One of the simplest ways to maximize counter space is to choose
small when purchasing appliances. Go for an imersion blender (aka:
"boat motor") instead of full-sized blender. This
can easily be stored away in a drawer until needed. A good-sized
chef's knife, along with good knife skills, can easily take the
place of a full-sized food processor. Or, if you don't have much
confidence in your culinary knife skills, choose a mini-processor
which takes up one-fourth the counter space of a full-sized one.
Choose a hand-held mixer instead of a gigantic standing mixer. This
too can be stored in a drawer until needed.
A lot of home kitchens are overburdened with gadgets that rarely,
if ever, are used. Look through the gadgets you have and keep only
what you need and trash the rest (or offer them at a yard sale).
Rarely used gadgets should be stored away. Items like ice crushers
or pasta makers should be stored in the pantry or a cabinet until
needed instead of taking up valuable counter space. If you fear
losing track of where these items have been stored away, a classic
trick used in commercial restaurants is to attach a list of these
items and their locations inside a frequently opened cabinet door.
Shelving seems the most rare commodity in modern kitchens. You
can easily install additional shelving yourself inexpensively. If,
like me, your landlords prohibit physical modifications to the property,
purchase wire shelving units that can sit on a table top or counter
to provide vertical storage space where none is now. Instead of
a counter space-hogging wooden knife block, consider an under the
counter mounted knife block or magnetic strips for storing your
prized knives on a wall. Another consideration is to install peg
board to hang utensils on. You can even store small items such as
pans, strainers and bowls there. One other option is to wall-mount
baskets or magazine racks for storing these items off the counter
surfaces. These wall-mount options can also free up valuable storage
space in kitchen drawers as well. And all of those pretty spice
bottles look so much nicer when placed in a wall-mounted spice rack.
If you are like me, you probably have more cookbooks than you'll
ever really use. Instead of storing cookbooks on your kitchen counters,
keep them in a bookshelf away from the kitchen, but easily within
reach if needed. Try placing a fork, tines up, in a cup or canister
to hold recipe cards while you are using them. Another way to save
space is to photocopy your favorite recipes and attach them to a
wall or vertical surface near your work area for easy reference.
If you insist on using the cookbook itself, invest in a cookbook
holder which can be stored easily off of the counter until you need
The cardinal rule of cooking in a cramped space -
or any kitchen, really - is to clean as you go. Partly
fill a sink with sudsy water, or use a large bowl placed in the
sink, to place dirty utensils, plates, etc in as soon as you are
finished with them. This keeps counters clear of useless clutter
that can really be a pain while cooking. As you continue your prep
work, keep a trash can nearby so you don't have to make multiple
trips from your work area to dispose of waste materials. If this
is not feasable, try using a 'junk bowl' for scraps, wrappers, etc
to save walking to the trash can.
Store cutting boards off the counters in cabinets or stacked vertically
off to the side when not in use. Using a cutting board that is large
enough to cover a sink actually increases your counter space when
cutting or chopping or making pastry doughs on the board. Additionally,
placing a cutting board over a sink can be used in a pinch to stack
containers on while working at other locations in your kitchen.
Creating additional work and holding and serving surfaces is fairly
simple when you do get in a real crunch for space. If there is an
unused table nearby, by all means make use of it. You can even use
the top of your refrigerator. If you are not using your oven, consider
using the racks inside to hold items as well. If your cabinets have
sturdy drawers, use them to place sheet pans on by pulling the drawer(s)
out. This comes in very handy for holding foods or utensils. In
a real pinch, you can even set up and cover an ironing board with
a tablecloth and use it as a small buffet table.
To make use of limited space as the food items being cooked are
being completed, think vertically. Stack items that have
been baked on cookie sheets or placed on cooling racks on top of
one another, using tin cans to create a space between each pan/rack.
Items put in bowls, cooked or not, can be stacked by placing a plate
over each bowl and stacking them on top of one another.
In classic culinary instruction, Mise en Place is essential
for good work flow in any kitchen. Literally, Mise en Place
means "everything in its place". With proper working space,
the right sized appliances and gadgets, and a little ingenuity,
your culinary endeavors should flow as smoothly as warm gravy over
'til next time,
Keep on Cookin'!
"I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking"
by Alton Brown (Chapter 10 contains a very helpful section: "The
Basic Culinary Toolbox")
"The Essential Kitchen" by Christine
Next time: Choosing and Using Knives
(All rights reserved by the author)