YouTube Chef Shares Small Kitchen Successes

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Serena Palumbo grew up in what foodies would consider a dream kitchen. It had a six-burner stove, two ovens and a marble counter where her family could spread out and cook together -- oh, and it was in Palermo, Italy.

When she and her husband settled into a New York apartment with a tiny kitchen, she couldn't give up cooking, so she decided that she would make it work. When her co-workers (she's an attorney by day) eyed her lunches of leftovers (such as real Italian meatballs) and expressed surprise that she could cook that in a city apartment, she decided to show other people how to make it work, too.

Her self-produced YouTube series, "Cooking in Manhattan," shows viewers how to make everything from risotto to blueberry pie (and yes, meatballs) in a kitchen smaller than some people's pantries. It led to a stint on the Food Network's "The Next Food Network Star," where alas, she was recently eliminated. So she's back in her own kitchen, cooking for friends and family instead of finicky Bobby Flay.

She spoke with RentedSpaces about making the most of a tiny kitchen:


What's the biggest challenge to cooking in a small kitchen?


I don't have enough counter space. We have a big counter in Italy, where you can have a few people working at the same time. In a small kitchen you can have two people at the most. Another challenge is storage.


How do you get around those challenges?


You have to be very organized. My refrigerator and freezer are very organized. I have a well-stocked pantry, but it's not huge.


What do you keep in your freezer?


I keep frozen fruit that's cleaned and chopped, and I use it to make smoothies. I keep uncooked, cleaned and deveined frozen shrimp. I have frozen spinach, cauliflower and broccoli. If I make tomato sauce, I freeze the extra sauce in half-cup containers. I take the ice cube trays and freeze chopped herbs in them -- mint, garlic, oregano, basil, cilantro and onion. I keep my flour and grains, such as couscous and qunioa, in the freezer so there's no worry about contamination. I always have gelato, because what is life without gelato? And I keep limoncello in there for emergencies.

In the fridge you'll always find eggs, milk, Greek yogurt and Parmesano. My husband likes to snack on sliced vegetables and good cheese, so we keep those around. On the weekend I go to the farmers market to buy produce for the week. On the way home from work I decide what the protein of the night will be and I get one thing.


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How do you keep your pantry under control but useful?


You don't have to buy 15 million cans of stuff. I have one of everything. One can of green olives and one of black olives, pitted. I have one can of cannellini beans, chickpeas, tomato puree and coconut milk. I have all these things on a reorder list with Fresh Direct, so it's easy to get more. I also keep bags of pasta (because as long as you have pasta you know you can eat); rice for risotto; vegetable and chicken stock in tetra bricks. I buy good extra virgin olive oil and good salt.

I don't keep endless amounts of herbs. I buy herbs fresh, and if I have to, I freeze them.


What's the ingredient you can't live without?


Quinoa is key, especially in a small kitchen. It's a whole grain, but has all the amino acids of a protein. And it cooks in no time. In a pinch, I make quinoa salad with olives and whatever vegetables I have in the house.


What's the biggest group you've cooked dinner for in your place?


I've cooked for up to 35 people.


How do you keep from winding up with pots and bowls and dishes stacked everywhere?


I plan ahead. I make dessert first and I make something that can be stored in a cold place, like tiramisu. I avoid finger foods that have to be plated and where you need to pay attention to detail. If I can, I serve family style, a stew or a pasta.


Let's turn to gadgets. What pots do you own and do you keep them in the oven like most New Yorkers?

I have one cast iron skillet and one Dutch oven. Then I have a stockpot and sauce pot with covers and two sauté pans; one with a cover. I can cook a five-course meal with those. I don't agree with keeping pans in the oven. I have a rack under the kitchen sink for them


What's the gadget every kitchen needs?


A good cutting board; it defines your work space. Cutting boards come in all sizes. And all I really need for counter space is room for my cutting board and a few bowls.


What's the gadget everyone has that they can probably do without?

People think they need to have so many knives for all sorts of things. You don't. You need a good bread knife, and a good chef's knife or a santoku knife, and a paring knife.


Is there one thing that you wish you had that you just don't have room for?

An ice cream maker. I'd love to make my own ice cream.


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