September 9, 2013

Tips for Cooking in a Tiny Kitchen

This is our kitchen:


This is our tiny kitchen

All of it. There’s no other wing or external counter-top. When I moved in, I simply did not know how I was going to manage with less than 1  foot of counter space, but over time I’ve learned little tricks and tips that have made the kitchen quite a bit more pleasant to work in. We cook 3 meals a day, and I have almost forgotten that we have so little space. Here are some tips and tricks to have you humming away in your tiny kitchen in no time.

1. The obvious one: make do with fewer utensils and appliances. We have very few appliances: refrigerator, stove-top oven, microwave, coffee maker. Stowed in a high cabinet I also have an immersion blender and a mini food-processor. We have exactly 4 knives and zero pizza cutters, whisks or garlic crushers, which are things that can be done with ordinary knives and forks. Every few months I take stock of what’s in my kitchen: if I haven’t used something in 2 months it gets thrown out, donated or put into storage.

Some of the things I find essential: Glass nesting bowls- you get a lot for a small amount of real estate, a spaghetti server- there’s simply no other way to effectively dish out spaghetti,  and glass lunch bowls with watertight lids that double as food storage.

2. Build shelves in every cranny. I found some wood in a dumpster and I sanded and painted them with some leftover paint, then got some hardware at a local store and I had me some very inexpensive, darling spice racks and shelves. The whole thing cost about $2. Tip: my dad pointed out that I should have put the brackets on the top side of the shelves so that it would be less visible.

some shelves I built myself.

some shelves I built myself.

A fun thing to put on display is sets of mismatched jars with various useful things: sesame seeds, sugar, rice.

3. Hang things on the wall if you have wall space. I am lucky enough to have about 3 feet of wall in my kitchen and I use it to hang cutting and serving boards, bottle openers, even a mesh bag to hold ginger, potatoes and the like. I like having lots of hooks in the kitchen and each one adds a lot of utility.

4. Choose the right size garbage pail. Figure out how large a can you need so that you only have to empty it once a day at most. If it’s any bigger, you’re wasting valuable space; smaller and you’ll find it darn inconvenient to keep running to the disposal. We chose a 10 gallon bin and we also have a wire basket for empty beer bottles recycling but we had to experiment a bit to find the right size.

recycling bin

recycling bin

5. Get a deeper sink or higher faucet. We asked our superintendent nicely and he changed our faucet to a higher one. This immediately opened up the sink for numerous possibilities and projects; it felt like a different kitchen. It was easier to wash the dishes and also to clean large vegetables.

6. Don’t have too many pots and pans. You don’t actually need very many items if you’re willing to be a tiny bit flexible. We have a stockpot, a small saucier, a cast-iron pan, and a small bread-pan. I use the cast iron pan for everything but if I need to make a bit of quinoa or a soup I need the other two. The bread-pan doubles as a small cake pan and it does quite nicely. On the rare occasion I feel the need to make a round cake there are lots of inexpensive disposable options at our local grocery.

7. You don’t actually need as many dishes as a recipe calls for. For instance, when baking I almost never mix the wet ingredients separately, I just make a little hole in the dry ingredients and do a bit of mixing of the wet ingredients in the hole before mixing it all together. Since you’re in a tiny kitchen, it’s quite easy to reach over to the sink and quickly rinse a bowl you just used. The last thing you want in a small kitchen is a huge buildup of dishes in the sink.

Learn to cut vegetables against your thumb, eliminating the need for a cutting board. It’s safer than it looks but don’t try this with a serrated knife. This technique is controversial but I can’t abide taking down the cutting board every time I need to quarter an apple.

bare essentials for a tiny kitchen

bare essentials for a tiny kitchen

8. Keep it simple: It’s possible to make a great dinner using just one pan or pot. Most of the time, our dinner consists of roasted vegetables of some variety with some kind of protein thrown in and it all takes place in the 10-inch cast iron pan. On occasion, I take out the small saucier to make rice or quinoa in addition. If I make a salad, I cut it right into individual bowls. You don’t need a million dishes to make a tasty, hearty meal. And your spouse/guests will thank you (hopefully you’re not the one washing the dishes).

9. Clean out the refrigerator often. Refrigerator real estate is valuable because it’s useful for storing grains and flours. Therefore, you can’t afford to have 100 different spices and marinades collect in the fridge and I find it useful to reorganize and do quite a bit of tossing-out every week. Sometimes you find an old jar of peanut butter in the back and you decide to make a delicious dip right there on the spot. Great things happen when you clean out your fridge!

we don't have any drawers in our kitchen, a friend came up with this creative solution: buy a flatware divider and install it at an angle

we don’t have any drawers in our kitchen, a friend came up with this creative solution: buy a flatware divider and install it at an angle

10. Anything is possible! You don’t have to be limited by your tiny kitchen. As I type, I am cooking some chilli, making tomato soup, finishing up an avocado-kale salad and soaking garbanzo beans for hummus. Yes, there is tomato juice all over the stove, and some of the chopped ingredients are sitting in a bowl in the sink, the dishes are drying and there’s not a millimeter of counter space to spare. But I’m having a great time and I just feel like cooking a lot today.  We’ve done lots of fun things in our tiny kitchen: layered cakes, risottos, even bread and multi-step soups. But I have never looked at a recipe and said: that won’t work in this kitchen and I won’t let the lack of space spoil my love for cooking.


5 Responses to Tips for Cooking in a Tiny Kitchen

  1. Rivka says:

    Very resourceful and minimalistic -I like

  2. Claudia says:

    Great tips, very helpful! I just moved into an apartment with a small kitchen — a bit bigger than yours, but not much — so your advice comes in handy :-)

  3. pri says:

    Thanks! I want to tackle my kitchen now and purge!

  4. Peg says:

    Hi! I found you while muttering about my “kitchenette” in my new living space- I’m a cook – was feeling stymied and still am a bit because my landlady prefers not to have things having on the wall. But, reading through gave me some creative ideas that I will get right on. Thanks!

    Really like the rest of your website, too. Lots of connecting points – I lived in NYC many years ago. What did you decide?

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