Posts by Cara

A Totally Different Pasta Salad

All Veggie Pasta Salad

I first made this back in not-very-pasta-salad weather. I was intrigued by the ingredients in the pasta with boiled vegetables recipe, which I found while browsing Serious Eats during vegan week. Specifically, one ingredient: potato.

Though I’m not quite a Harold McGee-level food nerd (though I do keep On Food and Cooking on my desk), when I hear of a technique that’s never before been seen in my kitchen, I bump the recipe to the top of my list.

I guess I already knew about how potatoes can transform during cooking. They secretly transform baked goods, especially hamburger buns. As themselves, they can turn into anything from crispy latkes to perfect hash browns to mashed or smashed potatoes. I once read a whole treatise on the right kind of potatoes to use for mashed potatoes. The author couldn’t believe anyone wouldn’t grasp the nuances of starchiness that foretold whether a tater ought to be mashed with butter and cream.

Melted Veggie Pasta Salad

Still, even knowing all that, it’s hard not to say to yourself skeptically: potatoes in pasta? But there it was, a recipe called “Pasta with Melted Vegetable Sauce,” inherited from a chef who’d mastered Italian peasant-style cooking, and presented as a magical way to make a creamy, rich, and hearty sauce from nothing more than boiled vegetables.
All Veggie Pasta Salad

It’s not just the potatoes that make this recipe strange and irresistible. This recipe abandons browning in oil. Instead, everything–veggies and pasta–go into a pot of boiling water, though not all at the same time. This builds up both starch and flavor in the water, so that by the time the pasta goes in, it’s essentially simmering in broth. The final touch

And why make this into pasta salad? Well, back in the winter, I made a huge batch. It was great-tasting when hot, but the leftovers were arguably even better. Which made me think “pasta salad!” and stash the gem away until the right time of year–now.

Making Food in New York City Is Really Hard

Broken-pickle-jar-on-a-Brooklyn-street

There are so many food companies in New York City. Artisanal goodies, from mayo to shortbread, have been booming since I moved back here after college.

We hear news about just-launched foodstuffs, their origin stories drawn in flour, butter, hops, or brine. But it’s less fun to read about how the cookie can sometimes crumble into nothing, leaving food entrepreneurs in a pickle despite their delicious efforts. So, for my latest Crain’s New York Business cover story, I listened to more than a dozen local makers–many of whom aren’t making it–to find out what it’s really like to seek success in the local food biz.

Read the piece here.

(Photo by Buck Ennis)

Strawberry Milkshakes

Strawberry Milkshake

When was the last time you made yourself a milkshake?

If the answer is, “when I was a kid,” I think it’s time you got out your blender.

The only ingredients you need are ice cream and whole milk. The only tip you need to know is not to overblend: the goal is to combine ice cream (about 3 scoops) and milk (just 1/4 cup or so) without liquefying them. Blenders can get really hot, so you’ll want to pulse in short bursts, just until you’ve got a thick but smooth texture.

1_Ice Cream 2_Milk

Of course, that’s just the basic milkshake. You can go crazy with flavors–whether from ice cream, syrups, or mix-ins like oreos–and with garnishes.

Ordinarily, I’m a chocolate or coffee or black-and-white milkshake person, but for this experiment, I branched way out of my comfort zone with strawberry. Whizzing a handful of ripe berries with a teaspoon of sugar in the blender before you add the dairy results in a bright pink, fruity shake that I dare you to resist.

Strawberry Milkshake

For the full story–including my interviews with the milkshake masters at Black Tap and OddFellows and the recipe–check out my piece on First We Feast.

Thin & Crispy Cinnamon & Milk Chocolate Cookies

Thin & Crispy Cinnamon Milk Chocolate Cookies

I got to interview Dorie Greenspan for an article about chocolate chip cookies, and the whole experience–emailing with the lovely Dorie, learning new tips about a treat I imagined I’d mastered, and then baking the best chocolate chip cookies of my life–provided one of those moments where my odd career made sense.

Between researching and writing, Dorie’s best baking wisdom sent me sprinting to the kitchen. (FYI, her forthcoming book, Dorie’s Cookies is going to have absolute tons of cookie wisdom, delivered in Dorie’s signature sweet style). For hours, I had flour and sugar flying through the air as I experimented with changing the proportions of brown sugar to white sugar and considering how much to reduce the overall amount of sweetener when I swapped in milk chocolate for semisweet.

Thin & Crispy Cinnamon-Milk Chocolate Cookies

One of the most thought-provoking ideas Dorie shared with me was this: you could add spices to chocolate chip cookies. Though I love cinnamon in my oatmeal and cardamom in my lassi, when it comes to cookie baking, I only reach into my spice rack to grab the vanilla. Not so on that day of extreme baking.

Butter for CookiesMilk Chocolate Cinnamon CookiesCookie Comparisons

These cookies are one of the experiments, a foray into increased butter, decreased brown sugar, and spice. I love how they turned out. They’re small, thin, crisp, and buttery (you can see the difference next to the pile of more traditional cookies on the right. Recipe here.) They’re sweet but sophisticated. The sophistication, I think, owes much to their mystery: the combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, and milk chocolate has echoes both of gingersnaps and of the best crispy chocolate chip cookies in the Tate’s tradition.

Bite-Sized Mexican Caesar Taco Bowls

Mexican Caesar Tortilla Bowls

Add a spoonful of minced chipotle chili peppers to your classic Caesar salad and you open up a world of flavor. From under a curtain of spicy, creamy, slightly tangy dressing, bright Romaine yields to your teeth with a crunch. To complement the theme, there are cherry tomatoes, avocado, and green pepper.

Delicious.

And what if you make all this bite-sized?

Mexican Caesar Tortilla Bowls
Thanks to Garden of Eatin’ Bowl Tortilla Chips, bite-sized Mexican Caesar taco bowls just became an easy, tasty way to celebrate Cinco De Mayo this week. The new chips are like little star-shaped bowls, ready to be dip into guacamole, black bean dip, or gooey warm artichoke dip.  Because of the shape, every dunk into the dip bowl earns you a lot of dip. The only ingredients in these chips are corn, oil, and salt; they come in two types: White Corn with Sea Salt and Blue Corn with Sea Salt. Garden of Eatin’s chips are organic and GMO-free.Garden of Eatin Bowl Tortilla Chips
In addition to dunking, these chips make for a great presentation of finger food at cocktail parties; if you’re looking to make guacamole elegant, you could fill the chips and display them on platters. That’s the approach I take for my bite-sized Caesar bowls.Mexican Caesar Tortilla Bowls

How to Clean Up Your Shopping Routine

How to Green Your Shopping Routine | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Thanks for your thoughtful comments! This giveaway is now closed. -Cara, 5/6/16

Waste in the kitchen is a big topic these days, a fact that’s reflected in certain trends I’ve been seeing. Like: Perfect vegetables are out, restaurant pop-ups repurposing food that would have gone to waste are in. Ubiquitous plastic baggies and wrap are out; beeswax-coated cloth to hold cheeses, halved grapefruits, and bread loaves are in. Throwing out your food scraps: out; saving them for stock or compost: in.

Depending on your mindset, some of those of-the-moment ways of staying green in the kitchen might sound so onerous that your inner voice is screaming “compost?!?!” in disbelief. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a few small changes. For example, while I’ll never give up paper towels for messy tasks, like wiping out the oily wok in between batches of fried rice, I make the effort to grab clean kitchen towels for most other undertakings, from blotting tofu to wiping down shelves.

I especially try to make these kinds of little changes when I go grocery shopping. The tweaks I make while stocking the pantry and running out for milk are tweaks that don’t inconvenience me at all but do help cut down on some of the less sustainable parts of being a consumer these days.

In a monthlong celebration of Earth Day, Whole Foods Market has started a conversation about just these types of changes, and I’m happy to have the chance today to share those parts of my routine that aim to keep things green.

Read all the way to the bottom for the chance to win a $100 gift card to Whole Foods.

How to Green Your Shopping Routine | Big Girls Small Kitchen

How to Clean Up Your Shopping Routine

  1. Go grocery shopping. With so many options for ordering groceries online, making the effort to shop in person most of the time ensures that you have the ability to make real choices for yourself about packaging and ingredients. In person, you can also deviate from a set meal plan if organic strawberries are on sale or if the broccoli turns out to look subpar and therefore likely to go to waste. You feel more connected, I think, to the products you buy when you pick them out yourself.
  2. Tote Totes. Re-usable bags prevent you from stowing stuff in one-time-use bags! I should admit here that I just cleaned out my tote collection. There were dozens. Even with a more edited selection, I find I always have the right bag for the job. That’s the second part of this tip. While I wouldn’t advise amassing quite as many as I used to own, don’t be overly minimalist here. If you like carrying groceries home in a few smaller bags, stock those. If you have transportation and want enormous canvas sacks that can hold your whole grocery load, treat yourself to a few of those. If you buy a lot of pies, then find a tote with a wide base. I’ve often found that a big backpack can be an essential part of grocery shopping, and of course tons of city dwellers swear by their fold-up shopping carts.
  3. Don’t Bag Your Produce. There’s no requirement to use those plastic baggies around the produce department, so I tend to pile my veggies unprotected in my shopping cart and then my tote bags. (I make exception for teeny tiny veggies, like Thai chilies, which might get lost without a bag, though you could invest in some light drawstring pouches if you’re serious about being plastic free). I wash all veggies before I eat them, so I don’t really worry about them getting dirty. I do keep raw meat in another part of the cart, though. Occasionally, my heads of lettuce have left puddles on the cashier’s belt, but no one ever seems to mind.
  4. TYOC (Tare Your Own Containers). Take bulk buying one step further by bringing along your own bags or jars. Check in with a sales associate to be sure this is okay, then measure and mark the weight of the empty containers before you fill them with oats and seeds. That way, you’ll only pay for the contents of your jar, not the jar itself.
  5. Read Labels – Seriously. The only real way to find out if products comply with your personal green ethos is to read labels carefully. This is as true for packaged foods as it is for produce. When the USDA has certified a fruit, grain, or vegetable as organic, for example, it means that toxic and persistent pesticides haven’t been used during growing; you’ll be spared pesticide intake, as will the land and water used to grow the food. If you’re not sure what “natural” or “local” really mean, read up and ask until you understand.
  6. Find Second Life for Scraps. First, make the most of all the foods you pay for by using them while they’re fresh. Then, see what you can do to salvage ends, stems, and leaves that would otherwise go to waste. Some ideas: put a squeezed lemon half in the dishwasher for extra freshness. Freeze extra bits of organic veggies for eventual use in stock. Make endless batches of green sauce and pesto with herbs, radish or turnip or beet greens, and even excess kale. Experiment with odds and ends in any way you dream up!
  7. Look for Deals. This one is a little roundabout. But by saving your own money when you can, you’ll be able to spend on the right products when you’d like to. In particular, look for discounts when fruit and veggies are in season and therefore abundant. I’ve been using the Whole Foods Market app, which offers really relevant coupons – recently, there was one that included a $5 savings on any $20 worth of produce!

how TO WIN a whole foods gift cardHow to Clean Up Your Shopping Routine

Leave a comment below to share the ways you stay green in the kitchen. (Browse here and here for some starter ideas.) I’ll randomly select a winner next Friday, May 6, so please be available at the email address you input.

This post was sponsored by Whole Foods Market. All opinions, as usual, are my own. Follow along in the Earth Month conversation at #1greenthing. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Big Girls, Small Kitchen delicious!