Kitchen Helpline: Designed and Organized

It's always a good time to get organized at home, and The Kitchen is here to help you do it in style. We know you've got questions, so we've opened up the Kitchen Helpline! We even got a little help from our friends to get you on the path to domestic bliss.

Question 1--"I'm thinking of redesigning my kitchen. Any ideas?"

For design tips for the perfect kitchen, we turned to two of our friends: designer Shea McGee and Chef Scott Conant. Shea suggests upgrading your kitchen by utilizing the trend of color contrast. She pairs cabinets in contrasting shades for a refreshing visual statement, placing the darker cabinets on the bottom and the lighter ones on top. Shea also likes to contrast dark grout with white subway tiles. Lastly, Shea recommends open shelving for an inviting look--try storing practical, frequently used items on lower shelves and more decorative items on higher shelves.

Chef Scott Conant suggests keeping your kitchen just as functional as it is beautiful. Keep your spices close to where you're actually cooking by including a spice drawer to the design. You can also add a drawer fridge underneath your counter for easy access when you're prepping food. This frees up space in your main fridge for additional items. The drawer-style fridge is also great when company comes by. Fill it with snacks and drinks and guests can help themselves.

Question 2--"I love freeze-ahead meals, but I'm always worried about freezer burn."

The key to preventing freezer burn (and avoiding an "off" taste) is to protect what you freeze. Foods that freeze in one large mass, like casseroles and lasagnas, are great for the freezer. Line your preferred casserole dish with foil, leaving an overlap, then do the same with plastic wrap. Next, fill your dish with the casserole or lasagna ingredients and fold over the ends to cover, first the plastic, then the foil. If you are afraid the plastic will stick to the food, lay in a couple sheets of parchment paper: one sheet before adding the ingredients and one sheet on top before you fold the edges over. Place the whole thing in the freezer and allow it to freeze as one solid brick. Once the casserole is frozen, you can remove it and store it in the freezer until you're ready to bake it--the foil makes it easy to remove. (This also frees up the casserole dish for another use.) When you're ready to bake your casserole, defrost it slightly to remove all of the wrapping, then set the block back in its original casserole dish. Thaw and cook as directed in the recipe.

Foods that contain lots of liquid are also great for the freezer, such as soups, coconut milk-based curries and tomato-based sauces like marinara or Bolognese. Dairy-based soups don't do as well when reheated, so if you're adding dairy, leave it out before you freeze the soup, then add the milk or cream when you reheat it. For a bonus freezer tip that will keep you organized, prep your food and seal in ziptop bags--just make sure they are sealed and don't overfill! Lay the bags flat on a baking sheet and place in the freezer. Once each bag is frozen solid, you're ready to store them upright in a labeled bin, just like a file folder. The bins are like drawers and fit well in drawer or side-by-side freezers. The bins can be found online or in many organization or office supply stores.

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