cooking for one in an impossible kitchen

I'm living in the Netherlands for three months, by myself, in an small studio apartment with a TINY kitchen. I have two small burners and very little counter space, no oven, and very limited tools. I usually can get into the challenge of cooking in this context (I did something similar last summer) but I'm having a really hard time feeling inspired this time around. I keep getting frustrated with the lack of options and tiny portions I have to make. I haven't been enjoying cooking as much as I usually do, and I'm already sick of omlettes and pasta salads. I'd love some suggestions for what to make and how to get out of a rut!

  • Posted by: LucyS
  • June 8, 2013


ryanm June 14, 2013
I spend summers in Berlin, and often end up in a similar situation. In addition to all the good advice above, a few more options I've discovered:
* Decide to do a study on a local ingredient you can cook a number of ways. Germans go nuts over white asparagus, for instance, so I've tried making it now in several preparations--including my first-ever hollandaise by hand, a browned butter sauce, sautéed (not recommended!), etc. See what ingredient all the restaurants and cooking magazines in the Netherlands are focusing on and turn that into an object of study.
* Embrace local "ethnic/foreign" options. In Berlin that means Turkish and Vietnamese; in the Netherlands, probably Indonesian and other former colonies. Not only will this introduce you to new foods and cultures, but if you find the stores, markets, and restaurants that cater to these communities they're often an inexpensive source of food and inspiration.
* Real-deal butchers and fishmongers are more common in Europe. Get a nice fish filet or lamb/pork chop and build off this for a simple but delicious meal.
* Jarred pasta sauce is better and more prevalent in Europe. Barilla makes some pretty decent ones that aren't available in the States. I always have some of this around.
* Rediscover the fruits of serious labor. In the States I never make pesto in a mortar and pestle, but in Berlin, without a blender or food processor, I do--and it's better, just as everyone tells you it will be.
Sam1148 June 10, 2013
I see things about food processors. I use a "mini prep" food's about 2 cups. Perfect for quick pizza doughs (for one)..and small chopping/mixing jobs.

I also rarely use a blender and use a "Magic Bullet" for most things. Very small foot print and use it to make iced coffee and other blender things--like salad dressings.
Also if you make homemade pasta with a hand machine...use an ironing board lined with new print/parchment paper. Then two chairs and broom stick to dry thin cut pasta.
ChefJune June 10, 2013
Seems like sauteing fish fillets or chicken pieces would be fairly easy to achieve. I've cooked in teensy kitchens where I had to improvise a board across the sink in order to have counter space. Where there's a will there's a way! No, you won't be baking anything without an oven, but you can create mousses and puddings, poached fruit, sabayons.
Hope this helps!
HalfPint June 10, 2013
I had the same 'kitchen' in our little vacation rental in Tuscany. So we relied, heavily, on the prepared foods from the local Co-op which, for a supermarket, has such amazing food, freshly prepared and with good quality ingredients. I'll never forget the spinach crespelle which was unbelievable and shocking that it came from the supermarket.
Pegeen June 10, 2013
nutcakes, yes, as Carla Cooks confirms, can be used to make local connections while traveling, for cultural advice, local tips, etc. Obviously one always wants to use good judgement, but in my own general experience while traveling, so many people are happy to help a traveler navigate a new place (and not looking to scam you). I believe is better known for the "local advice" component of its business. is about renting out your couch or spare room to travelers and, and least in NYC, there have been some lawsuits that people who participate in that are breaking local housing laws. Just go to and do a search on "airbnb"
pierino June 10, 2013
It is amusing how those NYC short term lets work. For years my business partners and I would have to make semi-annual trips to New York and would work through an agency which brokers apartments for a week or so. Cool neighborhoods like the East Village. Inevitably the owner would say, "If anyone asks, you are my visiting uncles, cousins, dog walkers etc." Worst job in the world, the Chinese guy on a bicycle delivering take out to a 6th floor walk up during a blizzard. Oh, the fun we had.
krusher June 9, 2013
This thread was very interesting, informative and friendly. Thank you all. I operated in graduate school with one burner and a tiny oven and still managed to have Friday dinners for fellow grads that became legendary around the campus. We couldn't afford good wine in those days so the headaches on Saturday morning were legendary. It is true such a kitchen forces one to grow as a cook. It is amazing what you can do.
CarlaCooks June 9, 2013
I second using CouchSurfing as a way of meeting up with locals and other ex-pats. CouchSurfing has been around for quite a while and it's quite an active community, so I'm sure you could find some interesting stuff through it.
Pegeen June 9, 2013
LucyS, didn't realize you were there now! Not sure of your circumstances there, but I heard a very interesting story on NPR with Matt Gross who does the Frugal Traveler column for the NY Times (and has a new book out). During the interview they mentioned a site, One of its purposes is to hook people up with a place to stay (like, but just as importantly, it aims to introduce travelers to "hosts" and "friendly contacts" in that area who are happy to show you around, share tips for living / public transport / traveling / learning the culture, etc. I personally have never used, but apparently it's gaining a lot of momentum. Here's the NPR segment, fast forward to about 37:00 minutes and the topic comes up shortly after when someone calls in to the radio show.

nutcakes June 10, 2013
Pegeen, RE couchsurfing: I didn't realize you could use it just to meeet people, just thought it was for trying to find a place to stay, but why not? My daughter used it in several European countries and had the best of luck excepting one person seemed dicey and she found excuse to ditch them.
Pegeen June 9, 2013
I had the same experience in Germany, where my apartment was so small, if you turned around, you were outside in the hallway. 2 burners, 12 square inches of counter space. All of the ideas above are great but I also bought a light-weight folding table that fit under the bed or could be folded & propped against the wall, and gave it to a friend there when I left. Don't know what the economy in the Netherlands is like, but when I was there it was much less expensive to eat out there than to buy groceries. If you make friends with some locals, they probably live in smaller places too and can give you some tips. Have a wonderful visit!
LucyS June 9, 2013
I've pushed my table over to the kitchen to create more counter space, so while it's still a little daunting it's less of an issue than the frustration with cooking for one and losing inspiration. But these are great suggestions! I'm going to try crepes tonight as a new vehicle for whatever's in the fridge.
CarlaCooks June 9, 2013
I had the same problem with my apartment in Paris. I had 2 burners, a toaster, and a tiny little fridge (think dorm sized). The difference was that I was there for 10 months and knew I'd be moving around Europe after, so I was able to invest a bit more in kitchen stuff. I got a used crock pot and rice cooker, which stayed on the kitchen floor and were a great way to open the two burners for other uses. I also had a 5.5 liter Le Creuset French oven, which allowed me to be able to quasi-roast whole chicken. If you can find things like these second hand, I would consider buying them, even if you will only be in Holland for 3 months. The crock pot may not be necessary since you're there for the summer months, but I think a used (or cheap) rice cooker and a decent Dutch/French oven will help immensely. I also agree with Cynthia: try to make Dutch meals while you're there. You can probably find a English cookbook on Dutch cooking; this way you'll be making meals with products that should be easy to find! Good luck, and enjoy your time!
boulangere June 8, 2013
When I was in Florence with the daughter and cooking for her and other dancers,, we did just as bigpan suggests: we shopped daily for what we wanted to cook that evening, what our small under-counter refrigerator would contain, and what we could creatively cook on a 2-burner electric cooktop. Those were some of the best meals of recent memory.
boulangere June 8, 2013
Further to these thoughts, you can't cook as though you were at home in the US. Instead, embrace where you are, both in terms of your kitchen facilities and your grocery options. You will grow as a cook as a result, and so will your confidence, adaptability, and contentment. And you'll have great stories to tell when you get home.
bigpan June 8, 2013
I fondly recall my tiny kitchen in Spain. I got very quickly used to shopping every day and buying items in small batches - just enough for one or two meals. Invest in some good plastic ware with lids so you can save leftovers for longer than a day. That way you can have your leftover meal two or three days later. When you make your recipe, think ahead a bit to what other ingredients you can add to the left overs to make into a different tasting meal. For example, you can make a nice pasta with different mushrooms and cheese. When you do the leftovers you can add a bit of meat to it for a totally different tasting meal. Don't forget to put nice fresh tulips on the table.
Diana B. June 8, 2013
Ah, Cynthia, so glad to see you're back at your blog! I'd quit following for a while as there was a long dry spell, and it made me sad to think you might have given it up, even as I continued to plunder my freezer for your Pesto alla Genovese.
boulangere June 8, 2013
Thank you, Diana; it's great to be back!
paseo June 8, 2013
If you have drawers, put a board over the top one to make more counter space - of course then you will discover you need something from that drawer
ATG117 June 8, 2013
Any chance you have room to purchase one of those rolling island top carts? I'm assuming not. But that might be a useful way to attain additional counter space for prep.

Other ideas: Sauteed vegetables, home fries/hash browns, crepes filled with ___, pan seared fish of any sort, PB&J
sexyLAMBCHOPx June 8, 2013
How about browning some meatballs and chicken culets?
pierino June 8, 2013
No counter space can actually be a source of inspiration as you are pretty much compelled to shop every day for what's fresh. I've cooked in European kitchens that were the size of a galley on a boat. Grains as noted above are always a great idea, but are your burners propane or electric? Rice is tricky with the latter. You can do a lot with bread; salads such as panzanella or maybe pan bagnat. Buona forchetta.
Hilarybee June 8, 2013
What about shellfish- like mussels, clams? Seafood chowders sound pretty good-- and seafood in the NL is pretty great. So is cheese. If I were you, every meal would be comprised of cheese and those chocolate sprinkles they put on bread.
LucyS June 8, 2013
So nice to hear someone else was in the same boat! Mussels are a great idea. I haven't found good takeout yet but I may keep trying. Oh... the cheese. Everything I've eaten so far has been pasta with cheese, eggs with cheese, salad with cheese. My grilled cheese sandwich skills are awesome.
Hilarybee June 8, 2013
Oh man, I really struggled with this in our London flat. I had two burners, no stove, no freezer and a teeny tiny fridge. And the washer combo dryer was where the oven was supposed to be. Many a time did I open the broiler to remember that I just chucked salmon in the washing machine.
Joking aside, I failed a bit in my small kitchen cooking. I bought a lot of pre-cooked meats, made a lot of salads, had a lot of cheese platters. Like Monita suggests- grains are your friend! Quinoa, wheat berries, spelt berries--risotto were my best friends. We also ate a fair amount of take-out Indian, Chinese, fish n chips and meat pies.
amysarah June 8, 2013
We have an old friend from the Netherlands, by way of Curacao, and then back to Amsterdam - fantastic cook, did lots of Dutch Indonesian and Caribbean things. The flavors were a bit exotic, but it was home cooking - no fancy equipment that I recall. Chili pastes, ginger, various types of soy sauce, rice/beans cooked w/coconut,, maybe explore that influence in Netherlands' cooking - perusing the ingredients at an Indonesian market might be inspiring? (A batch of a rice dish, or long simmered spicy chicken could be meals for one for a few days.)
Monita June 8, 2013
Do you have a blender or food processor: hot and cold soups are good options. On a stove top you can also saute chicken breasts or fish filets; make Asian stir fry; create salads using quinoa, bulgur wheat or couscous; make meatballs and spaghetti;
LucyS June 8, 2013
No food processor, sadly.

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boulangere June 8, 2013
I write a blog devoted to the very subject, The Solitary Cook, as I also cook for one in a kitchen that is less than perfect:
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