Big Girls Global Kitchens

Fèves aux Lardons

Posted by on Thursday May 14th, 2015

Pairing your book with your trip is an important task. Even when my backpack is stuffed and I know I won’t have oodles of time to read because I’m going to be visiting every church in Barcelona, I have to pack at least a mini bookshelf. Although racing through Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy while sunning (ok, shading) on the beach may be an impossible combination to beat on the life satisfaction meter, one of my favorite ways to forge a successful match, in general, is to overlap a book’s setting or subject with the place where I’m heading.

Here are a few of my favorite combinations from past trips:

A flyover-state road trip + Ian Frazier’s Great Plains (to be supplemented with a visit to South Dakota and a read through On the Rez)

A bike around Provence + Peter Mayles’ A Year in Provence (Provence, 1970 would be a good one too)

The Sacred Valley in Peru + Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Macchu Pichu

Morocco + Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House

A couple weeks ago, I was collecting possibilities for our recent vacation to France, Spain, and Portugal (about which more soon) when I saw I’d missed the mark in terms of locality. The book I was already reading took place in North Carolina and the one on deck would transport me to Dubai. But then, at the last minute, I borrowed an audiobook from the Brooklyn Public Library, another Peter Mayles one but this time a novel called The Marseille Caper. Halfway through the actual journey, we boarded our train from Barcelona to Marseille, and I pressed play.

Cacio E Pepe

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 29th, 2015

Pasta is important when you want to feed yourself well on a regular basis, and so I’m delighted to introduce a new post by Carly Diaz, one that’s about loving pasta in its homeland, Italy, and bringing it back home to the kitchen. Don’t miss her last story, about gyeongdan–Korean sweet rice cakes.

There is nothing that makes you feel like you’ve crossed over into adulthood like boarding a plane unaccompanied and destined for an international adventure on your own. When I was 20, I headed to Rome for a summer abroad program comprised of two courses: Roman Art and Architecture and Italian Film. Unofficially, I planned to study how to fill myself with pasta and vino on a student budget. It was my first experience traveling alone in a foreign country and I was eager to seem confident as I explored all aspect of Italian culture, especially its cuisine.

On the first evening at student orientation, I was introduced to Roman-style pizza topped with potatoes. Carb overload and delicious. The next day, I went to a restaurant in a few streets down from my apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood. I can’t recall what drew me to that particular restaurant, but I vividly remember the ravioli and how I nearly melted into my plate at the first bite.

I was completely sold on ravioli, ordering it at nearly every restaurant until I found myself in a small village on the outskirts of Rome renowned for its gnocchi that restaurants cooked up every Wednesday. Then I was ordering gnocchi at every turn.

I had consumed plenty of pasta in my life, but eating pasta in Italy is an experience unto itself. Each dish was better than the last, I thought it couldn’t get any better. And then, I was told I needed to try cacio e pepe. “It’s pasta with cheese and pepper. Delicious!” Not exactly an award-winning sales pitch, but I was dedicated to culinary exploration. The next time I saw cacio e pepe on a restaurant menu, I reluctantly passed over the ravioli, gnocchi and tortellini and ordered a plate. Delivered steaming, the twirls of noodles looked unremarkable. As I plunged my fork into the bowl, I observed an abundance of melting cheese and flakes of pepper.

The Food Markets of Cuba

Posted by on Thursday Apr 23rd, 2015

In Cuba last month, I kept my eyes on the food.

Hi readers. I’m currently on my way back from vacation, so from afar, I’m delighted to introduce this post, by Carly Diaz, one that’ll transport us to the kitchens of Korea. It’s a recipe for gyeongdan–Korean sweet rice cakes–and a story about learning to love them. 

The first time I tasted sweet red bean paste, I nearly choked. It was the summer of 2006, the air was thick with humidity and the sound of cicadas. Everywhere around me were bright lights, loud music, street carts, and hired girls dancing in front of an electronics shop as part of the grand opening celebration. I had recently moved to Seoul in a post-graduation flurry and planned to spend the next 12 months writing, applying to grad schools, and teaching English.

In my defense, I was given the bean-filled pastry and told it was the Korean-version of a cream-filled doughnut. Instead of a light cream, I received a mouthful of thick beans. And not just any beans. Sweet beans. It would not be the last time that an unfamiliar taste heightened the sense that I was in foreign territory. That first taste of sweet red beans marked the slow transition of the unfamiliar to the familiar. Over the next year, the wholly unfamiliar world of South Korea would become one that I navigated with relative ease, one bite at a time.

In September, during the Korean harvest festival Chuseok, I was confronted with the sweet red bean paste again when I received a box of songpyeon. The traditional moon-shaped Chuseok dessert is made with sweet rice flour and filled with the paste. I nimbly took a bite and found that I liked it. It wasn’t the kind of confection I had grown up with, but there was something about the sticky rice cake and the subtly sweet, earthy, protein-y richness of the red beans that appealed to my acclimating taste buds.

Stamppot

Posted by on Monday Mar 2nd, 2015

This winter has gotten me hungry for travel, and I’m delighted to introduce this post, by Carly Diaz, which transports us to the kitchens of Amsterdam. It’s a recipe for a traditional mashed potato and kale dish called Stamppot that I know we should make one of our wintry edible traditions back home.

Stamppot is one of the most traditional dishes in the Netherlands, a straight-from-grandma’s-kitchen kind of meal. Hearty and simple, it can be bought ready-made from the ubiquitous Dutch grocery store chain Albert Heijn or easily made at home. Translated as “mash pot,” it is essentially mashed potatoes and vegetables with a sausage on the side, and the recipe can easily be customized to your preferences and the contents of your fridge.

This quintessential meal perfectly captures the Dutch spirit of pragmatism. Stamppot is a utilitarian dish through and through – meant to fill the belly using inexpensive ingredients that are readily available pretty much year round. You can easily picture a working-class Dutch family in a century past gathered around the table with steaming plates of Stamppot. The dish has staying power though and remains a favorite today.

Although I lived in Amsterdam for nearly seven years, I only had Stamppot a handful of times: at a kitschy Dutch-food restaurant, as a half-joke at a going-away party for a colleague (part-joke because there is nothing very festive about Stamppot and part-serious because it was actually his favorite food), and at home when I received a large bunch of endive in my weekly CSA with an accompanying Stamppot recipe. But once I moved back home to Portland, Oregon, making Stamppot kept me connected to the country I called home for so many years.

We fell in love with Indian food when I was in seventh grade. By we, I somehow mean my entire world at once. Friends and family converged at this one Upper West Side restaurant, all of us craving potato samosas, saag paneer, and chicken tikka masala at the same time, and often. It was 1997, and I guess we’d been busy eating the cuisine of the 90s, whatever that was, and when it came to light that there were delicious and deeply flavorful stews and rice pilafs, not to mention naan and poori, that we’d been missing all this time, we decided to eat our fill. We also all loved vegetarian main dishes, and Indian cuisine has got those aplenty.

Ever since those dinners, starting in middle school, I’ve loved Indian food–I’ve taken cooking classes, explored neighborhood restaurants, and tried my hand at curry pastes at home. Despite this, I haven’t branched out that much, menu-wise, in what I order at restaurants.

Then one cold night in January, I met my friend Anika for Indian food at a local place she’d found, and she–daughter of an excellent Indian home cook–told me that there was a new dish she’d never had til recently. She introduced me to paneer bhurji that night, and in a way it made me fall in love with Indian food all over again, the vast array of sub-cuisines and whole undiscovered dishes (which makes sense, since India is enormous and diverse!). Thanks to this paneer preparation, I jumped back into my at-home Indian cooking journey and decided I’d figure out how to make paneer bhurji at home. Like vegetable korma, paneer bhurji is a meatless dish that pairs beautifully with warm naan.

Paneer bhurji uses paneer, the blank slate that many Indian vegetarian meals center around. I’m sure you’ve eaten your fill of saag paneer, but maybe not tried paneer in other ways. I hadn’t either. But here, instead of being fried in whole cubes, the paneer gets crumbled and scrambled, and the result is totally different. The flavor given to the blank slate derives from cumin, toasted in oil at the beginning, pinches of a couple other spices in the vein of garam masala, then lemon to balance the flavors. Essentially, this is a simple dish, something you might eat for weekend lunch instead of scrambled eggs. In the summer, you could throw in seasonal vegetables and nix the peas.

Unlike paneer dishes, naan is hard to make at home, and that’s where Stonefire comes in. The company makes traditional naan in its high-tech ovens, which mimic the intense heat of an actual ancient tandoor oven, a heat that can’t be replicated in a home kitchen. I like to keep the naan in the freezer (it comes in four flavors), then warm in my oven and brush butter before serving. Stonefire’s recipe uses both buttermilk and ghee and gets its teardrop shape from being hand stretched. Also, naan can be a great last-minute crust for pizza!

This post was sponsored by Stonefire. Figure out where to get your own naan on Stonefire’s store finder. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that keep Big Girls, Small Kitchen delicious!

I’m back from an extraordinary trip to France. I wandered through Paris by foot, I biked the hills of Provence, sipping un café in every pretty small town, and I got into the sunny spirit of Montpellier, a college town with a Mediterranean spirit.

I ate croissants at every turn, sampled the goat cheese from each region of Provence, and plucked grapes right from the vine. I indulged in steak and frites, smeared my baguette with foie gras, and sipped glass after glass of wine, red and white. I admired how mealtime, in France, delivers as much joy from the co-diners as the (really good) food, and I loved watching how little anxiety sits between a Frenchwoman and her meal.

I thought I’d share some images of the trip. They’re mainly focused in three areas: pretty landscapes featuring the region’s abundant produce, adorably old small towns, and food. There are a few more details at the bottom, in case you’re planning a trip!

Let’s start at Les Baux, a town originally settled by the Romans…