Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spaghetti dinner

 I remember being astonished by friends in college who didn't understand how to make decent spaghetti. They thought you just boiled the pasta, and dumped the sauce out of the jar.

I think the sauce should be a meal unto itself. Piles of veggies and meat, and forkfuls of flavor. Friday night was spaghetti night when I went to visit my dad on weekends as a kid. And his sauce was basically 2 pounds of hamburger with some garlic, tomato paste and bay leaves. Yummy stuff, and it quickly became comfort food for me.

Ariel made something similar for me a year or two into our relationship. That night is still a memorable one, and looking back, I think it probably helped seal the deal for me.

Tonight I made spaghetti sauce, twice. Once for dinner, and another batch in the crock pot for the rest of the week. 

The basics for good pasta sauce for me have always been pretty simple. You need a good base, good veggies, and meat. Over time, my list of veggies has expanded, and the process I use to cook everything has, too. I use store bought sauce as a base, since it's already pretty well seasoned, and it comes with a jar, which is great for storing leftover sauce. Given the amount of other ingredients that get added in, it's not uncommon for me to cook dinner, and have enough sauce left over to fill the whole jar, which can then go in either the fridge or freezer.

Basic ingredients:

-Store bought spaghetti sauce
-Bell peppers
-White mushrooms
-Green olives
-Bay leaves
-Tabasco sauce
-Chili powder
-Black Pepper

The process has typically been the same for me: cut up the veggies and throw them in the frying pan with some oil. Recently I started throwing some of them into the food processor with the mixing blade, because it chops them up much finer, which means they cook faster, and mix more evenly into the rest of the sauce. So, tonight I threw half green bell pepper, half of a beefsteak tomato, 2 scallions, a few garlic cloves, a handful of white mushrooms, half of a fresh jalapeno pepper, and a half-dozen green olives into the food processor, and mixed them up using the pulse button. It helps to use the pulse button so that the stuff on top doesn't float while the stuff on the bottom gets turned into juice. The result looked vaguely like relish. The mixture went right into the frying pan with some oil.

Next thing to go through the cuisinart was a couple of onions, chopped into chunks just small enough to go through the chute, to get sliced up. The sliced onion went into the pan, and got mixed up with the veg mix. I browned some sweet and hot Italian sausages, and chopped them up to go into the pan. I finished the whole mess by adding half a jar of store bought sauce, a few bay leaves, some tabasco, and some chili powder. I let that simmer for 5 or 10 minutes before starting to boil water for pasta.

One tip for simmering sauce: for years, I ignored the wisdom of using a screen to go over the frying pan. Given that I was a young man in his early 20's who didn't worry too much about things, the result was a perpetually messy stove top. It's still a little messy now, but it's much better than it was, and the use of the screen has helped tremendously.

By the time the pasta was fully cooked, the sauce was finished. Total time for the whole meal was something just under an hour, 30-40 minutes of which was spent actively cooking.

Crock-Pot sauce.

Yes, I made two batches of sauce tonight. The small batch was for dinner. I wanted to make this batch to last us for a few days or a week, as leftovers or for lunches, while Ariel was in school, and I was busy with work at the shop.


The big 5 for pasta sauce, in my mind, are onions, meat, garlic, bell peppers, and tomatoes. The rest is mostly sauce and seasoning.

Other ingredients:

Yes, all this food will fit into that pot.
-Pasta Sauce.
-Chili powder
-Salt and Pepper
-Sweet Italian Sausage
-Hot Italian Sausage
-Bay Leaves

Because of all of the stuff that was going into the pot, I figured it would be a good idea to start by cooking the onions down a bit, to caramelize them a bit, and reduce the volume. Apparently 2.5 large onions is the most I can fit into my small food processor... it all came out like a sand castle.
I got going by laying a bed of flavorful stuff in the bottom of the crock pot. Convection currents will carry the flavors up and around the pot, allowing them to soak into everything. I fed a bunch of mushrooms through the food processor. I used the cuisinart mixing blade to handle a mix of more mushrooms, garlic cloves, and half of a jalapeno pepper. I also made a separate mix of a tomato and some olives. The mushrooms and both mixes went into the crock pot, with 8 bay leaves.

I sliced bell peppers into spears and fed them through the food processor. The main reason for doing it this way is to make sure that they go through the slicing disc at 90 degrees. If they have room to squirm in the chute, they'll bend over, and the slices come out a lot longer. It's a minor issue, really, but it helps.

Next big ingredient was the sausage. They were uncooked from the store, which means they were going to be very hard to slice. The easiest thing to do is to cook them... so I threw them into a frying pan to get them started. Once the sausages were a little bit cooked on each side, I pulled them out, cut them lengthwise, through the uncooked part, and started slicing them into smaller chunks. Having the cooked section helped to stabilize them enough that I was able to slice them more easily, and once that was done, I threw them all into the crock pot.

Next I chopped up some tomatoes and threw them on top of the sausage. On top of that I tossed in the sliced bell peppers. On top of all of that, I put a small pile of ground turkey. And then I added a jar and a half of store-bought spaghetti sauce. I put a little water into each jar to rinse out the dregs of the sauce that remained, and poured all that into the pot, too.

You may be noticing a theme here: "I cut this up, and threw it into the pot." Or, the more complicated version, "I cut this up, cooked it a bit, and threw it into the pot." This is one of the things that makes the crock pot so nice to use in a small kitchen. You need enough space to cut up one thing at a time, and space enough for the crock pot itself.

Tip for the mess-conscious. Even fi you have a butcher-block topped counter-top, or island, it's best to still use a cutting board. The reason why is pretty simple. At this point I'd cut up a bunch of vegetables, smeared the cutting board with sausage grease, then cut up tomatoes, which is both wet, and hard to do on a lubricated board... and so on. In short, the surface was a greasy, wet mess. Having a work surface that can be carried to the sink and washed off is much better than something that's going to sit there and absorb the grease and whatever else through the knife cuts in the surface. The last thing you want is a permanent kitchen surface that's contaminated with old grease and bacteria.

Last step was to add carrots. This is a tip my mother taught me, apparently it helps reduce the acidity in the sauce. It's worked for me so far, so I cut up some long spears, and shoved them all the way through to the bottom of the pot.

 Last step: cover, turn the crock pot on, and wait.


Crock pot cooking is an entirely different animal from regular meal cooking, because the crock pot is a slow cooker. The problem tonight was that I should have gotten going on prep a lot earlier. The pot was finally topped off around 9, which means I'll be up for a while waiting for it to be done. The original plan was to start the whole crock pot early enough to eat some of it for dinner. Instead I made dinner, and then got going on the crock pot full of sauce. I started laying out the ingredients for this sauce pretty much as soon as tonight's dinner was in the frying pan and simmering. 

This is something that is better left for the week-end in general, because there's all day to work on it. That, or prep the ingredients the night before, refrigerate overnight, and start the pot in the morning. Dad used to stew pot roast that way, and be able to come home to an awesome dinner that had been cooking all day. Another day, sometime soon.

Last thing that bears mentioning... filling a crock pot takes a fair amount of stuff. And even cutting things up one thing at a time, there's still a need for a surface that will hold everything that's not currently being chopped up, processes, cooked, or whatever. While the active surface required only has to be big enough to hold the crock pot and the cutting board, there is a need to store everything else nearby.

--------------------Next Morning-----------------------

So, I shut the pot off after 3 hours. I probably could have left it on low overnight, but since I was leaving the sauce in there anyway, I figured it would continue to cook with just the heat that was in it already. I was right.

Final yield:

Now that's a sauce that looks like a meal...

Filled both Jars to the right, as well as that huge tupperware bin. Jars went in the freezer, bin went in the fridge.

Epilogue: Ariel's Editorial

James is posting this, but is pretty sure that Ariel will edit and/or add her own thoughts if she wants to.

This is the epilogue editorial to the night of pasta sauce that has just taken place. The crock pot is burbling away, long term sauce is being made. Tonight's dinner has been cleaned up and leftovers put away, by Ariel, while James was busily trashing out the kitchen in the pursuit of crock pot sauce.

The problem with the piss-ant kitchen is that it's basically a one-person kitchen. This is the issue that continues to rear its head for us. While James was still cooking, the debris extended behind him, across the stove, which had a pan that was browning onions, a pot of pasta, and a pan full of sauce from tonight's dinner. Left of that was a box of pasta, a package of ground turkey, olive oil, and a plastic bowl, that was obstructing Ariel's attempts to get coffee prepped for her early morning tomorrow.

And to the left of that was the sink with the mess from dinner.

There's basically only room for one person to operate in this kitchen at a time. Ariel was able to do some cleaning while I was still piling food into the crock pot at the cooking end of the kitchen, but she was pretty much unable to do anything productive for herself.

For all of my thoughts about how to effectively use the space, it's still an issue if more than one of us are in here at a time.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Grown-up comfort food.

I grew up loving kraft Mac and Cheese and hot dogs. I know I should be ashamed, but I'm not, really. But at 36, I should eat a little bit better than that.

I figured this recipe out by accident, just screwing around. I forget sometimes that cabbage has a buttery mellowness to it when it's cooked. Add in the savory flavor of the onions, the meaty flavor of the kielbasa, and the better nutritional value of the rice, and it turned out to be a real winner. And there's plenty after feeding 2 people to eat for leftovers.


Ingredient list:
-2 red onions (or one red and one yellow, in this case)
-Half of a small head of red cabbage
-Half of a kielbasa
-1 cup brown rice
-1 cup milk
-1.5-1.75 cups water
-Sea salt, with a bit of oregano.
-Olive oil.

First things first. Brown rice takes 45 minutes on a good day. Add the water, milk, a bit of the sea salt, and a little olive oil. Bring to a boil, cover and turn down to a simmer. Set the timer for 45 minutes. Once that's going, the rest of what follows is basically the other half of the meal.

Start by breaking down the kielbasa. Cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half lengthwise again, so that as you start slicing it, you'll get small, thin triangles. Slice them thin... they'll cook to an almost crispness, if you do it right, that will really work well with this recipe.  Because of the toughness of the skin, kielbasa does NOT respond well to the food processor. If you really want to do use the slicing disc, I recommend that you freeze the kielbasa, and thaw it halfway, so that it's soft enough to cut, but hard enough that it won't squirm in the chute. If you don't, the blade will basically scrape the meat off of the inside of the skin, and leave a long strip of sausage skin on top of the disc. Realistically, this is a minor aesthetic point, but many people eat with their eyes first, and cleanly sliced sausage just looks nicer.

The kielbasa then goes into a frying pan, without oil, at a medium-high heat. There's enough fat in the sausage that it won't stick too much to the pan. I've done this before where I achieved a crispness that was almost like well done bacon, and it was amazing. Trust me on this: Not only will it not stick, the process of cooking the onions and cabbage will clean up the brown residue that the melting fat leaves behind. This is not one of those recipes that results in half an hour of scouring out the frying pan. I don't have a dishwasher, and I have little tolerance for strenuous cleanups.

Break down the onions by cutting in half lengthwise, trimming the ends, and peeling off the undesirable outer skin. Cut these into chunks that will fit into the food processor, and feed them down the chute to be sliced. Throw the result into the frying pan on top of the kielbasa and stir everything up a little bit. Note the small plastic flower pot to the right of the cutting board: this is the scrap bin, and I throw all the vegetable scraps in here as I cook. Ultimately they will go into the compost bin outside. They can also go into the trash if you don't have a compost bin. But I find it's easier to have something right there to throw scraps into, rather than have them clutter up what little bit of space I have to work in, and rather than taking the time to go to the trash can if it's not close at hand. 

Slice just under half of the head of cabbage off, remove the outer leaves, and feed this into the food processor. Throw this into the frying pan, too, and stir around. Generally by this point the contents of the pan will be well above the edges of the pan. No worries, it will all cook down. But do try to be neat about stirring everything up.

As the onions and cabbage cook down, the water in their cells will come out, and fill the bottom of the pan. This will clean the brown sausage mess out of the bottom of the pan. It will also proceed to boil, and fill the mound of vegetables with steam, and help all of it to cook.

Once the timer for the rice is down to around ten minutes, I add in some chopped bell pepper. I add this towards the end so it will still have a little bit of texture. Let it sit on top of the steaming mound of cabbage and onions and kielbasa for a while... it just has to be warmed up a bit.

The frying pan should still be at medium-high heat. At this point, if the rice is still hard, it might be worth it to turn the frying pan down a bit. But there should also be just enough water in the bottom of the pan that nothing will burn. Keep stirring the pan periodically while you wait for the rice to be done.

When the rice is ready to go, add the contents of the frying pan into the pan with the rice, and stir everything up.

That's as far as I got with the pictures. By this point, the smell of kielbasa and onions and cabbage was filling the apartment, and I was good and ready to chow down.

While I think this is a great comfort food, tonight was not a night where I was feeling the need to be comforted. I just felt like eating this again. (The sign of a good recipe.) And even as comfort food, it has a lot of advantages over processed childhood regression.

There's not a whole lot of fat in here... just whatever's in the sausage. I used half of a full sausage, which is about 4 servings of kielbasa, 32 g of fat. If you sat down and binged, devouring all of the food that gets cooked in this recipe, that would still be less than half of your recommended daily intake for fat. Cut that down with a low glycemic load, and low calorie veggie goodness, and things get even better.

Number crunching shows some of the advantages in the meal. I hate to use a box of Mac and Cheese as the standard for comparison, but it is what it is.

One entire box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, cooked, is around 840 calories. That's without the hot dogs. 2 hot dogs thrown in there adds around 300 calories, bringing the total to around 1140 calories. That's for the whole batch, if you're in the middle of a comfort food binge.

The 4 servings of kielbasa (half of a full, looped sausage) come to 440 calories. This is way more than hot dogs, but if you stuck with 2 servings, as with the hot dogs, it would only be 220 calories. 1 cup of uncooked brown rice is around 700 calories, which brings us, again, to 1140. Adding the onions and the cabbage, we're adding around 400 calories, so the running total comes to, ballpark, 1600 calories of food in the pot.

But here's the kicker: the yield by volume is roughly 2-3 times what you get versus mac and cheese and hot dogs. So by volume, the calorie count is probably half as high. Add to that the fact that brown rice, red cabbage, and red onion have a much lower glycemic load than regular pasta, and a lot more nutrients, and you're looking at a much healthier dish. While the veggies are cooked in a frying pan, they're basically getting steamed, so we're not adding a lot of fat into the equation, outside of the kielbasa. And they add so much bulk that even if you wanted to devour the entire pot, it would be very, very difficult.

And there's another factor to consider: Time. It's so easy to binge on a box of mac and cheese, since it takes, tops, 10 minutes to prepare. This takes longer, and unlike staring at a pot of boiling pasta, the process for this dish is an active one. That gives you, the cook, a lot longer to pull out of whatever it is that's driving you to look for comfort food.

The mellow, savory flavors that roll through this dish are very comforting. But one more advantage of using this dish as comfort food is that, unlike the highly processed stuff I grew up with as a kid, it doesn't sit like a lump in the stomach, and the glycemic load is very light. The absence of either a food coma or the processed food crash that would normally come later, and the accompanying return to funk-ville, is not there.

Finally, I've found a comfort food that I don't have to feel guilty about eating, and that will actually leave me feeling... comfortable.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Buying cast iron

When I'm interested in learning about something new, that I'm interested in buying, I go on an eBay safari. Most recently, I was looking at cast iron skillets, but this is an exercise that could be carried out on almost anything. (cast iron, copper, knives, etc.)

Using the generic search words 'cast iron skillet,' I started learning about brands I never heard of. The Erie company later became Griswold, which was eventually absorbed by Wagner. A trip to Google taught me that there are whole online groups devoted to collecting Griswold cast iron, and they have online knowledge bases.

Forget your typical 3 bears (Small, Just-Right, and Large) sizes. I found skillets in numbered sizes ranging from 2 to 14. A number 3 skillet is 6 1/2" across. A number 14 is over 15 inches in diameter. ("Big enough to cook a full dozen eggs!") And in the 'also available from this seller' sections, I found skillet, griddles, dutch ovens, oval roasting pans, chef's skillets, deep skillets, skillets that doubled as lids, waffle irons, (actual iron waffle irons!), flop griddles*, and a whole lot more... and almost all in numbered sizes.

eBay can be like craigslist sometimes... people selling junk for anything they can get for it. But over the years, a class of professional eBay vendors has also arisen, and the variety of quality and restored vintage goods can be astounding. In the case of cast iron cookware, I found a number of vendors who strip, scrub and re-season the pans before selling them, with good reason: A good looking pan sells better, and it's less work for the buyer. But not only that, a lot of the older items just have more character than  new stuff. I've found things on eBay that I didn't even know existed... and things that I can really appreciate the usefulness of. In other words, eBay is a way to shop not just for what's new, but to browse a selection of almost everything that has ever been made.

Some of the pans I found were well over 100 years old. They looked great. Compared with some of the 30 year old enameled cookware, they looked brand new. I wonder where these pans have been, and who they made breakfast for. I respect anything that was made well enough to last for 100 years, and still be in a good, functional condition. 

Old iron is affordable. I paid $8.95 for a Griswold #3 skillet, plus shipping. And while the prices for some of the other things, like the oval roasters, was in the 200-300 dollar range, it's still much less than you'd pay for a new one at a niche store... and that's only if you could find it.

*Flop griddle: This was a new one to me. This is a 2-part, articulated griddle for making pancakes. The pancake is poured in one side, and then 'flopped' over to the other side of the griddle to have the other side cooked.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rapid Fire salad: The leftovers' revenge.

So, by sheer dumb luck, I had a great discovery today. Dumb luck and persistence do pay off in the kitchen very frequently.

I was hungry for lunch, and was scouring the fridge for leftovers. I looked at the leftover salad. Flash of insight: There's a lot of cabbage in there. Cabbage is a primary part of stir-fry. A-ha! Celery... also good in stir fry. Carrots, too. The leftover spinach will cook down, and the apples... well, not traditional stir-fry fare, but I don't care.

Out comes the frying pan. Out come some scallions...  Out come the leftovers... And I also found half a portion left of a rice and turkey stir fry that has been around for several days.

Stir fry sauce is typically a little salty and a little sweet. Soy sauce and honey are a great combination. I couldn't find any soy sauce, so I used honey and balsamic vinegar.

The result was a very tasty lunch.

Lesson learned: chopping up vegetables in a food processor makes a good, very fast salad. It also makes a great stir-fry.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Eating real food

I thought about pulling quotes from this lecture by Mark Bittman, but there's really no point. His lecture is so multifaceted and important in so many ways, that it's best that you take 20 minutes and watch it yourself.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rapid-Fire Salad

I've been a woodworker for a few years now, and in the woodworking world, there's a split between machine woodworking and hand-tool woodworking. And somewhere along the way, I realized there was a similar thing at work in the kitchen. (Woodworking has really colored the way I see a lot of things.)

In short, machines are used for sheer productive capacity. Hand tools are used when a little bit of finesse is desired, when the quantity called for doesn't justify cleaning an entire machine, or when you feel like taking your time and enjoying the process. I like the process of breaking things down and slicing ingredients... there's something for me about working with my hands that allows my head to unwind itself a little bit.

When it's time to produce, one of my favorite machines is the food processor. I don't have a full-sized one, yet, but I've had this mini Cuisinart for something like 13 years now. It's still going strong, and despite it's size it's a solid workhorse. The only hand tool required with a food processor is a knife, to trim off any undesirables, and break the rest down into manageable chunks.

UPDATE-- 9/16/10: Apparently I'm not the only one who really likes his food processor. Check out this column from columnist Mark Bittman in the New York Times


Growing up, the typical salad involved large chunks of lettuce leaf, raw tomatoes, oil and vinegar, and other large chunks of raw vegetables that are the typical anathema to a bouncing screaming holy terror of a child. So I grew up hating the idea of salads in general. I've grown up a bit, and my ideas of what can possibly constitute a salad have been broadened considerably. Among other variations, I was introduced to the concept of so-called 'Israeli Salad,' which is synonymous with "doesn't have lettuce." For some reason, this really appeals to me, and it really opens up the genre to a lot of possibilities.

There are times when I feel like making a really fancy-looking salad, and I'll take the time to carefully slice ripened pears on top of an arranged bed of... whatever... and add nifty things like nuts, craisins, and cheeses, and so on, and so forth. That takes time, room to spread out and prep all the ingredients, and at least a mild level of engagement. Tonight I was just hungry.

I fed some celery, apples, carrots, and red cabbage into the Cuisinart. I mixed up the result, dumped some of it on top of a pile of spinach, added some craisins and balsamic vinaigrette, and called it dinner. I used the slicer on the celery and apples, and the shredder on the carrots and cabbage.

Please note that this processed part of the salad is very dense. Carrots and Cabbage are serious roughage, and shredding it will help with the process of digestion, but it also allows it to compact very tightly in the salad bowl. So be aware that what you see in the picture above is going to last for at least 2 or 3 meals, and attempting to eat all of it would be the gastronomical equivalent of eating a box of brillo pads. 

Normally for salads I like to use pears, if I have them, instead of apples. Pears are sweeter, and I like the way that the sweetness counter-balances the bland earthiness of most lettuces and some other vegetables. I also like combining pears with something like gorgonzola in a fancier salad, but I'll make one of those at a later date.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Random piss-ant pic

While making dinner tonight, I was struck by the composition of food items on our singular working surface. It almost looks staged, but it wasn't.

It kind of looks like a rainbow of food... or temple to cheese.
Those scallions in the flower pot are growing from the roots of ones chopped up for a previous meal. Pretty cool.

The virtue of a small fridge.

In the last post, I pointed out that we have a conspicuously small fridge. And we learned something pretty quickly about having a small fridge:

It turns out, most folks have a really big fridge.

My logic is as follows:

-We haven't yet, (to the best of my recollection) found any of those "Oh, ew... what the hell was that?" kind of containers, shoved into the back of the fridge. In fact, we can typically see the back of the fridge most of the time. The only real problem isn't a new one: the crisper drawer in the bottom is still the hidden lair for veggies we've had for longer than we know. But even those don't last so long that they become really and truly repugnant.... which reminds me:

-Tip for keeping veggies fresher: Put them in a ziplock bag, and suck all of the air out of the bag before you seal it. One of the reasons that veggies start to wilt is that the water stored in the plant has evaporated off. As the plant gives off water, the structural support that their fullness offers to the plant evaporates, too, and as a result you get veggies that just feel... limp. Water will evaporate out of the plant until an equilibrium is reached in the bag, where no more water can be taken up by the surrounding air. Sucking the air out of the bag means that this equilibrium will happen faster, and as a result, your still-fresh veggies will sit in a nice humid happy place, and keep their freshness for weeks longer than they would otherwise. This comes from my own experiences in storing food from a CSA that we took part in last year.

-Back to the small fridge... So far, we still do regular shopping trips, and bring home a regular amount of food. Once in a while, we do have to keep from buying too much frozen food, since the freezer does fill up. But we use pretty much everything that we buy, with the exception of one half-used bag of really freezer-burned bell peppers that I'll have to remember to put into some spaghetti sauce sometime.

Now, to be fair, I will admit that we also have a smaller, dorm-room sized fridge in the dining room that we use for things like bottles of iced tea, beer, and other drink type things. While there are a few places in the main fridge that will hold a full gallon of milk, there's not much room for a lot of large containers. So, they get stored in the dining room.

-I'm generally put off by the term "efficiency," as it pertains to kitchen equipment, as it's typically synonymous with "too damn small." Efficiency equipment is designed to be space-efficient, and not take up too much room. But in the case of the fridge, it's turned out to be efficient in other ways as well: Because it's smaller, it's easier to keep full. And a fridge that's filled up will be more energy-efficient, long-term. The cold items in the fridge will keep the air cold, and keep the cold air from flowing so freely out when the door is opened. (If you regularly have a mostly-empty fridge, you should at least fill it with bottles of water. The water will hold their temperature a lot better than the air, and power consumption will go down as a result.) Because there's less room for abandoned leftovers, we throw out a lot less food... and a lot less money.

In summary... don't be afraid of small refrigerators, as long as they're still big enough to hold everything you need. They may force you to think a little more about what you keep in your kitchen, but that's a good thing.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tour of the Piss-Ant Kitchen

Welcome to the tour of the Piss-Ant kitchen.

Back when it was first built, our building was a one-family house. It has since been chopped up into 8 apartments. The house is pretty big, but clearly the process of chopping it up led to some interesting design decisions... like our kitchen.

As our kitchen was designed and laid out, it was lacking in a few basic things,  like adequate storage for pots and pans, and a space to actually prepare food. And the layout leaves very little room, making it impossible for two people to cook at one time in here, or even just move past each other without invading personal space*. But I'm going to try to squeeze the both of us (you, the reader, and me, the author) through here for the tour. Apologies for some of the photos... I'm not a professional photographer by any means, and there's not much room to back up and get a decent shot.

So, this is it. It's long, and skinny. It's basically a hallway running between our bedroom and our dining room. At the dining room end of the kitchen is a small refrigerator. There really isn't room for a full-sized one, so it works, more or less, with the space that we have.
As you enter from the bedroom, the sink is immediately on the left, followed by a column of cabinets. Following that is a shallow set of over/under cabinets, with a shelf that's dressed up to look like a counter, but is only deep enough for the microwave and coffee maker.

Once you get past the cabinets and shelf, there's a stove/oven unit. It's not the greatest stove, and the elements aren't very flat, but it works. Next to that is the door into the dining room.
So that's the kitchen, as we received it when we moved in.

The most egregious thing that was missing was space to work. Thankfully, I have an old kitchen island that I built 7 years ago. (it's showing it's age, too... I want to build a new one.) so that was installed right next to the fridge. I say installed, but it's actually on wheels, so it can be moved out of the way for cleaning.

The other major problem this kitchen had was that the cabinets aren't very deep, except for the one under the sink, so storing pots and pans would have been a nightmare. Luckily, I already had this pair of hanging pot-racks. The linear design of these racks means they don't really intrude much into the main area of the kitchen. They're also available in various lengths. That's useful, and it's one of the reasons I chose to buy them for my last kitchen. All that said, they're really only a viable solution if you have high ceilings like I do.

Oh, and that's not a monkey up in the corner. It's an old toy Rancor monster that I got when I was a kid. I didn't have a better place for him, so I let him hang out in the kitchen. Yes, I'm a Star Wars fan.

Last but not least, there's the magnetic knife holder that I installed to the left of the stove. It looks a little empty to me right now, because we're going through one of those "we have too much stuff," periods. We do have too much stuff. And there were a couple of very nice knives that I never used, so I'm putting them up on eBay, since I can use the money more than I can use extra stuff. As far as the knife holder itself goes, it was a deliberate choice: I also have a very nice bamboo block that used to hold the collection. I have no real counter space to spare though, so a wall mounted unit made more sense.

If you look up, you'll see there's some space to pile stuff up on top of the cabinets. I'm 5'9", and I can pretty much reach up there. But for big stuff it's a stretch. Among other things, I keep my crock pot up there, as well as the stereo speakers, one of which you can see here. If I were taller, or had the space in this kitchen to use or store a step-ladder, this added storage might be more useful.

And that spits us out into the dining room.

This concludes the ten cent tour of the Piss-Ant kitchen.


*Re: Personal Space: We're engaged newly married, so invading personal space is actually a hobby for me.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Day One

We have a tiny, Piss-Ant Kitchen. It's basically a narrow hallway that spans half of the back of our apartment. It's small enough that even our landlady said it was generally a deal-breaker. But we love it.

This blog is going to be a collaborative effort to explain how we manage to not only manage to cook, but cook productively for up to 9 (!!!) people... that's been the max, so far. James wants to see if the envelope can be pushed further.

The plan so far is to talk about everything... what to cook, how to cook it. Techniques and tools for being productive, and how to approach learning to cook in general, as well as to cook in a small space. There are plans for podcasts, and maybe even a book someday.

But today is just the beginning, so let's do it all one step at a time.