November 15, 2011

Table Talk: 10 Juicy Questions for Big Girls, Small Kitchen

Welcome to Table Talk, where we sit down to chat and talk gossip with noteworthy voices in the food world. Got a suggestion for an interviewee? Email me. 

Phoebe Lapine and Cara Eisenpress, aka the Quarter-Life-Cooks, started their blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen in 2008. They provide some of the best recipes (particularly for college-aged and twenty-something cooks) anywhere around, in addition to dinner party guides, cooking tips, videos, and more. Their website has expanded to include Small Kitchen College (!), a must-have resource for all dorm room chefs. This duo knows a thing or two about small cooking spaces, tight budgets and limited time.

Today, they talk tricks for eating well in college, food blogging, dating and much more. Read on!

Will: What was your favorite breakfast cereal as a kid?

Phoebe: I was a classic rice krispies gal—although, it was probably some other brand that my mother purchased at the health food store. I used to sprinkle sugar over the top of the cereal, probably in rebellion to the fact that I wasn’t allowed to eat Lucky Charms.

Cara: Frosted Mini Wheats. Despite the thick layer of sugar, they subverted my mom's rule of "no sugar cereals at breakfast" (sugar cereals were allowed as after-school snacks).

What drink would you order at the bar on a first date? 

Phoebe: Probably a beer. Whatever looks good on tap. Specialty cocktails are expensive, and I’m always mindful of that if I’m not the one paying.

Cara: Likewise. Whatever's on tap. If there's a lot of choice, I usually alternate between a New England or Midwestern IPA and good old Guiness.

You two seem to know how to throw a good dinner party.  If Lady Gaga came over for a dinner party, what would you serve? 

Phoebe: She’s so out there, it’s not even worth trying to go the outrageous route. I would do something really down home and comforting, like mac ‘n cheese!

Cara: I'd go all out - why not? There would be five or six courses, starting with some delicious flatbreads, stopping by some good meaty dishes (cooked, probably), and ending with a homemade ice cream cake with brownie layers. Food that can be worn, you know.

Legend has it your friendship began with a rivalry over oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipes. How exactly did that start? And was a winner ever declared?

Yes, the legend is true! Phoebe was a big believer in the Joy of Cooking version, Cara of the classic Betty Crocker. A winner was never chosen. And our friendship managed to continue. And we’ve been cooking together, eating together, and talking about food ever since.

Which chef or food personality would you like to share chocolate covered strawberries and red wine with?  

Phoebe: Tom Colicchio or Anthony Bourdain. Mmmmmm.

Cara:  Jamie Oliver. Oops, stole that from Phoebe.

So you're the quarter-life cooks. What would you say to 20-somethings who want to take up cooking, and why was it important for you to start cooking? 

Get in the kitchen and get cooking! The cheapest and most enjoyable way to spend time with friends over a meal is to make it yourself. We both grew up cooking, and love the meditative element of it—standing over the stove or chopping veggies. We also love to feed our friends.

On that note, more and more college students are interested in cooking and eating well, but as we know that can be a difficult thing to do on campus. What advice do you have for college students who want to eat well? Did you have any tricks that helped get you through college? 

Phoebe: I found that the biggest barrier to cooking was not necessarily space or equipment, but actually getting to the grocery store! I would recommend making a pilgrimage to the supermarket at the beginning of each week and stocking up on everything you need. Having a great pantry to pull from is the key to making cooking an everyday habit.

Cara: I was on the meal plan all four years. It sucked in a lot of ways, but I got by with little extras. It was dorky, but I'd sometimes bring freshly shredded parm in the dining hall so I didn't have to use their stale, pre-grated stuff. I also lived on Whole Foods samples--such a treat! And I made chocolate bark in my microwave when I really had the craving to cook.

There are a lot of people out there starting food blogs. How did you decide to start Big Girls, Small Kitchen and what made you stick with food blogging?

When we began BGSK in November 2008, we were really bored with our day jobs. At the same time, cooking for ourselves and for friends was one of our favorite things to do during the other hours of the day. We recognized that twenty-somethings have different contingencies than most people watching the Food Network or cooking their way through the latest Bon Appetit: we have tiny apartments and paychecks, and we are also often low on time and skill. We decided to start BGSK to share our food conversation with our peers in hopes that they would make cooking  an everyday part of their lives as well. And three years later, a lot of them have!

What comes next? You're not going to be twenty-somethings forever. Are there more cooking projects down the road? Big Girls, Big Kitchen?

Yes, hopefully we’ll graduate to a big kitchen one day! Really, the “small kitchen” in our name stands in for all those other limited resources that everyone faces at least once in a while. It might not be all of the above, as it was for us at one point in time. But accessible recipes that are quick, cheap, and easy will always appeal to our reader, no matter their age (or ours!).

What are you cooking for dinner tonight?

Phoebe: We have a potluck! I’m making black sesame broccoli.

Cara: Baked shells with tomato, basil, parm, and mozzarella.

Phoebe and Cara founded the websites Big Girls, Small Kitchen and Small Kitchen College. This past spring they released their first cookbook, In The Small Kitchen. Follow them on Twitter @BGSK and @BGSKCollege.

**Check out the previous Table Talk with Adam Roberts, The Amateur Gourmet.**