So here's the thing: Bryan and I live in an L.A. apartment. It's a small four-plex from the 1950's, and as many apartment-dwellers know, furniture tends to get pushed too close together, styles get mismatched and my kitchen is, well... BEYOND TINY. So friends and family who read this blog and come over to our place for the first time ask me, "How in the world do you get so much done in THAT kitchen??" First of all, thanks for insulting my kitchen (I'm kidding), but second of all, I do have a few spacial secrets. I hope you find them helpful!
Here's my kitchen. A culinary wonderland, it is not.
If I literally turn around from the photo above, I'm face-to-face with my range and refrigerator.
I guess I have a Napoleon complex when it comes to my kitchen; I try to imagine it's one of those gigantic, state-of-the-art, kitchens with cabinets, pantries, islands and room to spare. It's not anywhere near that, of course. In actuality, it's about 4' x 11', fitting a range/oven, refrigerator, trash can, counter/sink, dishwasher and under-counter cabinets. So that basically leaves about 25 square feet of working space. Well, I thought about it and realized I've got five tips for working in a tiny kitchen, where barely one person fits comfortably, much less two. For those of you making the best out of a similar (read: tiny kitchen) situation, are these similar to your cooking short-cuts? I'd love to know.
TIP #1: THE TRASH BOWL
I do a TON of chopping, slicing, mincing, dicing and overall prep work for meals. It's all done on one BOOS cutting board that basically takes up the entire top of my counter. In order to keep vegetable and fruit scraps out of the "real" food – think tops and bottoms of eggplant, garlic and onion skin, herb stems, bell pepper cores/seeds – I keep a designated "trash" bowl just to the left of my workspace. Any time I have something to discard, I just put it in my bowl. This saves me many awkward trips to the actual trash can, hands full of scraps that our little pup Charlie is just waiting for me to drop. When the bowl gets full, I dump it in the trash can and start again. It keeps me organized, makes the cutting board an "ingredients-only" space and makes throwing away all the trash at once a breeze.
My "Trash Bowl" from last night's dinner
TIP #2: REVERSE GROCERY LIST
Everyone I know keeps a "grocery list" full of items they're running out of that they need to replenish on their next trip to the supermarket. Well, when you're working in a tiny kitchen with a narrow, side-by-side refrigerator/freezer that forces you to push items deep in its recesses (only to inevitably be forgotten and rot), you risk losing wonderful ingredients and a boatload of wasted money. My solution? I flipped the grocery list on its head, creating a "reverse grocery list" of items that I ALREADY HAVE but risk forgetting about. We have a magnetic chalk board on the front of our refrigerator and every time we come home from the grocery store, I write the items we've just bought. As we go through them, I cross them out. That way when it comes to meal time, I know what we have, what my possibilities are, and make sure nothing goes to waste.
My "Reverse Grocery" List
TIP #3: ORGANIZE "LIKE-MINDED" INGREDIENTS
I have more ingredients for more kinds of foods than I can count. Italian olive oils, truffle pastes, pasta sauces, canned tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and pastas. Asian vinegars, Sriracha sauce, udon and soba noodles and sesame oils. Over 30 types of seasonings and specialty salts. Not to mention the baking ingredients and decorations...melting chocolates, sprinkles, sanding sugar, and the essentials: flour, baking powder, sugar, etc. The problem is, where the heck am I supposed to fit all this stuff? I ended up buying on-sale boxes of different sizes that fit in my tiny cabinets and on top of my refrigerator. I filled them with like-minded ingredients, so I now have Asian-, Italian-, spice- and baking-specific containers. I simply grab the box and everything I need is there. No digging around in cabinets or risking knocking over 20 jars of spices. It's all there, in one easy grab.
TIP #4: GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR SPACE
I have a soft spot for really cute kitchen towels. Considering I don't have room in our apartment, much less kitchen, to buy any new equipment, I tend to buy lots of kitchen towels. Problem was, we didn't have anywhere to put them. Several attempts to hang them over the sink were thwarted by an inevitable slip to the floor or into the sink, where they would either get dirty or drenched. Not an ideal situation when it comes to the items drying your newly-cleaned utensils, pots and pans. So Bryan had the brilliant idea to use a few (3M brand, in case you're wondering) adhesive hooks and stick them to the tile behind our sink. He grabbed a few clothesline clips that we had lying around, hung our towels over the hooks and secured them with the clips. They look so cute and definitely add a little bit of personality to the kitchen. Not to mention, we haven't had a towel fall in the sink or on the floor since.
TIP #5: WALL-MOUNTED MAGNETIC KNIFE RACK
This has seriously changed my life. Did you know that knife blocks are like the Titanic of bacteria vessels? Think about it; the slots never get clean, sit exposed to the kitchen elements – water, fire, dust and God knows what else – and are a breeding ground for bacteria. Everything you thought was good about a knife block, well, it isn't. This is where a magnetic knife rack comes in. I didn't have a lot (or any, really) of counter space to lose to a knife block, so I ordered an 18" magnetic knife rack, used a power drill to screw it into the wall (don't worry, it's really secure) and added all my knives. I just turn around, grab a knife and after it's been cleaned and dried, I stick it back on the rack. It looks pretty bad-ass and makes me feel just a tiny bit more professional in my kitchen.
TIP #6: HAVE AN ADORABLE PUP AS YOUR SOUS-CHEF
It's just an added bonus. :)