A Return To Tiny

5 Feb

It seems that, if one is to base their conclusions solely on the cooking coverage provided by the New York Times, tiny kitchens are all the rage.

Which really does make sense, given that the New York Times is a paper based in New York, purporting to cover New York things from a New York perspective, because, let’s face it, only the luckiest people in New York (and by New York, I mean Manhattan in this instance) have big kitchens. For further evidence see the introduction to this story by Moira Hodgson from 1979.  I’m a bit too cheap to pay $4 for the article, but I do love that she blames the landlords.

I know first hand that living in Brooklyn is the way to solve the tiny kitchen blues.  But, there are trade offs.  By gaining a big kitchen one may also gain a big commute.

I gather that the tiny kitchen rage started when Mark Bittman posted a picture of his kitchen, which, I’ll grant you, is tiny.  I, like many, was initially surprised that someone who writes so much about food had such a weeny kitchen.  But then I thought about it, and yeah, it makes sense.  A tiny kitchen forces one to cook smarter, with less and more, well, minimally.   As Mario Batalli says in Bittman’s article, “Only bad cooks blame the equipment.”

And so, it was with this spirit of invention and trendiness that we tackled our first dinner in the new apartment.  Isaac had been craving, of all things, chicken thighs, so we set off with the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated (intending to make a version of their version of chicken and porcini) to our new neighbor, New York institution and the most hectic of hectic grocery stores, Fairway.

Apparently we had both lost our minds, or our memories, because it was Saturday, the day before Super Bowl Sunday and the place was a seething mass of humanity.  Seriously.  It was more crowded than a rush hour 6 train, or Macy’s on the weekend before Christmas, or the LIE on a perfect summer Friday evening.  I was scared.  I saw two grown men, well into their 50s or 60s, fighting over the last Steelers cake.

There were crying babies and crying grown ups.  Old ladies running over their fallen neighbors with their granny carts.  Doctors arguing with  butchers because they were out of chicken wings.  It was a living incarnation of one of the more tortuous circles of Dante’s hell.  In other words, it was a perfectly condensed and distilled New York moment.  And we survived it.  And not only that, we managed to get out of there without forgetting anything.  I’d call that a victory on all counts.

One of the things I had forgotten about cooking in a tiny kitchen is the need to plan ahead.  In this case I decided to cook the chicken in the oven, but needed to caramelize some onions and mushrooms first, but didn’t have any stove-to-oven vessels both big enough to fit the chicken yet small enough to fit in the oven.  So I improvised.

Everything in its place. A place for everything.

I cooked a bunch of onions in the pot I was going to use for the risotto, then transferred all of them to my baking dish.  Then, after browning the chicken in the risotto pot, moved the chicken to the baking dish, and half the onions back to the risotto pot.  Simple, sure, but it really made me feel back in the groove of tiny cooking.  It felt good, and right.

Cat & Carcoffi

And the meal came out spectacularly.  The chicken was tender and rich, the risotto was creamy and earthy, and the fresh shell beans that I found in the produce section (that some bewildered lady turned her nose up at when I told her you needed to shuck them) were utterly delicious.

The fire escape door cum magnetic peg board ala Julia Child

And even without a ventilation hood over the stove, the cooking smells (something I am very sensitive to while trying to sleep) weren’t that bad.  Not even the next night when we baked some scrod and whipped up a big pot of clams and linguine to go with it.  It was a wonderful return to tiny cooking.  Maybe this studio living ain’t so bad after all!

Sprout guards the condiments and spices. This cabinet smells so good when you open it.

It’s going to feel odd returning to the big kitchen upstate after such a triumph, but I have a big weekend ahead of me.  My mom and stepdad are coming over for dinner for the first time.  I’m thinking of making pasta e fagioli with some farro pasta (I wish I could get some of Steve’s new beans in time) along with a big salad and something else.  I’m stuck on the something else….

The kitchen from the living room

Does anyone have any bright ideas?  I’d love it to be seasonal, and local, of course.  So, please leave a comment (with a link) if you’ve run across or cooked something delicious lately, preferably not too heavy or fatty.  I have some special diets to be mindful of.

Our orchid likes the intense heat pumped out by the always-on radiators

Our orchid likes the intense heat pumped out by the always-on radiators

I’ll let you know how it goes next week.  Until then, vive le tiny!

11 Responses to “A Return To Tiny”

  1. lindagodfrey February 5, 2009 at 8:32 am #

    I’d trade my obscenely large kitchen for a chance to live in New York. AND you have orchids. Thanks for sharing your environment.

  2. Lisa (Homesick Texan) February 5, 2009 at 10:05 am #

    Don’t Steve’s new beans look amazing? I can’t wait to get my hands on them either!

  3. Robin February 5, 2009 at 3:28 pm #

    I’ve had a few tiny kitchens and the best one was open on one wall, like yours. That extra air really makes a lot of difference.

    Hmm… seasonal, ehh? Hard to find around here lately. I saw a carrot and shallot soup in a Chez Panisse cookbook the other day that I’d love to try. It was as simple as it sounds, saute the shallots until for a minute then all the carrots, stock, and a bit of white wine I think. Or, for a more side dishy thing, maybe this: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/veggies-and-sides/carrots

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Terry B February 5, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    I’ve been AWOL in the reading of favorite blogs lately, Ann, so imagine my surprise and delight to find you happily ensconced in a tiny kitchen on the UWS! Wow! And close to Fairway freakin’ Market! Happiness for you and Isaac and raging envy are duking it out in me right now. The happiness is winning, just so you know, but its nose is bleeding a little.

  5. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) February 5, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

    If the best things come in small packages, I think you are in for some wonderful times in your new tiny kitchen! And of course there are always escapes to the country to provide an alternative….

  6. Will B February 5, 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    Talk about mise en place! But, everything is right there where you need it (and nice to see my little secret weapon, Noilly Prat, hiding in the cupboard). How about homemade manicotti for that something special? Not too hard to make the crepes, and they are so much lighter than those heavy pasta shells… just a thought.

  7. marilyn February 5, 2009 at 11:27 pm #

    ah, the ‘something else’ challenge! i know it well!
    always a hit at my table are creamy soups minus the cream….for example, a potage of celery root, onion, garlic, celery, an apple, cooked in good stock and pureed with an immersion blender. dressed up with a crumble of blue cheese on top?
    or….winter squash, purple top turnips, onion, apple and freshly grated ginger, cooked in stock or water, then pureed.
    for a colorful and richer offering……beets, shallots, o.j., stock, a little sugar and vinegar, pureed with a bit of sour cream or creme fraiche.
    your photographs are beautiful!

  8. ann February 6, 2009 at 6:41 am #

    Linda — Thanks and you’re welcome. I keep waiting for the orchids to croak, but they really do seem to love it here. I’ll never understand plants…

    Lisa — I roped some co-workers into ordering some beans with me. I felt like the Girl Scout cookie lady, but with beans! I can’t wait for them to get here. So excited!

    Robin — Oooooh! I didn’t know Jamie Oliver had his own site. How cool! Thanks for sharing. There has to be something delicious there.

    Terry — HA! Oh man, you’re funny! I’ve been blog AWOL too with a lot of people, so I know the feeling, so thanks for the kind words :-)

    Lydia — It’s true, isn’t it? :-)

    Will — What a good point! My entire kitchen is mise! lol. I love me some dry vermouth. Sometimes I think its ridiculous how much I use it, but it makes everything taste so good….

    Marilyn — Ooooooh! I love the idea of a root vege potage with blue cheese on top. That would get Isaac involved in the dinner too! Thanks for thinking for me :-)

  9. Kevin Kossowan February 7, 2009 at 9:16 pm #

    I take a fair amount of pride in an efficient small kitchen, but MAN do you have me walloped in the size department!! When I travel, I have a 6″ chef knife and baggie of kosher salt in my pack, and there’s an awful lot of food one can eat in the world with just that. So props to tiny, indeed.

    • ann February 7, 2009 at 10:04 pm #

      Kevin!! — I may have you walloped on tiny kitchens, but you sure have me walloped in availability of moose meat :-)

  10. daisy from downunder February 16, 2009 at 10:36 pm #

    love your tiny kitchen,so cute,i too have just moved into an itsy bitsy tiny unit here in adelaide,with a very small kitchen and i love it,i was so worried that i would,nt be able to get all my favorite much loved cooking gear in but there happily stored away,including my 3 old crockpots that i love,wishing you many happy cooking sessions in your new tiny kitchen,cheers from downunder.

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