Your housemate uses two burners on the right side of the stove to boil spaghetti and saute vegetables, while you commandeer the left side for enchilada sauce and filling. All is well, until she needs to grab dried basil from the spice cabinet behind you. You bow your head, continuing to stir as she reaches over you to swing open the cabinet door. As this happens, you realize you need to grab a teaspoon from a drawer on her side to measure some cumin. You stop stirring, twirl around her and quickly sift through the drawer.
Success! Back to the spice cabinet you go.
Cooking in a crowded kitchen is a bit of a dance, and the choreography can be difficult to learn – especially in group houses where each inhabitant cooks for themselves. The tango continues even after separate meals are prepared. Now multiple people need to wash dishes at the same time and make room in the same fridge for large containers of leftovers. Sure, it is perfectly manageable with two or three housemates. But four? Or even five? There comes a time when there are simply too many cooks.
Do not fret. It is indeed possible to cook for one in a shared space, and we have gathered tips from a few people who are particularly good at it to tell us how:
Establish ground rules: Unless you are a frequent user of pricier salts, such as the Himalayan variety, you can probably share the inexpensive ingredient as you would pots, pans, dishware and utensils. The same usually goes for spices, according to Kitchn senior editor Grace Elkus, because “you’re not going to go through them as quickly.” Oils and vinegars, too – and you can take turns buying them.That being said, make sure to check before you use something new you didn’t purchase. It is no fun to accidentally use a roommate’s prized ingredient (even if it is in the shared cabinet).
“I bought a cute basket at the Container Store and had all my baking supplies in there and kept them separate from the apartment baking supplies,” Elkus said. “It was very obvious which was for which.”
Shop often: The greatest challenge of cooking for one is resisting the temptation to buy too much food; the produce aisles are certainly enticing, but it can also be tough to quickly go through the fruits and vegetables on your own. Klancy Miller, author of Cooking Solo: The Fun of Cooking for Yourself, recommends going to farmers markets to help curb spending. Not only does this save you from having to throw away food, but it also frees up space in the fridge.In the event that you find yourself with produce close to the end of its life, Elkus added, offer it to others. “There are so many great things that can come from using up the odds and ends from the fridge,” she said. “What one roommate might see as a bruised peach ready for the compost pile, another might say, ‘I could turn that into a pie for my co-workers.’”
Section off the fridge: Decide which shelves – and cabinets – go to which housemate, perhaps according to how often they purchase fresh goods. For particularly organized housemates, color coding could also be an option.“When it comes to sharing kitchen space, I’m always very pleased to walk down the grocery store aisle and find that there are tons of small containers with different colors to be able to identify who owns what in the refrigerator,” said Mark Erickson, provost at the Culinary Institute of America and co-author of the 2011 book Cooking for One: A Seasonal Guide to the Pleasure of Preparing Delicious Meals for Yourself.
Cook efficiently: The less time you can spend in the kitchen at peak cooking times, the better. Some people like to cook in bulk for this reason. But if you tire of food easily – “If I have to eat the same thing, even refashioned, for three days, that drives me a little nuts,” Miller said – try cooking an exceptionally basic component, like a certain kind of meat, on the weekend and prepare it with different spice combinations throughout the week. Erickson often does that in the winter with braised meat.“With that as a base, you can steer that with a little bit of seasoning in different directions,” he said. “You can use it with pasta, served with rigatoni. But also with a little bit of doctoring, you can take that into a Latin or Mexican flavor by adding some chipotle seasoning.”
Communicate: Communicate well, that is. Living in a group house often translates to living with people you do not know too well, which can then lead to apprehensive or passive-aggressive behavior. Resist the urge! If something is bothering you, openly discuss it with your housemates. Tell them you need more shelves in the fridge instead of cramming your spinach into a tiny space. You’ll save yourself from some unnecessary stress – and save your leafy greens from an unfortunate demise.