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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.

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.

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.

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)