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Tales from a Tiny Kitchen: Big tips for Small Spaces

annie mahle
Photo by Douglas Merriam

No matter how small you think your kitchen is, chances are it’s still bigger than the one Annie Mahle cooked in for over 20 years. In the galley of the Maine windjammer J. & E. Riggin, the counter space is a mere 2’ by 3’, requiring an incredible amount of organization, planning and creativity. While the ship sailed the waters off mid-coast Maine with her husband at the helm, Mahle was below deck turning out meals for up to 24 guests at a time. Her philosophy? “Good food is good food, whether prepared in a precision-driven, architecturally exquisite kitchen or a tiny galley floating on the water.”

Recently, Mahle published her fourth cookbook, this one devoted to “The Tiny Kitchen,” filled with new recipes right-sized for space challenges and with the emphasis on cooking for two. The book is all about “loving the kitchen you have instead of the one you don’t.”

the tiny kitchen cookbook cover

Photo by Kristen Teig, courtesy of Annie Mahle

While writing the book, Mahle cleared her home kitchen of anything extraneous. She tested recipes using a minimum number of tools – one small knife and one large, a wooden spoon, a skillet and a medium saucepan. Everything else was banished to the barn. “I tried to think about all the kitchens I’ve worked in:” she said. “Restaurants, on the boat, in camper vans. I’m used to small spaces. Then I imagined someone in a tiny house kitchen and what that would look like.”

Mahle brought everything she learned from those compact spaces and combined it with her flair for flavorful food made without much fuss. “This cookbook focuses on how we eat now. There’s less meat, more vegetables and grains. How do you make food like this satisfying?” It starts with the freshest ingredients sourced from local vendors, farmers markets and even the family’s own garden. “It doesn’t need a lot of process, just freshness and flavor,” she said.

Building a meal in a bowl is one of the tricks she likes to use for simplicity. “I prefer to spend more time on prep and flavor and less on clean-up. Bowls are perfect for one or two people with no real need to do the family-style thing,” she said.

stuffed red peppers

Photo by Kristen Teig, courtesy of Annie Mahle

Another space-saving maneuver is using a skillet, preferably cast iron, instead of the oven. Anything from creamy chicken with kale pesto and baby potatoes to cognac and Dijon beef stroganoff with egg noodles can be done on top of the stove with “no swapping the efficiency for quality.” Pro tip: this method also keeps a small kitchen cool in hot weather.

Writes Mahle in her new book, “The trick in small kitchens is about creating food that’s wonderful and beautiful without a long, drawn out process. Simple is better, but that doesn’t mean elegant and delightful go out the window.”


Karen Watterson

Karen Watterson is a freelance food writer in Portland, Maine. She has a love of all things sweet, and shares them on her blog, Sweet on Maine and on Instagram. You can usually find Karen baking brownies, biking, or walking her dog, Maple.


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