Review: The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook

by blue midget

He had me at “toaster ovens.”

It came to me in a similar fashion that it now comes to you; as an unobtrusive note on an unassuming webpage. Now, I have a few passions in life. Among them are (not listed in any particular order) interior design, organization, the new house I just purchased, and food. Seeing as how this little gem encompassed all four, I snatched it up.

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Before you dismiss what I am about to say because the closest you get to cooking is watching Iron Chef or you saw the words “interior design” and you figure this is most likely some chick-thing, allow me to present the book’s most curious premise: It was written by a man who grew up on a sailboat, and learned to work in a kitchen the size of an outhouse. So discard all that was learned from snobby haute cuisine shows on Food TV or distressed you by reading Bon Appetit magazines, and sit down with a quick read that Rachel Ray probably wishes she had come up with. The book isn’t for the stuck up foodie or the socialite and their extravagant dinner parties, it’s for people who live in real homes and need to eat.

The instructions in the book are tongue-in-cheek, but refreshingly goes against what any stuck-up, cutting-board-defiling chef might tell you: You don’t need all that crap in your kitchen to cook. In the IBK, less is definitely more, and goes on to explain that having way too much in your kitchen will actually keep you from preparing food. It makes sense; if your kitchen is awkward and you own way too much “stuff,” you are less likely to spend any time in it. The book goes on to explain what the author, Justin Spring, feels is necessary to stock your kitchen without crowding your kitchen.

Often times when I read such a book, the author, in all of their experience, infinite wisdom, and supremacy, will show you the finished product without really showing you how to get there. It’s like the body builder who says, “This is what you’re supposed to look like,” but never shows you what to do to achieve said results. Spring gives examples of how to organize your tiny kitchen on a real-person’s budget, and provides prices and websites where you can find some of these items. Among them, he also provides a short list of what he feels is absolutely necessary for daily cooking, along with prices and places to get them – and he stole my heart away when he listed the almighty toaster oven. In fact, he spent a bit of time actually talking about different toaster ovens and why one would need one.

Ah, toaster ovens and me. Yeah, we go way back when to my youth and my mother did not allow my brother and I to use the stove. Instead, we learned to heat up food in the toaster oven. (We didn’t have a microwave in those days – four years ago I finally bought my mother her first one, and now she realizes what she had been missing all those years.)

The first half of the book is dedicated to encouraging you to streamline your kitchen, feel comfortable about getting rid of excess “stuff,” recognizing that you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to cook good food quickly, and actually enjoy spending time in your itty bitty kitchen. After all, it’s a very important room in the house, and you should not feel stressed about spending time in it. Spring doesn’t beat around the bush with fancy, frilly language, but makes it feel easy to accomplish while encouraging you to take back control over your kitchen. While he’s at it, he also addresses something that plagues most everyday chefs: Portion control. For those of us who aren’t cooking for the Brady Bunch, preparing meals can be discouraging. The IBK Handbook addresses this readily, stressing that people with smaller kitchens and less people in the household will need to purchase and store food much more realistically. And then he assures you that it really is okay to do so.

The second half of the book is where the rubber meets the road, with extremely easy recipes. In fact, he even provides a recipe for a meatloaf for four, that you make in your toaster oven. Spring realizes that not everyone is a gourmet chef, nor do many folks want to be. However, for anyone who simply loves food and doesn’t want to eat out every night, he offers many meals that can be prepared quickly and easily in a small kitchen.

If you are wary of kitchens and cooking, or if spending time in your kitchen has become a frustrating task, this is the book for you. A tiny book for the tiny kitchen, and a quick, easy read – I couldn’t recommend it more. You’ll take back your kitchen and learn to enjoy spending time in there, even if it is for a few minutes to make simple and delicious meals. Eat your heart out, Rachel Ray.