Cooking For One

Spicy Red Cabbage and Quinoa Slaw

Posted by on Monday Jul 22nd, 2013

I’m a persistent student of what to have for lunch. With this little salad, I think I’ve reached a new grade level. It’s light but substantial, fun yet everyday, colorful and full of vegetables. Like kale, cabbage is a great base for a make-ahead salad because it becomes more delicious the longer it marinates (rather than soggier).

I serve a slaw of some sort at almost every summer party I host or contribute to. Cabbage is simultaneously hearty and cheap, so grabbing a head or two before a party, slicing it up, and dressing the shreds means you’ll have a vegetarian-friendly, healthful hit on your hands without a lot of work done or money spent. Win.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with different slaw dressings, from cool, creamy mayo-based sauces to sweet vinaigrettes punctuated with fresh herbs. This one, infused with ginger and hot pepper, made tangy with rice vinegar, and sweetened with some sugar, has always been one of my favorites. You heat the dressing before pouring it over the cabbage, a technique that snatches the rawness from the vegetable and leaves it silky yet crunchy.

When lunch rolls around, though, a side-dish-style slaw is not always enough. The real innovation here is the apparently random handful of cooked quinoa, which gives the slaw heft, protein, and the carbs you need to get through the afternoon. A generous portion of peanuts complements the Southeast Asian-inspired flavors and contributes both more protein and more crunch. 

We got our first CSA box this week. The yield so far is manageable, but on Wednesday night, after the pickup, our fridge went from a vessel of condiments and leftover meatballs to a box filled with chard, kale, Chinese broccoli, arugula, and much, much more. It took about an hour to wash, prep, and store the whole yield. Work–but good work.

After that, there was a bit of prioritizing, weighing what I wanted to eat first with what would wilt and grow slimy if we didn’t cook it in twenty-four hours. Radish greens topped that list. Have you ever watched radish greens wilt in the fridge?

It’s gross. I wash, dry, and store them like this, which helps. But yesterday morning, I made a point of cooking them into my lunch. (You can also turn them into pesto.)

The onslaught of vegetables is going to change our cooking this summer, no doubt about it. I can’t wait to document it here! My first foray has confirmed what I suspected about our diet this season, though. We’re going to be eating a lot of bowl meals. All these fresh greens seem to beg for a simple preparation, a sauté, perhaps with herbs, set over a bowl of grains.

So before it’s too late, I wanted to share a base for bowl meals that’s not simply rice or quinoa but a mix of grains.

To make this combo, I set a pot of water to boil as if I were cooking spaghetti, and then pour in whichever grains, timing the cooking so that no one grain gets overcooked. I love the versatility of the method, because it accounts for the different cooking times of each element. The resulting dish also makes the lesser-loved grains, like millet, more palatable.

Whole Wheat BBQ Chicken Pockets

Posted by on Tuesday May 28th, 2013

When we started Big Girls, Small Kitchen, we didn’t do any real market research. That’s typical of blogging, or at least it was in 2008. We simply figured that other twentysomethings suffered from the same limited resources–space, time, money, skill–that we did. We tried to sympathize with their cooking hang-ups and hoped they would sympathize with ours.

Recently, in a brainstorming session, a business mentor of mine asked a roomful of people where they got their recipes. His purpose, to show me to think about the competition, quickly became clear. But that competition was different than I imagined, according to my randomly selected, totally unscientific sample. While I went in believing I’d hear about the other blogs my colleagues were reading, instead I learned that they cooked from “family recipes,” “my head,” and “recipes from the back of the box.”

Humbled by my blog-centric thinking, I soon found myself inspired to read recipes on the back of every box I encountered. The kosher salt carton. The Annie’s soba noodle packet (make that dressing!). The package of grated cheddar cheese.

The latter is where I first came upon the idea of barbecue chicken wraps, an idea that lodged itself in the recipe-ideation zone of my brain.

I hope you don’t scoff that these are lowbrow, just because of where I got the idea. You, too, must have some family recipe that really came from the back of the bag of chocolate chips or the can of sweetened condensed milk. Right?

You know how when you learn a new word, you suddenly hear it everywhere–in books, articles, and coming out of people’s mouths? Or how, when you make new friends, you don’t know what you spent your Saturdays doing before you met them? When I was in school, I loved the convergence of different subjects, how what you were learning in math could somehow become relevant in history class.

Since I’ve been exploring Middle Eastern food, I’ve noticed newly learned techniques pop up everywhere and flavor combinations that first seemed improbable appear completely sensical. Had I missed the fact that you could temper yogurt with egg or flour and use it to make a creamy soup? Is sumac the new smoked paprika?

Yet the more I read, taste, and cook, the more I notice continuity between what I already enjoy and what’s eaten in Lebanon, Turkey, Armenia, and Egypt. In fact, the third time I read about that yogurt soup in Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, I realized it bore a similarity to one of the first dishes I ever got in the habit of cooking for myself, a pasta dish I wrote about in In the Small Kitchen, which uses egg, yogurt, and pasta water to create a creamy, slightly tangy, no-cook sauce for pasta. In fact, one version of the soup actually has vermicelli noodles in it.

Taking inspiration from the convergence of an old favorite and a new-to-me technique, I made a 2013 version of my old favorite yogurt pasta. I cut down on the Parmesan cheese, three tablespoons of which has always seemed so comforting, and ramped up the flavor with herbs–mint and thyme–and scallions. I used fresh versions but you could use dried.

The Salad [Dressing] I Can’t Get Enough Of

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 10th, 2013

As much as I love eating chocolate, cooking spaghetti, and sharing cookies with friends, I don’t love reading about food. I haven’t read Anthony Bourdain or Feeding a Yen or anything by Julia Child. My foodie reading taps out after recipe intros and exposes about processed food (which, okay, I could read about a million of. Also love reading about nutrition. Anyway.)

A few weeks ago an article about salad in the New York Times Magazine changed my feelings about pure and simple food writing. The piece was about Canlis, a top restaurant in Seattle I’ve never been to, and it was practically a hagiography–to salad. The salad uses the best steakhouse standards, writes Sam Sifton, beginning with romaine lettuce, bacon, croutons, cherry tomatoes.

Rapt, I kept reading. The salad had more to offer. Mint, oregano, scallions. And a dressing made from lemon, olive oil, and a single coddled egg which emulsifies and enriches the dressing without killing off the citrus’s tanginess or becoming heavy, like some vinaigrettes. The salad sounded good, but I knew it was the dressing I would make first. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Seriously.

In the five weeks since I read that ode to Canlis’s salad, I’ve made the dressing half a dozen times. I use different vegetables as a vehicle for conveying it to my mouth, but this combination of crunchy romaine, sweet fennel, and slightly bitter radicchio is my favorite. Don’t skimp on the cheese here, which adds saltiness and makes the salad reminiscent of good old-fashioned caesar.

P.S. Here’s another of my favorite salad dressings and a video about whisking together vinaigrettes.

The other day, I accidentally went to Flushing, Queens.

From Bayside, Queens, which is really far away from Prospect Heights, I got on a Q27 bus in the wrong direction. Twenty-four years of life in New York is apparently not enough to inoculate against public transit mishaps.

In Flushing sits one of the city’s three Chinatowns. I had long wanted to visit. But as I already said, it’s far from home. Now that I was here, albeit accidentally, I decided to make the most of my afternoon, despite it being snowy and there being work waiting for me back in Brooklyn. First stop: enormous supermarket.

In addition to the inexpensive produce, my favorite shelves were these two: curry mixes and hundreds of ramen in a million flavors.

In the end, I bought a big pack of soba noodles, another pack of rice noodles, and a beautiful Napa cabbage that cost 99 cents. Before I boarded the 7 train, I also bought some pork and chive dumplings at Zhu Ji, on Serious Eats’ recommendation.

Then I went home and I put my Flushing booty in my vegetable drawer and messier-by-the-day pantry and forgot about the noodles and the cabbage. Luckily, Napa cabbage is hearty. This is how it looked a week in, when I finally decided to stir-fry it with onion and soba and douse the rich sautéed cabbage in my favorite noodle sauce made from soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar.

White Bean & Arugula-Walnut Pesto Tartines

Posted by on Wednesday Feb 27th, 2013

Last week, I’d finally had it with the old, super-tiny photo of me that I’d been using as my internet avatar and in the about section of this site. In the image, I’m not even looking at the camera, and my poor cropping job has severed my lower arms. Call me vain, but as someone who uses the word “I” about fifty times in every post, I can’t blame a reader for wanting to see an image, to figure out who that “I” person is. I certainly do when I visit other blogs.

Rima Campbell, photographer and founder of bkstyled - a site she started with the lovable mantra “because I believe in Brooklyn” – was kind enough to come by and take some new photos of me in my small kitchen, and that shoot has become this post, because I love how the images came out.

I decided to pose in front of my overstuffed bookshelf, a piece of furniture emblematic of the small kitchen’s perpetual war with clutter. The shelves once held actual books but now bear the weight of jars of flour and beans, my two LeCreuset pots, my cake stand, and my old-fashioned analog kitchen scale, plus my substantial napkin and dish towel collection–both clean and dirty.

For the shoot, I decided to prepare two simple open-faced sandwiches. One, with avocado and radish, is an old favorite. The second, a newer combo, is made up of two condiments easily whipped up in the food processor: white bean spread and arugula-walnut pesto. That pairing was really delightful, light, almost springy, like a vacation from gloomy February. It reminded me how much I love white bean spread, which is insanely simple to make. (I don’t need to be reminded of my affection for pesto.)

Since the tartines turned out more exciting than I expected and because Rima shot gorgeous photos of the food, I decided to celebrate the arrival of my new about photo, which’ll be appearing as well on a slightly revamped sidebar soon, by sharing the recipe for them with you.