Food52 Staff

Too Many Cooks: What are Your Kitchen Tics?

March 30, 2012

You'll be hearing from the staff at FOOD52 every week in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

If you spend enough time in the kitchen with someone who's serious about cooking, you're bound to start noticing the little things they do that seem so unusual to you, but so natural to them. We call them "kitchen tics" -- if you've ever developed a personal system for how you peel carrots, or oiled your cast iron pans so obsessively that your roommates are scared to so much as look at them, you know what I mean.

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This week, we share our kitchen tics. And for a treat, some of our significant others share what they see as our tics, as well.

What are the weird things that you do in the kitchen? (Of course, they're not weird when you do them!)

My OCD-rific technique for washing dishes: rinse all pots, pans, dishes. Clean out sink so there's no leftover grease. Fill sink with hot -- like super hot -- soapy water. Wash with a dish cloth, dunking each piece in the water so the heat will remove any oils you miss with the cloth. Rinse with super hot water. Repeat. Wash out and rinse sink when all the dishes are done.

Kinda nutty about linens. They have to be washed in cold water. Stretched by hand. Air dried. Then ironed using a water sprayer to steam out any creases. (Which is why I cast mean looks at any of our dinner guests who make a mess of their linen napkin.)

I will stop now.

...And Tad's take on Amanda:
Well, clearly, cooking toast in the oven (takes half an hour, leaves crumbs everywhere) (Has she used the new toaster much?). Her distaste for oven mitts. Her chef-like droit de seigneur about using every single bowl in the drawer to make, say, wilted kale, on the theory that the dishwasher will take care of it all...and her clean countertops obsession, too.

I have to rinse my fingers after every egg I crack and after every pinch of salt I take from the container. Can't stand the feeling of sticky egg whites or desert-like salt on my fingers for more than a few seconds.

Me, at my craziest: When I'm looking for a kitchen tool (and having a hard time finding it), I semi-consciously make the motion of the thing (i.e. tongs-ing, whisking, peeling) until I find it. I have also literally pulled my boyfriend's bacon out of a hot pan to cut it in half, because I think it cooks more evenly that way. I'm working on that one.

...And Mike's take on Kristen:
My "complaint" about Kristen, which by all standards is not a real problem, is that she maintains one of the most insane cooking schedules I could possibly imagine.  I cannot tell you how many times I've heard "oooh i gotta start this chicken", "I need to try the dough again," or "our dinner is aaaaaalmost ready..." well past 1:00 AM.

I stack my eggshells, I sort things by size (like basil leaves), I find it VERY satisfying to peel citrus like in the photo (no breaking the peel!). Oh god, if I keep going I might embarrass myself.

...And Michael's take on Kristy:
It's not really my place to pass any judgement on Kristy's fairly insane kitchen OCD. That being said, all I have to do is ASK before I do absolutely anything in the kitchen and then I'm good because, honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing (and she knows this).

I hand wash the knives (Chef's knives and paring knives -- not tableware) and despite the risk of slicing a finger, insist on putting them cutting edge UP in the drying rack so they won't be dulled against the metal of the rack. Sarah doesn't like this, but begrudgingly complies.

Nozlee: I get really preoccupied with getting every. last. bit. of batter, soup, or puree out of a bowl, food processor, or saucepan with a spatula -- if the vessel doesn't look practically clean, I'm not done. I'm also a big stickler about raw meat -- anything it touches gets washed, including the inside of the sink after I wash the meat-y cutting board! I hoard peelings, ends, and scraps like I'm Tamar Adler, but I'm not half as beautifully lyrical about it when I make a frittata out of beet stems, broccoli stalks, and old pasta. And there's nothing like the feeling of total kitchen serenity I get when every single dish is not just clean, but in its proper place -- to the extent that I've been late for appointments because I'm hand-drying the breakfast dishes, or harried Jarrett to finish his coffee so I can wash the mug.

....And Jarrett's take on Nozlee:
Handwashing every single dish or utensil as she uses it, even if it means dinner is served a little cold. Related: finding elaborate methods to minimize use of dishes and utensils for maximum efficiency. Also, challenging herself "for fun" to use up all the ingredients in the refrigerator down to the condiments in the fridge door before going grocery shopping.

Amanda Li:
The biggest tic for me is my obsession with my knives. Magnetic strips are awesome. Knife blocks make me sad. I wash and towel dry my knives after cooking. Wet knives bad. Knives in the dish rack is a no-no. Then I order them on the strip by size -- even my paring knives. (PS I'm not a serial killer).

Anytime I see that someone has filled the sink (without a garbage disposal) with vegetable peels or other such food debris, it sets off a tiny kitchen panic attack. I always peel fruits and vegetables directly into the garbage. The sink is for dishes, and the garbage is for garbage.

I have separate sets of towels for drying dishes and drying hands, I also have a designated cutting board for raw meat, I hate using sponges, and I sharpen my knives daily.

My biggest kitchen tic: a dirty / messy kitchen. I always clean up as I go, so that everything remains clean and orderly, something I learned when I worked at Lacroix, back in high school.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mei Chin
    Mei Chin
  • napassasin
  • georgeann
  • Pee Wee
    Pee Wee
  • Blue Spruce
    Blue Spruce
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Mei C. April 2, 2012
What I can’t stand is open packages (of flour, of sugar, etc.). Everything MUST be put into a container that can be sealed shut. They is then labeled and dated. They are then organized by height in the pantry. I also sympathize with missing utensils and grimy countertops and gritty sinks.
napassasin April 2, 2012
I can't stand plates scraped into the trash - it smells and it's gross. We use a garbage disposal and in the hotter months I put trimmings and scraps into a plastic produce bag and freeze it so my trashcan/house/garage does not stink. My husband/guests think I'm crazy for being so type A about my trash but St. Louis during the warmer months is not pleasant and I don't want my garage to smell like a landfill. And guess what? It doesn't. Neat trick I learned from my grandmother.
Midge April 2, 2012
I do the freezer trick too , and my husband thinks I'm nuts..
georgeann April 2, 2012
I'm unsure if this is a tic or simply a glaring inconsistency on my part: I pile dishes in th sink as the day goes by (I work at home) and clean at the end of the day. BUT, when I walk through my small kitchen during the day, if the granite counter looks filmy or dirty, I feel compelled to shine it up. Classic example of compensation...ha!
Pee W. April 2, 2012
Great. Funny too.
Blue S. April 1, 2012
Pulling just one or a handful of grapes from the bunch. All those naked stems drive me crazy! Use the nearby scissors to cut yourself a serving, please. (Guess who is always "grooming" the bunch.)
lovelyladylumps April 1, 2012
oh god, i live with five boys who often treat me like their mother, and as such, i've started acting all the more insane. things that drive me nuts: puddles of murky water left into the sink, food waste washed into the half of the sink without the garbage disposal, incessant usage of paper towels, even for things like drying one's hands, crumbs and coffee grounds everywhere all the time and general failure to wipe down the counters, putting cast iron in the dishwasher, putting very sharp chef's knives in the dishwasher, leaving my good knives "soaking" in the sink for days on end, leaving sponges submerged in murky water in the sink for days on end, never running or emptying the dishwasher, not composting, not recycling, failing to keep the parts of my beloved food processor together and clean, not cleaning as you cook, insisting on handwashing things like cups and bowls that inevitably get left with a gross greasy residue, stacking bowls or plates in a weird order (i.e. not putting the largest on the bottom and decreasing in size from there). thank you for making me feel less alone.
BavarianCook March 31, 2012
I'm with Laura - I live by the 'clean as you go' principle and the kitchen has to be tidy. That does not mean un-lived in but I need a clean sink, no dirty dishes sitting around and a clean counter to work on. I always call it having the playground clean before playing. When guests are around that want to help I tell them "no thanks" because I have my own system of cleaning and putting things away. Most of them know by now, and probably secretly like that they don't have to do anything but hang out and relax ;)
Panfusine March 30, 2012
You make me feel soo much better, my tics are too many to count, but this is probably the silliest (apart from my neurotic habit of avoiding breaking eggs at home at any cost)
I can never add 3 spoons or scoops or handfuls of anything, I'll always have to add atleast a smidgen as a fourth spoon. I seem to have something against the quantity 3,
breakbread March 30, 2012
As I read this I am searching in vain( in only two possible drawers) for my lemon zester! It doesn't need to be this hard; just put it back in drawer by stove!! Gotta love family help.
Devangi R. March 30, 2012
Oh my god! this is so cool...ahhaa..I thought only I had kitchen list goes with so many of you like merill's I can stand oily hands for a second also..i will wash my hands thousands times if i have to ...and also the handles of any of my spoons or ladles that i am using to cook should not be dirty. 2. I too get preoccupied by removing every single bit of food esp from blender..
3. Like Alaina, I also have two set of towels one of cleaning hands and the other for cleaning the dishes..and once I have used anything that I need immediately that thing should be right back to its original place like spices, or oil.
Devangi R. March 30, 2012
oops! I meant I can't stand oily hands..
krusher March 30, 2012
That is my tic. It also extends to hand washing of my special pots, Le Creuset items, crystal wine glasses and my collection of French oyster plates.
aargersi April 1, 2012
I would like to see those plate! I love oyster plates!
boulangere March 30, 2012
I live and cook by myself, unless friends are in for dinner, or the son & daughter visiting. The latter know my tics very, very well. Guests don't. That's why they're called guests. I don't freak out at them, so they're willing to come back. Family is another matter entirely. They have to come back, often because I've paid the airfare. That said, I want to tear my hair out at the thought of someone else emptying my dishwasher. The son & daughter know to ask where things go. Staying guests, who genuinely want to help and won't take, "Oh, you're on vacation," for an answer, don't. I've spent weeks tracking down things I know I own, trying to follow someone else's logic. Or lack thereof. The heaven of it all is that not a soul can verify or contradict a word of this.
SKK March 30, 2012
B - I can so relate! My daughter moved in with me from August and left two weeks ago. Love, love having here and...She is a great cook and we have two different styles - I clean as I go, and always have a sink full of hot soapy water. She cleans at the end. And we have two different methods of putting things away. So I raced her to empty the dishwasher! Noticed my wine consumption went up while she was here and my tongue was sore from biting it.

My daughter complained that I would wash utensils and knives while she was still using them!

A love your line - "They have to come back, often because I've paid the airfare." Yes!!