How To

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.

How To Make Chopped Salad at Home

Posted by on Friday Jan 9th, 2015

Some office lunch staples just aren’t so good. But some are. Pretty much whenever I don’t pack a lunch, I seek out my day’s servings of vegetables at one of the chopped salad joints that have colonized NYC. Not even the lines can put me off. When you discover a way to make vegetables truly palatable, people line up, especially in January.

In my tastings, I’ve gotten to be pretty good at choosing the right mix of salad ingredients. But I wanted to know more about prep, assembly, and chopping, and so I turned to Nick Kenner, founder and managing partner of Just Salad, which has more than 20 international locations.

From Nick, I learned enough about salad to whip up this Mexican Chicken Chopped Salad (with manchego, red kuri squash, and creamy chipotle dressing) easily and well. Want to get chopping too? You should read all about salad over at First We Feast.

How Expert Cooks Do Easy

Posted by on Friday Nov 28th, 2014

The Thanksgiving feast is hard to execute and tastes delicious. But that doesn’t mean that all delicious meals are hard, welcome news on this weekend after the biggest cooking event of the year.

A few weeks ago, I asked an assortment of my favorite chefs, cookbook authors, and bloggers for the dishes they make that are deceptively simple yet outrageously delicious. The ones that require little effort but deliver a huge payoff. I wanted to point you to it today, because once I’m done gorging on leftovers, that’s the kind of food I’ll want to make. See the dishes, from salt-crusted fish to crispy fried eggs, over on First We Feast.

You’d think that a move between two apartments two blocks apart would be easy. But the distance from apartment #1 to #2 turns out to matter a whole lot less than the number of years you’ve hoarded kitchen equipment in the old place (four) and the sum of stair flights to be climbed between the pair of Brooklyn walk-ups (six and a half). Two blocks can be long indeed. We were going to need some help.

How to Make the Best Parm at Home

Posted by on Thursday Sep 25th, 2014

We grew up with chicken parm (served with French fries!) on the dinner rotation. Man, I loved that meal. Then, for a while, I neither made nor ate parm. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe it had too many steps. Maybe red sauce Italian would just never fully be okay again.

Yet with the emergence of Parm as an NYC restaurant force, the dish is truly back. I decided to figure out the best methods for making it, plus suss out where it came from in the first place, what’s authentic when it comes to parm, and if you really need to bread eggplant and let frying crumbs splatter in your face to make a great dish.

You can read the full piece, with recipes and tips, over at First We Feast.

I started Big Girls, Small Kitchen because I love to cook at home–obviously. But when I’m inspired by the cuisine of a far-flung place, sometimes it’s hard to find the right ingredients to follow even a simple recipe, and the only option is to go out. To equip ourselves to cook any cuisine in the confines of our small kitchens, we’re sending contributor Lauren Rothman off to visit the Russian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Greek, and Italian supermarkets of New York City. Her shopping expeditions will yield the specialty ingredients we need in order to make the food we’re craving at home these days.

Today, Lauren’s off to Bangkok Center Grocery, a Thai emporium in New York City, located in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Will the store have everything she needs for pad see ew and som tum?

Here’s Lauren:

As an avid home cook and an enthusiastic eater of New York City’s myriad cuisines, my appreciation of southeast Asian dishes goes way back—all the way to middle school, when some like-minded friends and I (read: total geeks) formed an “ethnic” cooking club. As de facto president, it was my responsibility, each month, to comb through my mother’s extensive selection of cookbooks and select the 4 or 5 recipes that club members and I would prepare together before sitting down to feast. Ostensibly, any type of fare could be eligible for the “ethnic” moniker, but over and over again, I found myself drawn to fragrant Indian rice pilafs; bright, cilantro-and-mint-stuffed Vietnamese summer rolls; and, above all, fiery, fish sauce-heavy Thai curries and noodles. More often than not, the cooking club sat down to a meal redolent of galangal, palm sugar and Thai basil.

Part of the fun of preparing for these monthly feasts was the excuse, as an intrepid young subway rider, to hop a train to parts of the city previously unknown to a brownstone Brooklyn native, in order to seek out those exotic ingredients. That’s how, all those years ago, I first discovered what remains my favorite Manhattan source for Thai ingredients: Bangkok Center Grocery. A tiny, supremely well-stocked store located on Chinatown’s Mosco Street, Bangkok Center crams all the essentials of larger southeast Asian groceries onto its well-curated shelves, from fish sauce and dried shrimp to fresh herbs and bitter melon.

Make the Best Burritos at Home

Posted by on Saturday Aug 23rd, 2014

In college, this joint Felipe’s opened up not far from my dorm, and everyone started going there for burritos and tacos all the time. Though my classmates from San Francisco and other parts of Boston were acquainted with the assembly-line format of this sort of burrito place, I was amused and amazed to watch the burrito assemblers go. Tortilla: steamed! Cheese: melted! Beans: scooped! Meat: chopped! Sour cream: gobbed on! Burrito: rolled. Go, go, go.

Though you don’t really want to be in the business of making small batches of burritos, because where’s the assembly line fun in that, you might want to add these to your repertoire if a) you’re having a party or b) you could eat burritos all day, every day. I interviewed one of the founders of Dos Toros and tested the formula at home to make burrito-making more approachable. You can read the full piece, with recipes and tips, over at First We Feast.