When a package arrived at my office earlier this week, I could hardly wait to tear it open. Inside was this gem:
Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine, the lovely ladies behind Big Girls, Small Kitchen, recently came out with a cookbook, and people? It is beautiful. The book charts Phoebe and Cara’s first year of cooking “in the real world,” offering recipes, tips, hosting ideas, and more for the just-out-of-college crowd. I can’t think of a better gift for new grads.
Naturally, the night it arrived, I read In the Small Kitchen cover to cover. The book is organized by occasion, rather than by type of recipe, which is surprisingly utilitarian: finger-food and drinks are grouped together in the cocktail parties section, while grainy salads and sandwiches can be found in the very comprehensive section on potlucking. Thinking back to my years as a recent college grad, I’m pretty sure the ladies cover basically everything I wanted to know at that time: how to host a good party, get drunk, and eat enough good food to keep down the liquor.
But this book isn’t just for the post-college crowd. Over the past couple years, I’ve cooked many of Phoebe and Cara’s recipes — mostly from Food52, where we met, but also several from their blog. From secret ingredient beef stew tochicken tagine and more, these ladies know how to cook. They write thoughtful, funny recipes, and their book puts that talent on display.
Eager to cook from the BGSK book, I thumbed through, looking for something I could make with ingredients I had on hand. Noodles with BGSK Peanut Sauce jumped out at me: I had nearly everything in my larder, and what I didn’t have, I could improvise. That’s another thing about this book: if you follow the recipes to the letter, you’ll make great food — but you certainly don’t have to.
I had just used all my scallions (two bunches!) to make scallion oil the night before, so I didn’t have any left to slice fresh for the noodles. I also didn’t have any cucumber (which, by the way, I recommend not skipping: it keeps the noodles light). I did, however, have loads of asparagus and a nice bag of pea shoots, so I used those instead.
Lacking fresh scallions, I added some of the scallion oil to the sauce, which perfumed the noodles with that green, onion-y flavor. I started with about 3/4 of the sauce, which was plenty for me, and now I’ve got the leftovers in a jar for another day. Lots of the recipes in this book will make enough for leftovers, and when was that a bad thing?
College students everywhere are graduating. For those on the precipice of their first apartment, their first full-time job, and their first kitchen, I can’t think of a better gift than In the Small Kitchen. Buy it, people!
…Ok. One of you won’t have to buy it. We’ve teamed up with the awesome folks at HarperCollins to offer one lucky reader a copy of this book! Just leave a comment below describing your favorite post-college meal, and we’ll select a commenter at random this Friday, June 3rd. Good luck!
Update: Julia E., you’ve won In the Small Kitchen. Congratulations! Hope you enjoy the book as much as I have.
Noodles with BGSK Peanut Sauce
adapted from In the Small Kitchen
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons chile paste/sauce (I used a mix of sriracha and sambal oelek; if you have neither, use 1 teaspoon chili flakes)
1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2-3 tablespoons sesame oil (start with less and add to taste)
roughly 1/4 cup water
1/2 bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced into 1-inch coins
about 3/4 pound spaghetti, udon, or other noodles (soba would work well here too)
1 bunch scallions, chopped or 1/4 of a red onion, sliced into thin quarter-rings
1 large cucumber, julienned (I didn’t have this but recommend including it)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pea shoots (optional)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
In a food processor or blender, pulse together the ginger, garlic, and sugar. Add the chile paste, peanut butter, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and water and process again until smooth.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil (no need to salt the water – the sauce is plenty salty). First, blanch asparagus: add to water, cook about 2 1/2 minutes, and use a slotted spoon to transfer to a small bowl. They’ll cook a bit more out of the water, but still retain some of their crunch.
Next, cook noodles according to package directions. When noodles are al dente, strain, transfer to a large bowl, and add about 3/4 of the sauce to the noodles. Stir to combine, and taste. Adjust sauce quantity as desired.
Add asparagus, onions, cucumber, and pea shoots, and toss to combine. Portion noodles into serving bowls, and top with sesame seeds. Serve with additional chili paste on the side.
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I just found your blog through a link on Smitten Kitchen! As a recent grad, I have only been expanding my “real” cooking repertoire for about a year. My favourite meal to make is any kind of risotto, because it is delicious and seems fancy-ish but is actually really easy! It might sound strange, but I find all that stirring and patience to be therapeutic after a day at work…
doesn’t sound strange at all! I love risotto, and have been making it ever since I had my first big pot.
Breakfast quesedillas for dinner at least once a week… scramble up an egg, cook up whatever vegetables I have on hand, and put it in a tortilla with some cheese. Toast the quesedilla on both sides in the frying pan and serve with sour cream and salsa. Dinner in less than 10 minutes.
I’m with you on the quesadillas. Still a go-to dinner for me, six years out of college.
When I started feeling like a grown up and cooking for myself, I realized how easy it was to make a balsamic vinaigrette, cook a chicken breast and throw it on top of greens with nuts, craisins and cheese crumbles. I LOVE IT SO.
Maple-glazed fresh salmon grilled on a cedar plank! Nothing better.
wow, fancy fancy!
Great review! This book feels so expertly timed w/its release-I’m graduating from my MFA program in just 2 weeks (gulp). I’m also a fan on their ability to offer recipes that are tweakable to your own kitchen. The format of this book sounds unique!
Anyway, my go-tos are homemade pizza (using the dough recipe from Brokeass Gourmet w/my food processor), or a frittata: whatever veg I need to use up, 3 eggs, fresh herbs @ 1/4 cup parmesan.
It does, doesn’t it? I’m sure the release date was by design. And yes, the format really is perfect. Just yesterday, a friend who’s ten years out of college told me she’s planning to buy this book. It’s a really great choice for just about anyone.
Yum, looks delicious! One of my favorite things that I made post-college was bolognese sauce… if it wasn’t so hot out I could totally eat some with pasta right now!
Soon after college I entered a wild rice salad period, full of dried fruit and roasted shallots. It’s been many years since college, and I’ve had many good post-college meals since. Looking back, I think my college years would have been a cinch had I had my trusty pressure cooker.
Japanese rice bowls: think deconstructed sushi. They’re fast, easy, delicious, and healthy! Win! I usually make mine with sushi rice (duh), nori, carrots, cucumbers, smoked salmon, and avocado, but really you could make them with whatever you have on hand!
My first year out of college was also my first year in med school-very busy, tiny apt kitchen, very tiny budget! Fortunately, my roommate (also a med student) was also into food and cooking-so we split kitchen duties and groceries 50/50 and ate really well. 😀 It was stress relief for us both. My very favorite was when I’d make home-made pasta noodles and she’d make home-made tomato sauce. We’d split a cheap bottle of wine with it and watch a movie for a great girl’s night in.
After graduation, my favorite thing to cook (and my go-to dish) was Sherried Chicken with Wild Rice (sauteed mushrooms and scallions in the rice) and Steamed Asparagus with Hollandaise – of course, in those days I didn’t make my own Hollandaise – it was a Knorr’s packet for me – I’ve since learned the error of my ways!
My favorite thing to cook post-college has been fresh homemade potato gnocchi, which I then saute in olive oil or butter instead of boiling. They’re light and pillowy, easy and cheap to make, and they freeze like a dream. Plus, they’re so versatile! Favorite combinations: preserved lemon, butter, parsley, and parmesan; mushroom and asparagus; homemade pesto and parmesan; goat cheese and sun dried tomato. I’m never without a couple plastic bags of them in my freezer!
i made bgsk’s peas with white wine and butter last night. these noodles are high on my list too. these and the onion tart.
Vegetarian sushi. Delicious, makes great leftovers. I always found it so relaxing to make rolls (who knows why).
I love pasta so anything with pasta. I will be trying Noodles with BGSK Peanut Sauce soon.
Crock pot soup. Broth, meat and veggies stuck on low and ready for me after work.
My favorite post-college meal is Chicken Piccata over angel hair pasta with Roasted Parmesan Asparagus on the side.
Right after college (a long time ago!) I discovered shakshuka, nice and spicy with feta cheese and good bread to dip. I still love eating this quick, easy meal.
My post-college meals were all prepared in rural Ecuador where I only had a camping stove of sorts. Although I’m embarrassed to admit it now, one of the biggest treats I used to make was boxed macaroni and cheese whenever I was able to travel to the city and visit a grocery store. Aside from that, my staple food was rice curry with chickpeas where I just put rice, chickpeas, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices in a pot. I think I got the recipe from an old Moosewood cookbook!
I totally know that rice/chickpea dish! I riffed on that dish a lot while living in Israel: chickpeas, tomatoes, onions, curry powder, other Indian seasoning. Really, really good.
In college is when I really began to cook, and in the years since, I can’t even begin to remember all of the different recipes. One favorite, simple go to has been baked tofu with a marinade from the Breitenbush Hot Springs Cookbook. I also love anything with steamed broccoli—home-made whole wheat mac and cheese, home-made pizza, fajitas–just add broccoli!
LOVED your review! Thank you for sharing about this- I have a little sister graduating who will definitely be getting a copy…as soon as I get one for myself! I’m just starting my 3rd year out of college and my absolute post-college meal is STIR FRY! It works with so many different ingredients and sauces and turns out mouth watering every time. I love using stir fry as a way to make great use of all the extra veggies in my fridge as well.
Pizza! After getting my own apartment, started making dough from scratch and using all sorts of toppings!
Favorite post-college meal is baked tortellini in white mushroom sauce. It’s easy, delicious, and there are always leftovers.
The first thing I really mastered out of college was my mom’s spinach lasagna. It helped that I had seen her make it a million times, and I had the recipe written in her own words (not the words of cookbooks which I couldn’t quite understand yet).
Rivka, I will have to pick this one up. With two kids, always looking for quick but tasty recipes…
Fettuccine Alfredo. Seems like a strange item, but back then it was one of only two recipes I was able to successfully make in my post-college VERY small kitchen.
To celebrate graduation, my then-bf & I learned to make some of our favorite take-out: vegetable dumplings, miso soup, and vegetarian sushi. Home-made take-out has stayed my favorite comfort food… I actually still make all of those things today, minus the ex.
Rivka, great, simple recipe. Everyone in my family loved it–including the kids.