Tuesday, November 1, 2011

TKO Tuesday: Cooking Zone

Last week I discussed the Baking Zone, so I'll go to the next mostly closely related area, the Cooking Zone.

Of course, this zone most obviously includes the cooking appliance, the stove... which may be a range, rangetop, or cooktop.  
Adequate prep space and handy storage for often-used tools and ingredients are also essential to an efficient cooking work space.  Also, proximity to related elements or zones, such as food storage (refrigerator and pantry), clean-up sink, trash, and the oven, should also be considered.

Counterspace around the stove will be used for prepping food before and during cooking, gathering supplies needed during the task, and setting tools and, possibly, hot pans off the stove and out of the way.  For me, it would be optimum to have at least 24 inches of counterspace to each side of the stove to suit these purposes.  If this is the only prep space, I'd want more, at least on one side.  In my previous home, I had only 11 or 12 inches between stove and fridge, but it had a wider workspace was on the right, between stove and sink, which made it workable.

This is the first kitchen in which I have not had a range.  In addition to the advantages of having the oven at eye and reach level on the wall, I am thrilled to have storage for pots and pans under my rangetop.  

To each side of those big drawers, also convenient to the stove, I store utensils, pan lids, the wok, etc.  Spices and oils are stored in the nearby uppers.  

Because my baking area and cooking area are separated, and sometimes have busy workers at both, I ran into the problem of needing some of the same ingredients in both areas.  I have duplicates of things like salt and baking soda.  Things that come in larger packages, like flour and sugar, created a different challenge.  My canisters do the job for me, holding the smaller amounts of flour and sugar that I might need at the stove, while the main supplies of those ingredients stay in the baking center cabinets.

Small appliances and prep bowls are kept in the base cabinets to the right of the stove area.

It would be difficult for me to have a kitchen without an island across from the stove for main prep space.  The island allows me to get out of the stove area, where it's hotter, and, due to the hood vent, noisy.  I can face the other workers and visitors in the kitchen, keep an eye on things in the oven, and, mostly, just have as much room as necessary to spread out.  

I store my knives, graters, and cutting boards in the island cabinets for an easy, quick grab for prepping.  
Trash pullout on lower right, under the knife drawer.
Upright cutting board and wrapping roll storage, lower left.

The trash/recycle cans also pull out of one corner, the spot handy to the stove and main sink, too, which makes it easy to sweep packaging, trimming, and other disposables.  A lot of people try to place their trash next to the eating areas, but I find it more important to have it close to cooking/prep and where plates are scraped.  About the only trash from eating areas are napkins, and those are easy to carry an extra step or two.

The sink in the island is hugely beneficial to efficient prep and cooking. I can prep veggies and meats close to the stove, and without working over dirty dishes, as I had to do in prior homes that had only one sink.  It's great to be able to fill a pot with water just across the aisle from the stove, and also drain pasta, etc. without having to go too far carrying the dangerously hot pot of water.

The aisle between the stove and island is the narrowest one in my kitchen, at 36".  This is convenient for prepping and cooking, with a simple turn back and forth... Not a lot of steps.  It was also supposed to discourage a lot of traffic through that crucial and busy, sometimes dangerous, area while cooking is going on, knives are being wielded, and hot pots of water may be moving around.  

I can't say no one ever goes through, or that it's that discouraging, as it's not as tight as kitchen-aisle recommendations might lead you to think.  First of all, what discourages too much traffic through the cooking area the best, is better paths through the kitchen elsewhere.  
But 36" is plenty of room for 2 full-grown bodies to work at the stove, and even for dogs to hang out without being a hazard.  I wouldn't want it any wider.

I like to have my microwave close to the cooking area, too, since I use mine for tasks like defrosting meats, melting butter, warming sauces, and steaming vegetables... Things that are connected to the meal I'm making, and that I will be doing while also tending things on the stove.  

Situated as it is, it also benefits from being near the fridge and the prep sink.  I store the bowls/dishes I use most often for microwaving in the cabinet above it.  
Also, the electrical outlet for the microwave is in that cabinet, fed up through a hole in the cabinet bottom, so that it's easier to push the microwave back into the right spot without crushing the cord.  If we need to move the heavy appliance, it'll also be easier to unplug it first, then be able to pull it out and set it down without stopping midway, to unplug from behind.

I almost forgot to discuss one of the most important elements in a cooking zone: Ventilation.  I am not an expert, by any means, but will share what I know and my own opinions. Adequate ventilation is important for capturing and getting rid of odors, steam, and smoke.  This requires appropriate size and placement of the vent, as well as power, to do the job well.  The power requirements may be depend on a combination of the size of the stove, the power of the stove, and the cooking habits of the cook.  Searing, stir-frying, and deep frying will increase the demand for ventilation.  

Some recommend installing a hood that's 6 inches wider than the cooktop, but I've always had stoves and hoods of equal width.  I do see an advantage of making sure the hood is at least as deep as the stove, and the fact that I have always had upper cabinets flanking the hood probably helps funnel the air into the hood.  Without the upper cabs, I could see the advantage from a wider hood capture area.  Since the shorter the ducting path, the better the pull of the vent, I prefer to situate the stove and vent on an outside wall, if possible, especially if there is a floor above the kitchen so venting straight out the ceiling and roof isn't possible.  

I'm not a fan of microwave hood vents, because of their low power and in-your-face location.  I've never had a down-draft vent, but have read a lot from people who've had them, and can see why they wouldn't be nearly as efficient as an above-the-stove hood, since what you're trying to get rid of is escaping upward.

Cleanability and noise level are other factors to consider in choosing a hood.  I've never had one, but remote blowers are supposed to be the quietest.

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