Monthly Archives: April 2008

Kitchen Feng Shui

So…I’m not a resident of NeatFreakStan…I’m sure my friends would be shocked if I even got a tourist visa. But even I know that without some kitchen feng shui, your cooking is dead (or at least, miserable!). A few weeks ago, I helped someone reorganize her kitchen. This kitchen was a rather hardworking one – meal/beverage preparation up to four or five times a day! It’s amazing how many things were so out of reach or otherwise difficult to use.

I told her that the space was limited, and she should treat her kitchen as if it was downtown Tokyo or New York – not a square inch to be wasted! That means…stuff that she uses all the time, she could assign to premium real estate, such as the cabinets nearest the stove or even the countertops themselves .

In deciding where to put things, I weighed a few factors:

  • frequency of use;
  • reachability; (yeah, might not be a real word but this is the INTERNET!)
  • bulkiness, weight or other barriers to use; and
  • visibility.

So…these are the things I did to help…

Prioritized (what I wanted)

I went through a “diagnosis” stage to figure out the major uses and the really big obstacles – just figuring out how she (and everyone else) actually used the kitchen.

Identify the Nonnegotiable (what was not going to happen)

Despite my non-expert (yet fabulous!) opinion, I knew that there would be things that I could not change or affect. It was extremely important to learn what she was willing or able to change: (1) she did not want to spend any money (and we did not); (2) some storage she designated as “off-limits” or display-only; and (3) there were many things she was not ready to throw away (argh!).

Execute (what actually happened!). Lots of decluttering. Out with the unused plastic food storage missing lids, glass jars, containers, or any other things that never get used. Moving things around. As Nike says, Just Do It!

***warning: ranting starts now***

It’s actually pretty frustrating to see clear potential (in this case, in a kitchen) totally stagnated – and rendered into something that hinders people. I saw stagnation, stagnation, stagnation – everywhere! But there were a few standout culprits:

  • Culprit #1 was a large rolling cabinet that never got rolled anywhere. Its depth, one foot, ensured that anytime she reached for plates in the overhead cupboards she was extending her arm fully and possibly having to get tippy-toed to reach certain ones. I moved the rolling cabinet so that it was out of the way.
  • The kitchen had an OK amount of counter space. However, jam jars, peanut butter jars, condiments, and totally miscellaneous snacks (Culprit #2) occupied major aspects of usable space (instead of being relegated to…STORAGE!).
  • The pantry, and other food storage was definitely Culprit #3 – no one could find anything! Marinated artichoke hearts, etc., would simply disappear one week after purchase…leading to repeat purchases of the same items! I found FIVE, five, FIIIIIIVE 28-oz cans of enchilada sauce (or like nine POUNDS of it!!!)…where no one has made any enchiladas…for the last year!

*** end of ranting…almost time for a pretty video…***

As a result of my help, not only does she report that her kitchen is easier to use, she is making changes – on her own initiative! This makes me SO happy, and makes me feel like I helped her get some positive momentum (and gives me greater optimism about my own decluttering!). Sometimes it really does help to have someone else look at your stuff, so that you don’t have to do things the same way, over and over again. You can do it better! That’s pretty much the backdrop of the plot in Kitchen Stories – the Swedes actually studied ergonomics of the kitchen in the 1950’s!

P.S. The music in the film is nice!

P.P.S. Been wanting to write about this book somewhere on the blog – I loved reading Justin Spring’s The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook: Everything You Need to Know About Setting Up and Cooking in the Most Ridiculously Small Kitchen in the World–Your Own. Got it from the library a few months ago because it looked cute. Who knew it was actually useful? He teaches readers how to organize a small kitchen in personable, enjoyable prose. Hello – he even gets into issues like lighting your kitchen! He presumes the absolute worst space situations – and still helps you pull off beautiful dinners. Once you start reading the recipes, it becomes very clear very quickly that he just might know what he’s talking about…the guy grew up on a 36-ft boat. I still need to try his toaster oven Shirred Eggs. Basically, butter a ramekin, put the egg in it, sprinkle some herbs / cheese on it, pop it in the toaster oven and take your morning shower. BRILLIANT!!!


Canned Fish is a Superstar III: Spicy, Instant Spaghetti (about $.30 per serving)

Faster than you can say puttanesca, you can muster up a nice lunch from a can of California Girl Sardines in Chili Sauce (there are also tomatoes in this). Not too hot – just a small twinge of heat. For $1.49, you get 15 oz. I’ve seen these in the wilds of Cub Foods in the Twin Cities as well as the Safeways of California – I’d be shocked if you can’t get them in a supermarket. If not, they will surely be on the shelves of your local Hispanic/Asian groceries.

Part III in a series of posts about the wonders of canned fish – click here for part I (about fishcakes and capellini), and here for part II (about fried rice).

These are quite delicious. Surprising, actually – maybe I had low expectations? I boiled about 1/2 lb of dry spaghetti (usually can be found for $1.00/lb – likely $.50 worth), drained it. Turned off the stove and threw in minced garlic (pennies) and olive oil to get the garlic to sweat in the residual heat. Added about 6 or 7 filets from the can (~$1.00 worth) and a bit of Parmesan. Mash the fish with the garlic. Throw the spaghetti back into the pan and mix, mix, mix. That’s it! Garnish with green onions/chives/etc.

Make many servings – five or six for $.150, at least (so, about $.30 per serving). Total time is about 15 minutes – 10~12 minutes to boil the pasta, and a few more minutes to add the garlic, sardines, and parmesan (I used the grated parmesan by kraft – very inexpensive at Costco). If you have diners that like sardines, I think this is actually good (and pretty enough) for company. My taste tester gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up!

The snipped chives and green onions garnishing the dish came from some container gardening – here’s a closeup of them.

P.S. I found this handy chart for measuring various ingredients in their cooked/uncooked states (like pasta diameters).

P.P.S. And, one of my friends found this video on Youtube…lesson of the day, kiddos, is that you must have the best tea no matter what!

Feijoada post: now with a photo

Back in ye olden days, I was innocent of flickr and such. And now at times, I have pangs of guilt for all the posts that are sans photos. So, from time to time, I will update an old post with a new picture – from my most recent encounter with the recipe. So, here’s my attempt to capture the magic that is feijoada (on steamed Japanese rice – likely Homai from Costco (around $9/25lb bag)):

I’m putting the pic here to encourage you to take a gander at the post for the recipe…very easy! Smoky, garlicky, tender beans melting on rice…absolutely a comfort food (and less than a dollar per serving!).

Canned Fish is a Superstar II: Spinach & Sprats Fried Rice

Comfort is the ultimate expression of love. Or perhaps laziness? Maybe that is why I adore fried rice. Comfy and lovely. So easy, so cheap, so good! So tolerant of whatever you might happen to have around the fridge. Or in the case of canned fish, whatever is in your pantry.

Part II in a series of posts about the wonders of canned fish.

I usually like to use smoked pork products – like sausage or bacon (or even…gasp…SPAM! one of my secret loves). Smoked pork is my nod to the char siu traditionally found in fried rice . But this time, in the interest of advancing the culinary arts, I thought I’d try some smoked sprats. This brand, unlike the Riga canned sprats, have no tartness or sour sparkle to them. Instead, they have an unadulterated smoky sprat flavor. Whoa Nelly! That is some real fish. I wondered how the smokiness and fishiness would hold up in a fried rice dish. And would spinach’s earthiness do combat with the fish? Only one way to find out!

Spinach and Sprats Fried Rice

  • 2 cups of leftover rice, still chilled from refrigeration (used white Homai rice from the beloved Costco for $9.00/25 lbs);
  • 2 loose cups of fresh spinach, chopped (I’m sure frozen would work fine too, if you squeezed out the excess water);
  • 2 jumbo eggs;
  • 1 cup of chopped onion (about two smallish yellow ones);
  • cheese as garnish (Kraft Parmesan worked nicely for me);
  • salt; and
  • copious amounts of black pepper.

My fried rice is pretty informal. In an ideal world, maybe you scramble the eggs first, then add them back to the rice mixture. That’s probably what I should have done, but the results were fine without that step. Heat up the cast iron skillet, to almost smoking hot. Lower to medium high. Add the vegetable oil. Throw in the onions. Then add the rice and use the spatula furiously – folding, folding, folding. Beat the eggs, then throw them in. Scramble wildly. Loosely chop the sprats. Throw them in. Fold in the spinach. Sprinkle salt generously, after tasting. Load up the rice with as much black pepper as you can stand. Garnish with cheese. Yes, I know this is not traditional. Serve with a flourish. Wait for adulation – it will arrive! I received compliments, just a warning!