Living with a small kitchen

Published September 12, 2011 by livinggraciously

I love my new kitchen with all my heart. And I know how lucky I am to have been able to remodel it. It’s beautiful, and opening it to the dining living rooms has accomplished the social goals I had in mind.

But it’s still a small kitchen.

At 10’x11′, it’s not the kind of micro-kitchen that New Yorkers famously endure, but it’s still small by today’s standard of luxury kitchens, it’s itty bitty. And in this day and age, when kitchen catalogs are practically pornographic, dripping with shiny, colorful, richly enameled, or fabulously specialized equipment, an itty bitty kitchen can feel limiting. Sometimes I look at all those fancy bit of equipment with lust in my heart.

But a small kitchen doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. The trick is to figure out the right equipment to put into the space you have, to pay attention to what you use and what you don’t use, and to arrange your storage in such a way that you can get to the equipment you have.

First of all, figure out if there is somewhere besides your kitchen where you can store some of the kitchen items. I don’t have a pantry, but I do have my built-in china hutch. Our dishes and wine glasses are stored in the upper area, serving dishes and some appliances are stored below. If you have infrequently-used items such as seasonal dishes, storing them outside the kitchen can free up space.

Second figure out what you really need in the line of appliances. Dedicated use appliances can be lovely, but lots of them serve far too narrow a function to take up space in a small kitchen. Here is a list of appliances I have in my kitchen, in the order of my frequency of use. I initially thought about making the list in “order of importance,” but that would be artificial, because what we “think” is important and what is actually used are frequently two different things:

Rice cooker: When my sister gave me a rice cooker for Christmas, I gave her that, “gosh, how wonderful of you” smile. Little did I know that I would use the silly thing more than any other appliance in my kitchen. We eat a lot of rice, I admit, but it can also be used to cook oatmeal, quinoa, and other grains. I love the “set it and forget it” of the rice cooker, and how I don’t have the thing boiling over and scalding starch onto my stovetop all the time. It has a permanent place on my counter.

Electric kettle: To most Americans, an appliance designed solely for boiling water might seem like a waste, but no British household would be without their electric kettle – Brits are baffled at how we live without them. And now that I have one, I agree. Besides the ease of tea or coffee brewing, we use it to get a jumpstart on cooking pasta or potatoes or anything else that requires boiling water. It’s fast and easy, and everyone who has one loves theirs.

Pressure cooker: Most pressure cookers are stovetop appliances, but ours happens to be a freestanding electric one. It’s a very handy device, because it has built-in timers so there’s no danger of forgetting and burning the dinner. Pressure cookers have come back into fashion after years of a reputation as the producer of your great-aunt’s nasty lima bean stew that exploded all over the kitchen ceiling. The new ones are better designed and no longer a bomb waiting to detonate. They are also a quick way to produce amazingly tasty meals in half an hour. I use mine at least once a week, if not more.

Toaster: If your kitchen is really tiny, you can live without a toaster. The broiler in your oven can be used to toast bread. And if you’re going all low carb, a toaster is definitely a waste of space. But if you’re a bread baker, well….

Blender: Honestly, we really only use ours for smoothies. But if I’m making these in order, then blender comes next.

Food processor: I use this less than I could because I’m lazy in a really backward way. I would rather chop and grate by hand than clean the processor. This is time-wasting, wrong-headed thinking. Food processors are a wonderfully efficient way to reduce big chunky food into small bits for cooking.

Stand mixer: I would use this more than I do, but I like hand-kneading my bread. If you do any baking, a quality stand mixer is a worthwhile investment.

Microwave: If I didn’t have a over-the-stove microwave, I don’t think that I would devote the counter space to one. They’re handy for reheating leftovers, and defrosting meat, but other than that I don’t use mine at all.

Immersion blender: I just started using mine, and it’s brilliant. If I didn’t have space for a blender, I would definitely want an infusion blender.

Hand mixer: Handy for small jobs like mashing potatoes for two without dirtying more bowls. Not a good substitute for a stand mixer for large jobs, but a perfectly good substitute if you aren’t a regular baker.

Other appliances I own but hardly use: I have a slow cooker, and I only drag it out to make spiced cider at the holidays. I have a coffee maker, but since I drink it irregularly it’s stored away for when we have coffee-drinking company. The bread maker? Since it’s stowed in the top of a linen closet, I just haven’t gotten around to throwing it out yet.

Next: cookware.

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