Posts by Cara

Buffalo Cauliflower Gratin

Buffalo Cauliflower | Big Girls Small Kitchen

I have so many ideas for this dish. I wonder if the combination will strike the same creative chord for you. First, here are its elements: 1) Cauliflower, steamed until sweet and tender. 2) Béchamel sauce, flavored with spicy buffalo sauce. 3) Cheddar cheese, melted.

Thai-Style Shrimp Fried Rice

Shrimp Fried Rice

Last week, I made fried rice again. The recipe we devour right now is from the Pok Pok cookbook, which I mentioned not very long ago, the last time I talked about this champion weeknight dinner here. The recipe itself creates, for Andy Ricker, the taste of the fried rice he ate in Thailand. I cook and eat this rice all the time, but on Friday, as I packed the leftovers for lunch, I was thinking about sometimes besides the impeccable authenticity, and besides umami-ness that fish sauce, soy sauce, and browned pork give this version of fried rice.

It seems that these days, there are two paths for the way the people who write about food think about food. One looks back, towards authenticity and heritage, towards the dish as grandma used to make it or as the street vendors fry it in the market of a foreign country. The other is futuristic. It asks, how can I make this better with science, or how might I re-engineer this lasagna, for example, to contain neither wheat nor dairy nor soy.

I have ventured down both paths. I confess to once researching how the migrations of apple-tree planters across the United States brought cheddar cheese to pie crust. I confess to baking a clafoutis made with coconut milk and rice flour.

Shrimp Fried Rice | Big Girls Small Kitchen Shrimp Fried Rice | Big Girls Small Kitchen Shrimp Fried Rice | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Shrimp Fried Rice

In the end, what shapes my own thinking most is the way we cook now, where “now” responds to a constantly evolving set of circumstances–mine or yours or someone else’s. When Alex and I got married and started eating together, we came into our newly shared kitchen with different backgrounds, skills, tastes, and habits. A few years on, we have a shared, original cuisine that fuses what we like, what our schedules call for, what the weather is, and whether we’re feeling flush or thrifty with time, energy, or dollars. I still don’t have an official adjective for our way of eating, but I can tell you that the category currently on top is bowl meal. Who needs side dishes?

Shrimp Fried Rice

So this recipe belongs to its maker, to the brilliant way that Ricker and Pok Pok have translated authentic Thai cuisine so that we can make it in American kitchens. But we have tested the fried rice through its many, many use cases in our small kitchen. We make it as a lunch to eat all week. We make it to use up extra veggies or leftover steak. We make it to use up leftover rice–obviously. We make it on nights when only one of us is home. I make it when I’m working from home and need to magically bulk up 1/3 cup of rice into a sustaining meal. That’s why I’m writing about it again. I want to make sure you know there’s a dish that’s delicious but maybe not all that engineered once you make your tweaks, that doesn’t ask all that much of you, that you can make once a week or maybe even more.

Beet & Olive Fritters

Beet & Olive Fritters | Big Girl Small Kitchen

Ordinarily, frying food for guests falls outside my comfortable cooking bubble. And then every so often, the power of suggestion gets me in front of a boiling pot of oil, and, without too much work or splatter, crisp fritters emerge.

Cheesy Olive Bread

Cheesy Olive Bread | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Every few months, still, my sister Kate and I text each other about our 2008 trip to Spain. We remember the yellow-painted houses of Cordoba, the bread baked with ham inside it, and the olives. Most of all, we remember those olives.

Our favorite were big green olives–crisp, fresh, just a little briny. I wasn’t sure at the time, but I think now they were probably Manzanillas, one of Spain’s best. We went through huge platters of them while we drank beers or waited for our bread baked with ham inside.

Avocado & Squash Kale Salad

Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen Discussion of favorite foods always breaks the ice, doesn’t it? I remember how in every new situation, from summer program orientations to freshman move-in, conversation with brand new acquaintances would quickly turn on the best of the bad options in the dining hall or the foods we missed most from home.

Small Kitchen, Massive Pan

Singapore Noodles in a Huge Pan

Over the weekend, we toured a submarine. In the bunks, the engine room, and the galley kitchen, every gadget fit neatly into the storage space available. Compactness was the going criterion, and minimalism the approach. Was there a small kitchen tip here?

I thought about it. You would imagine we’d want to mimic this efficiency in a city kitchen of limited size, that we’d want to own only those pots that stack like a puzzle in our tiny cabinet. But that mindset doesn’t take into account a cooking truth, that even in small kitchen, bigger is sometimes better. Get me off this submarine!

I’m talking about bigger in terms of surface area. So much of a food’s flavor comes from the browning that happens when squash or garlic or beef is exposed to heat. Crowd a skillet or throw too many mushrooms onto a baking sheet, and you’ll have steamed mush, not crispy golden delicacies. On top of that, you’ll make less of a mess: fewer pots of rice will boil over, fewer squares of tofu will fly out of the pan, and grease splatters will decorate less of your kitchen wall. Go big, I’m serious.

In other words, this quick post is written just to encourage you to buy the 12-inch skillet instead of the 8-inch one when you’re stocking your kitchen. Reach for it when you caramelize onions, stir-fry squash, and simmer perfect pasta and sauce. Even if you’re cooking for one or two, let your ingredients have the run of the kitchen, let them enjoy the full expanse of your XL pots and pans.

(Pictured: Singapore Curry Noodles in a bigger-than-usual pan.)