Big Girls Small Kitchen: The Quarter-Life Cooks on Cooking In The Real World

Big Girls Small Kitchen is a food website started by friends Phoebe Lapine and Cara Eisenpress, two 20-somethings living in the “big city of small kitchens,” New York. On their blog, Phoebe and Cara — who call themselves “The Quarter-Life Cooks”— show readers how they manage to create impressive, often healthy (but sometimes not!), inexpensive cuisine for themselves and friends using “humble ingredients” and limited space. Their first cookbook, In the Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes From Our Year of Cooking in the Real World, was released in May. Below, they share some advice for any cook with limited resources, budget, skills or time.

When you started your blog in 2008, were you thinking it would lead to a career or book deal? Were either of you working in the culinary field at the time?

In the fall of 2008, we were both working at entry-level jobs: Cara in editorial at a book publishing house, Phoebe in international marketing for fragrances. Obviously not culinary fields, but we were both cooking a lot for friends and families—and whining to them a lot about the dull aspects of our jobs. Though we weren’t thinking quite so long term as a book deal, we immediately saw we had found a niche among “quarter-life cooks”—our peers, who had apparently just been dying to find an accessible way to make better use of their kitchens. That led to good traffic, and, eventually, the book deal.

Who is the target audience for for your book or for your blog in general?

The easiest answer is that our audience is made up of 20-something cooks, facing a combination of some number of kitchen limitations. They’re newer to the kitchen scene, have less experience, fewer gadgets, more limited budgets, busier lives and/or smaller kitchens. So looking at those criteria, our audience is really anyone who’s challenged by one or more of these conditions—you don’t really have to be a 20-something to enjoy what we do. In other words, our balanced approach to cooking, eating, and entertaining makes sure that all cooks can make the most of the resources they have available, big kitchen or small.

Until a few years ago, I found the whole cooking thing very intimidating. Do you find this very often, people who want to cook more but just don’t know where to get started?

We definitely find that our peers can be hesitant to get started in the kitchen. At the same time, a lot of them are interested in food—really, really interested. They go to new restaurants, watch the Food Network obsessively, and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s cooking. All of this is pretty good fuel for getting started in the kitchen yourself. People who already love food often just need a nudge. We provide that nudge in our recipes, many of which are incredibly simple yet delicious. Take our Basic Basil Pesto, for example. Once you’ve mastered it—and mastering it doesn’t take very much effort—you can make everything from a pasta main for company to a Pesto Chicken Sandwich (recipe in the book) or a Pesto Potato Salad for a picnic. Getting great at making the basics will actually allow you to branch out really quickly.

What do you recommend folks keep in their kitchen cabinets at all times?

This may sound silly, but: dried pasta, good-quality canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, and Parmesan cheese (well, that one goes in the fridge). If you have the ingredients for pasta with tomato sauce, you’ll be much less tempted to order take-out, ever!

I used to work from home and cook fresh meals for myself every day. Now I’m back in an office, and my motivation to cook has gone way down. Any tips for how to fit cooking or eating home-cooked meals into a busy work week?

Cook on Sunday. It sounds old-fashioned or house-wifey, perhaps, but if you make a pot or two of some great meals that keep well, you’ll be able to eat for the week. Try our Provencal Baked Chicken or Chicken Tagine (recipes in the book). You can make a pot of rice or couscous at the beginning of the week, or you can throw that together after work. Add a salad if you have the energy, and you’ve got a meal.

The other option is to keep it even simpler. We subsist a lot on grilled cheese sandwiches, interesting egg dishes—from olive oil fried eggs to eggplant-chard frittatas—and they’re ultimately both satisfying to make and to eat. Try that bowl of pasta with tomato sauce topped with a fried egg!

Say my friends are hanging out at my place and suddenly it’s dinnertime and everyone’s hungry. Can you point me to some of your favorite recipes of yours to throw together easily?

Sure! One crowd-pleasing option is Chicken Marbella served with Barb’s Corn Pudding. You may have to make a quick run to the supermarket, but then the dinner comes together super quickly, and it’s also really cheap. Casseroles like this Creamy Chorizo-Chicken Casserole are awesome, too. Try baked pastas as well—no one goes home unsatisfied after eating Al Forno Conchiglie with Five Cheeses. Last, but certainly not least is the Fish Taco Buffet–the recipe and all instructions can be found in our book!

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