Here is your perfect weekly meal plan for $125.

Well, not exactly. I have a hard time believing that I can advise you what you want to eat for 14 dinners and lunches straight. There are cravings! And spontaneous weeknight plans! And people in your life with preferences and restrictions. Often, I think, a meal plan just can’t keep up with daily life. (That’s why this post is going to be a little long! If you’re interested in entering to win a $125 Whole Foods Market gift card, you should definitely make it to the end though.)

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.

Patafla: A Tomato Salad Sandwich

Posted by on Monday Sep 8th, 2014

Take a bright, olive-y panzanella sort of salad and stuff it into a sandwich. The resulting delicacy, readers, is patafla.

Never of it? Neither had Craig Claiborne in 1985, except for one tiny reference in an already-old book.

I have seen reference to patafla in only one source book–Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food, which first appeared about thirty years ago. She describes patafla as a kind of salad served in a sandwich.

It consists of chopped tomatoes, onions, sweet red peppers, pitted black olives, pitted green olives, and gherkins or sour pickles all blended in a bowl. To this you add olive oil, a sprinkling of paprika and salt and pepper. Slice a crusty loaf of French bread and pull out the soft inner part. Cut the soft part into small cubes and add it to the vegetable mixture, then stir. Spoon the vegetable mixture into the two halves of bread and combine, sandwich fashion. This is chilled well and then sliced.

Sixty-odd years later, it’s September in New York. I’m just off a big research project which demanded that I take many old cookbooks out of the library (and accidentally donate many dollars in late fees), and there are tons of tomatoes ripening and begging to be eaten. In searching for my actual subject in Claiborne’s alphabetical food listings The New York Times Food Encyclopedia, I discovered an entry about patafla, and I knew I had to make it.

Patafla has been left undiscovered, in spite of our preoccupation with retro recipes and authentic cooking. There are no records of it that I could find anywhere, besides David’s. She published her book about Mediterranean cooking in post-War Great Britain, with the intent of brightening the gray atmosphere, and so honestly who knows where she found patafla. But I’m glad she did.

Basically, as you saw in the quote above, patafla consists of a fresh tomato salad punctuated by many briny ingredients: pickles, olives, and such. By scraping out some of the soft interior of a bread loaf and mixing the crumbs with the salad, you give the vegetables something to hang onto. The outsides of the bread get over-stuffed with this mixture, before being tightly sandwiched, wrapped, and refrigerated. Overnight, the sandwich “cooks,” in much the same way as a summer pudding, with the juices and the bread solidifying into a seriously charming, delicious sandwich that, because it should be made ahead, is perfect for brown bag lunches and picnicking.

My Family’s Pepper Steak

Posted by on Friday Sep 5th, 2014

From the start, homemade food figured in my parents’ relationship. This pepper steak was, I just learned from my mom when she told me the proportions for the recipe, the first dish my dad cooked for her. She’s told me more often about the cooking projects they loved to take on, like a mushroom soup whose steps somehow occupied an entire day.

“There is nothing like a home-cooked dinner,” was a refrain, in actions and words, in our house. Sure, restaurants weren’t quite as good then as they are now, neither were prepared foods, and for most dishes there was no competition. We kids sometimes begged for pizza, and sometimes we got McDonald’s hash browns for breakfast, but the homemade pizza and homemade French fries beat them both. For a change, it wasn’t a stretch to think that parents were right. The homemade food was best.

That mindset, more than our passed-down recipes for matzoh ball soup, oil-based plum cake, or fried Cheerios, is my culinary inheritance.

Pepper steak’s actual culinary heritage is in the increasing American affection with Chinese food in the 19th and 20th centuries, brought about by Chinese restaurant cooks who danced around American’s tastes for adventure in their meals, simultaneously expanding eaters’ palates with dishes from across the world and tweaking those dishes to be sweeter and saucier than they were back in China. Today, you might think a dish like pepper steak would seem a throwback to those chop suey days. But really, this one stands the test of time: the sauce is minimal and not gloppy, and the vegetables are plentiful.

What’s more, because your pepper steak shopping list includes only steak and three peppers (if you have a pantry stocked with onions, soy sauce, sugar, and cornstarch), this Chinese-American dish is a home-cooking habit enforcer, the kind of dinner you can easily make on a weeknight, then take one bite of and say, “There’s nothing like a home-cooked dinner.”

In a series of videos called “The Butcher, The Baker, and The Belgian Beer Maker,” Stella Artois–this post’s sponsor–has explored three women in craft embracing their own heritage and tradition in their work today. I really loved “The Butcher” video – it’s about Cara Nicoletti (great name!), a butcher at Brooklyn’s The Meat Hook, and a third generation butcher. You can watch the whole series, starting with “The Butcher,” here.

This post is sponsored by Stella Artois. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that keep Big Girls, Small Kitchen delicious!

In the spring of 2012, my kitchen looked a lot like this on a daily basis.

I was getting married to Alex in six months, and I had decided it would be a fun project to make my own wedding cake. I’d always been the one who baked banana bread, brownies, and cookies for colleagues, the friend who brought cupcakes and hosted peanut noodle buffets.

And so, though I’d discovered an allergy to many of the contemporary wedding traditions I was finding in my pinterest deep dives, I could hardly throw out the cake with the wedding: If small milestones compelled me to take out the mixing bowl, then clearly this grandiose ceremony mandated six cake pans, a cake turntable, and approximately 1407 grams of chocolate.

Nobody recommended this: not cake greats Silvia Weinstock and Ron Ben Israel, not the Institute of Culinary Education instructor I emailed for advice, not even the very sweet and talented Yossi Arefi, though she was supportive of the idea. My mom, always in favor of a good DIY, was on board.

So there I was, in the kitchen, thinking about dresses and flowers and cake. I was also browsing CakeWrecks, reading up on bleak superstitions (“The bride who bakes her own cake is asking for trouble”), considering the cobwebs on jilted Miss Havisham’s cake layers, and learning that a profession called cake chauffeuring existed.

Chocolate-Covered Banana Pudding Pops

Posted by on Friday Aug 29th, 2014

Natalie of Good Girl Style is back today with a totally retro dessert, gone frozen, in what will perhaps be the only appearance of pudding mix on this blog for all eternity. 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, peanut butter, and chocolate. Don’t miss her recent summery posts, about Peanut Butter Buckeye Bars and Mixed Berry Frozen Lemonade.

The combo of chocolate and banana is a match made in heaven. One of my favorite snacks is chocolate chips and banana chips, but this time of year something cool and refreshing is in order. So I figured why not take my favorite snack and make it into a popsicle? These banana pudding pops are an easy and fun treat to whip together for a crowd. They’ll please young and old alike, especially because they’re dipped in chocolate. Adding the coconut oil adds a tiny bit of tropical flavor to the treat, but really it just makes sure the chocolate hardens nicely. The texture of a pudding pop is delightful, creamy and decadent but I like to think it’s at least a slightly healthy treat.

The recipe can be doubled or even tripled if you have enough popsicle molds. Don’t forget to buy the popsicle sticks! You can probably find the popsicle sticks at the grocery store, but I got mine at a good old-fashioned hardware store…you know the kind, the kind with everything and the kitchen sink (truly!). Unmolding the treats can be a bit of an art, but submerging the tray in a bowl of hot water or running them under hot water for a few minutes should do the trick. Be sure to give a nice tug on them to get the popsicle out in one piece. And give your freezer rungs a good scrub before resting the popsicles on them. But a freezer full of gorgeous chocolate-dipped banana pudding pops is a beautiful sight indeed!

Show me the chicken stew. I was famous growing up for my love of falling-apart chicken, and to this day I adore meat that has been cooked long enough to soak in the flavors of cacciatore, Morocco, coriander, and New Mexico.

Even white meat.

When I go to the butcher, I almost always choose chicken thighs, usually bone-in/skin-on. Yes, dark meat is more flavorful and harder to overcook. It’s also cheaper. Then I roast the thighs, or I make things like this stew, where you have to pick out the bones and skin as you eat, but I never mind that though I know some people do, which is why those people (maybe you?) search the internet for boneless skinless chicken breast recipes, and, in the process, say no to bones, skin, and dark meat. If we’re being 110% honest, sometimes I scoff at you guys (I’m really sorry!), but today I’ve made you a really lovely flavorful stew that’s ideally suited to right now: the end of summer, but not the end of tomato season, or eggplant season, or herbs-from-other-people’s-gardens season.