Size Matters: Part One, Hardware

There are many different sizes and shapes of baking dishes, which lids, that go from oven to table to fridge

By Chris Watson

When we live solo or in pairs we often are at the mercy of product and tool sizes that make no sense for our size household.  Pans, crock pots, roasters, indoor griddles, even conventional storage containers seem too big or not accessible.  We are either living in a kitchen that is still stocked with items from a larger family (or handed down from a larger family) or our eyes are not trained to see past what we have always seen, that we don’t need to make things in 9 x 13 pans. Like a computer or a car, it might be time to tune up our kitchen.

More options, less space

Until a decade ago most cooking equipment and utensils came standard.  Pan and baking dish sizes, storage containers, even things like spatulas and ladles had uniform construction.  We still see that reflected today in recipes which, call for “in a standard 9 x 13 baking pan” or a dish that serves “4 to 6”.  

Many of these dishes can easily be cut in half but what do we bake them in?  When baking things like brownies or oatmeal, a recipie can be cut in half and then baked in a standard loaf pan. The key is to remember that these pans are all about AREA, not DIMENSIONS.  So, check the following table:

9 x 13 ………………………117 square in

9×9…………………………… 81 square in

8 x 8…………………………. 64 square in

9 x 5  (loaf pan) ……….45 square in

So, an 8 x 8 pan isn’t anything near half of a 9 x 13 but a loaf pan is very near half a 9 x 9 pan.  The point is that we need to look at area when cutting a recipie in half.  Many stores are carrying, especially in glass, a variety of baking pans in many different sizes. Most of these have storage lids for convenience.  It is good to have several of these on hand.  They don’t cost much and will allow you to bake things in the oven without feeling overwhelmed with too much food or taking up too much fridge space.  Just use the square inch rule.  One quarter of a 9 x 13 pan is 30 square inches, no mater what the shape of the dish is.

Some recipie even call for a specific volume (in a 3 quart casorole) and that is something to watch as well.  Volume has as much to do with depth and it does with area and these recipies are normally for bigger, more flexible style of cooking (think baked ziti or macaroni and cheese).  All of your area casseroles will work here as well.  These casseroles are easy to store.  Many have lids for oven to fridge convenience, and they don’t cost a lot.  It is good to have vairety.

Downsize the electronics

Many of us either own or bought larger countertop appliances, like crock pots, indoor grills, and food processors, because we rightly perceived that you can’t do big things in a small appliance.  You can do small things in a big appliance so, bigger is better. Right?

3.5 cup chopper, perfect for a small job
3.5 cup chopper, perfect for a small job

Wrong.  When we live in a smaller household those bigger appliances, especially indoor grills and food processors, seem unwieldy to use and clean simply to grill a chicken breast or whip up a small batch of guacamole.  Crock pots are much the same way.  A large crock pot seems like a waste of time to make a crock pot dish for just two.

The answer is to have both, if you desire.  It is perfectly acceptable to keep your large appliances.  Many of us still do large batch cooking and those appliances are indispensable.  However, we can also have small appliances, like small hand choppers, two or three serving indoor grills, and even a small crock pot, that will work for our more regular, day to day cooking.  Because there size is more manageable, the are more easily stored, and therefore can be more accessible, we will use them more often which will keep us from getting take out or drive through.  

Smaller, multitasking indoor grill. Will take two steaks or chicken breasts comfortably
Smaller, multitasking indoor grill. Will take two steaks or chicken breasts comfortably

Pots and Pans

Most of us have plenty of pots and pans.  The question is, do we have the right size.  Do we have, for instance, a good non stick pan to make TWO eggs or a small omelette?  Do we have a couple of small, heavy sauce pans that will heat up a small amount of soup or make a quick, small amount of white sauce.

Small, right size pans for a serving or two plus smaller sauté pans. Perfect for a couple of eggs
Small, right size pans for a serving or two plus smaller sauté pans. Perfect for a couple of eggs

Believe it or not many avoid cooking because they see a problem with cleanup.  If the only cooking pans we have are large, giving way to the same theory as crock pots or food processors, we will say away from cooking.  A large pan, even if we only cook a little in it, is harder to clean that a smaller one.  This is truly the case of the right size for the right job.  When cooking for one or two, have pans that are size appropriate for the majority of your cooking…in other words smaller.

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law

Finally, put your new (or rediscovered) smaller cookware in a near, convenient place to your cooking.  You may live in an amazing and large kitchen but if your smaller cookware isn’t close and convenient it will get overlook and not used.

Your bigger stuff can still be stored in the kitchen.  However, rethink how you do you cabinets. Rather than having a compartmentalized kitchen, i.e. One cabinet for dishes, one for pans, one for bakeware, etc, think about having one with all of you “personal” or highly used small cookware that is close to the oven or work surface.  Smaller cookware can be compacted to a single area and ready to use quickly rather than trying to riffle through ALL of your pans to get to the one small one you need.

A ready to use cupboard, with a few small pans, bowls, measuring cups and hand chopper
A ready to use cupboard, with a few small pans, bowls, measuring cups and hand chopper

The goal?  Cook more at home.  In today’s food environment of healthy and “clean” eating it is essential to return to our kitchen. When we control ingredients and processing of our food we eat better, cleaner, and more healthy.  Plus, if you never cook in your home you might as well live in a hotel.  Cooking is what makes a home, “homey.”  So rethink your cookware and how how you store it.  When it comes to cooking for one or two, size matters.