Posts by Cara

Giant Lemon Valentine Cookies with Cherry Frosting

Cherry Glazed Cookies for Valentine's Day

A few years ago, I decided that sugar cookies could be as buttery and chewy as chocolate chip cookies. I developed a recipe based off of my favorite chocolate chip cookie formula, substituting classic white sugar for the molasses-y brown, skipping the chocolate, and grating in a lemon’s worth of fresh zest. Today, I’m turning those cookie jar favorites into a Valentine’s Day dessert recipe.

Giant Lemon Valentine Cookies with Cherry FrostingGiant Lemon Valentine Cookies with Cherry Frosting

I hadn’t made the recipe in a while when my sister Kate reminded me of it a month or two ago. Her boyfriend brought a batch into his office, where colleagues raved about the very qualities I’d engineered the cookies to have: softness, chewiness, butteriness. Yes.

Giant Lemon Valentine Cookies with Cherry FrostingGiant Lemon Valentine Cookies with Cherry Frosting

Of all the characteristics of these sweets, my favorite is their size. Dainty treats have their place elsewhere. These cookies are huge! You only get 20 out of the full batch, a fact that makes these quicker to make, since you’re not shaping spheres forever…

That means lots of crispy edges, lots of chewy center–and lots of surface area for a hot pink frosting made from a handful of cherries (all natural!) that transforms these from cookie jar types into bright, festive cookies perfect for your Valentine and all your sweet friends and family.

Baked Tortilla Skillet with Chicken, Black Beans, and Peppers

Baked Tortilla Skillet with Chicken, Black Beans, and Peppers

What’s funny about this no-roll baked tortilla skillet shebang is I didn’t mean for it to appear during what I think of as Tex-Mex, or football, season. I invented the recipe – a means of eating an enchilada-like meal without actually rolling up a dozen or more tubes of filled tortillas – to be one of those smart shortcuts you take when you want to eat a decent meal, one with some vegetables and without copious amounts of refined carbs or cheese, but you’re on a little bit of a time budget.

Tortilla Baked Tortilla Skillet with Chicken, Black Beans, and Peppers

When you cook layered foods, each layer has to be just right: seasoned aggressively but not overwhelmingly. Here, I started with the sauce, making a tomato-based enchilada sauce flavored with both a fresh habanero and a dried chile de arbol.

Aloo Gobi with Chickpeas

Aloo Gobi | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Every so often, I return to my vegetarian ways of the past (I was a vegetarian when BGSK started, just in case you haven’t been reading forever). With the notable exceptions of pepperoni pizza and ShackBurgers, I’ve been choosing to cook veggies since 2016 started. This is all accidental, not as part of a big resolution or anything. In this small kitchen, it’s been all potatoes and peppers and beans and rice and pasta and sauce and cheese.

Aloo Gobi | Big Girls Small KitchenAloo Gobi | Big Girls Small KitchenAs an omnivore, I don’t worry too much about protein in my vegetarian food. But after a couple weeks of pasta with veggies, I had the feeling that I should maybe add a handful of chickpeas to my aloo gobi to make sure my muscles stayed strong enough for barre class.

And so, I turned a recipe for the beloved Indian potato and cauliflower curry into a spicy, warming, all-vegetarian formula for a potato and cauliflower stew with chickpeas, making for a complete–if carb-centric–vegetarian dinner whose leftovers make a lunch I couldn’t wait to eat. Aloo Gobi | Big Girls Small KitchenAloo Gobi | Big Girls Small KitchenAloo Gobi | Big Girls Small Kitchen

You should know that this–and most of the recipes I used as starting points for my experimentations in spicy potatoes and cauliflower–are all shortcuts. The best aloo gobi, like the best ratatouille, requires individually frying the vegetables before you combine them with the sauce. You can do it if you want. I might, sometime. But on a busy weeknight, that sounded like a pain. The other bit of knowledge to have is that aloo gobi is most often a dry curry. There’s not a ton of sauce, though you could increase the amount of tomatoes if you wanted. For that reason, I serve it with paratha instead of rice. Aloo Gobi | Big Girls Small KitchenIf I have a little extra time til dinner, I’ll mix up the carrot raita from this New York Times recipe, which is an ideal match.

Hot Grilled Cheese Pockets

Hot Grilled Cheese Pockets | Big Girls Small Kitchen

The other day, my pizza dough just wouldn’t rise. I was set on homemade pizza for dinner, so I started a second batch seeded with a way bigger spoonful of yeast. Refusing to believe that my pizza dinner dream wouldn’t somehow bubble into reality, I put my two bowls of unrisen dough by the radiator and went for a walk. I was hoping that the watched-pot-never-boils truism would apply to bowls of flour with stunted yeast, too.

When I got back, the doughs–both of them–were bubbling. Pizza failure was averted. But now I had extra dough. I put bowl #2 in the fridge, and two days later, I decided I’d better do something with it.

Hot Grilled Cheese PocketsHot Grilled Cheese Pockets

In most grilled cheese sandwiches, the bread matters, of course. But the quality and freshness of the slices aren’t the most important factor in the quality of the finished sandwich. Leave that to medium-low heat and a generous pat of butter (here’s how to make a perfect grilled cheese).

Hot Grilled Cheese Pockets

But what if the bread were perfect too? What if it were chewy, fragrant, salty, and stretchy, like just-pulled-from-the-oven focaccia? And, while we’re at it, what if the cheese were cooked right inside?

You can guess what happened next: I took all the cheeses out from my cheese drawer, combined provolone with mozzarella and a little cheddar. I pulled my dough, now a wind fall, not a burden, out of the fridge and stretched pieces into small rectangles. I filled each with my three cheeses, and folded them over into pockets. Last, I brushed the outsides with butter, sprinkled them with coarse salt, and baked them in a hot oven until I had golden, oozing, fresh grilled cheese pockets.  Though the whole activity happened by chance, the results were so good and so easy (once you have dough made) that I had to post about them here.

These would be an ideal lunch or dinner paired with tomato soup.

The Best Broccoli Linguine

The Best Broccoli Pasta

This dish has been lurking behind the scenes for months, maybe years. It’s the delicious, unglamorous, vegetarian, and speedy dinner that we eat once a week very happily. The Best Broccoli Linguine solves 82 percent of what-should-we-have-for-dinner dilemmas. The Best Broccoli Linguine is responsible for 100 percent of all the unmade calls for takeout–for the fact that I do not have a Seamless account.

One-quarter of the charm is the short ingredient list: broccoli, olive oil, garlic, pasta, and Parmesan. If you don’t have everything, the rundown is short enough to assure your supermarket stop is rapid. Another quarter is about ease and speed: you boil water, you break up the broc, you peel the garlic. By the time the pasta is cooked, the vegetable is ready to sauce it. The third piece has to do with health: while this isn’t a salad, it does deliver a whole lot of vegetable servings with your carbs, more than Pad Thai, more than dumplings. The final bit–and you have to trust me on this, because I know that florets cooked past emerald to that more muted, nameless shade green might not appear incredibly appealing–is that this is so, so tasty.

The Best Broccoli Pasta | Big Girls Small Kitchen The Best Broccoli Pasta | Big Girls Small Kitchen

It’s tasty by design. Years of regretting overpriced, much too large take-out orders taught me that access to ingredients and the ability to boil water isn’t always enough to deter you from paying someone else to make you dinner. You have to want the thing you’re offering yourself.

To make the pedestrian offerings of broccoli and dry pasta truly crave-able, I cook the broccoli in a good bit of oil, for a while (the same amount of time that it takes water to boil and pasta to cook, incidentally). This helps bring out the flavors, and it makes a simple vegetable taste really satisfying. I try not to skimp on oil or time. The slowness of cooking also reduces quite a large amount of florets into an unintimidating portion. When I combine the pasta with the falling apart (don’t call it overcooked!) broccoli, I add some pasta cooking water, which transforms two parts into one whole. I sample a bite, adjusting the seasonings, thinking always to myself that this is the best weeknight dinner there is.

The Best Broccoli Pasta | Big Girls Small Kitchen The Best Broccoli Pasta | Big Girls Small Kitchen

And then I unapologetically pile on the Parm.

The Deal with Meal Replacement Snacks

Goldenberry Date Bars | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Everybody snacks. We’re at 94% of American adult snackers this year, with half of the population munching more than two times a day. Some snack because they’re starving, others because they adore cheesy bunnies or salty pistachios or blueberry yogurt or ants on a log, and still others because it’s become a healthy part of their diet plan. Though often functional, snacks have grown to have an emotional hold on us. We love them.

I’ve gotten so curious why.

There are recipes for snacks on this blog – Fried Cheerios, Granola Nuts, Lemon-Herb Popcorn. Mostly, though, there are meals. That’s because I’m a fan of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I almost never skip a meal. Perhaps as a result of the delight I take in meal eating, I don’t snack too often, outside of days when I go for long bike rides or when deadlines force me to hole up in the library with a water bottle and some GORP.

Goldenberry Date Bars | Big Girls Small KitchenGoldenberry Date Bars | Big Girls Small KitchenGoldenberry Date Bars | Big Girls Small KitchenIn the last few years, I’ve started to feel alone in this, an alien meal lover in a world of snackers. So, in an effort to pinpoint the sources of our snackophilia, I’ve been doing research about the history and culture of eating between meals.

There are a lot of reasons that people snack. One is because they’re too busy for meals. Whereas I count down the minutes to lunch, some people see the midday break for ingestion as a distraction. And it sort of is. Lunch as we know it derived from the habits of industrial revolution workers, who didn’t have much control of their own schedules. Factory owners granted them a certain hour for eating and getting fresh air. Likewise, for kids at school, the pause of eating was supposed to replenish both body and mind. But if you’re swamped or running between meetings or classes, that pause starts to seem superfluous, or even annoying.

The thing is, until recently, snacking meant subsisting on junk. So if you didn’t make time for lunch, you’d end up eating chips or pretzels or candy, whose empty calories eventually make most people over the age of 14 feel slow and off-kilter. It’s one thing to enjoy a bag of chips when you want some chips, but it’s another to wish fried potato slices into lunch.

Goldenberry Date Bars | Big Girls Small KitchenGoldenberry Date Bars | Big Girls Small KitchenIn other words, I’m not sure that most of us approach our snacks with as much cleverness and insight as our meals. So I wanted to think seriously about an eating occasion that’s often overlooked as a matter for serious consideration, hooking practical tips and delicious recipes into bigger ideas about why and when people snack.

One of those occasions is the meal-replacement snack: the bite you eat when you don’t have time to sit down for a meal–but you need nourishment all the same. Julie Morris, the author of several books on “superfoods” and the chef at Navitas Naturals, a superfoods company that sells pre-made snacks as well as ingredients like coconut chips and goldenberries, helped me see how dedicated snackers could optimize what they eat instead of breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

“I’m a huge snacker myself and usually snack all day,” she told me. “A lot of the time I’m out on the road, and that’s where these come in and save the day. My favorite recipes are in energy bars and bites. I never get too hungry, and I never get too full. My cravings are always answered and I overall feel really good.”

Morris talks to a ton of people as she tours the country, cooking and promoting her books. She’s found that she’s hardly alone.

“A lot of us are looking to achieve a healthier diet, and we’re adding more and more healthy attributes to our day: eating salads, drinking smoothies. These are easy to put into practice. A lot of people get caught up on snacks. They’re the often forgotten part of the day. You’re starving because lunch is long gone and dinner’s not for a few hours and you need a fix. When hunger strikes, that’s when cravings come into play.”

Goldenberry Date Bars | Big Girls Small KitchenWhile many of us have a sense of what goes into a good (or at least a passable) meal – a sandwich and carrot sticks, a chicken breast with string beans and baked sweet potato fries, a pizza with broccoli florets baked on – we have yet to settle on what makes an ideal snack. When I choose a meal, my ultimate goal is satiety: I want to know that after I eat, I’ll, well, feel like I ate. I may choose certain foods that wouldn’t satisfy you, but if a slice of pizza or small bowl of lentils feels like lunch, then it is lunch in my world. I won’t generalize from my experience, but I would venture to say that many snacks, even those deemed healthful, won’t point you to satiety. They’re just not real sustenance. And that’s what Morris wants to help solve.