Posts by Cara

Kitchen Stuff: The Scented Candle

Scented Candle2

In a small kitchen, you don’t need a lot of equipment to cook great food. Still, you do need some pots, pans, utensils, and dishes–obviously. In the BGSK book, you’ll find a bare bones list of necessary tools, but I’ve long wanted to bring you a similar resource on the web.

So we’re going one by one, stocking up our virtual pantries and maybe our real ones too.

Cooking is hardly low-impact. In fact, making dinner can be downright dramatic. Food sizzles loudly. Smoke explodes from your pan. Hot liquids splatter up from simmering pots.

And then there are the smells. Most of the scents that waft from pots and pans are delicious, at least before dinner. Afterwards, some foods give off odors that linger way too long. These include anything fried, fish, bacon, and broccoli. (Any other scents you hate? I can’t stand how caramelized onions smell, even though I adore how they taste!) I have a few methods for getting the smells out quickly from a small space, including closing the bedroom door before I start, opening a lot of windows, and pointing the fan outwards. The one that restores odor equilibrium best is burning a nice-smelling candle after dinner. I love the candles from Antica Farmacista, especially the grapefruit.

And, here are the very delicious foods whose not-so delicious after-scents you’ll burn off with your candle (pictured above).

Red Lentil Pockets with Caramelized Onions & Pickled Carrots

Red Lentil & Caramelized Onion Pockets with Picked Carrots

These red lentil pockets give me away: If I could pick a food era to return to, I’d choose the ’00s: the age of wraps. Now you know.

In college, I would down anything in a wrap! Salad tasted better, overly sweet teriyaki chicken and rice were killer when swaddled in a burrito, and even the weird dining hall fare went from a 4 to a 6 when you turned chicken and cheese from a freestanding dinner into the filling of a whole wheat pocket.

Zucchini, Mushroom & Provolone Picnic Pizza

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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.

Zucchini Pizza | Big Girls Small KtichenZucchini Pizza | Big Girls Small Kitchen

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.
Zucchini Pizza | Big Girls Small KitchenZucchini Pizza | Big Girls Small Kitchen

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.

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.

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.