My Princeton Kitchen – Zone One
My Princeton Kitchen sounds like a good name for a blog. Not my blog, but someone’s.
Writing about life in the kitchen is too restricting for me. Home cooking is great, but it leaves out so many other important food topics that I deeply care about. That said, when I was on the road during August it was having my own kitchen that I missed the most. And now I’ve finally got one again.
Getting a kitchen set up is a stimulating challenge. It gives you the chance for a fresh start. The cabinets and the drawers are all empty, and you are forced to ask yourself some tough questions. You know, like what are you going to put in that small cabinet over the stove?
I’ve had the chance to set up a lot of kitchens over the years. And recently I’ve tried to cook in some that just didn’t make sense. So what have I done to make my favorite room in the apartment more functional? Here’s the rundown.
Zone One: The Range
Most of my cooking happens on the stove top. I sauté, braise, boil, steam, and simmer. Baking, roasting, broiling and toasting are less frequent activities. That means I’ll need to keep a certain set of tools handier than others. My most used pots and pans occupy prime real estate in a large, uncrowded, easy to access cabinet adjacent to the stove.
In this kitchen, counter space is at a premium. I’ve gotten spoiled by having a long, uninterrupted counter between the sink and the stove. It will probably take some time to adjust, but now most of the available counter space is to my back when I’m working at the stove.
Still, I consider the three jars of long tools to the right of the stove critical to my overall efficiency. One is for things that scoop, another is for things that grab and turn, and the third is for things that strain and whisk. Smaller tools that I may need in a pinch, like the instant read thermometer, zesters and measuring spoons, are in the top right drawer.
One of the trickiest cabinets to fill are the ones over the stove. Hopefully by now you know not to store your wine up there (or above the refrigerator either). It’s also not a good place for spices. It just gets too warm with the radiant heat from cooking.
My idea was to keep the plates there. I figured it would be like a built in plate warmer. Except Mrs. Fussy vetoed that plan. And she did so on a couple of grounds.
One, she’s not as tall as I am, and it would make the plates difficult for her to reach. Two, it would make the plates impossible to reach for our young children. That last one was really the bulletproof counterargument for me. It’s good for the kids to be self sufficient. And really, I don’t have enough counter space to adequately plate the food in the kitchen. Most of the time we eat family style with me bringing serving dishes to the table, where everyone can take their portion.
So now, in the cabinets above the stove, we have a variety of serving dishes. All of which will be properly warmed.
Now what about those spices? Besides the black pepper mill and the shorter white pepper mill which are on the counter with the salt cellar, I keep the rest of them in a deep drawer within arms reach. This is the third drawer down, and it’s deep enough for the jars to stand straight up and still close. Naturally, it’s impossible to see the labels this way, but a small round sticker on top easily does the trick. The drawer is so big, and my spices so thinned out (which is a good thing) that I even have room in there for my spice grinder. As much as possible, appliances have to stay off the counters.
There are two small electrical appliances that are taking up precious counter space next to the stove.
One is the small two-slice toaster. Mostly because I love toast with my eggs. And I love eggs. Being able to closely monitor the toast while the eggs are cooking is a no-brainer for me. The other is my burr grinder, so when I crush beans for my pour-overs I don’t have to be far from the steaming kettle.
It’s all about priorities and the things in your life that are most important to prepare well.
The plates, by the way, are now on the bottom shelf of the upper cabinet to the left of the stove. They reside there with the bowls and a few ramekins. The kids can reach them. And I lowered the shelf height so that there is plenty of space for tall bottles of oil, vinegars, and other flavorful goodies that I might want to add to a dish. At the very top of that cabinet, I made another small shelf for things I rarely use, but might occasionally want like sugars, canned beans and canned tomatoes.
Now, if you are paying close attention and haven’t fallen asleep, there is one important drawer that I didn’t mention.
The top drawer immediately to the left of the stove. It’s prime real estate in the kitchen. And appropriately, it stores some of the tools I use the most: kitchen towels and oven mitts. Back at the house, our oven mitts were shoved above the stove, and it was alway tenuous to find a matching pair. Towels were kept in a dining room cabinet with the table linens. Moving was a great excuse to finally toss the ratty and mismatched ones, and now I’ve always got a safe way to carry a hot pot nearby. And I’m always using kitchen towels when I cook. Whether it’s wiping my hands from an oily bottle, or cleaning up some drips on the counter, it’s always good to cook clean.
And even with just two full days in Princeton under my belt, I’m already cooking. I’ve made rotini with a raw tomato sauce (made with my mother-in-law’s homegrown tomatoes). Young Master Fussy requested his favorite peanut butter pasta. We had a great big egg brunch (with eggs procured from Wegmans). Later today, I’ll cook up my first batch of Cuban black beans since spring.
There are still a few rough spots in the kitchen. And if people respond to this post, I might talk about the other zones and how those work within the grand plan of the room.
But now I’ve got to start getting ready for the Jewish New Year. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a simple roast chicken. I’m really looking forward to it.