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Big Dreams For The Girls Behind “Big Girls, Small Kitchens”

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Probably because I love food, I also love food blogs and food web sites. When I wanted to make chocolate chip banana bread a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t reach my mother, a quick Google search provided hundreds of recipes. Hence, the problem with food blogs and food websites: We don’t have enough time. We don’t have enough meals. We need someone to filter through them and advise which ones are the best. That’s where I come in.

The holiday season is heating up and my stomach (and probably yours) isn’t slowing down.  As a twenty-something living in New York, I’m realistic that caviar and Cristal won’t exactly be on the menu this season. But even during tough economic times, we still want to celebrate, and more importantly, still want to eat. And, if there’s anything that New Yorkers enjoy as much as good food, it’s a great party.

caraand-p-3Enter Phoebe Lapine and Cara Eisenpress: these twenty-four and twenty-five year old girls are the Ivy League brains behind “Big Girls, Small Kitchens,” a food and recipe guide geared towards twenty-something cooks on the lookout for user-friendly, affordable ways to navigate their kitchens. However, the blog, which highlights their cooking adventures alongside anecdotal stories, is applicable to women (and men) of all ages, in kitchens big and small. Phoebe and Cara sample recipes both old and new, all while trying not to burn down their New York City rental apartments.

Recipes are simple and delicious and include tasty vegetarian treats since Cara mainly eats vegetarian. The root vegetable gratin is a culinary hit for both vegetarians and carnivores alike. Cara draws her inspiration for vegetarian dishes from cookbooks, such as Vegetarian Suppers, and other food blogs. She advises that ethnic dishes are a great place from which to draw inspiration.

The one down side to their new endeavor? Phoebe explains that she’s expected to host a lot of dinner parties for every occasion, even her own special occasions. “Birthdays are always kind of stressful. Since I love to cook for people, why wouldn’t I want to cook for forty of my closest friends on my day of birth? Then, sometime during the afternoon of, when I am running two hours behind schedule, lugging grocery bags home, hungover, I curse myself for not doing shots at a bar at midnight and calling it a birthday.”

polaroidHosting aside, Cara and Phoebe have bigger plans for the future. The girls recently closed a book deal with Harper Studio. “Someone suggested it will be like a ‘choose your own adventure’ – I like that, I’m stealing that,” jokes Phoebe. Like the blog, the book will be a complete, if informal guide to cooking. Do they still plan to entertain and cook for their friends amidst their busy schedules? “Yes, definitely. We will have many recipes to try out. I hope our friends are hungry.”

In the spirit of the holidays, Cara and Phoebe offered me some fabulously simple yet delicious recipes for entertaining this holiday season, which are included below. As a journalist, I felt the need to do some field research and try a bit of recipe testing. I made all the dishes myself in my tiny Tribeca apartment. I guarantee that they don’t require a lot of tools, space, or cleanup – my sink only holds one pot at a time! Phoebe and Cara offered some advice – expand space by putting your cutting board over the sink; get creative. They add that it’s important to know how to improvise and have fun.

“We hope our readers will learn to incorporate food into their lives. Take baby steps – we want to encourage you to entertain and cook and realize that it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. We both like to eat, but it’s more than that. It’s about making something and having people over to share it with you.”

I took their advice and invited a few friends over. I have to say, I was rather impressed with myself. Though no competition for the participants on Top Chef, I do pride myself on knowing my way around a kitchen as well I do my way around a Theory sample sale. The corn cakes were perfectly satisfying, and easy to make given you can make the batter a day ahead. The avocado and radish crostinis were a nice crunchy change from the mundane hummus and pita typically served at my parties. The entire menu was easy to make and clean up. Now, if only I could find a way to turn one of my hobbies into a job. For now, I think I’ll console myself with a slice of chocolate chip banana bread.

From my Tribeca kitchen, where my stomach (and my friends and roommates) are full and happy, to yours.

final-banner_groceryRecipes from “Big Girls, Small Kitchens”

The Menu

Corn Cakes with Lemon Chive Crème Fraiche
Mashed Avocado and Pink Radish Crostini
Onion Dip
Apple Caramel Cake
Warm Spiked Cider

Corn Cakes with Lemon Chive Crème Fraiche

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Makes 12 cakes, 6 servings

Ingredients
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup (4 oz) crème fraiche or sour cream
3 tbsp chopped chives (plus more for garnish)
½ lemon, juiced (about 1 tbsp)
¼ tsp salt

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and the egg. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Fold in the corn and shallots.

Coat a large skillet with oil and set it over high heat. When the oil is sizzling (you can flick some water into the pan to test this), add a tablespoonful of batter to the pan and press flat with the bottom of the spoon to form a flat, round cake. Work in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan, and cook each cake for about a minute per side, until brown and crispy. Remove to a paper towel to drain, and repeat with the additional batter.

NOTE: you can make the cakes the night before and bake them off at 350 degrees before serving, until each cake is browned and heated through.

In the meantime, combine the crème fraiche, chives, lemon, and salt in a small bowl.

To serve, top each cake with a dollop of sauce and sprinkle with chives.

Mashed Avocado and Pink Radish Crostini

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Makes about 15

Ingredients
about 3/4 cup radishes
1-2 avocados, well-ripened (i.e. soft but not too soft), cored and peeled
1 crusty French baguette
1/2 lemon, juiced
salt to taste

Preheat the broiler.

In a small bowl, mash the avocado with a fork. Add the lemon juice and a dash of salt. Mash together and taste for seasoning.

Slice the radishes into thin rounds. Set aside.

Cut the baguette into pieces 1/2 inch thick. On a cookie sheet, arrange the slices and toast under the broiler until just beginning to turn golden brown, about 2 minutes.

To assemble crostini, top each piece of toasted baguette with a thin layer of avocado mash and press in two radish slices. Sprinkle with coarse salt and/or a drizzle of olive oil and serve.

Onion Dip

onion-dipIngredients
1 tablespoons canola oil
1 yellow onions, diced
1 red onion, diced
2 leeks, split in half vertically and cut into half moons
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups sour cream
fresh pepper
potato or tortilla chips for serving

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over very low heat. Add the onions, and when they’re just beginning to soften, add the leeks. Cook, stirring occasionally until all the vegetables are fragrant and quite soft. Stir in the pressed garlic, cook for another minute or two, then add the garlic and cool to room temperature.

Combine the cooled sautéed onions with the mayonnaise, sour cream, and several grinds of black pepper.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours and preferable overnight. Before serving, taste for salt and flavor, adding a little more sour cream if the onions are too strong. Serve with chips or crudités.

Apple Caramel Cake

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Makes 1 loaf cake

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a loaf pan.

Ingredients
For the cake:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped, peeled apples (about 2)
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
For the caramel sauce:

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch salt

In a large bowl cream the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs, beat well, and then mix in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, soda, powder and salt. Add these to the wet ingredients and mix until blended. Fold in the apples and the nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Meanwhile, combine the butter, sugar, and cream in a small saucepan. Over medium heat, melt them together stirring more or less constantly. When the edges start to simmer, cook for 3 more minutes, then add the vanilla and remove from the heat. You can make in advance and rewarm when serving.

When the cake has cooled completely, cut it into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Serve with toothpicks next to the bowl of warmed caramel.

Warm Spiked Cider

Ingredients
1 1/2 gallons apple cider
1/4 of a 750ml bottle of Jack Daniels
5 cinnamon sticks

Slowly warm the apple cider and cinnamon sticks in a big soup pot. Add the Jack and serve in heat-proof cups.

For more information, go to http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/

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