A quarter-lifer still relatively new to the Big Apple and its not-so-big apartment kitchens, I constantly turn to the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen for delicious yet humble recipes and tips on mastering the art of eating and cooking well with limited time, space, or money. Its print extension, the cooking primer In the Small Kitchen, outlines recipes for virtually every post-grad occasion — “bff catch-up dinner,” “Bollywood movie night,” even “breakup lunch for one” — with charming details like kitchen tools, storage tips, and author’s anecdotes.
Despite its title, Big Girls, Small Kitchen offers something for every cook looking to better her know-how, regardless of her kitchen size or experience level. Here, at the mark of BGSK‘s fourth birthday, co-founder Cara Eisenpress shares her pearls of wisdom and what she’s cooking up this winter season…
How was BGSK born?
In November 2008, I helped my best friend throw a cocktail party for her birthday. I did tons of cooking in the days leading up to the party, lugged tote bags of food to work one Friday and set up a vegetarian feast for 40 people at my friend’s apartment that night. I was exhausted afterwards! But I was happy, so when my co-author [Phoebe Lapine] emailed me to say that in a fit of inspiration she had bought a domain name and set up Blogger, I wasn’t surprised.
Where do you find culinary inspiration?
Mostly in my cravings, and those are influenced by the season, the weather, what I have in my fridge and how much comfort I need in any particular meal. I also love rising to challenges like having dinner guests with a wide variety of dietary preferences. Figuring out what to serve a vegan, a carnivore, and someone who eats gluten-free really gets my creative wheels turning.
What’s on your grocery list this season?
Sweet potatoes. I adore making sweet potato fries. They’re healthful, and they match well with so many main dishes. I’m also buying a lot of pasta, rice, and quinoa — great inexpensive bases for any meal. I’ve been buying whole organic chickens to make broth, and then I use the meat for chicken salads. And I love Cabot’s clothbound cheddar and the Rye-Sunflower loaf from Bien Cuit in Brooklyn. If I have both of those in the house, I can always make a meal!
What’s your favorite meal for kiddos? When cooking for one?
For kids, I’d have to say my mac and cheese. And strangely enough, that’s also my favorite meal when I’m cooking alone. I’m such a sucker for rich, cheesy meals, but my husband isn’t. So when the cat’s away …
What do you think can be most intimidating about the kitchen?
Stocking the pantry can seem not just intimidating but expensive. It’s least painful to buy ingredients as you need them for recipes you’re making. Just remember when you freak out over paying $9.50 for a bottle of olive oil that that olive oil will last you through many recipes.
In a tiny kitchen where space is of the essence, what items are essential to your pantry or fridge?
It’s definitely worth investing in good-quality plastic or glass storage. They should stack easily whether they’re empty or full. As for the pantry, keep rice, pasta, cans of beans and tomatoes, potatoes, onions, oil, cheese and milk. Outfit your spice rack with a dozen spices. Cumin, coriander, curry powder, oregano, thyme, chili powder and cayenne pepper are a good start. With those ingredients, you’ll always be able to make dinner from your pantry if you’re desperate, or at least have a solid stash of staples so that you just have to pick up a few fresh ingredients on your way home.
Any tips for maximizing those precious square feet?
Before you buy anything new for the kitchen, picture where you’re going to put it away – and I don’t mean stuffed somewhere so every time you open a cabinet it falls on your head! Use cutting boards like trays. So once you’ve laid out some prep bowls on a cutting board, say, you can move the whole thing off your counter to another surface – even if it’s your coffee table. Then you have access to your counter again.
What’s your go-to quick and easy winter meal?
I love pureed vegetable soups. I recently made this one, with celery root and fennel. I like to serve it as part of a simple dinner with some good bread plus hummus, cheese, and butter to spread on the bread.
Tell us about your cookbook, In the Small Kitchen.
Nearly everything within the book takes place within the boundaries of one year – from Fall 2008, when we started the blog, to Fall 2009, when [Phoebe] and I left our full-time positions to work full-time on Big Girls, Small Kitchen. The stories deal with growing up, dating, and finding our places in the world after college. The sections are organized by reason to cook – cooking for one, potlucks, parties, dating – and they alternate among recipes, stories, and the best tips and tricks we’ve developed over the years of cooking and entertaining. Because our book has memoir-ish aspects, we wanted to make sure that all the recipes had really played a part in our lives. But they also had to be delicious enough to share with our future readers.
Find more BGSK recipes and tricks of the trade in this cookbook, available at amazon.com.
Kelsey Mirando is an Editorial Assistant in Books and Special Projects at Martha Stewart. She’s endlessly inspired by art, travel, and life in the Big Apple. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kmirando.