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The Tiny (But Mighty) Kitchen

Aida Mollenkamp is a California-based food expert, TV host, writer, and culinary curator. Over the years, she has authored more than 1,000 original recipes and continues to publish new recipes on her site, aidamollenkamp.com. Her first cookbook, Keys To The Kitchen, is a modern manual to the kitchen and was published in October 2012 through Chronicle Books. Through her work, she aims to inspire creativity in the meals you craft, the gatherings you design, and the food adventures you embark upon.

Just because a kitchen’s tiny doesn’t mean it can’t be mighty.

When I tell people I’m a recipe developer, they assume I have a huge kitchen — they ask which high-end stove I use and how many pot racks I have. The reality is that, if I stand next to my stove and raise my arms, I can touch both walls of my kitchen without straining in the slightest. And I’ve had much smaller kitchens before, including the one in the attic where I had to crane my head sideways or the one with nothing but a burner and a sink.

And, in each of these kitchens I’ve cooked meals for everything from date nights to Thanksgiving, which is  not so much a testament to my cooking skills as to my planning skills — the smaller the space, the more planning is needed.

Here are a few keys for making a feast in the tiniest of kitchens:

Strip Down Your Space

Eliminating clutter is a good idea in any kitchen but a must in a tiny one. Do your best to keep the counters totally empty because even a coffee maker can take up precious space.

Use Islands

Consider getting an island to add counter space. If you buy one that’s relatively attractive and on casters, you could even wheel it into the dining room as an extra side table.

Salmon, Asparagus, and Watercress Salad with Creme Fraiche Dressing - Aida Mollenkamp

Recipe: Salmon, Asparagus, and Watercress Salad with Creme Fraiche Dressing

Plan, Plan, Plan

The number one key to cooking in a small kitchen is to plan a menu that’s realistic. While a whole rack of pork might not even fit in your oven, several pork chops will be easier (and faster) to cook and are just as tasty.

Make As Much Ahead As Possible

Along those lines try to make a menu that has a good deal of make-ahead foods. This will allow you to cook in shifts in your limited space and will let you hang with your guests once they arrive. While some dishes (like a casserole) can be made completely ahead, other dishes might have elements that can be made ahead then finished at the last minute.

Mix Up Temperature

It’s always easier to make things ahead when they can be served cold or at room temperature, so mix up the temperature of your menu. Springtime is perfect for serving a simple cold salad, a chilled soup or even an easy poached salmon.

Cook In Shifts

That’s to say you should prep all your ingredients before you start cooking then wash the dishes all before you ever turn on the stove. That will not only keep things tidy but also allow you to work more efficiently.

Smashed Pea and Ricotta Bruschetta - Aida Mollenkamp

Recipe: Smashed Pea and Ricotta Bruschetta

Compose Your Food Instead Of Cooking It

Sometimes the easiest way to get around a small kitchen is to not cook at all. Or to cook very minimally. I make dishes like a rustic Salmon salad when I’m cooking out of a small kitchen because the cooked elements can be made ahead and the rest is just assembled at the last moment.

Small Bites Are More Manageable

I fully believe that small kitchens call for small cooking. So, turn to easy, make-ahead small bite dishes like this seasonal bruschetta of ricotta, smashed peas, and watercress that’s simple to serve and easy to put together.

Platters - Aida Mollenkamp

Know Your Platters

Finally plan your plating ahead of time. I label all my serving pieces and platters before a big party so I know which plate goes with which dish. Then they all stay in a separate room until it’s go time for plating and serving.

How about you? What tips and tricks have you learned for fixing a feast despite space constraints?

Visit our spring gatherings site for more expert tips on what to cook and how to cook it, being the host- or host-ess with the most-est and fun ideas for cooking with kids.

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(Images: Aida Mollenkamp)

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Janet Patterson says …

I like your ideas and suggestions. It's easy to think one needs a restaurant kitchen to get anything done, but I'm currently using a tiny slow-cooker and bamboo steamers for nearly all my cooking. It just takes a bit of planning & keeping things simple.

Margarita says …

Living in a small NYC apartment, I totally appreciate these pointers on how to make tasty, delicious food created with love, despite a tiny kitchen! I'd love to hear more!

Mary Harris says …

I like brcause I have avery small kitchen and love family dinners

suzy says …

Thank you for your advice Aida.,It was very helpful I have a small kitchen and I love to cook especially for church events.

redirtgrl says …

Interestingly enough I read this because we are getting ready to RV full-time- Talk about a small kitchen! I love to cook and found this article interesting- thank you for the great tips on planning.

Amanda says …

Holy Celebrity Blogger Batman!!! We are HUGE Aida fans around here... and trust her culinary judgement and vision without exception! GREAT post!

Whats Gaby Cooking says …

Loving these ideas!! I find that planning is key but Aida has some brilliant points that I'm totally going to start incorporating into my kitchen life!

z says …

One of my kitchens was so small..... it had a double hot plate, mini microwave, toaster oven and a crock pot. The microwave and toaster oven lived on the tiny dining table. A large cutting board over the sink acted as extra counter space. My kitty used to sit on my shoulders when I cooked because there wasn't enough room for both of us. Even then I was still able to cook for friends and host small parties. Planning, precooking and lots of finger foods are the keys. Use all of your available flat surfaces. Plus you don't need a lot of fancy tools or knives. It was super fun back in those days

nancy@acommunaltable says …

Great post Aida and some great tips! Planning is totally key - when I'm hosting a party I make up a schedule of when to pull things out the fridge, when to put stuff in the oven, etc. Helps me keep on track and not stress!

Kate says …

I'm remembering a couple of small kitchens we've shared. You definitely don't need space, even for a test kitchen!

Samantha says …

I love this article. My husband and I recently moved from a large-ish townhouse to a small (but fabulous!) city apartment. I love to cook, and was afraid that I would be really sad to go to a smaller stove and practically no counter space. I have adapted by using a lot of the same methods you mention here, and have found it not to be nearly as much of a challenge as I had thought. I also LOVE our drop-leaf kitchen table; it triples in size when I need extra prep surface and folds way neatly when I'm done. Thanks for the great tips!

Catherine McCordq says …

Such great ideas! Can't wait to share this with all my NYC friends!

Beth @ Decadent Dragon Bakery says …

Love these tips! One thing I'd add is using *vertical space* wisely in a small kitchen. I have magnetic spice jars stuck to my fridge, knife racks on the wall and plenty of hanging pots/pans. With a little galley kitchen, this is a must. I do some of your tips naturally but I love the idea of labeling serving platters. Another great way to stay organized. Thanks!