"I wanted to have a dinner for my boyfriend's birthday," says Iris Thompson, a marketing manager in Long Island City, N.Y., "but I knew it was going to be tough. My kitchen is the size of the average person's bathroom."
Just because you are working out of a kitchen that is best-suited to a small family of mice, doesn't mean you can't pull off a fantastic night in for a group of your friends, big or small. All it takes is a little creativity and forethought, and you can turn a hot plate into an oven -- albeit a Dutch oven -- if that's all you have to work with.
Here are a few tips for how to host a big-girl party in a little-girl kitchen:
1. Make small food in your small kitchen
Consider making smaller versions of an appetizer or side dish. For example, an investment in mini-muffin tins could lead to baby quiche appetizers, mini-cornbreads to compliment a chili entree, or an easy dessert treat. Since each tin prepares twelve little treats in one round of baking, even those people with a small oven can take care of one course or a great accent to a course, efficiently and deliciously.
2. One-pot cooking
A lot of wonderful recipes can be made in one single pot
in an oven, or even on a hotplate. Just make sure you have a pot large enough in which to prepare the amount of food you will need. During the cooler months, give your guests a stew like Greek lamb or prepare a standard chicken and roasted veggies. In warmer months offer your guests fish in a lemon-cilantro stock or a rich chili.
3. Ziploc bags
Sometimes there is just too much Tupperware in a too-small refrigerator. That's why God created the Ziploc bag. A gallon-size Ziploc will hold an entire salad without the space limitations of a bulky salad bowl -- and if you add the dressing while the veggies are inside the bag, one shake and you'll get everything evenly coated. The same goes for marinating your protein. If you squeeze the air out of the bag just before you get it sealed, it will take up minimal real estate in your fridge or on your countertop (if you even have
a countertop, that is).
4. Expand your kitchen
Even if you don't have a countertop or a kitchen table, that doesn't mean you can't cobble together a makeshift cutting surface. So clear off your coffee table or, in a pinch, use the top of a dresser. Then cover it with a cloth, set down a cutting board, and do as much prep as you can. Also, consider outdoor space an extension of your kitchen. Do you have a small balcony? How about your own -- or a shared -- roof deck or backyard area? If so, invest in a deep fryer or a small, portable grill in which to do some of the work. Tons of delicious things come out of deep fryers, from whole turkeys to breaded candy bars. And grills are versatile no matter the season -- just ask any dedicated football tailgater.
5. Start cooking the week before
Soups and desserts are easily prepared in the days or even weeks leading up to a dinner party. Soups are particularly filling, easy to prepare and make an excellent and elegant first course. Desserts, especially when they are served cold, are also good items to prepare before the day of the party. Muffins, brownies or cakes will keep in the freezer for several weeks. A mousse, for example, can stay contained in one bowl for a day or two, to be doled out with fruit on the day of the event. Even easier desserts, like sorbets or ice cream, can simply wait in the freezer and until you are ready to serve them after you eat.
7. Get creative about storage
Just because your refrigerator gets tight with the addition of a single quart of milk doesn't mean that you have to give up the whole party. Invest in one or two coolers and use them for additional storage. Also, use this opportunity to get rid of things that are going bad or that you never use. Go through the cabinets and freezer, too. Unopened items can be donated to a local food pantry
8. A little help from your friends
A potluck might be the very best way to host a dinner party without worrying about the size of your kitchen. If each of your guests brings a dish, there will be plenty of food and minimum stress. Just make sure you buy some disposable storage containers in which to pack leftovers for your guests to take home. It's a classy touch, and a great way to make sure you have room in your teeny kitchen at the end of the night.
For Iris Thompson pulling off a dinner party for eight ultimately worked out great. "My downstairs neighbors let me use their backyard grill. I was pretty much finished an hour before the company even arrived," she says. "All I did was make a salad and grill some burgers for sliders and a pile of veggies. I barely even had to set foot in the kitchen. And then everyone just enjoyed the food."
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