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The other day, I looked at the price on the box of quinoa and saw a stamp of $7.99. Twelve ounces of Ancient Harvest brand quinoa (by far the best-tasting) had soared up to eight dollars! From 2007 to to 2013, the price per pound of quinoa doubled, but this was the first time I’d seen the box retail for quite that much. I put it back, went home, and started eating farro.

The story makes sense. The rebranding of quinoa as a superfood turned it into a grain we ate all the time. But unlike rice, which has long fed the world’s daily habits and has production mechanisms more able to meet demand, quinoa growing remains the province of Peru and Bolivia. Yield has increased, as have exports, but probably not enough to power the 4.4 million quinoa salad recipes on the internet. So, the price goes up, and maybe those of us who aren’t willing to pay a premium back off.

And where will we go?  In case you, too, are reeling from the price hikes, I’ve made some notes on the grains, legumes, and nuts we’re eating instead of our bi-weekly quinoa. In looking to substitute for quinoa, I try to account for two aspects of the seed that have made it so popular: it’s a complete protein, and every bite delivers a lovely caviar-like pop. If you haven’t tried some of the grains I mention below, then quinoa might have one more power: as the gateway grain.

Chickpea & Fennel Gratin

Posted by on Wednesday Feb 25th, 2015

I love beans for a lot of reasons, but my affection definitely derives from their price. Beans are cheap. Even the best beans are cheaper than almost anything else you can buy to eat. And they’re such a great reminder of how inexpensive cooking for yourself is, if you stay aware. Eliminate some of the frou frou trendy ingredients you see in the magazines, and notice, at the grocery store, that quinoa’s price has doubled (!), and you can feast almost every day for a couple of dollars per meal, a price that might allow for an occasional culinary splurge, whether in the kitchen or out.But it wasn’t long before I started loving beans for their taste and easy prep. Cooking up a pot from dried almost doesn’t feel like cooking, your pot’s just simmering there in the background, barely any of your attention needed to make all sorts of meals possible. If you’ve never made hummus from total scratch, that’s a great place to start with bean cookery.

I put a few things in with the beans when I cook them, most importantly olive oil, because it makes the beans creamy. Garlic, onion, and fennel also help add flavor. I’ll eat a bowl of freshly cooked beans with their broth and even more olive oil drizzled on top, and some breadcrumbs if I have them, and that humble bowl is what inspires this far less humble gratin.

That and mac ‘n cheese.

11 Formats for Dinner Tonight

Posted by on Monday Feb 23rd, 2015

Whether you’re a good meal planner or a last-minute shopper like me, cooking (almost) every night is easier when you rely on a handful of tested and beloved recipe formats. On a given week, I tend to sketch out meal formats, rather than meals – which I’ve mentioned here before. Today, I’ve got more to say  about my process, and I’m aiming to pass on some ideas about formulating your own go-to list of dinner types rather than dinners, whether you plan ahead of time or stop at the market nightly.

For me, the scoping goes like this: I pick a couple of formats for the week ahead, shop for ingredients that will work with them, and then let spur-of-the-moment plans, unexpected cravings, and random bursts of creativity take over. I don’t come home to an empty pantry, but I also don’t tie myself to saucy stir-fried pork on a night when it turns out I need pork fried rice.

Here are the 11 formats I turn to again and again.

1. Pasta with tomato sauce. The one, the only. Here’s how to make it the best ever. Make sauce by sauteing onions and garlic in oil, then adding broken-up whole canned tomatoes, salt, and oregano. Cook the pasta in salted water and scoop it right into the sauce. Finish with a lot of olive oil and a lot of parm. Also, put cubes of fresh mozzarella in the bottom of your bowl before filling it with pasta for a gooier delight.

2. Pasta with vegetables or other sauces. This gets a separate entry, because pasta is the best weeknight dinner in the world. Saute a few garlic cloves in some olive oil, then add a lot of a vegetable (zucchini, kale, broccoli, carrots, winter squash, or a mix!) and a little water and then cook, covered, until the veggie is really tender. Add the pasta straight from its pot of boiling water, plus some of the cooking water to make a sauce.  Add a lot of parm and serve.  And maybe some breadcrumbs, as in this brown butter-broccoli number. Alternatively: make pesto and toss pasta with that. Peanut noodles also count.

3. Soup & sandwich. The soup part can be really simple: broth with veggies or tomato soup. The sandwich could be a grilled cheese, a quesadilla, or even avocado toast. Honestly, the s&s pairing is so solid that two don’t even really have to match, flavor-wise, so whip up whatever you’re in the mood for. Here are some sandwiches and here are some soups. Come summer, consider replacing one of those s’s with a salad.

Cappuccino Marshmallows

Posted by on Friday Feb 20th, 2015

Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find elements, just sugary air fluff, aka marshmallow ingredients. Want even more gf desserts? Check out Natalie’s Lemon Pudding.

Cappuccino is such a delight this time of year. Frothy, fluffy, and satisfying, it’s made even more appealing with the addition of these cappuccino marshmallows, which are also frothy and fluffy as well as satisfyingly sweet. The sweet, coffee-y pillows pair equally well with a coffee drink as they do hot chocolate, or as a treat popped in the mouth as you walk by the kitchen. They are sure to go fast!

Just popping in quickly today to share with you some brilliance from somebody else’s oven. Specifically, Molly Gilbert’s. She’s the author of Sheet Pan Suppers, the blogger/cooking instructor/recipe developer behind Dunk and Crumble, and the dreamer-upper of this simple-to-make, indulgent-to-eat biscuit and bacon breakfast.

The premise of Gilbert’s book is that we’ve too readily limited our idea of one-dish cooking to the pot. When I’m thinking up a simple meal, especially one for a dinner party, my mind definitely flies right to stew, chili, or curry. That’s where one-pot creativity tends to end, and for Gilbert, that was a problem. Here’s what happened when she went to cross the ease of the one-pot dinner with the elegance and satisfaction of roasting, baking, and broiling: one-pan cooking.

Well, if you’re going to be a type, you might as well commit to it, is the kind of thing I think a little hesitantly to myself some nights in my Brooklyn kitchen as I turn on the latest This American Life and get down to work turning that jar of kimchi into dinner so that we can eat and I can blog about it.

Other nights, the pairing angles lower on the culture grid: I press grilled cheese sandwiches into browning butter as I catch up on “The Good Wife,” or pretend that nachos are dinner as accompanied by the drama of “The Bachelor.” Because to peel and julienne a whole host of beets and radishes and apples in the name of treating your body to a well-balanced meal even in the middle of the winter, you might like the carrot of some good entertainment, rather than the stick of utter silence. (Carrot would be good in this lettuce-less salad, too.)

Barbecue Chicken & Cheddar Pizza

Posted by on Thursday Feb 12th, 2015

Well, now you know. When I’m looking to turn a traditionally vegetable-free meal into a dinner I don’t have to make a side-dish vegetable to serve alongside, I automatically add some kale leaves to the soup or the pasta, or, here, the pizza.

There was an article on the wall in the pizzeria I went to growing up about how you could do worse in a desert island food than pizza. You had the carbs, the vegetable, and the protein. You could eat a pie every day. You could eat a slice at every meal. It was a soft sell–you …