terri lee, great performances, small spaces, small space living, tiny homes, tiny apartments, tiny nyc apartments, micro apartments, how to cook in a small kitchen, small kitchensTerri showing an audience at the Museum of the City of New York’s Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers exhibit how to cook in a 325 sq. ft. micro apartment. The installation will be closing on September 15th, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, we highly recommend that you do!

Kitchens are often the center of any household,” says Terri. “It’s the place where enticing smells emerge and delicious tastes are found. So naturally, we gravitate to the kitchen. When your kitchen is small and you lack the room to spread out, cooking can be frustrating and you might be less inclined to cook and more drawn to ordering out. But learning to cook or entertain in a small space is a fantastic skill-building exercise! It forces you to be organized, stay simple and start perfecting techniques to help maximize your space. Soon enough you’ll rediscover the joys of cooking. Here are a few tips to help get you started as you experiment and discover your favorite techniques for your own kitchen.”

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1.  Have a Kit of ESSENTIALS

We all know that you don’t need a special tool to hull strawberries or cut avocados, so leave those tools to those who live in houses with large kitchens and keep just a few key tools and spices on hand. You’ll eventually develop your own kit of essentials, but I would start with a cutting board, a sharp chef’s knife (yes, *sharp* is the key word. It’s much nicer to cook when you have a sharp knife), a saucepot and a skillet. Of course there are many more tools you might need or want. So here’s how to start figuring out what should be in your kit of essentials:

If you’re not sure what you can live with or without, sort and put items you think you might not need in a bin and store it far from the kitchen (*far* is the operative word here. You’ll actually take note when you really need something). Over the next few months, see if you keep dipping back into your “non-essentials” bin. If you keep going back to find the same tool, add it back to the essentials. You can even trade something you haven’t been using out of your essentials. Once you pare down, you’ll find that you are drawn to recipes that can be done with the tools you have and your dreams of sous vide and deep fryers will push to the wayside. Leave that for the professional chef. Although you never know…over time you might start figuring out how you can create those techniques in your small kitchen!

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2. SIMPLIFY Your Menu

Part of cooking in a small space is keeping the cooking simple yet flavorful. Find ingredients that you can use for several different recipes and purchase only as much as you need. Costco is not an option for the small kitchen.

Flavor profile: Keep a small supply of your favorite go-to dry spices and seasonings. While it’s fantastic to have space for every type of vinegar, storage is prime real estate in your small kitchen and you can’t afford to spare the space. If you’re a fan of Italian, a good olive oil, oregano, and basil are key. If you love Asian, sesame oil, garlic powder and rice vinegar are your spices. If you keep to your favorite flavors you’ll use them often and you’ll likely be drawn to recipes that use those spices. You can always supplement with fresh herbs that might not last as long as the dried version, but will definitely not be sitting in your cupboard for years going unnoticed!

Cooking prep/mise en place: Look for recipes that keep your prep to a minimum or can be done in one pot. Then think of how you can “piggy back” your prep. Piggy back? It’s my way of suggesting that you find recipes that start with the same base ingredients or flavors. This way when you’re cutting onions- you can do it all at once and just set aside what you need for later (perhaps later is tomorrow’s meal!). Are you roasting root veggies for your side? Perhaps that soup or sauce calls for roasted garlic? Throw it all in the oven at the same time. The garlic will likely be ready before your root veggies and you can finish up the sauce while the veggies are roasting.

Technique control: Using different techniques also helps to keep the cooking organized. Plan recipes that don’t require the same tools or heat source. If you’re making a roast, try making a grain salad or if you’re making pasta on the stove, make some quick broiled Brussels sprouts or asparagus so everything is ready at once and you don’t have to try and keep track of two different bubbling pots.

Salt is your friend: Forget the rumor that salt is bad for you. Unless you’re licking a salt block, a little salt goes a long way and it’s the easiest way to draw the great flavors out of fresh ingredients. If you’re planning one complicated recipe, keep the rest simple. One of my favorite tricks is to create a simple broiled vegetable side. Just toss asparagus, root vegetables or Brussels sprouts in olive oil and sprinkle with a little coarse salt. Then arrange them on a sheet pan and place under a broiler for 10-15 minutes. While your chicken or roast is resting, your veggies will be browning under the broiler! If you’re using the oven for something else, then try sautéing mushrooms, turnips or leeks in a little butter with a touch of course salt sprinkled on top. Substitute sesame oil if your recipe is Asian-inspired. Keeping one item simple makes it easier for you to give love and attention to the recipe that needs it most.

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3.  PREP in Advance

What little things can you do each day to help you prepare and cook for future nights? Who wasn’t thrilled to discover pre-minced garlic? I love it because the prep is done, but I hate that it doesn’t have the flavor and freshness I’m craving. The solution — prep more than you need each time you’re doing the prep. Cut more onions, dice extra garlic, and mince more ginger. Whatever it is you think you’ll need tomorrow or the next night, finish the prep while your hands and knives are already deep in action. Then store the extra in small containers or Ziploc bags. Freezer bags are great for storing prepped items. Grab one medium sized Tupperware container and line the bags of prepped items. Then tomorrow when you’re ready to brown your mirepoix, you don’t need to start with a knife and cutting board — you can just toss the ingredients in a pan and start browning. If it’s a slow roast or braised meat that you’re craving, but do not have time to cook it all at once, prepping in advance is the key. Par cooking is the art of partially cooking a recipe. It helps lock in flavors and cuts your cooking time for the night you plan to serve the meal, yet locks in moisture. It’s definitely NOT the same as a reheated leftover. If you’re serving a gourmet meal and want to make each dish with love and attention, this helps break up your cooking into two parts. With just a little finish cooking, everything can be ready at once and you’ll definitely be the rock star for the night!

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4. CLEAN as You Cook

I’m not sure this really needs to be stated, but when you’re cooking in a small space, clean as you cook. You’ll likely be doing this anyway since you’ll need the cutting board again or you’ll need the measuring cup or pan. Plus, your tools will be easier to clean immediately after they’ve been used. While it may seem like a chore at the moment, you’ll thank yourself at the end of the night when you only have a few dishes and glasses to clean!

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5. Cocktails and MORE Food Right Before We’re About to Eat?

I know for the chef who’s been working hard to prepare dinner, it often feels counter-intuitive to set out appetizers and cocktails before you’re about to serve an entire meal. But cocktails and appetizers are always en vogue. So rather than ignore them, make them easy. Batch a cocktail recipe in a nice pitcher and set out a bar area for guests to serve themselves. You won’t need to play bartender and guess how much alcohol your guests might like and you can leave out a glass of fresh herbs (that were just used in your recipe) to garnish the drinks. Not a cocktail crowd? Fill your tub with ice and make your bathtub the bar. Saves space in your refrigerator and you can offer an assortment of beers and chilled white wines.

For the appetizers, keep it simple. Create a crudités tray or cheese board and elevate the basics with leftover ingredients from preparing the meal. Caramelized onions are a fantastic topping for a sharp cheese or with a savory jam on toast or crackers. Roast more garlic than you need and blended in a little goat cheese and set it out as a spread. Many of your ingredients can do double duty.

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ORGANIZE and DECORATE:

Your guests (or date) are about to arrive and your want your place to feel magical. Just as you did with the food, it really helps if you start organizing your space days in advance.

HIDE (or better yet, REMOVE) the clutter: Start purging extra magazines, go through your mail, move the laundry.

Make OPEN space: Push tables to the perimeter. A bookcase or side table can do double duty as a spot for snacks or the bar.

Pop a SCENTED CANDLE in the bathroom: It creates a nice spa-like feel to your bathroom. If you don’t have a spot for a candle, add oil aroma sticks or a nice smelling soap or lotion.

Set out FRESH flowers: Always a nice warm touch to set the mood.

Put CANDLES in jars or small votives around the room: A subtle shift in lighting changes the way your space is perceived. Lower your regular lights or don’t turn as many on and add some mood lighting with candles or LED floral accoutrements. LEDs are great to place in colored vases to add warmth without adding a lot of brightness.

SIT back, RELAX and ENJOY your delicious meal: Can you believe you’ve done all of that in a small kitchen? You should feel proud – and hungry!

+ Great Performances

+ Museum of the City of New York