Posts by Cara

Ceviche with Toasted Coriander & Mustard Seeds

Ceviche | Big Girls Small Kitchen

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.

But as we waited for La Mar to open, then sat in the open-air cafe crunching on sweet potato chips and whittling our potential ceviche orders down to two, we thought we had to soak everything in as fast as we possibly could.

Ceviche | Big GIrls Small Kitchen

As it goes, we ended up with time to visit the markets, see Chinatown, and eat our fill of new-to-me picarones. We had come from Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Machu Picchu, and Cusco, and Lima felt like a welcome return to the big city. We walked to the sea and through a park, then climbed up to the top floor of a department store.

I remember the afternoon in Miraflores because of the ceviche. I remember a lot of trips and events by the meals I eat. They’re like bookmarks. But I don’t remember the actual details of most of those bookmarks, exactly why we ordered how we did, what the first bite tasted like, what it felt like to snag the last lime-drenched piece of white fish from the bowl and know you didn’t have room for any more. This meal in Lima comes right back to me though.

Avocado & Raita Sandwich

Raita Sandwich | Big Girls Small Kitchen

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?

Raita Sandwich | Big Girls Small KitchenWhat 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.

How to Cook Food in a Small Kitchen

How to Cook Great Food in a Small Kitchen

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.

Eat leftovers

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.

Almond Cake with Blueberries, Cherries & Yogurt Whipped Cream

Almond Cake with Blueberries, Cherries & Yogurt Cream

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.

Tamago Kake Gohan

Tamago Kake Gohan | Big Girls Small Kitchen

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.

And how could a nation that brought us sushi, tempura, soba, ramen, and okonomiyaki be obsessed with a bad bowl of rice and egg?

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.

Salsa at Home, No Excuses

Salsa at Home, No Excuses

I’m not opposed to ready-made foods, supermarket shortcuts, already cleaned shrimp, and I do not make everything from scratch. Small kitchen, busy life, etc.

But I’ve found there’s a strangely large range in the edibles we outsource to others. Some are truly difficult or time-consuming to make at home, and I’m happy to pay for a vinegar professional to turn wine into vinegar so I don’t have to (maybe one day, Sandor Ellix Katz). But others can be whipped up fresh quickly and easily. They take just a few ingredients and hardly more effort than the opening of that purchased jar. Salsa is one of them. And the payoff is big.

(See also: Hummus.)

Especially now, when ripe tomatoes and tomatillos are coming, there’s no reason to spend money on a premade jar. I find a lot of the jarred salsas taste alike, even when they claim different flavors. And, they’re always shockingly acidic and overly salty. Even in winter, you can make a better batch from a can of whole tomatoes. The flavor of homemade is simpler and more immediate.

To elucidate the condiment that’s more popular than ketchup and do justice to “the soul of [Mexican] cuisine,” I wanted to post four different ways you can make some salsa at home. The roasted version may be the simplest, as there’s almost no chopping, but there’s not a clear hierarchy among the four types.

**Four Ways to Make Salsa at Home**

Roasted Salsa
Tomatoes or Tomatillos + Fresh Chiles + Quartered Onion + Garlic Cloves + Lime
Put about two pounds of the tomatoes or tomatillos on a baking sheet, whole, with a jalapeño or two trimmed of its stem, a peeled onion cut into fourths, and a few garlic cloves still in their skin. Toss generously with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast at a high temperature (500°F works) for about 15 minutes, until nearly black in places. Remove the garlic from the skin. Put everything in a blender and run until smooth. Add lime juice and salt to taste.

Cooked Salsa
Tomatoes or Tomatillos + Garlic + Fresh Chiles + White Onion + Cilantro + Salt
Instead of roasting the fruit, you quickly blanch them in boiling water before transferring to the blender. Instead of cooking the coarsely chopped onion, chiles, etc., you add all the rest of the ingredients to the blender raw, which balances out the mellowed tomatoes or tomatillos with a bright punch. If you prefer a chunkier salsa, use the food processor instead of the blender.

Simmered Salsa
Canned Tomatoes + Garlic + Onions +  Herbs + Dried Chiles. 
Forgive me for writing this, but making simmered salsa is a lot like making everyday spaghetti sauce, just with different herbs. Heat up some oil, add chopped garlic and onions, and cook them until just barely soft (retaining some texture is good). Add the tomatoes and herbs–you can do dried Mexican oregano or fresh cilantro, and simmer for 10 minutes or so, so the flavors meld. You can add minced jalapeño with the garlic and onion, but this is a place where I reach for my dried chile stash. Soak 1 or 2 dried chiles like guajillo or ancho in water for a few minutes, then pulse them in a food processor with some of the tomato liquid and add that to the pan with the tomatoes. Season with salt and cool to room temperature before serving.

Fresh Salsa
Diced Vegetables + Minced Onion + Minced Cilantro + Minced Fresh Chile + Lime Juice + Oil Drizzle
Pico de gallo means “rooster’s beak,” but no one seems to know why. The typical raw tomato salsa is popular in Mexico and seen at every burrito joint in the U.S. To make it, combine about 1 pound of chopped ripe tomatoes with half of a minced white onion, 1 minced jalapeño, 1/2 cup minced cilantro, 3 tablespoons of lime juice, and a solid drizzle of oil. Season with salt.

You don’t have to stick to tomato. Try fruits, from mango to peach and vegetables from radish to cucumber to corn. Mint, basil, or oregano can replace or supplement the cilantro.