Keeping everything you need at your fingertips means you can focus your time and energy on the actual cooking part of the meal preparation experience, instead of burning the onions (or pine nuts or... insert most recently charred item here) while you do the 20-yard dash around the kitchen searching for that elusive spatula or whisk.
As an aside...it seems funny to me that people still keep looking for ever bigger and bigger kitchens. One drawback of having a large kitchen (aside from more storage and counter space -- which is a good thing!) is that your prep and cooking time increase if you have to dash around your kitchen finding stuff. Although, the extra calories burned while running around the kitchen could translate into being able to eat more! Hahaha :-)
To be functional, though, a kitchen doesn't need to be the size of a football field. All you need is a good work triangle (i.e., 3 steps from stove to sink, and 3 steps from sink to fridge, and 3 steps from fridge to stove...that would be an equilateral triangle for all those geometricians out there) and an efficient layout of your work tools.
Ok, so here's my list of essential kitchen tools and supplies to keep near your stove:
- bottle(s) of olive oil with a "pouring spout" (these shouldn't be too big because you don't want your olive oil to spoil from exposure to the light and air)
- salt dish and pepper grinder
- a garbage bowl (ya, I have a Rachel Ray garbage bowl and I totally LOVE it!!)
- pastry cutter for scooping up chopped veggies
- basket of onions and garlic
- kitchen timer
- frequently-used dried herbs and/or spices on the counter (such as oregano, dried red pepper flakes, thyme, and bay leaves)
- other spices in a drawer or cupboard near the stove, depending on what you use most frequently, e.g., cumin, coriander, curry powder, cinnamon, etc
- set of stainless steel mixing bowls
- set of measuring cups and spoons
- large jar or holder containing: several wooden spoons, whisk, tongs, spatulas, pasta fork
- small plastic cutting board
- large wooden cutting board
- knife rack
Realistically, I know that no-one has enough counter space beside their stove to store all these items. So, depending on your counter space you'll need to rearrange your cupboards above the stove and the drawers beside your stove to accommodate those things that don't fit on your counter top.
At a minimum though, your counter top should have enough space beside your stove to store the olive oil, knives, salt and pepper, and the jar with wooden spoons. Happy (and efficient) cooking!
What else works? Let me know if you have any favourite work area layout ideas that help speed up your daily meal prep.