When it comes to kitchens, especially on television and in magazines, “bigger is better” seems to be the general idea. I respectfully disagree. Although I do love the gigantic, glorious kitchens that could easily moonlight as the command center of a successful restaurant establishment, I find such things to be a completely unnecessary luxury. When guests come to my house, they tend to use the word “small” a lot. I hate that word when describing my home. Given the fact that my kitchen has no dishwasher, and only boasts one drawer, I am willing to concede that it is, in fact, little. Little- as in cute, humble, and functional. There has never been a time where I felt like the size of my kitchen should limit what comes out of it. We have enjoyed some incredibly elaborate meals on countless occasions and several wedding cakes have also been conceived here, and the square footage of the room where it was prepared had absolutely no effect on the flavor or quality of the result.
These are a few tips, tricks, and routines that I have found make is easier to thrive in a little kitchen.
Be organized. Knowing where everything is in the kitchen makes life easier no matter what the size, but especially so when you’re limited on space. This makes it easy to locate things without needing to empty out cupboards, or buy multiples of ingredients because you couldn’t find that bottle of sesame oil that you knew you had somewhere.
Plan your menu. I find it is easiest to keep my refrigerator and pantry organized when I am only buying the things that I need for the week. I am a list person, and if it isn’t written on my shopping list, it’s not going into my grocery cart. I waste much less food when I stick to the ingredients that I have a plan for, instead of just buying whatever looks good or is on sale. Fresh produce is my exception. If it looks good and you can find a use for it, it doesn’t need to be on the list in order to buy it.
Clean up as you go. Cleaning as you go makes the entire process of cooking and baking much more enjoyable. Not to mention that it leaves less clean up to do afterward!
Before I start working on a recipe, I like to start with one sink filled with hot soapy water so I can drop dirty dishes in to start soaking immediately, and the other sink ready and waiting for washing produce, running the garbage disposal, and of course- hand washing.
I also like to keep a paper plate or a large bowl handy for collecting little scraps or wrappers or other things to discard, that way you only have to empty the plate into the trash and your counter is clear.
Having designated cutting/chopping boards for red meat, poultry, chicken, pork, fish, and fruits/vegetables promotes food safety, but it also makes for easier/safer cleanup. As you finish prepping one item, you can get the cutting board to the sink for washing and then quickly move on to the next item with a clean board.
Avoid one-trick-pony kitchen electronics. Unless you are someone who will genuinely use a snow cone machine several times a month, maybe you could somehow find a way to live without it? If you’re not going to use an item on a fairly regular basis, such as once a month or more, I recommend skipping that purchase. Besides, maybe someone you know would be kind enough to let you borrow their snow cone machine when you have the irresistible urge to create your own frozen treats. This is why you will not find a bread machine at my house. (Although even if I had tons of spare room, I would still choose the old-fashioned way of making my bread because I absolutely love making it.) Come to think of it, we don't even have a regular coffee pot taking up valuable counter space at our house (we use a French Press).
Making good use of a timeless, all-purpose kitchen tool can save a lot of space and money. If I had to choose one item from my kitchen that has truly earned its place in my kitchen countless times over, it would have to be my Le Creuset Dutch Oven. It serves a multitude of purposes, and when I brought it with me to Italy it really became a chameleon and functioned as every pot/pan/slow-cooker that I could possibly need. It also happens to be perfectly lovely in its place of importance on my stove. If you happen to have an enameled cast-iron Dutch Oven, you really don't need a slow cooker. I find the results are superior when prepared in a Dutch Oven anyway, but that's a conversation for another day.
Make good use of storage containers. In an effort to keep my pantry organized and my items fresh, I like to keep all of my dry goods in large, clear storage containers with labels on them. Rectangular shaped bins hold all of my various types of flour neatly arranged on a shelf like a row of books. This way I can always see how much of each ingredient is left with just a quick glance. This also avoids the weird, cumbersome stacking of all sort of half-used ingredients in their original packaging.
Introduce yourself to Joseph Joseph items. Joseph Joseph is a product design engineer’s dream, and since my husband happens to be a product design engineer, we both have a great appreciation for the design and functionality of their kitchen products. They’re also bright and colorful, which is an added bonus. A few of my favorite items are the collapsible cookbook stand (which folds flat like a book to be stored alongside your favorite cookbooks), the elevated spatulas (help keep the counter clean), and the folding whisk (twists open and closed and stores flat). All save on space without sacrificing quality or functionality.
Buy fewer items, but higher in quality (not necessarily higher in price). If you’re going to add something to your only kitchen drawer, it should really be worth it. Making a purchase of an item that is of good quality and that will last for years to come is a good habit to get into no matter how little or big your kitchen is. This is why I don’t use a large knife block set, but instead have selected few good-quality knives that I enjoy using on a daily basis. I really like these Victorinox kitchen knives, and they don’t cost an arm and a leg either.
I also found that the name-brand nonstick baking sheets and cake pans that we received when we were married did not last very well. Ironically, I have found that better quality items are readily available for far less expense. Large rimmed baking sheets are a must-have in every kitchen. They do not cost much at all, and can be found in most restaurant supply/warehouse-type stores for only a few dollars each. Mine are from Sam’s Club and they’re only $8.99 for two. I have four and I use them all the time.
Silpat baking mats are another thing I love using all the time. They can store flat right inside of the baking sheet, and they eliminate the need for large rolls of parchment paper.
Cake and bread pans are another item that I have recently replaced in my kitchen. I am strictly a USA Pans fan these days. Try one of their pans and you’ll know why I love them so much. No spraying or greasing needed, and your baked goods will slide out perfectly every time. They perform exactly like the gold items at Williams Sonoma but cost only a fraction of the price. Also, they’re made in USA.
Make use of the walls. Hanging items that are useful, but are also pretty is a great way to save space in a little kitchen. I have a favorite olive wood cutting board, a lovely dessert plate, my measuring cups and spoons, my aprons, and two colorful teacups hanging on my walls and under my upper cabinets. They bring a little extra joy and personality to my kitchen.
Decorating your small kitchen with items that can also be of use is my favorite type of kitchen décor. I love a colorful bundt pan hanging on a wall, a bright colored Dutch Oven on the stove, or a stoneware crock filled with a bouquet of pretty rolling pins. Displaying your favorite kitchen items not only saves space in the cabinets, but it also allows you to enjoy your favorite items even more.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what size your kitchen is…it’s what you choose to do with it. Next time you get inspired to try something elaborate, don’t think twice about it. Just go for it!
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