I love kitchen feng shui because it is all about cooking up prosperity in the way I think prosperity should be— not just about money but also about sensations and nourishment and the fortune to have these things.
I encourage people to cook a lot, but I know many people have a hard time because they don’t have a lot of space in their kitchen.
Today, I am very thrilled to share a talk I had with the small-kitchen wizard Phoebe Lapine . She’s a cookbook author, private chef, culinary instructor, recipe developer, blogger and caterer (super-productive & brilliant, I might add!) with killer gluten-free recipies and lots of ingenous tips to share! Her book In The Small Kitchen will become your must-have resource for awesome meals and methods when you have limited space on hand.
If you have a small kitchen and feel defeated by the idea of cooking at home, this very generous interview is a gift from Phoebe to jump start your small-kitchen culinary adventures!
I asked Phoebe a few questions based on all of my own previous obstacles to cooking in past kitchens that had about a square foot of counterspace. Her answers, and the recipies she’s shared below, are enlightening & empowering!
Me: Now, in small spaces you often have to pare down your cooking gear to so that you have space to actually cook! What are the essentials tools to have? What can you do without? (this is a big question!)
Phoebe: People get so discouraged and stalled by not having the “right” equipment. But so long as you’re choosing the right accessible recipes, you really don’t need very many things. The most important tool is a good 8-inch chef’s knife. I use mine for 90 percent of everything I prep. And good doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. But if you were to invest in anything, this would be the item. You want to make sure to go to a store that lets you hold the knife and try it out on a cutting board so you can get a feel for what feels good in your hand. The fanciest knife might not necessarily be the right fit. Quality wise, you can get a good all purpose chef’s knife for $50. If you’re willing to spend a little more, Wustoff has a great line.
The second two knives that are worth investing in are a paring knife and a serrated bread knife. You don’t need to splurge on these, since you won’t use them as often as your chef’s knife. Make sure to store all your knives with care. If you’re sticking them in a drawer, make sure they have protective covers. I prefer a magnetic strip on the wall.
Other than knives and cutting boards, I’d recommend one large over-proof skillet and one large Dutch oven. Cast iron is great and very cheap. Just make sure to treat and season it properly. Both of these items can be used stove top or in the oven. You can boil water and make pasta in your Dutch oven and bake in your skillet. If you make a lot of eggs, you might also want to invest in a small nonstick skillet.
Me: I’ve lived in small NYC apartments and admit that eating out was my go-to activity because I couldn’t figure out how to organize to actually cook things when groceries were not the easiest to get! What do you always have on hand?
Phoebe: Having a well-stocked pantry will make you 50 percent more likely to cook. It’s a great thing to invest in upfront and will motivate you to begin making a habit out of cooking so that you make good on all the money you put into those non-perishables. I cook with a lot of spices (many of which are so great for your health), so I would invest in those first along with your favorite vinegar, olive oil, and other condiments. I always have gluten-free pasta and canned tomatoes, since I love spaghetti as an easy weeknight meal. I have a bookshelf with jars of other grains, dried fruit, and nuts. Garlic, onions, and potatoes keep for weeks. I’ll keep a bowl of those on my countertop, and lemons in the fridge. With just those things alone, the possibilities are endless!
Me: Are their tricks to shopping smarter in order to stay organized in smaller kitchens?
Phoebe: YES. Always make a list and come up with a budget before you go to the store. This will help you wean yourself off impulse purchases. I love getting inspired by the market. But without a general game plan, this usually leads to overspending and feeling wasteful at the end of the week after life gets in the way and I end up with a crisper drawer full of sad looking vegetables.
Try to choose recipes that only require a few fresh ingredients. If you have a well-stocked pantry, you can easily reduce your market trip to just a handful of items.
Me: Do you think through what you are going to cook beforehand? Are there tricks to prep things like chopped veggies with little counterspace?
Phoebe: I used to mostly wing it. But now that I develop recipes for my site and other outlets, it only helps me to think ahead and keep track of everything, even when I’m cooking for fun. That said, I’ll always change things up in the moment if I feel inspired or like a dish needs a splash or this or that.
Having a large cutting board really helps, even if it means it does up 75 percent of your surface area. I usually use other surfaces to put prep bowls—my coffee table or desk. I’ll chop one item, then put it somewhere else. Sometimes I’ll just use my pan as a the prep bowl and then stick it right on the stove!
Me: I know you teach cooking among your many talents! I know I used to fear buying things like whole pineapple for fear of having to cut them. (Seriously!) What do you find people are most afraid of trying that turns out to be quite simple?
Phoebe: Dicing an onion! I’ve found that even people who cook all the time need a refresher on how to properly dice an onion in a clean, contained way. It’s not the easiest skill, for sure. Onions are tricky. But it’s the one you’ll use the most, so it’s worth taking the time to master—even if that means watching a YouTube video 10 times!
Me: Do you have go-to dishes that are easy to make and require little juggling to find space? Can you share a favorite?!
Phoebe: One pot meals are always the best for small spaces. I love soups and stews come fall. Stir fries are always a great quick weeknight meal. Some of my healthy favorites are: Minestrone with Turkey Sausage, Root Vegetable Tagine with Kale, and Shrimp Stir Fry with Bok Choy and Gluten-Free Peanut Sauce.
Me: Thank you soooooo much!!!!
If you are as inspired as I am… you can learn more about Phoebe on her blog “Feed Me Phoebe” and you can pick up a copy of her book In The Small Kitchen right HERE. (PS: The Barefoot Contessa (!) Ina Garten wrote the forward!)