Cooking in your challenging kitchen

How to make your less than perfect kitchen work. Photo: James Moran

LOS ANGELES, January 22, 2013- Big or small, a kitchen should be celebrated. Whether for parties, after-school snacks, or a midnight foray to the fridge, the kitchen will always draw people in.

“The kitchen truly is the heart of the home for people around the world, although many homeowners wish they could upgrade their current kitchen – in part, perhaps, because kitchen happiness seems tied to overall family well-being” (Consumer Buying Trends, January 2006).

Producing a masterpiece in a less-than-perfect kitchen is challenging but not impossible. Countertops are not always large, and you might not have a precisely calibrated stove, or the newest appliances, but by learning to use what you’ve got, you can still cook beautiful and delicious food.

Almost every kitchen in which I have worked as a private chef has had its flaws, including the “kitchen” I once created out of a portable burner and a toaster oven to cater an elaborate party.

The key is to know your equipment, prep well, and plan.

For instance, if you have only one working burner, plan a one-pot meal like chicken soup or chicken pot pie so that you are not overly stressed trying to create a meal that physically cannot happen.

If your oven is unpredictable, buy a thermometer and put it in your oven so you always know the temperature.

Here are some tips for dealing with other common kitchen challenges:

Not enough counter space?

Place a cutting board over the top of your sink with a towel or rubber mat underneath to prevent slippage.

No room for a microwave?

Most food can be cooked in an oven with a few extra minutes and some additional planning.

Not enough drawers for your kitchen tools?

Buy canisters to sit next to your stove to hold utensils.

Not sure about what kind of dishes to use?

White plates go with every meal and make your meal look its best, because the food is the focal point.  It is easy to add more pieces and to replace anything that breaks.

The drawers in your kitchen are located far from your stove and sink?

Keep your kitchen supplies like flatware close at hand in a pretty basket.

You use your kitchen equipment often, but it takes up too much room on your countertops?

Keep small appliances in a nearby closet, pantry, or even in a cabinet.  If money allows, you can buy convertible cabinets so your appliances are plugged in at all times but out of sight.

Your spice cabinet is deep and you can’t always see your spices?

Keep your spices in a wire basket so you can easily take them out.  Spend a few extra minutes to label your herb and spice jars lids with a black marker.

There are always opened bags of snacks like pretzels and chips in your pantry and you hate the way they look and how they go stale?

Purchase tall clear rectangular storage containers that will keep them fresh, make them easy to find and give your pantry a more unified look.

Your kitchen is small and you don’t have room for many different cutting boards, do you need a special one for vegetables?

Multiple cutting boards designated for different types of food helps keep foods from cross contaminating but are not absolutely necessary. Keep a minimum of two cutting plastic boards, One for raw proteins and the other use for everything else.

Easy solutions to optimize your kitchen are out there but you might have to think outside the box. 

For more great cooking tips, recipes and stories from Chef Mary, visit her To learn more about Chef

Mary, check out her Hail Mary’s, Inc. Web site E-mail questions for Ask Chef Mary Fridays to or click the Ask Chef Mary link above.

Want more from Chef Mary? Check out her step-by-step cooking classes on Appetites.

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Mary Moran

Upon graduating from the California School of Culinary Arts in 2002, Chef Mary Payne Moran began her professional career shelling crabs at the world-renowned restaurant, Michael's in Santa Monica.  Simultaneously, she launched her own company, Hail Mary’s, founded upon the belief that good food nurtures the soul, and began catering weddings, parties and large corporate events.

In the fall of 2008, Mary began teaching her culinary skills to others.    Currently she can be found at Hollywood School House teaching her after school cooking class, and teaching her popular "Vegetables or Not Here I Come" assembly.

Most recently, Mary has launched another division in her company as well as a chef she is now also a Certified Nutritionist for high profile clients.  She helps her clients discover their healthy way of eating.  Mary has recently been published in the Los Angeles Magazine, & The New Jersey Star Ledger.

Daily she addresses cooking aficionados through her blog - Cooking with Chef Mary as well as her how-to webisodes on You Tube.

Contact Mary Moran


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