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Trends, Technology, Transformation: Designers discuss kitchen redesign possibilities

Is it time to remodel your kitchen? If you are ready to make that significant investment of both time and money, you should think about the project as more than just choosing and installing new countertops, cabinets and appliances. You are not just remodeling. You are reshaping your kitchen into a space that reflects and is equipped for the way you cook, clean and interact with family and friends.

If you look at it from that perspective, envisioning the kitchen you need to accommodate your cooking, cleaning and social habits may seem challenging. An interior designer can help you sort through all of these questions, present you with options, introduce you to new options and trends, and guide you through the remodeling process.

We recently spoke with two designers — Molly Switzer of Molly N. Switzer Designs, LLC,  and Richard Landon of Richard Landon Design — for their take on the changing kitchen design, how you can make the best choices during the design process, and how you can get the most out of the relationship when you’re working with a designer.

Do your research

The appliances you have your heart set on in the beginning of the remodeling process may not be the best choice for your kitchen or lifestyle. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and do your homework. That could mean checking out what your family and friends have done, watching appliance demonstrations by retailers or manufacturers, or watching online videos. “A lot of consumers are doing research,” Switzer says. “They’re paying attention to their friends and family who are doing remodels. You can get a lot of feedback from them.” Switzer educates her clients on the options at the beginning of the process, but says it’s more valuable to visit a showroom and try the appliances. “That’s where everything gets solidified,” she says.

Research also includes really thinking about how you use the kitchen. Landon has observed a phenomenon he refers to it as ‘A-cubed syndrome,’ which means his clients have adapted, adjusted and accommodated certain aspects of their kitchen for so long, that they have accepted those things as normal. What you are used to may not be what is best for you, and it’s important to be aware of options, he says.

“You want to point them ahead, counter the A-cubed syndrome, and feed them YouTube videos about these on-point appliances,” he says. “I would say a good half of my clients are now switching to the 24-inch wide induction cooktop. My neighbor decided, after watching a demonstration, to go induction.” He encourages clients who are not familiar with steam cooking to go online and watch demonstration videos of steam ovens in action. “Every time they do that, they come to me and say they’re going to do steam. Virtually 100% of my clients are using steam.”

You should also consider how you clean your appliances. “When you have a gas cooktop, you understand that there are elements you have to clean. Some companies have come up with the technology to make the elements dishwasher safe, but most make you hand-wash those pieces. Do you want to take the time to make sure it’s clean or do you want to put it in the dishwasher?” Also consider whether you prefer a self-cleaning oven over one you have to clean manually, Switzer says.

Don’t forget to have a plan for your cleaning appliances, like your vacuum. Switzer says that central vacuums are becoming easier to install during a remodel. “It’s one of those things that, as a designer, you should bring up, especially if you see clients that have multiple stories or who don’t have a good place to store their vacuum.”

Space it out

During a redesign, both available space and how that space is used will play into your choice of appliances, as well as where they are installed.

For instance, is your kitchen just a place to cook, or does it double as a meeting place? For many of Landon’s clients, the kitchen is the new “living room” where everyone gathers. If the kitchen is your social space, design it to accommodate a gathering. “When people come to visit, they hang out in the kitchen with you if it’s possible,” Landon says. “Put in an island, because that is the new dining room table. Increasingly, I’m doing kitchens where you can sit 6-8 people around the island. They don’t have a dining room table at all.”

Socializing shouldn’t stop when the cooking starts, but historically, kitchens have often been designed with the range and other cooking appliances up against a wall, meaning the cook has his or her back to the others in the kitchen. Moving the cooktop to the island will allow cooks to socialize while they sauté. This is another example of moving away from the traditional, Landon says.

“A lot of it does come down to how they use their space and envision their space,” Switzer says. “As a designer, I ask them questions about how they use their kitchen and what appliances they use. How many burners do they use at a time? Are their two people cooking? Should we talk about enlarging the space?”

How you use appliances matters

How you use appliances, not just what the appliances do, should also factor into your decisions during the remodeling process. Kitchen designs aren’t limited to a single range, refrigerator and dishwasher, and appliances are being incorporated around more specific uses of the space. “As you get into larger kitchen spaces, if you entertain a lot, having two dishwashers can be awesome,” Switzer says. “People who like to make cocktails might have a beverage center—all of their coffee, their bourbons, cocktail mixes, wine. I try to put an 18-inch dishwasher in that area.”

Like beverage stations, zoned food storage is also catching on. “I’m seeing more and more people who have no ‘big box’ refrigerator,” Landon says. “Everything is zoned refrigeration. Consider the impact of distributed refrigeration, plus freezer units. The ability to distribute refrigeration and configure it to suit your lifestyle is often what consumers aren’t considering.”

Don’t forget to discuss incorporating your portable appliances into your remodel. “We make sure there’s a home for them,” Switzer says. “If you have to use your stand mixer and have a small space, there are cabinet lifters — a base cabinet with a hydraulic spring action piece. There are coffee centers where you can just hide [your coffeemaker] away.”

The portables you use regularly are one of the factors you should consider when determining your counter depth, Landon says. “As houses shrink, counter space is becoming a huge deal,” he says.

Kitchens are changing

Landon sees changes in the works for kitchens, driven by technology and a desire for personalized food. He encourages clients to think about the future when planning their remodel with a designer.

“I want people to realize that the world is rapidly changing in response to technology,” Landon says. “It has very much affected the way we approach food.” He noted that for the first time, teenagers report spending more on food than they do on clothing. “In parts of the country where there is a higher density and cost of square footage, this is going to drive you into a different way of thinking about a kitchen.” Changes in eating habits, like the rise of rapid ordering and customized meals, can drive the decisions you make about your appliances. Connected features that seem novel now, like refrigerators that order food automatically and cooking appliances that guide you through the cooking process could soon become normal parts of the kitchen, he says.

“All the ways we think about kitchens were set by ‘Leave it to Beaver,’” Landon says. “How you use the kitchen and the kind of appliance structure you need are radically changing.” 

Before you start, plan

If you are going to work with a designer, involve them early in the process. “You should have the designer involved before the process begins, because if the process is started, we’re trying to play catch-up the whole time,” Switzer says. “All the planning should happen before the redesign starts. It’s a big investment, and we need to make educated decisions about the process.”

So, if you are planning a kitchen redesign, don’t be constrained by your current concept of a kitchen. Look beyond your decisions on the physical features and work with your designer to create a space that fits your lifestyle now and into the future, as food, cooking and appliances continue to evolve.

Facts about blenders, a kitchen staple

They whip up healthy shakes and smoothies and decadent milkshakes, crush ice and puree fruit. Blenders are equally handy at every meal and if you’re craving a snack. They are among the most versatile of kitchen appliances.

If you have a kitchen, chances are you have a blender. More than 90% of households report owning at least one personal or full-size blender, according to new AHAM research. People are using them more frequently, too, with full-size blenders being used an average of 6.3 times per month, up from 4.4 times per month in 2009. Personal blenders are used an average of 8.7 times a month.

Healthier eating habits seem to be one reason behind the increase in blender use. “Eating healthier” is the top reason given by personal blender users (33%) who are using the appliance more, while 31% of full-size blender users say they’re using it more often because they’re drinking more smoothies.

Whether you prefer full-size or personal, shake or smoothie, these facts from AHAM’s recent portable appliance research features will let you see how your blender and blender habits measure up. How do you use your blender? Let us know in the comments!

What is blending?

Fruit smoothies are popular among blender users. They are made more than twice a month on average using both types of blenders. More than 25% of blender users report making smoothies in their blenders five or more times a month. Plenty of other healthy options like fruit and vegetable juices, soups and nutritional shakes also come out of blenders regularly. However, blender users like to indulge, too, and making ice cream milkshakes and frozen drinks both ranked among the top uses.

Snack time

Blenders are a part of every meal. While they may not be as commonly associated with breakfast as coffee makers and toasters, 33% of personal blender owners report using them most often breakfast, double the 16% who report using them most often at dinner. But snacks between meals edged out breakfast by a point—34%—as the most common time for putting the personal blender to work.

Snacks were also the top use for 30% of owners of full-size blenders, vs. 24% for dinner, 22% for breakfast and 12% for lunch.

The need for speed

Speed settings are one of the features that makes blenders equally adept at preparing a sauce, shake or smoothie. More than half (57%) of full-size blenders have four or more speed settings, and 85% have three or more. Among personal blenders, 22% have four or more settings, and half have three or more.

Speaking of speed, blending sessions tend to be over quickly. Most personal (72%) and full size (66%) blender owners report using it for five minutes or less per session.

Features and accessories

Ice crushing is the most popular blender feature and is found on 50% of full-size and 45% of personal blenders. Most—83% of full-size and 72% of personal—also have a pulse feature, which temporarily takes the blender to top speed at the push of a button. More than half of users use the pulse feature “every time” or “frequently.”

Blender accessories can add convenience. If you are looking to take your freshly blended drink with you, 20% of full-size blenders will accommodate that with a travel cup and lid. Other common blender attachments are food choppers and food processors. Some models also include removable ingredient caps and pre-programmed recipes.

Nice job on the cleaning

Blender users, for the most part, are doing a good job keeping the appliance clean. Nearly 90 percent of users of both full-size and personal blenders clean the blender jar after every use, and another 5% clean it “frequently.” Most of those (85% and 83%) clean the blades as well. Hand washing, either with or without disassembling the blender, is the most common cleaning method.

Age, Store, Serve: Wine refrigerators will help you pour the perfect summer glass

Ah, summer. The sound of waves crashing as you relax at your favorite vacation spot. Late-afternoon breezes chasing away the heat of the day. Beads of condensation forming on the glass of perfectly chilled, crisp white wine as you lift it to your lips, ready to let the cares of the day drift away.

Whether you go for that crisp white, a sweet rose or a fruit-laced red, temperature matters when it comes to wine. If you have aspirations of becoming a wine scholar or just want to show your wine- sophisticate friends that you know your stuff, too, it helps to know a little bit about the proper temperature at which to store and serve wine. The wine refrigerator is the appliance that will get you there.

Wine refrigerators, also known as wine chillers or wine coolers, have become standard features of high-end kitchen renovations. Unlike regular refrigerators, which store food and drinks below 40 degrees, wine refrigerators are designed to maintain temperatures ideal for wine, whether it is being stored, aged or served. They offer protection from wine’s biggest enemies: heat, lack of humidity, temperature variation, vibrations, ultraviolet light and odors. In short, wine refrigerators are your best option for storing wine this side of a royal palace cellar.

If you think you are ready to up your wine storage and serving game, there are a number of factors to consider. While wine refrigerators aren’t any more difficult to operate than a regular refrigerator, the details of wine storage matter, especially if you’re storing wine for the long haul. I spoke with Marshall Tilden III, vice president of sales at Wine Enthusiast, which sells an array of wine refrigerator models and publishes the popular Wine Enthusiast magazine, for some guidance on what wine drinkers need to think about before they make the jump from wine rack to wine refrigerator.

As with many appliances, you should start with size. Look at how much space you have available, particularly if you opt for a built-in wine refrigerator. Many built-in models mimic the size of other major kitchen appliances, like dishwashers or refrigerators. But, if you don’t have room for or don’t want a built-in model, there are many portable models available, with a range of capacities. When making your choice, consider how many bottles you currently store, and think bigger. Wine is a hobby that tends to grow like the boldness of the flavor in a perfectly aged cabernet.

“We always stress to customers to get a unit that can hold about 25-50 percent more than your current collection,” Tilden says. Once you get into the world of collecting wine, it grows quickly. It’s best to buy bigger than you need, unless you’re constrained by space.” Fortunately, you have options ranging from small units that store a few bottles to models that can hold hundreds of bottles. Wine refrigerators are available in finishes consistent with popular appliance looks, like stainless and black stainless, and are often integrated into the kitchen near refrigerators.

Along with capacity, your wine refrigerator should be able to accommodate the size and shape of the bottles of your preferred brands. “Wine bottles can come in all shapes, sizes and forms,” Tilden says. “Some models have adjustable shelves or luxury spacing, so if your collection has bigger bottles, [the wine refrigerator] has the capacity or you can adjust the shelves.” 

The next factor you should consider is how you will be using the refrigerator. Whether you’re serving, storing or aging, temperature matters. It can affect wine flavor and aroma. “White wine should be served anywhere from 44-50 degrees, whereas red wine should be served somewhere between 59 and 65 degrees,” Tilden says. “The lighter the wine, the colder you serve it.”

If you are aging wine, it must be kept around 55 degrees. “Only a fraction of the wines in the world are meant to age, evolve and improve,” Tilden says. But if you are going to put the time and effort into aging wines, you will want to keep conditions as close to perfect as possible. “If it’s too cold, it will slow the aging,” Tilden says. “If it’s too warm, the aging will speed up. If you don’t have the right temperature to age it, you might miss the optimal drinking stage.”

Single-zone wine refrigerators generally keep wine at 55 degrees, which is ideal for storing and aging, Tilden says. However, if you are storing, aging and serving, consider a dual-zone model, which allows you to keep zones of the wine refrigerator at different temperatures. That way, you can move a bottle into another zone when you’re getting ready to serve it. Where you keep your wine refrigerator can also affect the temperature inside, so make sure the one you choose can handle the ambient temperature. This is especially important if you are keeping the refrigerator someplace warmer, like in a garage.

Humidity also affects wine, and higher-end units may include humidity controls, Tilden says. This is important for longer-term aging. “If the cork dries out, air gets in, and the wine oxidizes,” Circulating fans help move the air and moisture, and some include spaces for lava stones to absorb moisture.

Aging wines are sensitive to motion, and certain models also include features that minimize vibration.

Wine can be an investment, and it’s a good idea to think about security as well. “The majority of units that hold over 36 bottles or so come with locks,” Tilden says.

Ready to relax? I hope you thought ahead—in the time it took to read this article, you could have brought a glass of red up to the perfect serving temperature. Time to pour yourself a glass.

Straight from the Chefs: July 4th and Summer Cooking Advice

Whether you’re cooking indoors or outdoors this July 4th, there are plenty of principles that apply to both that can help you knock the ball out of the culinary park this summer. To help you up your summer cooking game, we have compiled the best advice professional chefs have given us on holiday cooking, covering everything from planning your holiday meal, to keeping an organized kitchen, to cleaning up afterward.

Great cooking and great parties start with great planning. If you’re hosting this July 4th, the groundwork for a lot of your kitchen success will be set before you even pull out the first cooking appliance. That means not waiting until the last minute. A few simple steps can help you get ahead.

  • Decide what appliances you’ll need and put them within easy reach.
  • Prep what foods you can in advance, like chopped vegetables, and think about what kitchen tasks you can delegate.
  • Take inventory of the cooking tools you have at your disposal. Pro chefs recommend a good set of knives and quality cookware.

You can plan just about everything but the weather, but bad weather doesn’t mean your party is a wash. You might even discover a new flavor or reunite with an old classic like the dirty water dog. You can still cook most of your summer favorites—chicken, pulled pork, hot dogs, burgers, shrimp, vegetables and desserts—with your indoor appliances. That includes chicken, pulled pork, hot dogs, burgers, shrimp, vegetables and desserts. Your slow cooker, broiler and range will get the job done. Tradition is great, but be willing to venture outside the traditional. Think about how you might incorporate some of your local or family culture into the menu. That could mean something as simple as a nontraditional spice, or planning a full menu based on foods that reflect the regional culture. Talk to farmers at the local farmers’ market for inspiration and unique ingredients. Sometimes, they’re cooks, too, and will share recipes and cooking tips.

Food safety should be a priority all times of the year. Keep any meat in your refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below until you’re ready to cook. A good digital thermometer will make it easy to check whether your meats are done. They should be a minimum of 165 degrees in the center of their thickest point.

Finally, is the party over? Hopefully, you haven’t put off all of the cleaning to the end. Do whatever cleaning you can as you go. Are you done with that hand mixer or immersion blender? Will you need it again? If not, clean it and put it away. That goes for any tools or appliances you’ll use. You will enjoy the party more if you know there isn’t a pile of cleaning-related tasks waiting for you after the fun is over.

Don’t forget to have a plan for your leftovers. Most can be stored safely for 3-4 days in the refrigerator, according to the Food Safety Inspection Service. Refrigerate hot foods within two hours of cooking.

Do you have a great July 4th or summertime party cooking, planning or cleanup tip? Let us know in the comments. We’ll have more later this month on July 4th parties, summer get-togethers and how your appliances can help you make memories this summer.

Buying an appliance for Mom this Mother’s Day? Think smart, colorful and cool!

Gifting the Mom in your life a kitchen appliance for Mother’s Day may seem fraught with hidden (unwanted) implications, but hear us out! We’re past the days of kitchen appliances evoking only thoughts of ovens or dishwashers – think smart coffee makers, colorful and cool stand mixers and the omnipresent Instant Pot. The perfect Mother’s Day gift should make her life easier, and make her feel more comfortable and loved. Today’s kitchen appliances also hit the balance we always strive for when gift giving: they can be used often and still brighten up the kitchen counter.

With this in mind, we visited a few local retailers to see what gifts people are picking up as Mother’s Day approaches. Appliances that perform more than one function, like multi-cookers and stand mixers, seem to be the standouts this year. High-performance blenders and various types of coffeemakers are also popular choices.

“They’re looking for something different, something that would make life easier,” said Carlos Barillo, department specialist at Crate & Barrel in Arlington, Va.

Does Mom already have all the kitchen appliances she needs? Consider upgrading her to the latest version and score some points by providing her with new features on an old favorite.

If Mom is looking for convenience…

With everyone looking for more time, multi-function cooking appliances are drawing a lot of attention. Their popularity has remained strong since the holiday season. Many people want their appliances to perform more than one function, which saves on storage space while giving them more capabilities in the kitchen.

If Mom likes to cook…

If you’re buying for a mother who dreams of a second oven in the kitchen without an expensive remodel, a countertop oven might be the way to go. Countertop ovens can quickly become an indispensable part of your cooking toolbox. For some, they might even get more use than a traditional oven. Have it set up on Sunday morning and prepare a meal for Mom, so she gets some time to relax and a new oven!

If Mom likes a splash of color

For portable appliances that will be stored on your countertop, appearance matters. Crate & Barrel had that in mind when displaying stand mixers, highlighting colorful finishes like blue and pistachio. “The colors are evolving, depending on the trend,” Barillo said. “It’s a mid-century look. A lot of men come in because their wives want to replace the one they have.” Customers who have recently remodeled their kitchens are paying close attention to the appearance of their portable appliances, he said. Set it up on the countertop and top it with a bow.

If Mom likes her coffee…

You have plenty of options for moms who like to wake up to their perfect cup of coffee. Coffeemakers are another appliance where appearance matters, because they generally are stored in full view in the kitchen. You will have plenty of options across price points, regardless of whether Mom is a fan of traditional or specialty coffee. Have it ready the night before, and give Mom the honor of the first cup.

Still not sure what to get? Asking a few simple questions will help increase the chances that you’ll make Mom happy and perhaps help you avoid returns.

AHAM’s Top 5 Posts of 2017

Before we jump into 2018, let’s take a moment to revisit our most-read posts from 2017. We covered a wide range of topics, from chef-approved ways to grill indoors, to keeping your home safe after a hurricane. That variety is evident in our top posts of the year.

We are grateful to our readers – thank you for taking the time to click, read and share our content last year! Without further ado, here are your favorite pieces from 2017.

Is your water filter counterfeit? Keep your family safe – learn to spot the signs of counterfeit water filters.

Safety, security, warranty: Why it’s important to have your appliances repaired by authorized providers In the long run, authorized repairs just make sense for you and your appliances.

Kitchen redesigns: Appliances, Cabinets and Space Designer advice on how to balance function and style.

The Facts on PACs and RACs: Should you choose a portable or room air conditioner? AHAM helps you decide what type of air conditioner is best for your home.

5 questions to ask before buying a used appliance These key questions will make you an informed buyer.

AHAM’s Holiday Cooking Roundup

Tis the season! If you are hosting for the holidays, you are probably right in the middle of menu-planning and making grocery lists. Is there more you can do to prepare for feeding the whole family? AHAM has advice from the experts in cooking for large groups – chefs! We have rounded up our best chef advice to make this year’s holiday cooking a breeze:

Buying a toaster or toaster oven? Here’s what to consider

Whether it’s an oven, juicer or sous vide immersion cooker (they’re great for eggs), many appliances play a part in creating the perfect breakfast. But no appliance is more synonymous with breakfast than a toaster. If you are shopping for a toaster or toaster oven, you are going to find yourself faced with countless choices. They’ll range from simple “pop-up” models that do nothing but toast and cost under $20, to toaster ovens rife with features that may cost several hundred dollars.

We take toast very seriously. We understand that breakfast, which likely includes toast, can set the tone for the day, and we want to help you choose the toaster that helps get you to the right place. That’s our focus in our latest installment of our series on breakfast. (Did you miss the first two? We covered nontraditional takes on eggs and toast.) As with most appliances, it helps to spend some time thinking about how you’ll use the toaster. For help, we talked to experts at AHAM member KitchenAid for the lowdown on today’s toaster. They offered these suggestions on what to consider before you buy a toaster or toaster oven.

Capacity: How much bread do you toast in a typical morning? Do you have a large family that tends to line up waiting for the toaster? The demand for your toaster will tell you how many slices you need your toaster to handle at once. Most toasters will offer anywhere from two to four toast slots, though you may find a few models offering six. Toaster ovens will also advertise their toast capacity based on the number of slices it can hold at once. They may also describe capacity by using other foods they’re capable of handling, like pizza or meats.

Appearance: Unlike some of your other small appliances, a toaster is likely to live in full view on your countertop and become part of your decor. Make sure you choose a color and style that you like.

Bagel setting: Who doesn’t love a good bagel? Many toasters are built to handle the popular breakfast bread, with wide slots and a bagel setting. When you set your toaster for a bagel, power to the outer elements is reduced so the heat is focused on the bread side of the bagel.

Accessories: Do you need a bun warmer or sandwich rack? Some toasters come with attachments that rest a few inches above the toast slots.

Lift and descent: Some toasters allow you to use the lever to lift the toast a bit higher for easy removal. Other models offer “automatic descent,” a sensor-enabled feature that brings the bread into the toaster after you place it in the slot.

Cooking functions: Toaster ovens offer cooking functions beyond toasting, but the number of functions will likely vary by model. Typical functions you might come across are bake, toast, broil, warm, reheat. Choose your settings carefully if you’re partial to cooking or reheating meals in a toaster oven.

Hungry yet? Read the first two installments of our series on breakfast:

Cook a “shell” of a breakfast with these alternatives to chicken eggs

Toast isn’t just toast: Creative takes on a breakfast standby

Refrigerate and Freeze: Safely storing holiday leftovers

Leftovers are a cherished part of the holiday meal experience. And that’s a relief, since after working so hard to prepare the great holiday feast, the kitchen may be the last place you want to be. Your refrigerator and freezer make it possible for you to enjoy those holiday flavors days, or, if you freeze your leftovers, for months to come.

Food safety is the first thing you should think about when storing that leftover holiday turkey, vegetables, stuffing, side dishes and desserts. The U.S. Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) says leftovers, regardless of the type of food, can be stored safely in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or for 3-4 months in the freezer. Hot food should be refrigerated within two hours of the time it is cooked or taken out of an oven or other appliance that has been keeping it warm, FSIS says.

Bacteria can still grow on hot food after it is placed in the refrigerator, so it’s important that it cools as quickly as possible. Separate hot foods, like soup, into smaller containers to speed up cooling, FSIS recommends.

Don’t forget to check the temperature in your refrigerator regularly. It should be kept between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tips on storing leftovers

If you’re hosting the holiday meal this year, you know the leftovers are coming. Plan for them. The Food Network suggests making room in the refrigerator in advance by using up items the week before. Have plenty of containers ready and label them in advance so you’re ready to move the food to the refrigerator or freezer right away. Take stock of your containers and use those that are sized appropriate for your refrigerator.

Cafemom recommends cutting the turkey into smaller sections for storage. Remove any stuffing from inside the turkey. Use gallon-sized food storage bags to store soup and gravy. Put the bag inside another container before you pour in the contents and let it sit for a moment to check for leaks.

Keep food preferences in mind if more than one person will be polishing off the leftovers. Cookstr suggests storing the light and dark turkey meat in separate containers.

Reheating

Just as you would when cooking it the first time, make sure your leftovers reach 165 degrees F when you reheat them. If you use a microwave—the go-to reheating appliance for many—arrange the food neatly on a microwave-safe dish and cover it with an appropriate cover, FSIS says. Bring any sauces, soups or gravy that you’re reheating to a rolling boil. Frozen leftovers can be safely thawed in your microwave or refrigerator.

A professional chef’s advice on organized holiday cooking

It’s Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. Or any large family or social gathering that is built around a meal. The holidays and big events are a time for home cooks to shine, but they’re also times when success can depend on careful planning and organization. The effort you put into planning and organizing can be the difference between a meal that is memorable for the right or wrong reasons.

“It’s crucial,” says Matthew Britt, a culinary instructor and veteran restaurant chef. “It’s probably the most overlooked thing. I’ve seen some awesome cooks struggle at the holidays, and I’ve seen some average cooks crush it. It all comes down to planning.”

Britt, a Johnson and Wales University instructor who worked for years as executive chef overseeing the contemporary Latin American cuisine at Ceiba in Washington, D.C., says certain principles from restaurant cooking are just as applicable in the home kitchen.

“We throw around the words mise en place—everything in its place,” Britt says. “Everything from setting up your station, to setting up what you can the night before.” Successful cooking also takes focus, and your frame of mind—try not to stay positive and not become overwhelmed.

Britt suggests starting your planning a week in advance. Go into the holiday meal prep with a full pantry. “The number one thing to solve headaches while cooking is to have the kitchen stocked,” he says. “It might seem crazy, but spend a couple hundred dollars to have your pantry loaded—spices, oils, condiments. Invest in your pantry, your core ingredients. It’s a little more expensive up front, but it will save you so much headache.”

Set the stage: Gather everything you need—ingredients, accessories and small appliances, and put it in one place. “I put a big tablecloth on the table and put all of my ingredients and equipment on it,” he says. “Have everything laid out in advance so you know where it is. OCD is the friend of any chef. Make everything as detailed and organized as you want it.”

Get a head start: Many chefs and cooks will suggest doing what you can in advance. That’s good advice, but it isn’t a question of just checking off tasks. Consider how far in advance the foods can be purchased and stored without losing their character. And remember that some dishes are just as good reheated as they are freshly prepared. “The holidays are conducive to baking,” Britt says. “Anything you can bake—and casserole—can be made the night before. It’s usually contained in some sort of casserole dish or pot and reheats relatively well.” Stuffing and mashed potatoes are also good candidates for reheating in the oven or microwave. Chop what vegetables you can the night before, too. Store it in labeled bags in the refrigerator. A second refrigerator can provide valuable storage space when you need it, Britt says.

Get ready to delegate: If you’re the one heading up the holiday meal, the kitchen is yours. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to go it alone. “Put some people you trust to work,” Britt says. “Families, spouses, kids. Give people a title. Say ‘you’re my sous chef this season.’” One valuable way people can contribute is by giving feedback on the menu and meal plan. They’ll let you know if you’re over- or underdoing it, Britt says. While that can be a blow to a home cook’s ego, their feedback and criticism can make your life a lot easier. “It could mean revising the menu or getting input on how to do something,” Britt says. “It could be getting tips on how to cook the turkey from the butcher at the grocery store. It could be [delegating] small jobs like washing dishes. That’s going to save you so much time to focus on the food. At the end of the day, you’re the chef.”

Do a dry run: Now that you’ve stocked the pantry and assigned tasks, it’s time to get your game face on. A walk through the cooking schedule and process the night before can mean smooth cooking on the big day. “Say ‘This is our game plan.’ If you go through the process, move throughout the kitchen, and mark everything out, you’ll be surprised how smooth it will go.”

Clean as you go: This includes any small appliances you’ll use along the way. Don’t let the cleaning pile up. You’ll take up valuable kitchen space and could be setting yourself up for a big cleaning job at the end of a long cooking day. Save oven cleaning for after the holiday.

Are you ready to cook? Stay flexible and be ready to adapt. “If you mess something up, be able to wing it,” Britt says. “Maybe the turkey didn’t come out like I wanted, but maybe I’ll make a banging gravy that covers it up being a little dry.” Optimism is important for successful cooking.

Kitchen essentials

Have you ever wondered what appliances a professional chef keeps in their kitchen? Britt shared a few of his favorites.

Blender: “It’s critical, not only for sauces, but also for drinks,” Britt says. “I use a bar blender as my workhorse.”

Immersion blender: “I love an immersion blender for working with things on the counter,” he says.

Double oven: “It’s the best thing,” Britt says. “You may only use it once or twice a year, but having a separate oven to keep things warm while roasting the turkey is crucial.”