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.