Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens

I know they say don't judge a book by its cover, but seriously...who could resist the title Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens? Who hasn't/isn't/won't be in a crappy little kitchen at some point? Admittedly, my current kitchen has stainless steel fridge, ceramic topped stove with a self-cleaning oven, built in microwave, and a stainless steel dishwater to boot! With lots of room for my tons of baking and cooking utensils. I do have to share the hall clothes closet for dry goods, everything else is wonderful.

As for cities with the best kitchens...Montreal wins hands down - although the truth is I've only lived in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax. In Montreal, from low-rent apartments to fancy homes, the kitchen is the center of the universe - as it should be and so kitchens are roomy enough for table and chairs for a family.

I think NYC probably has some of the smallest kitchens on the planet...at least the one my cousin had in Manhattan was smaller than...well, a dinky little cupboard. And if you've ever seen the videos from Jill Santopietro over at NY Times, like this one you know what I'm talking about. Even Mark Bittman, uses someone else's kitchen for his segments.

But I digress, because, as in many things...size doesn't matter! And whether you have a tiny, pathetic kitchen (then you really will love Chef Jennifer Schaertl's advice on what to have on hand and how to manage space/timing in your Crappy Little Kitchen - more in a minute) or have an awesome kitchen, fit for royalty, you'll love her recipes and tips.

Perhaps because my almost perfect kitchen is missing a place for a BBQ - no deck, no balcony...sigh - I couldn't resist her Barbequeless Barbeque Salmon that I whipped up on the stove.
And folks, even when I have a BBQ, I'll be making this one as is. Not the prettiest photo, I admit and I didn't follow her advice and whip up some sauteed vegetables - (I will next time), to make it a feast for the eyes as well as the tummy, it tasted magnificent and the extra marinade/sauce drizzled over the asparagus and sweet potatoes had us wishing I made more.

Jennifer Schaertl is a chef by profession (having moved her way up from dishwasher to chef at some of Dallas' four star restaurants. You can find out all about her at her website, including the size of her first 300 sq ft apartment in NYC. ) and in this book she shares awesome recipes that don't require a million ingredients or lots of fancy equipment.

I love her Nine Gourmet Rules:

1. Buy fresh, local, organic and seasonal - fresh and fabulous ensure the best flavor & color.

2. Always read a recipe BEFORE you do anything else. Gives you a game plan, shopping list and timing. Plus only shop for 2-3 days at a time.

3. If you want to cook like a chef - learn the lingo (spelled out clearly throughout the book with sidebars like "Did You Know this Crap?" and "Swap It" that give you variations and great tips).

4. Before making a grocery list, check what's in the fridge. If you have leftovers, see what you can use.

5. Break down your groceries as soon as you get home. Wrap fresh herbs in paper towels and pack them in large freezer bags. ... plus lots more perfect tips like stopping at salad bars to get cleaned and prepared ingredients that you'll be needing. Like onions, carrots etc. ..just buy whatever quantity your recipe calls for - no half used veg that will eventually get dumped.

6. Complete all the legwork before your start cooking. Chef's call this "mis en place" - meaning chop, dice, measure, etc., with all the ingredients handy before you start cooking.

7. Always taste your food before serving.

8. Presentation counts - and she gives lots of chef pointers about presentation with each recipe in the book.

9. Keep a sink full of hot soapy water so you can wash as you go, which frees up pots and pans to be used again and, of course, prime counter real estate.
And to entice you just a little more...how about these awesome Crabtastic Avocado Cakes that I made as a main course rather than as appetizers as she did. Whatever way you choose, with her Chipotle Aioli or some other sort of mayo (she gives suggestions), by the second bite, you'll be thinking about when you'll be making them again.

Since Spring is in the air - with all its sunshine and blossoms, I'm thinking picnic and I'm thinking Jennifer's Poblano Slaw is just the think to whip up. I'll keep you posted.

Whether you really do have a crappy little kitchen or not, this book is a gem!

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