Beet & Olive Fritters

Beet & Olive Fritters | Big Girl Small Kitchen

Ordinarily, frying food for guests falls outside my comfortable cooking bubble. And then every so often, the power of suggestion gets me in front of a boiling pot of oil, and, without too much work or splatter, crisp fritters emerge.

Cheesy Olive Bread

Cheesy Olive Bread | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Every few months, still, my sister Kate and I text each other about our 2008 trip to Spain. We remember the yellow-painted houses of Cordoba, the bread baked with ham inside it, and the olives. Most of all, we remember those olives.

Our favorite were big green olives–crisp, fresh, just a little briny. I wasn’t sure at the time, but I think now they were probably Manzanillas, one of Spain’s best. We went through huge platters of them while we drank beers or waited for our bread baked with ham inside.

Avocado & Squash Kale Salad

Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen Squash and Avocado Salad | Big Girls Small Kitchen Discussion of favorite foods always breaks the ice, doesn’t it? I remember how in every new situation, from summer program orientations to freshman move-in, conversation with brand new acquaintances would quickly turn on the best of the bad options in the dining hall or the foods we missed most from home.

Small Kitchen, Massive Pan

Singapore Noodles in a Huge Pan

Over the weekend, we toured a submarine. In the bunks, the engine room, and the galley kitchen, every gadget fit neatly into the storage space available. Compactness was the going criterion, and minimalism the approach. Was there a small kitchen tip here?

I thought about it. You would imagine we’d want to mimic this efficiency in a city kitchen of limited size, that we’d want to own only those pots that stack like a puzzle in our tiny cabinet. But that mindset doesn’t take into account a cooking truth, that even in small kitchen, bigger is sometimes better. Get me off this submarine!

I’m talking about bigger in terms of surface area. So much of a food’s flavor comes from the browning that happens when squash or garlic or beef is exposed to heat. Crowd a skillet or throw too many mushrooms onto a baking sheet, and you’ll have steamed mush, not crispy golden delicacies. On top of that, you’ll make less of a mess: fewer pots of rice will boil over, fewer squares of tofu will fly out of the pan, and grease splatters will decorate less of your kitchen wall. Go big, I’m serious.

In other words, this quick post is written just to encourage you to buy the 12-inch skillet instead of the 8-inch one when you’re stocking your kitchen. Reach for it when you caramelize onions, stir-fry squash, and simmer perfect pasta and sauce. Even if you’re cooking for one or two, let your ingredients have the run of the kitchen, let them enjoy the full expanse of your XL pots and pans.

(Pictured: Singapore Curry Noodles in a bigger-than-usual pan.)


Homemade Veggie Burgers

Veg Burger | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Veggie burgers have long showed up as fake meat patties that taste awful or vegetable pancakes that turn to mush upon chewing. Chicken sandwiches and ramen have recently left behind mediocre pasts; why can’t veggie burgers too? I decided I’d find out for First We Feast.

Veg Burger | Big Girls Small KitchenVeg Burger | Big Girls Small KitchenVeg Burger | Big Girls Small Kitchen

My discovery? Making a batch of veggie burgers is time-consuming, a limiting factor. Whereas your beef burger entails slapping ground beef at a hot pan, making veggie burger mix means coaxing a lot of different ingredients to serve your purposes in a lot of different ways. No one step is hard, but you’ll need to soak one grain while you toast another, roast mushrooms while you caramelize onions, and then ask your food processor to grind like it’s never ground before.

Veg Burger | Big Girls Small Kitchen

I learned all this from a few bright lights in a world where restaurants make their own ketchup but microwave veggie burgers from a supermarket package – and used their wisdom as my guide.

Those bright lights are several pretty highlevel chefs who have suddenly committed to the veggie burger and toyed with techniques until they created something great. They experimented with grains and legumes and “meaty” vegetables like beets and mushrooms to turn out burgers that look appealing, taste better, and might make carnivores forego beef at least sometimes. Interviewing these pioneers to find out what they did to redeem the VB allowed me to head back to the kitchen and figure out how to make a worthy patty at home.

You can read the full article I wrote over on First We Feast, but I wanted to post the actual recipe back here.

Crumble Topping

Crumble Topping | Big Girls Small Kitchen

When we choose a muffin top but skip the muffin, we make a statement about the bottom of the pastry, that it’s spongy, tasteless, and not worth the calories. But when we make a crumble without apples or blueberries beneath it–the subject of today’s post–we’re not rejecting all fruit. I promise. We’re just sort of nodding to ourselves in recognition that oatmeal-studded, brown sugar-scented crumbles can do more than crown sometimes soggy produce. They can garnish fancy fall trifles, magic a cut-up ripe pear into a real dessert, or make plain yogurt a little bit friendlier.

Crumble Topping | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Deconstructing a dish isn’t just a pastime for trendy chefs. When you separate out the elements of a multi-faceted dinner or dessert, you open up options for re-combinations. Simple components can go into fancier preparations, but not the other way around (you can’t un-curry potatoes, but you can throw plain roasted potatoes into a curried lentil soup). And this gives way to the theory of baking up a crumb without a filling: You can always add a quarter cup of baked crumble to some fruit–chopped or filled with cheesecake or made into compote–but you can also maneuver your plain-jane crumble into opening up a whole world of sweet snacks and after-dinner treats that go beyond a bubbling casserole of berries or stone fruit.

Of course, if you’re the type of sweet tooth who regularly does dessert by pouring chocolate chips into her palm, you know that building blocks make daily mini-indulgences possible. So, to your repository of sugary foodstuffs you can either nibble on right from the container or turn into more ambitious pleasures, I’d like to add this make-ahead crisp topping which smells like fall–of brown sugar and oatmeal and cinnamon and–and tastes like the garnish you want on every scoop of ice cream or ice cream sundae or dish of pudding or bowl of applesauce this season.

Crumble Topping | Big Girls Small Kitchen

I developed this particular version, which uses oats and almond meal and coconut oil, to help a newbie quarter-life cook fashion a gluten-free, dairy-free dessert for her future husband. If you want the buttery, floury version, though, follow the directions for making the crisp part of this recipe, but skip the strawberries and rhubarb and bake the crumb in a pan as directed below.