The day we ordered ceviche in Lima, lunch was supposed to be the first stop in a short eight-hour swing through the city. When our flight was canceled eight hours later, we ended up with quadruple the time and the ability to see streets beyond of Miraflores, the oceanside neighborhood where we ate lunch that reminded me of L.A.
Posts by Cara
When you bring homemade pizza to a picnic, you can’t afford to have cheese sliding all over. Maybe that’s why we don’t see enough pizza posing as picnic food: we’re all afraid of hot mozz sliding off the marinara and onto our laps. Or maybe worse–the cheese congealing while we toss the frisbee until we sit down to a pie that looks more like yesterday’s late-night order than today’s fresh meal.
But what if you forget pizza margarita and make a pie that’s less saucy and slide-y? If you do so, you’ll see that pizzas, re-envisioned as vegetable-topped flatbreads–are ideal picnic food. They’re easy to transport, good at room temperature, and if you put enough vegetables on top you might just eliminate the need for side dishes.
Another thing you can eliminate: bringing utensils to your picnic by cutting up the pizza at home before you go. That’s what we did, with a pair of kitchen scissors, ten minutes after it came out of the oven; the crust and topping were sturdy enough by then. They held up pretty well when we piled the uneven rectangles onto two plastic plates and headed, with friends, to the park for a concert.
The presentation on plates left over from December was a little makeshift, sure, but since the cheese wasn’t dancing all around on a hot, flimsy crust, transportation was easy and successful. We brought a few napkins and nothing else, gear-wise. We ate on our blanket, grateful not to have to buy dinner at the park, food that always looks good but usually, you know, disappoints. We didn’t have to haul back containers or leftovers, either.
When I made this again the following week, we weren’t going anywhere outside to eat. So after the timer beeped and I piled on the parm, I sat down to a meal in a very sticky apartment. That’s when the foolishness of turning the oven to 500°F when the city has already hiked up the heat to 95°F became evident. My cravings make me an idiot! Still, if there’s any good reason to sweat out dinner prep right now, using summer veggies to produce pizza has got to be top of the list.
Out of the blue, I became a yogurt lover.
At first, I disliked the stuff. Then, I reluctantly thought it was okay. Though I wouldn’t snack on a flavored yogurt, every so often, a few bites of plain with honey hit the spot. I added spoonfuls to my smoothies because I figured it was good for me. Boring reason to eat something – right?
What flipped the switch a couple months ago was thinking of yogurt as a savory ingredient rather than a sweet one. Though milk and cream have natural sweet notes, by the time dairy becomes yogurt, the tanginess has taken over. With berries, bananas, and granola, my tastebuds just don’t like how that jibes.
Instead, I mixed yogurt with pesto for a sauce, spooned tzatziki onto some recent Greek meatballs in equal proportion to the meat, and dolloped plain whole-milk yogurt onto whatever I put in my mouth: weird hodgepodge bowl lunches, egg-and-cheese toasts, in place of sour cream on chilaquiles and tacos. I started ordering Sohha from Good Eggs in bigger and bigger containers. This was an odd set of eating events.
Nearly seven years ago, my co-founder and I wrote the first post on Big Girls, Small Kitchen. Four and half years ago we relaunched with the sweet turquoise logo that stuck around until yesterday. In spite of a lot of time, and a lot of changes, I’m still here (hi!), cooking in a small kitchen. About a year ago, I looked at that sweet turquoise logo (and the crowded sidebar, and the lack of functionality on mobile), and I sighed. I had had enough.
So I made plans to bring in the new: colors, logo, layout, functions. I worked on all this for you. I wanted readers to be able to find the recipes you were looking for, enjoy the photos without so much visual clutter, and browse through tips and menus to find kitchen inspiration and knowledge at your leisure.
I also worked on this redesign for me. Big Girls, Small Kitchen had to look good when I came to publish posts or look for dinner ideas in the archives. Most of the words and recipes are mine, and I wanted each page to look mine, too. The new red is pretty much my favorite color right now. The black body font is the text my eyes want to read on a screen. Everything adapts for my awkward fingers on mobile. The Kitchen Stuff archive shows you recommended tools. The recipe index is navigable either as a massive comprehensive beast or a more gentle curated grid. I hope you like it all! Please let me know if you find quirks or problems anywhere: I’ll fix ’em.
Should I be amazed that I’m still blogging? Cooking is a lifelong practice. In seven years, I’ve become a much better cook, in part because of the record I’ve kept here, of meals, parties, friends, breakfasts, drinks, travel. I think my food tastes more delicious than ever before. But I’m sure my style and tastes will keep changing. In this moment, at least, I feel, well, wise. So in honor of the new design, I’m sharing my circa-July 21, 2015 habits for making great food in a small space.
Use a lot of oil and butter
Don’t skimp. That’s where the flavor is.
Sprinkle a lot of salt
Yes, yes, you should salt to taste. But I’ve noticed that most people don’t, really. Taste, that is. They sprinkle on some salt and then they eat. You should salt as you go and try bites (if food safety allows). If you know you won’t try, can I implore you to at least add a little more salt than you think? Whole foods have very little to begin with, but they need salt to taste good. Don’t start hurling in fistfuls, but know that if I were standing beside you, I’d tell you to put in another pinch or two or three.
Add lemon or vinegar
I don’t like tangy flavors much. So I used to skimp on the acids. But I do like balance. Sourness balances out sweetness, saltiness, and richness in one go. If a dish feels like it’s missing something, squeeze on lemon juice and taste again.
Cook what you like to eat
This one sounds so stupid! But I think we’re all constantly bombarded by what other people–writers, restauranteurs, TV personalities, our friends, BuzzFeed–like to eat that we forget to make ourselves our favorite dishes. I maintain that the best part of being a grown up is eating exactly what you want. What do you want? Make it.
Cook a lot
Whether it’s on Sunday afternoons or in 30 minute bursts during the week. You’ll get better, you’ll learn a lot, and hopefully you’ll enjoy yourself.
They’re just the best. Having great leftovers around means that from-scratch meals feel like semi-homemade ones. If you’re not super into leftovers, see if you feel differently when you stick them in a sandwich, melt some cheese on top, or crown them with a fried egg. Here are the 14 best dishes to make in advance.
Use only two burners at a time
Seriously, if you’re starting out, don’t let four pots simmer at once. Recipe for disaster. Maybe even start with one burner and make a second dish in the oven. Graduate to more as you improve at multitasking.
Make food for guests before they arrive
All casserole-type things; many assemble-your-own type sandwiches, noodle bars, and pastas; and big pots of stew should be made in advance: they’re better that way, and you don’t have to worry about cooking while guests are there. Maybe one day you’ll want to fry tempura while your friends hang out in the living room, but I still don’t. Assemble a salad or finish some crostini at the last minute if you run out of time or like having buddies help in the kitchen.
Buy staples every time you shop
Don’t try to outfit a pantry in one go. Constantly take stock of what you own, and if you’re running low on sesame oil or peppercorns, add those to an otherwise mundane shopping list. This spreads out your spending too, which is nice, and you won’t have to lug home huge bags from the supermarket–if you still go to brick-and-mortar markets.
Sauté vegetables til tender, then mix them with pasta, pasta water, and parm
It’s a no-fail meal. You’re not quite carbo loading, because you have a lot of veggies mixed in, but you are eating something cheap, delicious, and comforting. A bowl that’s half pasta and half vegetables (and half cheese and half garlic) can get you through a lot of weeknights. The cooking water has starch that turns the vegetables into a sauce.
Monday: almond cake. Monday: organization.
About organization: I try to hold everything in my head at once. For a few days, this works fine, and then every thought, item on my shopping list, mundane to-do, and thought about the coming BGSK redesign (!) start to spew out onto sticky notes. And emails to myself. And notes saved in folders on my computer that I’ll never find again. That is, until I discovered this system called bullet journaling, designed by an art director hoping to keep his projects in line. His site is kind of the best of the internet, an idea that’s smart, free, well-designed, and always evolving.
If you believe to-do lists are the province of the nutty, read on for (nutty) cake. If you, on the other hand, are looking a way to keep track that’s as simple as sticky notes but a lot less alarming, go poke around the site: it’s good. (If you give it a go, I love these steno notebooks since I’m a sucker for notebooks that lie flat and fit in all my bags). The trick is indexing, so even your randomest notes don’t get lost.Count among those random notes of mine a lot of shopping lists, dinner ideas, thoughts on repurposing leftovers, and potential cakes I can bring to a dinner party. Here were the bullets I wrote down for what became this dessert, which I said I’d bring to Leora’s:
- features summer fruit
- good at room temp
- easy to transport by subway.
When a new food-obsessed friend told me she sometimes stirred a whole egg into a bowl of steaming short-grain rice, I wrote down, “try this.” I imagined the taste of the egg piece in fried rice or something that tasted like tamago sushi–the seasoned rectangle of rice topped with a lightly sweetened omelet–only fashioned perfectly for serving one hungry and tired person.
Instead, the next day when I made a pot of rice and put a raw egg in it, I sat down to a slightly soupy bowl of grain, very plain, the taste raw eggy, mostly just very plain. I poured on plenty of soy sauce then googled to see where I had gone wrong.
What I learned, instead, is that tamago kake gohan is huge in Japan right now and has been for about a decade. It’s the original Japanese fast food, writes Harumi Kurihara admiringly in her cookbook. TKG is originally a breakfast food whose name just means raw egg on rice. There are restaurants devoted to this rice with eggs, a particular type of soy sauce you’re supposed to season with, and even a well-attended symposium (learn lots more about the trend at Tofugu). After reading for an hour, the power of suggestion induced me to try TKG again. Despite fail #1, the description still sounded so good and so useful, especially for nights when there’s nothing in the house to eat.
Back in the kitchen, I remedied the raw egg flavor using a technique picked up from this salad dressing: You pour hot water over a whole egg, leave it for about a minute, then crack the egg. The process coddles the egg but doesn’t cook it, so you should still use a top-quality egg you feel comfortable eating raw. But it does remove that unfriendly metallic taste. There are other methods, like placing an egg on top of the bowl to steam the egg or mixing the white with the rice first, then placing the raw yolk on top. When you scoop rice fresh from a rice cooker, it may have more residual heat than if you’ve cooked it on the stove, as I did. If you get into tamago kake gohan, you’ll probably experiment.
Whatever you do, the next step is to whip the egg with hot rice until you have a bowl of fluffy, pale yellow rice enriched with enough protein to make it a meal. Next, pour a generous glug of soy sauce, and then garnish with sesame seeds at a minimum, or piles of creamy avocado and crunchy celery, or more authentic toppings like dried fish flakes, pickles, dried baby anchovies, and clams. I highly recommend a final flourish of toasted nori, cut into slivers.
Even with the toppings, TKG is plain, for sure. But a lot of good meals are plain. In fact, I’ve heard it theorized that comfort foods are our favorites precisely because they’re bland. Still–a warning: if you love over-the-top sweet, sour, spice, in every meal, maybe skip this one. But if you’ve been known to douse leftover take-out rice with soy sauce and nothing else, you’ll be delighted to find that you can now call that dish a balanced dinner.