who cooks professionally from home, I buy flour, sugar and butter in bulk and on sale whenever possible. Pasteurized butter keeps well in the fridge for three months. I simply wrap the packaged butter in another layer of aluminum foil (which is the best material to keep butter wrapped in) to keep it at its freshest and to help prevent the possibility of other odors affecting it.

    I have a dishwasher, but there are many things that should be done by hand. I put my good (sharp) knives in dishwater one at a time – if you put several in at once, it’s too easy to nick yourself. Anything with a wooden handle gets done by hand, as the heat from a dishwasher can cause the handles to loosen over time.

    Your best advice is to relax. I once hosted a large party in January on the day of a snow storm. The day of the party, the water heater broke. Before the party, I had two people help with boiling water and washing dishes, but it was impossible to prepare all the food that I had planned. I knew, though, that no one would go home hungry. When guests started arriving, I put one friend in charge of making martinis, I focused on staying relaxed, enjoying my guests and making sure that everyone had fun. It turned out to be my most memorable party ever. Needless to say, the dishes got done the following day, AFTER the new water heater was installed!

  • Catherine: I’ve been to parties and dinners where the hosts are so stressed out that I can’t enjoy myself. I remember a dinner party where the host spent his whole time in the kitchen, fretting over the food, and I wanted to tell him that I would have preferred a roast chicken for dinner if that meant I could have enjoyed his company. I think people forget that guests (if they truly are friends) aren’t all that judgmental, and that we’re often harder on ourselves than we are.

    It’s also a great idea if you get overwhelmed (especially if you have an emergency!) to designate someone to help you. Everyone likes to pitch in, I think.

    Laura: Interestingly, the owner of Acme bread in the SF Bay Area (which is now pretty large) started as a dishwasher at Chez Panisse, and he started making bread on his own after the restaurant closed. Many chefs that I know started as a dishwasher and a good chef respects everyone in the kitchen, included the dishwasher.

  • Hi David!
    Even though your website is a hazard to my waistline, I had to subscribe. Looking forward to reading through your past entries. I just found your website today.

  • This post is incredibly simple but useful, insightful, and inspiring. Thank you!

  • Great post. I do some of these things already are part of my routine, I loved the recognition of the ironing board trick. Living in my tiny Danish flat, it takes a strategic mind to cook. Thanks again!

  • Hello David!
    Do you have any tips for keeping your Silpat or other non-stick baking mats in good shape? Mine are getting pretty dark from accumulated burnt sugars etc, and I’m trying to wash them carefully.. but I always wonder if I’m missing some magical cleaning tips..
    Also, I hope I have a usable kitchen (or at least kitchenette!) in my residence in Paris in January!!! I’m taking my final semester of my undergrad on exchange from Carleton in Ottawa (home) to Université Dauphine in Paris! I’ll be living in the 5th arrondissement near the Luxembourg Gardens and absolutely cannot wait to explore. Student foodblogger on a budget in Paris. I’ll be on your site. every. day.
    Jedi master.
    :-)

  • the tips just what all the bakers out there need. thanks a lot david for this! :)

  • In my loft-type apt. back in Montreal, space was hard to come by. I had an inexpensive rolling island that gave some space, I also had a massive wooden cutting board that could go over the stove top while prepping, and of course, an ironing board! (And occasionally, my husband’s lap provided extra “counter space”. Down went yet another cutting board and he happily peeled or chopped or just held on to something!) Working this way can make you feel a little crazy, so it’s reassuring to see all the solutions people come up with around the world!

  • We have the same measuring cups! Really good tips. Particularly like the ironing board as a shelf strategy – lord knows I need the storage space!

  • What a very very useful post! Thank you.

  • David, thanks for thinking about what you do to make you more efficient in the kitchen. I am going to implement some of these right away. I don’t know what I’d do without my dishwasher, but adding soapy water to the sink is a great idea. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • YES on keeping the garbage can open. My husband comes in and shuts it all the time when I’m cooking and it drives me nuts! I also keep heavily used pots and pans on the stove-top. Good tip about the knives, I didn’t know that!

  • Another good dish cleaning tip I learned from my grandmother is if you have really, badly crusted dishes, pour about a tablespoon or so of vinegar (any type, but beware of the strong odors), diluted with a touch or so of warm water, into the dishes in question, and allow it to sit for a few hours, or even over night for best results. The high acidic content of the vinegar breaks down any food, burn residue, etc., and by morning, it just comes off clean – you don’t even need to use a sponge – literally. It’s been a lifesaver for me, especially with stainless cookware – the vinegar leaves the pots nice, beautiful, and shiny!

  • David: Further to your comment; I’ve also been to dinners when the host was so stressed that I was on edge all evening. Not pleasant. A few years ago my daughter was getting married. She had enlisted me to make her three tiered wedding cake. Nine days before the wedding, I was in a cycling accident and suffered a broken left arm (at the elbow). Again, with lots of help, I got the cake done, but my daughter said afterwards that the most important thing to her was that I could make it to the wedding, and that we could have got a cake or cupcakes from someplace.

    I’d like you to know that since then, I’ve also endured four cancer related surgeries. “The Sweet Life in Paris” has always gone with me to the hospital for those arm related appointments and for reading before each surgery. (Yes, I’ve read it, and re-read it, over again.) Your book has kept me relaxed and entertained (and chuckling to myself) when I needed it most. Thank you for that.

    For all those people who stress about burnt gravy or badly cooked turkey; forget about it. Relax and enjoy your friends and family. David’s so right – there are many bigger problems in life.

  • Thanks for a great column, and excellent writing, and have a very best Christmas and new years.

    One thing I do have small comment about is the tip of avoid swapping. sorry – but swapping some ingredients (providing you know what you are doing of course), is what makes a recipe your own. It enhances your baking creativity and it can make 100 different cakes from one recipe that gives you some ideas..
    :)

    Cheers
    Sagi

    • The advice was more directed at those who ask if they can use, say, a banana instead of an apple in a tarte Tatin. Some things work, others don’t. It’s great if people want to try, but I always advise to make the recipe first as it is, then vary it. Can’t tell you how many people change things then get irked because the results aren’t as anticipated. Especially true for baking -

  • These are a lot of helpful tips, thank you! I follow your blog for a while now, tried some of your recipes (which invariably work perfectly, by the way, but you knew that already), and was never quite sure why I prefer your blog to so many others out there. Now that I read the final tip in this post I think I know :-) Thanks!

  • Great post, David. It’s easy to forget to do the simple things that make life easier.

  • Dear David, Thanks for the helpful tips, especially the one on soapy water. Which brings to mind another, obvious, but not so obvious tip — clean up as you go, instead of waiting to do all the dishes at the end of the meal.

    Wanted to tell you that because I have been singing your praises, my sister-in-law found your recipe for German Chocolate Cake and decided to make it for a friend’s birthday and deliver it to a San Francisco restaurant to surprise him after dinner. They got to the restaurant and the power was out and she was worried about how to recoup the cake without giving away the surprise. Luckily, after a drink at the darkened bar, the power came back on, the meal was great and David’s “Dark” German Chocolate Cake was a big hit. Now she’s on to your lemon curd recipe. Maybe it will make the sun come out.

  • Hi David…great post…I don’t have a dishwasher….never have…my way to cope is to fill the sink with soapy water before I start cooking..that way I can wash the dirty things as I go along…I have a tiny kitchen and don’t have room to stack a bunch of dirty dishes anywhere…so by the time I’m finished the dishes are done…

    and rubber gloves….always….

  • Loved reading the list and interesting that many of your tips are already in place in my kitchen. I do use a garbage bowl; I find it most humorous that RR sells one; I mean, don’t we all have a big bowl or pot somewhere?

    One thing I do that has always driven my kids batty is that I clean as I cook. I just can’t work in the clutter of messy dishes; so the dishwasher and the dish rack on the counter both need to be empty. I rinse all of my dishes as I use them and they go into the machine and I wash and rinse pots as I use them and dry them in the rack…ready to use again. I’m most surprised that people find that method so foreign but we have to do what works for us!

    And don’t hit me…but if I didn’t change up every recipe I use it wouldn’t be fun for me at all. I use them more for inspiration but never seem to make anything without my own spin. Except maybe for some ice cream from some guy in Paris. :)

  • Great tips! I like to wash my dishes as I go. I spend dead time, while something is setting, rising, cooling etc. to get the used dishes out of my way. I love the ironing board idea, my kitchen is small and that would be really helpful.

  • I’d also add that even if you only have 1 set of measuring cups/spoons handy, its a great idea to keep the one’s you’ve already used in a bowl while you’re prepping. In other words, don’t put them in the sink until you are completely done. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown something in the sink only to have to use it a minute later; then it needs to get washed and dried. I imagine reading the recipe fully through and having extra sets would help with this, but we all know how things happen…

  • Great list, David.
    I have been applying many of those tips, for years. But it’s handy and very informative to seem them gathered in one central post. If I can thinbk of other tips, I’ll drop by and share with you all

  • A lovely post! And thanks for the reminder about reading a recipe all the way through before starting… Maybe that will help me avoid making those substitutions! ;)

  • those are excellent tips David! thanks so much for sharing them with us, I love the ironing board, I’ve had kitchens where that idea would have been a life saver.,

    have a happy thanksgiving!
    Dennis

  • Love that excellent tip about setting up the ironing board for extra space!! Now I won’t break my legs trying to run back/forth from the dining room to the kitchen [not that the extra 10 steps would kill me...but you never know...]

  • @Laurian: speaking of small fridges, yes we have one teeny one too. It actually has a freezer. But guess what? The freezer is below and it opens to left INTO the radiator so it can’t open all the way. So big deal, i can’t get the drawers to slide out right? Sigh. Until you have to freeze ice cubes. OMG. I am forced to tip the tray! The Swiss are known to be extremely EXACT in measuring things (our tiny bathroom where the door clears the sink by 1 mm for example). This is one where they missed the boat! So my work around was to buy an 8 x 4 ice flexible ice cube tray and not fill the one long row too much or at all… so water tips into those cubes.

    I also do the sponge in the dishwasher trick. But I think I’ll try the bleach option. Here in poisonless CH, where you can’t even kill your weeds with good strong stuff, bleach is sold in teeny weeny bottles. Sigh. But I love it here!

  • My mother gave me my favorite kitchen tip: eat out as often as possible, and you’ll never have to do the dishes.

    Mom wasn’t what you’d call a domestic goddess.

  • I enjoyed this, but I’m not clear what you mean by “…for my fellow Americans, a bunch of measuring cups and spoons…” Are Americans the only ones who measure ingredients, or are Americans the only ones with several sets?

    Is that really a photo of your kitchen counter? I’m impressed at what you can do in such a limited space.

    • Americans are the largest group of bakers that use measuring cups, rather than scales, since our recipes are measured in cups and spoonfuls, rather than ounces and grams (with some exceptions.) And yes, that’s my kitchen. And yes, sometimes I’m impressed myself! ; )

  • David, great tips! I’m lucky enough to have a husband who LIKES to wash dishes and always asks me to leave them for him to do. It sure makes my baking life a whole lot more fun!

    I keep my measuring spoons separated in small jars on my countertop so I can find the size I need easily.

  • David, absolutely best technique for a clean sponge that’s actually bacteria-free is to use the microwave—just about the only thing a microwave is good for from a health perspective.

    I pop my sponge into a ramekin large enough for it to lie flat, making sure it’s fairly saturated with water (otherwise it’ll dry out and catch on fire) and then turn on the microwave on high power for 3 minutes. Far, far more effective to kill germs than a dishwasher (not hot enough) or bleach (environmentally speaking). But I confess I keep a spray bottle of bleach—and one of white vinegar—under the sink and I’ll often spritz the sponge with bleach before microwaving it, if it’s discolored.

    I have no kitchen to speak of in my little French ancient farmhouse so loved the ironing board idea. I sometimes use my clothes horse (clothes drying rack) with a thin flat piece of wood I had cut for it at the local brico place—it sits snugly inside the frame—but an ironing board is less obtrusive if one has guests!

  • I have a very small kitchen, almost Europeon, but love to entertain. Here’s my solution to all those dirty dishes. I purchased several large dish pans at a local big box store. When we have finished a course and cleared the dishes , I scrape any leftover scraps and stack the dishes in the dish pan. Dinner plates in one , salad plates in another. Then I take that loaded dish pan down to the basement and put it in the slop sink. My guests feel no obligation to help with the dishes (out of sight, out of mind) and I’m not pulled away filling the dishwasher. The dishes will be there when we get to them, sometimes not until the next day. If you have to soak them a little the next day, so be. At that point after everyone has gone I can pull on my rubber gloves, get out of my party attire and tackle the dishes. I’d rather spend time with my family and friends then stacking dirty dishes. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • the ironing board is adorable. And nice to see a post about dirty dishes, instead of more perfect looking food this time of year! I have no dish washer, but I do have a small kitchen. I also live in a hot climate, and find that the front porch (which has a roof, electric outlet, and is bigger than my kitchen) is the perfect place to plug in the slow cooker!

  • When I’m baking I seldom use the stove so I cover it with a large cutting board for extra space.

    I also have a small bin with baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, etc in it so I pull it out and have most everything I used to dig for.

    Two sponges are nice to have. I throw one in the dishwasher and still have one for the sink.

    Going out today to buy an oven thermometer and gloves!

  • “Putting them in to soak” was one of the steps to washing dishes at our house when I was a child. Dishes for 8 people every day was a bit daunting (no automatic dishwasher then either), and we had turns at doing them (the kids, i.e.) and as you can imagine “I put them in to soak” became the cry of the procrastinator after awhile. Standing at the sink at midnight swishing the dang things around and yawning was not fun, but somehow the procrastinatory effort was never completely abandoned by any of us. ;-)

    Thanks for this, and all your other tips too.

  • I’m soaking my dishes in warm, soapy water right now…
    The best drawing I ever did was of the dishwasher at The Beard House..
    http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com/2007/07/shooting-chefs.html
    I wish you hadn’t mentioned the word ‘chocolate’ – now I’m munching onmy cooking chocolate chips.
    The powers of suggestion…

  • Great tips! After a food photography session my kitchen usually looks like a bomb exploded, throwing dirty dishes and tools everywhere. It is a huge effort getting everything back in its place and being as efficient as possible makes it easier to regain control of the kitchen. I often run my dishwasher twice a day. Thanks for the sponge tip, I find that one quite useful!

  • Great tips!

    Question: Do you have a go to recipe for those Chocolate Crinkle cookies in the photo?
    I saw them and need to make them NOW! :)

  • GREAT tips. I feel encouraged that in my amateur chef status I do many of these things already.

  • All very sound advice! I would add clean as you go if your kitchen is minuscule, otherwise you’ll not be able to move.

  • I have to argue with the soapy sink method because as the water cools down the junk on the dishes just gets cemented on…especially on stainless cookware and le creuset enamel cast iron that I use alot of..I use a big stainless bowl filled with hot, hot water and soap next to the sink for utensils and small tools, and leave my sink free to instantly wash ss pans immediately, while they are still hot and everything can sort of “deglaze” off of them when you run hot water over them…I guess my european mama taught me to wash as you go and I’ve always stuck by that…gets less overwhelming that way…and when I’m finished cooking…I only have a few dishes to do….

    Thanks for all the other tips too…Happy Thanksgiving!

  • This is excellent, I was making macarons last night and had the ironing board out!

    My friends always make fun of me, they think I’m hoarding spatulas, whisk, measuring cups and spoons!

    It is very cool in our tiny guestroom and since I only have guest once every two years, I have all my bulk baking ingredients stored in bins on the guest bed.

    Thanks for this post, I am sharing it with all my friends!

  • Nice to see so many folk reading and commenting on what for a lot is common sense.Clean as you go where you can,that includes sponging/wiping the micro-wave each time you use it,spare glass plates for these are easy to find and a boon for those sometime boil-overs when you’re busy.Thanks for the educational material.

  • I swear by filling the sink with hot soapy water. Its the first thing I do when I start baking. A few other hints – start with a clean kitchen, I’m amazed at how many people try to start baking with a sink full of dishes and countertops full of clutter, Think about what you are going to do – if you are making three batches of cookies, can you use the same measuring cups, spoons, or bowls without washing? And if its a recipe you make a lot, its just as easy to measure out dry ingredients for two batches as it is for one. Store the second batch in a labeled container.

  • Thanks, David, for the wise words. I also have several sets of measuring cups and spoons to separate the dry ingredients from the wet ones to make baking quicker. Happy Holidays to you, too !!

  • Thanks, David, for all this helpful advise. Your blog is a joy. I don’t comment too much, but read every post religiously. Many thanks.

  • I have been cleaning silpats in the dishwasher for years.

    Wet soapy sponge in the microwave comes out blazing hot and sanitary.

  • Second bowl for my Kitchen Aide? Best gift I ever gave myself!

    I know space is an issue but if you have room here’s a tip from a friend that I have found very helpful for the last minute pots and pans used when prepping dinner for company — Buy a large deep plastic storage bin to use as a back up soaking sink. Fill the bin with soapy water and stick it in the garage, the backyard, porch, or somewhere out of sight and put pots and pans in as you move food from cooking vessel to serving vessel. This leaves the kitchen sink empty for prep and soaking/rinsing dinner dishes for the dishwasher. Deal with the pots and pans after the quests leave or even (sorry mom) the next day.
    Small NYC or Paris apartment? Maybe you could hide this in the shower.

  • David; I couldn’t agree more with every single one of your tips :)

    three things I might add:

    sponge:
    Mine IS getting frequently replaced but in between, I throw it in the dishwasher with everything else – I can do that twice before it gets ripped apart…
    The same thing applies to my scrubbing brush – 2nd tip comes from my mother in law

    bleach: You’re so, so so right – I’ve never seen a people so obsessed with bleach!! Made me gag with laughter!

    garbage container:
    I often use just any old (or new) bowl I’ve (hopefully already) used to put my ‘dechets’ in – but also I use frequently a plastic carrier which you’re still obliged to get with most buys. And at least they get re-used and your garbage can stays clean and nice smelling… I put the carrier bag in one of my 2 sinks and tie it up when full.

    Excellent post! As always

  • Excellent post, David! Dirty dishes…the great equalizer! Everyone’s got ‘em. Everyone tackles them in their own way. I always find it fascinating to see your posts and note how many comments are generated. You really got people’s attention this time around. I have a small-ish kitchen in the suburbs of Chicago. Well, small counter space. I’m lucky enough to have kitchen amenities that make my life as easy as it’s going to get. Sadly, the only way to get a clean kitchen is to, er, clean your kitchen.

    My tip is to read through a recipe and see if it’s possible to maybe do some things out of order that won’t harm the recipe’s outcome. I make a cream cheese coffee cake that has a swirl of sweetened cream cheese added at the end. If I did the recipe in order I’d have to clean out my mixer bowl to mix the swirl ingredients. I do the swirl first and set it aside, since it’s just cream cheese, sugar, and a little vanilla. Then I use the dirty bowl to make the batter, which has those ingredients in it anyway.

    I love that you’re addressing such a basic (and unsexy) part of cooking and baking. I remember reading Julie and Julia and being totally grossed out at how Julie didn’t clean up after herself and ended up with a sink full of maggots. Ack!!!

    I think the cleaning consensus here with your fans is, just do it.

  • I absolutely LOVE the useful tip about soaking your dishes. I have a dishwasher too but it’s miniature so I find that I often have to do half the dishes myself anyway. I’ll definitely be using this method next time, particularly when making something sticky that I would have had to spend 5 minutes scrubbing if I just let it sit there for a couple hours while I entertained guests.

    I found that a lot of the other tips I’m either already doing or I learned something new, thanks so much!

  • I couldn’t agree more about the “no knives in the dishwasher” policy. That is such a big pet peeve of mine, it drives me up the wall. It completely ruins your knives. As a cook I am just OCD about my knives in general so that is probably why I hate the thought of dishwashing them. Speaking of which, dishwashers definitely are crucial to the flow of a kitchen. Having been one and having worked the line, I have learned that first hand. All such words to live by….

  • Thanks for the useful and timely post. I must admit that as a restaurant chef I rarely do dishes but I’m always looking for ways to make the dishwashers (the people and the machines) more efficient and to use less water. We also soak pans, sizzle platters etc and frequently we put a cutting board across the hand sink for another work surface. I also think that for baking it’s essential to have two sets of measuring spoons one for dry measuring (baking powder/soda) and one for wet (vanilla, honey, corn syrup)

  • And running water and toilets (other things to be thankful for when baking plans go awry)–NPR did a show last week about how most of the world doesn’t have these two essentials.

  • A lot of good ideas. I don’t really cook much, in part because of my tiny kitchen– no room for a fridge, no room for an oven AND a dishwasher, so I picked dishwasher! I was enthusiastic about the ironing board idea till I realized I’d have to put it in my hallway beside my refrigerator, thus blocking access to the front door… Maybe I win the small-French-kitchen contest; I’m guessing there’s no prize.
    However, I think the most important part of your post was the end. I’m always trying to remember and get my kids to think about how fortunate we are!

  • Sweetheart, the Sanity Saver. Yes, that’s what you are! I sit here at my computer and give praises for this timely piece. I’ve spent the better part of the morning scooping roasted pumpkins, prepping two pie doughs and ruining the latest batch of candied orange slices. The latter is purely my fault….I didn’t follow directions and I took it upon myself to make candy on a very humid, wet day.

    Reading this today, as I fight the onslaught of the flue bug and a deadly timeline, I am encouraged to know that I am not alone. May we all survive, and when all is said and done, may we find a friend willing to help us wash up these danged dishes!

    My dishwasher is my second best friend. The first? My yellow lab, Hannah.
    :)