Cooking Big Meals in Small Kitchens

in Apartment Living on by

Preparing A Big Meal

For some reason, even comparatively large apartments tend to skimp on kitchen space. The basics are usually included, but more often than not, they take up space instead of maximizing it. Once you shove a stove, refrigerator, dish washer, sink, and cabinets into the second smallest room in the apartment, there’s hardly enough room for two people to occupy it at the same time, much less slice, dice, stir, and mix to prepare meals in it.

And sooner or later, the day will come when you need to cook for more than two people. You can’t say no because you’ve always claimed that your space was just the right size for all your needs. Your bluff has been called and you’ll do whatever it takes to pull off a big meal.

The good news is that this task isn’t as difficult as you probably imagine. Start planning a week or two ahead of time, and your dinner guests will be amazed at the dishes you prepare (without cheating and sneaking take-out in through a hidden door, of course).

Count on a Cutting Board

Although it’s not a new invention — in fact, it’s been around for decades — an over-the-sink (or over-the-stove) cutting board can be a real lifesaver. Made-from-scratch meals almost always involve cutting and chopping, and traditional cutting boards take up a surprising amount of counter space. Enter the miraculous portable cutting board that safely and snugly fits over your kitchen sink or stovetop. Make a list of every food you need to cut. Prepare as much of it as possible ahead of time, bag it in Ziplocs, and stash it in the fridge. If you’re (bravely) making dough or other items that need to be rolled out or tenderized with a mallet, you can use the cutting board for those jobs as well. (insert 1)

Iron Pan to the Rescue

A cast-iron skillet is one of the most versatile pans you could ever own. Whether it’s on the stovetop or in the oven, cast iron provides even heat, has an almost indestructible non-stick surface, and gives you a crisp sear on everything from meat, fish, and poultry to root vegetables. You can use it to stir-fry, deep fry, sauté, simmer sauces, roast large cuts of meat — heck, you can even bake a cake or a big pan of cornbread in an iron skillet. Having a pan-of-all-trades like this eliminates the need for stacks of pans to prepare a big meal. If you transfer everything to covered dishes, consider gently reheating them right before serving.

Up Against The Wall

Wall space is typically the most wasted part of a kitchen. Mount a magnetic strip on a wall to hold all your knives, since knife blocks are notorious space hogs. Suspend your pots and pans from wall-mounted racks to free up cabinet and drawer space and to put your cooking essentials within close reach.

Slow and Down Low

Slow Cooker

Crock-pots aren’t just for soups, stews, and pulled pork, although they do a tremendous job on those items if you can keep yourself from lifting the lid for 6 to 8 hours. Still, they’re not the solution to every dish. Pastas and rice get mushy in slow cookers if added too early to the other ingredients. Overcooking is another possibility if you don’t know what you’re doing, so you’ll really want to study recipes and techniques before throwing your dinner party. If your slow cooker is set to low, it’ll be perfect for keeping hot cider mulled and hot chocolate hot. Slow cookers also turn out perfect corn on the cob and keep it hot for hours without overcooking it. Set it on low and keep large cooked sausages warm for several hours. Crock-pots not only take up little space, but they’re removable inserts are also dishwasher safe.

Prepare, Clean Up, Repeat

If you don’t clean up after every cooking task, you’ll find yourself quickly surrounded by dirty dishes and counters that slow you down. Before you start cooking, empty your dishwasher out so you can load it after each job is completed. Peel everything over a garbage disposal, trash can, compost receptacle, or large bowl for expedient clean-up. Immediately rinse knives and large cooking tools and put them away to maximize usable counter space. Wipe down counters and cutting boards as you go.

Kill The Clutter

Even though it may have the best of intentions, your bulky bread machine just isn’t used enough to deserve precious counter space. Same goes for ice cream makers, stand mixers, and any other oversized appliances and gadgets. Stow them in those mostly-useless overhead cabinets or even in a linen or bedroom closet, and you’ll substantially increase your kitchen workspace.

Cooking for crowds can be fun. Planning ahead and making wise choices avoids stress and lets you enjoy the party.

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