Posted on April 11, 2011 - by

Making the Most of a Small Kitchen

A cramped kitchen can stifle the motivation of any home cook, even the most inspired. When you can cover your only patch of counter space with a standard sheet of printer paper and you have to kneel atop your sink in order to reach a frying pan, it’s all too easy to opt for take-out night after night.

While you may not be able to physically increase the size of your kitchen, you can make it feel roomier and more inviting by changing the way you shop for food, store ingredients, prepare meals, and clean up afterwards.

Use the following eight tips to make the most of the space you have and recover your culinary enthusiasm:

1. Shop often, buy less. Resist the temptation to stock up your entire kitchen every time you go to the grocery store. You’re bound to forget what you bought and end up with cupboards full of old and incompatible foods. Instead, keep only those ingredients you use several times a week in constant supply. Plan a few days’ worth of recipes in advance, post the recipes on your fridge, and purchase just the ingredients you’ll need to carry them out. With dishes you’re excited about fresh in your mind and everything you need to make them at the front of the fridge, you’re much more likely to come home raring to get started.

 2. Choose only foods that serve multiple purposes. This tip generally leads you away from prepackaged snack foods like chips and cookies and towards whole ingredients like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. HoHos, for instance, are good for only one thing: eating straight out of the package. Cheese, on the other hand, can be eaten as is, chopped into salad, sliced onto sandwiches, grated into omelettes, melted onto pizza, or made into cheesecake.

 3. Cut back on condiments. These bulky bottles and jars take up an inordinate amount of space and often sit for weeks or even months at a time between each use. Remember that many condiments can be made at home from fresh ingredients: make a small batch if you just want to try a recipe once, or make a very large batch and preserve it in canning jars which can be stored outside the refrigerator.

 4. Stick with one national cuisine at a time. To reduce the variety of ingredients you need on hand and to simplify grocery shopping, choose one national or regional cuisine and cook recipes from only that repertoire for a month. A fun way to do this is to “cook the book”: work your way through an entire cookbook based on one cuisine.

5. Get more use from your kitchen table. If you have a table in the kitchen, make it a drop-leaf and replace full-sized chairs with smaller stools that fit underneath. Consider your table expanded counter space. Keep it free from papers and other clutter so it will be available for chopping, mixing, rolling, and eating.

6. Conduct a regular refrigerator inventory. A fridge full of food in varying stages of decay is just as uninspiring as an empty one. Don’t overcrowd your refrigerator or freezer and conduct a weekly inventory of both. Throw out anything old, unappetizing, or mysterious.

7. Keep your kitchen pristine. A clean kitchen seems immensely larger and more appealing than a crusty one. It shouldn’t take long to wipe the table and counter after every use, put tools back when you’ve finished with them, and give the floor a quick sweep a few times a week. Wash pots, pans, and dishes immediately after using them. If they’re clean and not languishing in the sink with food scraps all over them, you won’t be tempted to get another one dirty the next time you cook something, exacerbating the mess.

8. Get creative with storage. Not everything you use for eating and cooking must be stored in the kitchen. Wine glasses, for instance, can be artfully displayed in the living room. Keep specialty pots and pans, party dishes, and small appliances you take out once a week or less in an out-of-the way place like a closet or under-bed storage box. Garlic, onions, and fruit can be stored in tiered baskets that you hang from the ceiling. The classic pegboard can help keep your kitchen tools organized and close-at-hand. If you have a balcony, consider using it as a second refrigerator in the winter. The less cluttered your kitchen is, the easier and more appealing it will be to work in.

E-mail me at jenny@freshthemovie.com.

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