Gourmet meals on a (space) budget

No, this post is not about inexpensive freeze-dried Apollo chili. While NASA’s working on innovative space food and recycled pee, I’m dealing with my own space challenge–cooking small.

When I first laid eyes on my current kitchen, the first word that came to mind was “mini.” I noted how the stove crowded four gas burners onto a range the size of a place mat, and that the cabinets looked like something you’d see in a fun house “skinny” mirror. The rest of the apartment proceeded to charm the pants off me, though, and I started to think of the kitchen as cute and livable. (At least it had actual cabinets with doors, which is more than I can say for my last one-person place). Once I moved in, I started thinking about how to continue to do the cooking I love in a smaller venue. With a little thought and a lot of trial and error, the kitchen really is becoming livable and cookable. I thought I’d share some of my space-saving fixes here.

One of the first things I did was get a kitchen cart. This is designed to come up to about the height of a regular kitchen counter, so you don’t have to bend to different levels to use it, and it has wheels. It’s unfinished wood, and I’m thinking about screwing some hooks into the soft, piney edge to hang utensils and stuff. I’ll keep you updated on that.

My next idea, which took a while to come to me, was to add a level to the counter. I like to keep frequently-used cooking implements in a crock on my main workspace. Next to it sits my favorite food tools–a bottle of extra virgin olive oil fitted with a speed pourer, a shaker of sea salt, another bottle with coconut oil. Those things take up a lot of precious space on my new counter, but I didn’t want to have to open a cabinet door every time I need them. So I put a simple stainless steel free-standing shelf there, toward the back. My utensils and condiments can stay up there, and I can shove onion peels or prepped chopped veggies underneath.

Another tactic is to pare down my larder. I’ve gotten in the habit of snatching up special ingredients whenever I come across them and then saving them for that perfect moment when the stars align just so and I have an itch to prepare them. That’s resulted in, for one thing, a huge collection of seaweeds of the world. I didn’t buy most of them with any particular recipe in mind, but just to make sure they’re around the night I decide to make sushi on a whim or absolutely have to have some doshi broth.  I also typically have at least four different curry powders and pastes, seven types of rice, five varieties of pasta, and a nut or dried fruit for every occasion.

No more!

If I want to make sushi, I’ve decided, I’ll plan a sushi dinner party and pick up my pack of nori and sushi rice that day. If I plan to do pad Thai, I’ll have to grab my tamarind and “medium rice sticks” when I actually know I’ll make it.

This hasn’t come easily. As of this writing, I still can’t part with the rose water I bought over a year ago and have only put in one rice pudding and a few chocolate truffles. I’ve also got a bunch of teas and drink mixes, some of which have sentimental value. How can I get rid of a horshata-type powder a friend brought all the way from Tanzania? I guess you could say I’m taking baby steps–to match my kitchen!

More as the adventure progresses…

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3 thoughts on “Gourmet meals on a (space) budget

  1. These are great tips. I once lived in an apartment with a teeny hallway for a kitchen. I think it was called a “galley” kitchen because it was the size of a kitchen you would find on a boat. It was then that I learned the importance of “experimentation.” OK That’s important in a lot of ways. I dug things out of the back of my cabinets and used them as inspiration to make meals. No more putting things off for a rainy day. And every three months or so, I would force myself to give away things I had not used to a food shelter or to friends.

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