Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Chicken Shack

When I moved into a new place about a month ago I was a little concerned about the size of the kitchen. You see, the kitchen is small. I take that back, it’s not just small, it’s teeny-tiny. Walking in to the kitchen is a bit like being corralled. It’s possible to reach out and touch all side of the kitchen while standing in one spot. If you were to stand in the middle of my kitchen with the oven door all the way open you would be trapped.

Little did I know that the size of the kitchen would turn out to be the least of my problems. It seems as if nothing in the place works. For example, when we first moved in the main electrical line had fallen off it's post and was laying on the ground, the oven was broken, the hot water heater had to be replaced, the toilet leaks, the kitchen sink doesn’t drain, the wood burning stove leaked smoke and two days ago the refrigerator decided to stop keeping things cold. I guess this shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise since my landlord affectionately named the place The Chicken Shack.

So I may have whined and complained at first about the kitchen, but it turns out there are bigger issues to worry about. I may have to cook in a kitchen where I get trapped, but I can think of worse places to be trapped than in the kitchen.

Besides, The Chicken Shack has a large deck and a pretty gorgeous view of the vineyards and hills of the Napa Valley. A view which was pretty much the deciding factor behind choosing to live here. A view which this picture just doesn’t do justice.

And so, that helps ease the pain of having a small kitchen. At least a little bit.

The kitchen is starting to grow on me though, and with each day, I like it a little bit more. I’ve found it’s really nice to have all of your workspace and tools within arms reach at all times. And let’s just say that cleaning it is a cinch. It did take a little while to figure out where everything would go and some of my cooking gadgetry may have gotten banished to the shed due to space issues, but it’s turning out to be more efficient than I thought. And I think this efficiency may just be due to its smallness.

So if you also suffer from Small Kitchen Syndrome, don’t fret. I believe it’s possible to make any kitchen work for you, whether big or small. Sometimes it just takes a little organization and strategizing to make it happen. I don’t claim to be an expert on the topic but there are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years that have helped me. Basically they are techniques which help me keep the kitchen running as smoothly as possible, especially when I have a lot to cook. They are just suggestions; obviously some things may work for me that wouldn’t work for someone else.


1. Keep a clean work space: When you’re dealing with limited space it helps immensely to clean dishes as you go and keep your work space as clean as possible. If you don’t have much counter space to work with; you don’t want a ton of dirty dishes piling up and taking away what little room you do have. I have also found that it helps me be more efficient when I start with a “clean slate” when I move on to the next stage in a recipe.

This idea is definitely easier said than done and there are many days when I’m just not “feeling it," but if you’re preparing a large meal or baking something that’s intensive it can really help. Besides, there’s a reason that they teach this concept in culinary school and why the best professional kitchens in the world are ridiculously neat and tidy.

2. Mise en place: This is a French culinary technique in which you have all your ingredients to a recipe prepped and ready to go before you start the recipe. At least that’s the simple way I’d describe it. It usually involves cutting up and prepping certain items such as vegetables, herbs, spices, etc. and having them ready and waiting.

I try to do this whenever I can, but it especially helps in the more complicated recipes so you aren’t struggling to get something ready while trying to focus on cooking at the same time. There may be ingredients that are more time consuming; browning/toasting nuts, letting ingredients come to room temperature, that need to be done ahead of time. This also helps when you have limited counter space because you may end up scrambling to find space if you're preparing as you go.

These are the little set of prep bowls I usually use:

But really you can use anything, and I often do. Measuring cups, cutting boards, maybe you’ve just emptied a container of sour cream and you can put something in that! If it’s all going in the same spot, why not? I find the more dishes I eliminate having to wash by reusing some of the same ones I’ve already used, the happier I am when cooking is over.

3. Get Organized: Cooking becomes more effortless when you know where everything is and it’s in a place that makes sense. I like to group everything together as much as possible, such as baking supplies in one area, dry goods in another, etc. My kitchen has no drawers so it's been a little interesting finding places to put things. But I've found that baskets are great for sorting items (for example I like to put all the various types of flour I acquire in giant ziplock bags and throw them all in one big basket), and tupperware and glass storage containers can be really helpful as well.

4. Keep only the stuff you really need: If you're kitchen is small you probably don't have much storage space, which means that it might help to take stock of what you really use the most and keep only those items. Obviously this is different for everyone, and my idea of what's essential is different than someone else's. I found myself using the old clothing rule, if I hadn't worn it (in this case used it) in a year, I either got rid of it or moved stored it somewhere else. Once I minimized the clutter in my kitchen it suddenly felt much larger and on the whole more useful.

5. Anything is possible: Don't let the size of your kitchen or a lack of fancy cookware make you think you can't accomplish great things in the kitchen. With a little ingenuity and a positive attitude you can truly make anything.

Hopefully these ideas don't sound too strict and obviously my idea of what works in the kitchen may not work for someone else. Everyone has their own way of cooking and I tend to enjoy it more with order and neatness whereas others may do better with a more carefree attitude. Ultimately cooking should be fun, so find how it works for you, put on some music, open a bottle of wine, and just enjoy yourself!


  1. Love this post. Just thought I'd share that after months of searching for the ideal dry goods storage containers, I've landed on OXO Pops. They are perfection.

  2. oooooh I've had my eye on those OXO ones for some time now. I was never sure if they were worth the money though! They may just have to be my next present to myself...


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