I have by no means mastered cooking in a tiny kitchen. In fact, as I type this, I have enchiladas cooking in a crockpot on the floor in the corner of my living room because I ran out of counter space. I had to call a plumber twice in the last 6 months after un-Drano-able clogged sinks, and, on one such occasion, I ended up doing the dishes in the bathtub. I think there are approximately 47 forks living in the gap between my oven and my counter, and I frequently have guests over only to tell them, "DO NOT EVEN LOOK AT THE KITCHEN" (and oh, what I would give for a door to block the disaster out when that happens). I mean, there's a reason this blog is called The Chaotic Kitchenette.
In fact, that's why I made this blog. I love to look at the beautiful dishes that come out of some of my favorite food blog and cook book writers' kitchens, but I would get frustrated knowing that, chances were, they had more than 2 square feet of counter space to make them in. Hence, my little blog here, where I try to give hope to all the other 20somethings out there living with kitchens their parents like to show photos of to their friends for laughs.
All that said, I've picked up a few tricks along the way, without which I would have my favorite pho restaurant on speed dial (JK, I have them on speed dial anyway. Hayyyy Pho 14).
Tiny Kitchen Survival Tips from The Chaotic Kitchenette
- Get an over-the-sink dish rack. This is hands down one of the best things I bought for my kitchen. Without a dishwasher, the dishes have to dry SOMEWHERE, and I am 100% unwilling to let that take up space on my teeny tiny counter. Plus, the dishes drain right over the sink, so you don't have to deal with a dish towel or mat getting gross on your cooking space.
- THE CROCKPOT. Good Lord, do I love my crockpot. It can do so much more than just make soups (my favorite is to roast a chicken in there), and it can expand your cooking space since you don't need to have it on the counter (see: my floor enchiladas). I can guarantee there will be plenty of crockpot recipes coming to CKDC, since I'm also pretty much always hungry so love coming home to dinner already ready without resorting to leftovers. This is the one I have, but I would love to know if anyone has this one with the stovetop safe insert that's been on my wishlist for a while, given how many crockpot recipes require browning first. What's better than only having to wash two pots? Only having to wash one pot! Regardless, definitely make sure to get an automatic one vs. manual - it'll automatically switch to warming once your set time is up so you don't have to worry about rushing home from work to turn off your crockpot.
- Use your wall space. It always drives me crazy when I see the kind of things home decor blogs recommend to make a small kitchen feel smaller. Put up shelves on your extra wall space? Great! But... what extra wall space? I don't think shelves would be particularly convenient directly over my sink. This is my mini-version of that suggestion, and it saves a ton of cabinet and counter space. Buy an on-the-wall spice rack and paper towel holder. The spice rack (not in the photo because it's on the wall facing the oven will free up lots of cabinet space while reminding you to use more of your spices that can get lost in the back of a cabinet, and I bought a paper towel holder that mounts onto the wall with command strips (although I ended up nailing it in after I ripped it off the wall one too many times) right when I moved into my first studio that has been awesome for saving counter space. My friend Sarah also recently recommended a knife magnet for your wall to free up some drawer space, so I foresee an Amazon order in my future.
- Clear your counters. I am admittedly terrible at this, as I somehow always have a stray dish or salt shaker taking up valuable counter real estate, but I'm always reminded of how great it is whenever I actually do it. Put your soaps under the sink, move your spices back to wherever you keep them after you've used them, put away your dishes once they're dry (Tim is probably laughing reading this given the current state of the counter tops). But seriously, it's very helpful when it actually happens!
- Limit your gadgets. Another thing I am terrible at (and would like to say actively working on but let's be real, I ordered a mandolin 3 hours ago), because I am ADDICTED to kitchen gadgets. I openly acknowledge, however, that I am the person that commercials are targeted to: I see it and am immediately convinced that I need it. For example, the salad chopper I've used twice, the mini-blender I used for my month-long smoothie phase, the Soda Stream I never refilled the gas canister for... But in all honesty, I could very easily get away with a knife, a can opener, a veggie peeler, a pasta pot, a sauce pan, a larger pot, a cast iron skillet, some mixing bowls, and a food processor, no matter how much I try to convince my friends I need a breakfast sandwich maker.
- Coffee drinkers: switch to a French Press. This is pretty directly related to limiting your gadgets. I used to have a Keurig, which ended up living in the cabinet in my bedside table because it would have taken up my entire kitchen counter. I recently switched to a French Press since it seemed more economical, plus it takes up practically no room. It can be easily stored in a kitchen cabinet, makes more coffee per brew than a Keurig, frees up counter space, and you can even make your own cold brew! Plus, it was less than $20.
- Use the space you have. Not a lot of room for storage? Keep your pots and pans in your oven! Only using one burner on the stove? Use your cutting board over another one (that is off, and has been off for a while, and is not too close to the other burner.... learned that lesson the hard way)! There are all sorts of specialty cutting boards you can put over your sink or burners, but a normal one will do just fine. If you do want to get a fancy one, make sure to measure your kitchen surfaces first - I once ordered an over-the-stove cutting board that would have been perfect for a normal-sized oven but was way too big for my play kitchen oven.
- Keep it clean. This is definitely the hardest one, but the chances of me cooking dinner when I know I'll have to clean the kitchen before AND after are so so so much smaller than if I know the kitchen is ready to go.
- Get a good sink strainer, especially if you don't have a garbage disposal. I thought I was doing a great job of catching all the food scraps that ended up in my sink and that it just absolutely could not be my fault that the sink kept clogging, but a particularly bad clog convinced me to buy mesh sink strainers, and the amount of food that ends up in there is horrifying. But also, great for my drains. I think this is way better than the kind of stopper that most rental sinks come with because the water will actually drain through while still catching the food. On a related note, don't pour grease down your drains. Keep a mason jar or something under your kitchen sink and pour grease in that instead.
- Use rubber gloves. I used to think that people only used rubber gloves when doing dishes to keep their hands clean, until I finally figured out that they also prevent hot water from scalding your hands. I can now do dishes without trying to keep my hands out of the water (which, btw, is impossible), plus it makes cleaning out the aforementioned sink strainer way less gross.
- Accept that you are going to make a mess. Even when I'm just making a sandwich, not being able to spread out means there's going to be stuff crowding all over your space. But, as my mom said when she walked into my studio apartment for the first time, small (/tiny) spaces are easier to clean up!
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