Minimalist Polenta, Three Ways

Posted by on Thursday Jul 31st, 2014

When you’re on the road, how quickly do you get sick of take-out and packaged snacks? For me, it’s about 30 seconds and/or four bites into my first mediocre buffet. That’s why I came up with three variations on one awesome recipe that you can make even in a basic on-the-go kitchen. Watch the video to see what I made.

WATCH NOW: 3 Polenta Recipes So Easy You Can Make ‘Em in a Hotel Kitchen!

At Extended Stay America, every room has a kitchen (not a mini kitchen, not a hot plate, but the real thing–equipped with a pot, a pan, bowls, utensils, a cutting board, and a knife–among other essentials). Inspired by the recipes guests were whipping up in their rooms, the hotel chain created the Cooking Away from Home Recipe Contest to let traveling cooks submit their best recipes for meals you can make on the road, without access to your stocked at-home pantry. You can vote for a recipe here.

So, what makes a recipe good for cooking when you’re not at home? Most importantly for me, the recipe has to require just a few ingredients, all of which are available at regular grocery stores, preferably in single serving sizes or at the self-serve antipasti bar or bulk section. If you plan ahead, you can pack olive oil, salt, nuts, and grains–like polenta. (Milk, sardines, almonds, butter, and beer each make an appearance here in part because of their single-serving packaging.)

Since polenta is kind of a blank canvas, I thought I’d encourage you to vote in the ESA contest by cooking on camera, showing off this cinch of a recipe for soft polenta and three great toppings, all easy to make on the road and enticing after a day of travel, meetings, or sight-seeing. Read on for the full recipes!

This post is sponsored by Extended Stay America. Read more about Away from Home Cooking, vote for a contest winner here, and share using #cookwithESA. If you’re excited to have a full-size kitchen next time you travel, book your stay at Extended Stay America. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that keep Big Girls, Small Kitchen delicious!

The Healthiest “Food Porn” on the Internet

Posted by on Wednesday Jul 30th, 2014

When I meet someone who’s just poked through Big Girls, Small Kitchen for the first time, especially if we meet around 11am or maybe 4:30pm, he or she often says to me, “I’m so hungry now!” and then I say, “that’s my intention.”

It’s cute enough repartee, but in fact the conversation masks something I’m not entirely comfortable with: tempting you. The best way I’ve found to stay healthy in a world full of temptations is to eat three meals a day that are relatively straightforward, meaning tasty but not indulgent (you know, lots of vegetables, whole grains and good bread, some meat and fish, some cheese, enough fat to make it all delicious: more or less what mom would tell you to eat). That means I try to keep treats (sugary things, gooey things, fried things, and expensive things) in my life, but as treats. Still, I recognize that it doesn’t always seem that way if I’ve just posted about mango sorbet, followed by rainbow cake, followed by filet mignon.

That tendency to prioritize our treats in our Internet food photos has created something of an imbalance, according to Bolthouse Farms, whose whimsical, yet serious Food Porn Index tracks how healthy the internet is by comparing the number of healthy food images shared against unhealthy ones. Go play around.

So to round out that sorbet, cake, and steak, I hope you’ll give these Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and turnips their due. I also put together a pinboard called “The Healthiest Food Porn on the Internet” in order to feature food images, including many recipes from Big Girls, Small Kitchen, that are gorgeous and also truly nourishing. See below, and please repin your heart out over on pinterest.

Follow Cara / Big Girls, Small Kitchen’s board The Healthiest “Food Porn” on the Internet on Pinterest.

And so, yes, now you’ve gazed at a lot of food, and yes, if you read this at 11am you might be feeling hungrier than you did before. But maybe that means you’ll go eat a hummus-and-avocado wrap for lunch instead of a burger and fries, or better yet, go home and make a really good dinner for yourself, perhaps inspired by something on the healthy pinterest board. Balance, which basically requires that you cook well at home, really is the way to go.

This post is sponsored by Bolthouse Farms, who also created the Food Porn Index in an effort to correct the healthy-to-unhealthy ratio in food images on the ‘net. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that keep BGSK delicious!

Eggy Zucchini Bake

Posted by on Monday Jul 21st, 2014

Well, look what we have here. An old Pyrex pan. A brownish green square. The most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten (or so says Alex).

A few years ago, I got into the habit of turning leftover rice into this gratin, a recipe saved from an old Splendid Table newsletter. I wouldn’t say this was a frequent habit, but every six months, when there was leftover rice and not much else, I’d whip up a few eggs, shred some cheese, sauté whatever was green that I could find, and scrape the batter into a baking pan. Each time, I’d scoff: “Well, this is a humble one.” And each time, Alex would take his first bite and tell me: “You could make this every night.” He loves that dish.

By the third or fourth instance of our evenings playing out exactly like the above, I realized that the leftover had risen above leftover status. I’d have to figure out how to make the eggy, cheesy vegetable-laden (four whole zucchini go in!) dish intentionally.

Four odd years later, I got around to it, and I owe this welcome update to the the jar of fresh breadcrumbs caught my eye. I more or less collect heels and nubs and stale crusts of bread in the back of the fridge, and one day, fed up with all the separately wrapped and very hard pieces, I made a lifetime’s worth of breadcrumbs in my blender. Now I have a jar of fresh breadcrumbs that’s a lot less painful to behold–and the inspiration for this simple dinner.

With vegetable-rice gratin in mind and breadcrumbs in the jar, I updated that old gratin recipe into this easy, healthful bake. Besides making Alex a really happy guy, there are a lot of uses for this. You can cut small squares and pack them as protein-rich snacks. A bigger piece, cold, would be excellent between two slices of focaccia, like a frittata sandwich. And because this has eggs, bread, vegetables, and cheese, I think you could make the argument that it is viable as breakfast, lunch, or dinner–or all three.

Mixed Berry Frozen Lemonade

Posted by on Wednesday Jul 16th, 2014

Natalie of Good Girl Style is back today with an afternoon refreshment that’ll make light of the heaviest humidity. Part sweet, part drink, these slushie-like lemonades are unbeatable in the heat. Natalie 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 ingredients, just good old-fashioned butter, sugar, fruit, and lemons. Don’t miss her other frozen posts, about Coffee Granita and Easy Mango Sorbet with Coconut Cream.

On a hot summer day, little is more refreshing than an ice cold lemonade. Unless that lemonade is actually blended with ice to make it a slushie, and topped with berry compote for the perfect blend of sweet and sour. You’ll definitely want to take the time to squeeze the lemons yourself. Bottled lemon juice is convenient but it may leave a bitter or metallic taste…not so refreshing!

Go ahead and juice the lemons when you have time and the juice will keep in a mason jar with a lid in the refrigerator for a week or so. The simple syrup can also be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator. Add ice–and this drink comes together in a flash. Of course the frozen lemonade can be served alone, but the berries add a nice color contrast and flavor mix. Use whatever berries you have handy. I used strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

Som Tam-Style Broccoli

Posted by on Monday Jul 14th, 2014

On our last night in Thailand, we crashed at a hotel a few minutes from the airport. Not one to allow my final Thai meal to be a tasteless hotel pizza, I convinced Alex to venture back out to the Bangkok streets, ignoring that our flight out left in a couple of hours. I was sure I’d seen, and smelled, a stall serving something good and cheap on our winding taxi ride over.

We pointed to the larb-like substance that the vendor was frying up for the customer ahead of us. Two, we motioned. And rice.

We sat at picnic tables lit with florescent bulbs, waiting for the food. Mosquitoes ate our legs. The dogs at the table next to us barked viciously. We felt like interlopers. Two weeks in country hadn’t made us any more comfortable ordering food whose names we couldn’t decipher, and though when our larb was ready, we tried to embrace the adventure of eating it, we failed at that too. Thai food is as much about blood sausage and tripe as it is about the sugar-lime contrast of Pad Thai noodles or the chili-lemongrass spice of a bowl of curry (follow Andy Ricker of Pok Pok on Instagram if you want to really have this hammered in). And our larb had a whole lot of tripe…or something. Those 14 days of traveling proved not enough time to learn  to enjoy a plate of mysterious Thai street meat either (the flavor was good, admittedly, and we spooned some of the sauce over our rice and ate that to preserve some dignity). We walked back to the hotel, scratching our mosquito bites, and we asked for pizzas in the hotel lobby.

Of course, we had eaten a lot of great food on the trip, much of it adventurous. As a bookend to the larb-stand disaster, on our first night in Bangkok, we had the most incredible meal. After a blurry day spent pointing at potentially tasty market delicacies (some good, some odd), we fought jet lag and went out for dinner to a place Rivka had recommended, called Soul Food. We ordered as per Rivka’s rec too, a plate of yam som-o, pomelo salad. I wondered if, after the markets, we’d find the food at this restaurant, with its English menu, authentic enough. Naturally, the meal was one of the most delicious ones we ate.

After that first bite of yam som-o, I sought the dish on menus everywhere. If it wasn’t listed, we ordered som tam, papaya salad with a similar set of flavors, instead. And in fact there were lots of salads and dishes that showed off the puckery, hot, and sweet combination of flavors as yam som-o and som tam, a likeable trio that followed us back to our kitchen and appears with a good bit of frequency, especially when I have quantities of extra vegetables lying around.

Toasted Almond & Cherry Custard Pie

Posted by on Thursday Jul 10th, 2014

Well, if we’re going on a cherry binge, we’re going to have to pair bunches of them with almonds.

They’re related, cherries and almonds, and that’s why their flavors complement each other so, so perfectly. In truth, I am not normally a pie person, but I make an exception for custardy pies, like lemon and shoofly, and especially for almond-y custard pies like this Toasted Almond & Cherry Custard Pie.

To make the almond-kissed dairy-free custard in this pie, I take inspiration from one of my all-time favorite summer desserts, the clafoutis. In a clafoutis, a small amount of flour added to the custard prevents the eggs from curdling. That means you don’t have to be a pie whisperer to win at this custard pie. You don’t have to be careful or precise, at all.

Almond Breeze Almond Milk jumpstarts the almond flavor; both almond extract and sliced almonds pump up the taste even more. (See all my Almond Breeze recipes here.)

Likewise, the crust: it’s press in! I know a lot of people detest rolling out pie dough, and hopefully there are quarter-lifers among you who don’t even own a rolling pin (hopefully, because I think that it’s sort of something to be proud of…minimalism and whatnot). No matter. Here, after moistening flour with oil and more almond milk, simply press the crust into your pan. It’s okay if the edges are a little rough.

Into that easy-to-make shell go pitted cherries and this famous almond custard–then, sliced almonds are sprinkled on top.

There is a similar pie in A Baker’s Dairy-Free Dozen–only that one’s made with coconut. Don’t miss either!

Open-Faced Avocado & Red Pesto Sandwich

Posted by on Monday Jul 7th, 2014

This weekend, we made and ate a lot of food, as I hope you did too. Dinners involved grilled steak, pulled pork sandwiches, and mac ‘n cheese. For breakfast, we cooked doughboys, biscuit dough squeezed onto s’mores sticks and roasted over a fire, then stuffed with butter and strawberry jam. At lunch, we made sandwich after sandwich. There were so many fillings and spreads at hand that sandwich-making inevitably turned into a game show.

That’s fine by me. I’m competitive, and sandwich making is an art worthy of judgement. The right proportions are part of the championship formula, as are the right mix of textures. At the very least, you’ll want some spicy or pungent ingredients, and some that are more mild. When a sandwich errs on the side of too mild, I reach for the sun-dried tomatoes, which deliver a serious punch to creamy components like mozzarella or avocado.

And so when Carly, whom you know from taking the beautiful photos herehere, and here, told me about an open-faced sandwich she loved that featured mild avocado and bright sun-dried tomato pesto, I couldn’t wait to get the post and photos up on the site. Here’s what Carly says about this delicious five-ingredient number:

This sandwich was born out of a moment when, scouring the cupboards in a moment of hunger, something random came together and worked. Really worked. A friend had introduced me to a similar sandwich, with cottage cheese and avocado slices, but being without cottage cheese, I put together this alternative, which has now surpassed the original. A bold red pesto complements the creaminess of a well-ripened avocado creating a rich, satisfying flavor.

Have a five-ingredient sandwich you adore? Tell me in the comments, and I’ll add it to the repertoire. See the first two posts in the series here.