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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Adventures in a Small Kitchen

As I was heading to the store this evening and strategizing how I was going to make dinner, I started giggling about how I was getting used to some mighty odd contortions just to make pretty simple dinners.  Given how basic the Towers' kitchens are (more details below) and how lazy and cheap I can be, I've made it one of my challenges this year to cook good, nutritious, and non-boring meals in my apartment.   Yep, too lazy to walk down the hall to the oven, that lazy.  It's entailed some real inventiveness--and, at times, long for my BIG, fully-equipped kitchen at home.  (Yes, compared to my kitchen here, my one on Candleberry is big.  Chew on that.)

My kitchen here really is just a 6-foot stretch of counter into which they've managed to fit a sink, two electric burners, and a coffee maker.  Yep, that gives me about a 3x2 surface for all meal prep.  The microwave is small and weak but perfectly functional and is, thank goodness, a wall-mount.  The fridge is the best of those under-the-counter ones I've ever had, but it is small.  No once a week groceries for me.  The "pantry" is a shelf in my clothes closet and a spice rack above the burners.  Both are totally functional, although I keep waiting for coffee in my undies and all my spices to collapse into dinner.  That's when I go to the Chinese restaurant next door.

For all my kidding, the only thing that's annoying are the electric burners--and they're more amusing than annoying.  Now I'm not one of those folks who "can only cook on gas" (get over yourselves).  Electric or gas, both are fine; you just have to deal with them differently.  With the ones here, though, let's just say that I'm glad I learned to cook on Wekiva's old stove and the two cranky and microscopic ones I had in Dublin and Dole.  The burners aren't coil but are like a hot plate: solid metal.  It means that they take FOREVER to heat up, but once they do, they don't give up their heat for anything; yes, you are in danger of burning yourself for at least an hour after using one, and I'm shocked that they don't set the countertops on fire given that they're embedded into them and anything hitting the metal surrounding the burners sizzles (no joke). They're also REALLY close together.  I mean REALLY.  My big saucepot is 8" across, and I can't put that and my small frying pan on the burners at the same time and have both pans actually fit.  Think of it as campfire cooking, with each pot precariously balanced on its burner.  It's actually kind of handy if you think about it; I can sautee and sear on the same burner in the same pan without having to adjust the heat. :-)

That last crack gives you an example of some of my cooking contortions, so on that note, here's to all the ways I've had to become inventive in the kitchen!

1.  My mallet is my friend.  Not only does it tenderize meat, it makes bread crumbs, contributes to stretching pastry dough, and creates killer mashed potatoes.  I should note, however, that you should never, ever use the pointy side on the potatoes.  Without a dishwasher, you'll never get the thing clean.  I've learned the hard way.

2.  You can fry almost anything if you try.  While I realize that this shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's lived in the South as long as I have, it was an epiphany given that I so rarely fry things at home.  While I haven't gotten into the fried vegies yet, fried bread in butter is 100% times better than toast on frosty mornings.  (Yes, you can call my cardiologist.)

3.  I'll take plastic, not paper.  When I shop for things now, I pay attention to their containers not because I'm trying to be environmental, but because I'm trying to get free Tupperware.  I've managed to accumulate a nice collection of mixed containers and just tonight treated myself to a 1.5 liter container of Diet Coke (my first of the trip) because Ted and I need a big water bottle when walking.  The only problem is that some don't microwave well.  That's when I learned how to scrape plastic off the glass shelf.

4.  A cutting board is an all-purpose tool.  Computer lap desk.  Need I say more?

5.  Garlic presses are annoying but essential (at least given how I cook), since they don't seem to sell pre-chopped garlic .  Think about cleaning all those stupid holes without a dishwasher, though.  I've gotten so that I squish something slimy through it to get rid of the garlic skins, then wash the slimy out.  I was pretty proud of that one.

6.  The most useful tool in the kitchen: the Euro-whisk (bet you thought I'd say knife, huh.  Actually knives are third place after scissors).  When you can't face anymore inventiveness, the Euro-whisk makes a killer cup of cocoa and mixes a lot better than those straight-handled whisks we have at home.  (Yes, my kitchen came with a whisk and cheese slicer, which I never use, but didn't come with measuring cups.)

On that note, I'm going to take my cutting board and start editing!

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