Slow Cooking in Tight Spaces | Civil Eats

Slow Cooking in Tight Spaces


My kitchen has been whittled down to about 50 square feet.  Standing room only to say the least is our new cooking protocol, making collaborative meals a thing of the past. The kitchen counter is rapidly shrinking as more and more household items get piled onto the rare space, along with the dirty dishes in our bus tub that have to get washed outside. My elbows tuck in closer when chopping and I have to set the toaster oven on the floor by the power strip that reaches the single outlet in operation. The large vintage Viking range, a mere foot away, makes for a hot and sweaty prep station if cranked up during the dinner hour, so even on these chilly autumn evenings our faces flush with any kitchen task. What has restricted our game, you might wonder? The reason is a complete house remodel, which began in June, being done solely by my carpenter boyfriend and myself…less me, more him. Do-it-yourself is an understatement here, and sometimes I’m not sure how exactly we got ourselves into this. Our daily reality of plastic tarps, red tape, cobwebs and dirty everything is actually perfectly suitable for a murderous Halloween set. I should have just put on some spooky music and invited the neighborhood kids over for a real haunted house experience, deranged lunatics included.

The next couple of months will most likely get worse before they get better. But I don’t mean to complain. I know I am fortunate to have this opportunity to eventually step up from the original 400 square foot floor plan to one about double in size. And I have electricity, and running water, and the toilet is actually indoors now. What I am here to discuss is our true commitment to eating healthy, delicious, fresh meals despite the chaos around us. Many of our peers break easily at these kinds of situations, opting for burritos and pizza every night instead of braving through cooking projects. I’m not willing to cave in that way, to sacrifice my food choices and health and finances because I am stressed and tired. After all my work and arguments for locality, quality ingredients, ethically sourced food, going to the taqueria down the road for some genetically modified tortilla chips and hormone heavy sour cream every night would make me a big hypocrite. The inconvenience of a cramped kitchen, trekking out in the dark for dish duty, and limited appliances is worth the alternative. As our farm flourished this season, the canning and pickling and jam making did as well…under ridiculous conditions. But those jars labeled Summer 09’ will have that extra elbow grease and dedication infused within, making the goods that much more deserved upon opening.

Our nightly home-cooked dinners together have also become a very important ritual for us. No matter how angry, sad, upset or frustrated this chaotic construction zone makes us, we always sit down to eat together. It is just who we are and a big part of what we both believe in. To miss a meal after a fight would be a really big deal. The hot food, created by one of us, primarily with some home grown element or other, seems to act as glue, bringing out the issue and laying it to rest as we nourish ourselves.  The following recipe got us through the tomato glut unscathed, and makes for a wonderful finale for those late harvest tomatoes you might have laying around.

Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce

4 Pounds ripe tomatoes
1 small head of garlic, chopped or crushed
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Fresh basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, chopped (optional)

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds into your compost. Lay the tomato halves cut-side up on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Generously drizzle with olive oil and crushed garlic. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and herbs if using. Place in the oven and cook until juices have released and thickened a bit, about 30-45 minutes. Smash roughly with a potato masher and pour directly over pasta, polenta, meat, vegetables, etc. or save for later. You can also let the sauce cool and then puree with an immersion blender or food processer for a smooth texture.

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Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A long time Good Food advocate, she has owned, operated and helped launch several food businesses. She is a regular contributor to Civil Eats, various Edible magazines, and the San Jose Mercury News. Read more >

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  1. Kudos to you!

    I have a tiny kitchen (8x13) in a little house (less than 1K square feet), but I still manage to can a few hundred jars, freeze, dry, etc. It often takes some space-juggling, but it's entirely worthwhile.

    I'm impressed with your dedication in a tumultuous time and space.
  2. Dianne Moore
    My family of two kids and two adults has also recently begun a kitchen renovation, complete with cramped spaces, plastic tarp and dust covered everything. It takes a little more planning, but happily, between a toaster oven, crock pot and microwave, delicious meals can still be created.
  3. Eloise Smith
    I am a University student living in a very small on campus apartment with zero counter space and an oven that decides to turn off while baking! However slow cooking can definitely still be accomplished. I make my own soup for freezing, tomato sauce, pesto, cakes, pasta, grilled vegetables, just about anything.

    Any college student that says they can't, hasn't tried. Microwaving sweet potatoes is just about the easiest and most delicious week night meal and an investment in a pinini press makes awesome sandwiches and grills everything from bread to meat.
  4. AlysO
    It is worth the pain for the long term gain.
    It is amazing what you can do with a toaster oven and a hot plate. We even baked cookies on the BBQ. Keep up the good work.
    We did this a couple of years back and the expanded space is a joy every day now.

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