Big Girls, Small Supermarket

Do me a favor and listen carefully. Have you ever been walking down the street behind a cute teenage girl, all long, wavy hair and skinny jeans, and then when she looks over her shoulder to cross the street and you catch a glimpse of her face, you’re suddenly aware that she’s not 16 but, like, 65? Well. You should be very nice to her, because I’m sure she’s a lovely person and just a little needy in ways she may not realize she’s communicating so loudly. But the reason I mention it is this. If you ever catch me starting to turn into that woman,  I would like you to please feel free to slap me. Hard. Let me tell you why I’m bringing this up.

More and more, I’m becoming aware that my tastes skew a little…how do you say it in English…young. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about anything so scandalous as my taste in people. (In fact, with certain dramatic exceptions including your children and mine, kids are seriously not my favorite.) Rather, it’s my taste in stuff that tends toward the youthful. Hellooo, Pottery Barn Teen catalog, Converse One-Star for Target sundresses, and the entire collection of iPad apps geared toward college students! If an object looks like its color palette was inspired by a bag of Brite Crawlers neon candy worms and I tell you I’m not obsessed with it, chances are I’m lying to save face because I consider you sophistiqué. Now you know.

So imagine my giddiness factor when not one, not two, but three of my food writer friends published cookbooks geared toward the college and young professional crowd — which I suppose technically, at 34, I may not belong to anymore. I may have squealed like a 12-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert in the privacy of my own home when I learned about In the Small Kitchen by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine and The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook by Andrea Lynn, but I guess you’ll never know for sure whether I did or not.

For quite a while I tried very hard to be a Trader Joe’s detractor, assuming that it wasn’t for me because I don’t tend to use a lot of packaged or prepared foods. Of course, I hadn’t yet been to a Trader Joe’s and realized that not only are many of the prepared foods right up my alley for in-a-pinch snacks and meals, but most of the staff are full-on BFF material. Not to mention that many of the same foods I was buying elsewhere and consuming in quantity from the privacy of the driver’s seat before starting the ignition (I’m lookin’ at you, Applegate Farms turkey bologna) were literally half the cost at TJ’s.

Andrea’s cookbook is full of the same approachable, practical vibe and does a great job of putting fresh produce front and center. If you know a college student (or a youthful 34-year-old) just heading back to school and looking to escape the cafeteria once in a while, you might want to think about sending them a copy. And while I’m sure that Andrea the Trader would prefer you to take your shopping list directly to your nearest TJ’s store, I can also vouch for the fact that the recipes (such as the Mexican Tortilla Soup adapted below) are useful and delicious even if your nearest TJ’s is across the Atlantic and you need to do your shopping elsewhere.

Since we’re on the topic of shopping Elsewhere, let’s just spend a moment talking about what it’s like to try to buy ingredients for a dish such as Phoebe and Cara’s enchiladas in a British supermarket, shall we? The good news is that the enchiladas, adapted below, turned out great even after an evening of hilarious substitutions — so please go forth and serve them to your friends. But the Mexican section of a British grocery store is like a budget flight from London to Old El Paso with a layover in Minneapolis, except ridorkulous-expensive. It’s not actually Mexican so much as what a misguided Brit might think a misguided American might think Mexican is.

One of the great strengths of In the Small Kitchen is its authenticity. It’s full of charming anecdotes about what it’s like to be a young New Yorker who loves to cook and entertain, and accessible, appealing recipes to match. That’s why it’s an engaging read and a valuable recipe collection for just about everyone, young or old, in kitchens great and small. By the same token, it’s not as if Cara and Phoebe were trying to act like authentic Mexicans while writing this book. So you would think that the ingredients in their enchiladas — sour cream, green chiles in a can, jack cheese — would be procurable without the aid of a passport. Turns out, in London, not so much. But even when prepared with crème fraîche, green peppers that I painstakingly minced and sautéed myself, and a combination of mozzarella and mild cheddar cheeses, those enchiladas really did take me back to the cozy yet electric days of being young and full of possibilities in New York.

Good thing I already have the décor, wardrobe, and App lineup to match.

For a chance to win both cookbooks

Leave a comment that lets us know: What was the first dish you learned to cook, and when?

Contest closes Friday, September 9, 2011 at noon EST.

  • The first dish I tried to cook(not learned) was noodles, Indian-style-Chinese noodles, the name might give you a sense of the impending disaster. On top of it, I tried cooking it in Mustard Oil which is a Big NO NO for well Indian-style-Chinese-noodles. It was a dish none could eat. I was 12.ReplyCancel

  • Sarapete

    The first dish (besides chocolate chip cookies) I remember making was good old ground beef tacos.ReplyCancel

  • Jenna

    Coming from an Italian family, with a Dad who loved to cook, the first dish I learned how to make was meatballs and sauce. Your basic, straight up meatball: ground beef, onion and garlic powders, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, egg, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese (from the green can). And then you cook them in the sauce.

    Even though my repertoire has expanded quit a bit in the 25+ years since, I still make them all the time.ReplyCancel

  • Carrie

    My first dish was dog salad. Yep, you heard that right. It’s a composed salad I made for Christmas Eve dinner when I was 5 years old.

    The recipe as best as I can remember it: On a salad plate, place a leaf of iceberg lettuce. On the lettuce, place a half a canned pear. Use a raisin to make an eye, a maraschino cherry for a nose, and something (a prune? a spinach leaf?) for an ear. It ends up looking kind of like Snoopy.

    My little brother still makes fun of me for this one.ReplyCancel

  • I admit to looking through the PB Teen website just the other day! The first thing I learned to cook by myself was biscuits. I remember thinking it would be a lot easier to work in the butter if it were melted.ReplyCancel

  • Huyen

    Thanks for bringing back the memories of learning how to make Vietnamese egg rolls with my mom! Mrs. T’s (my mom’s not the commercial brand) egg rolls are legendary. Mom’s the kind of cook who never wrote anything down and I always use her cooking as my benchmark whenever I eat at Vietnamese restaurants. I finally got her to write down the recipe for me years ago. I’ll have to dig up the recipe and make egg rolls when I get back to the States.ReplyCancel

  • Those recipes sound super delicious! YUM! I learned cooking with the Nancy Drew cookbook! I cooked French Toast often and had fun at the age of 8.ReplyCancel

  • The first thing I learned how to cook, or rather bake, was chocolate chip cookies when I was about 12. I used the checked covered Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and made the exact amount of cookies listed when I was in Middle School with my BFF. They came out tiny, but we made the exact 90 or so cookies it said it yielded.ReplyCancel

  • The first dish I learned to cook was my mom’s baked ziti–a super dumbed-down, made-for-picky eaters version that did away with ricotta cheese and used canned Ragu tomato sauce! Granted, I was in middle school at the time and didn’t actually *want* any of that stuff in there…but oh, the flavors I was missing out on! Thankfully I’ve since embraced both meat sauce and cheese in its many forms. :)

    I’m crossing my fingers for these cookbooks! I’m moving into a new apartment this weekend, and my VERY TINY kitchen could definitely use some expert advice. Thanks!!ReplyCancel

  • nina

    The first dish was lasagna! Both of these books look interesting. I’d love to win!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel

    I think the first thing I probably cooked was cookies, way back when i was little. I was a Girl Scout so we did a lot of cooking over the campfire and in a regular oven.ReplyCancel

  • Lauren

    I first learned to bake my grandmother’s chocolate cake when I was probably 14. All by myself!ReplyCancel

  • MELODY

    I couldn’t boil water when I got married and I think the first thing I really did okay was a simple hamburger stroganoff boy have I come a long way since then.ReplyCancel

  • Quenna

    Apple pie with my mom. But growing up with lots n lots of fried fish and meats for dinner, when I finally had the chance to experiment with different foods when we moved to the big city, on my own I ventured to create my own pasta salad, in an attempt to learn about flavors and seasonings. Makes me smile to think of that creation. :)ReplyCancel

  • hmm… well, not sure of the EXACT first thing I learned to make… but I def recall a time that I *thought* I could make chocolate chip cookies. We’re still not quite sure what I did wrong but they were instead, as my dad still refers to them… chocolate chip crackers. They spread thinly… over the entire cookie sheet and cracked apart when you touched them. They were also slightly see through! haha. I’ll never live that down!
    In college, I learned to make Tortilla soup… similar to the one you have listed above. My *what would eventually be* mother-in-law at the time used to make it. She gave me *her* recipe which I adapted into my own. It was the dish I made whenever we had people over. I even made my own skinny tortilla chips to go with it. I also would put out a spread of condiments to add to it… including the ones you have listed. :) I also would put out shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream… and we’d all top accordingly. I’m not sure where this got lost along the way… as it should clearly be part of the Annual Wiley Thanksgiving Mexican Fiesta. :) Maybe I’ll need to add it this year… with my Green Enchilada’s, of course!

    On a dif note… I just may have to check out this TJ’s book (If I don’t win, of course!)… because it is seriously my FAVE place to shop!!!ReplyCancel

  • MonsterAteMy

    I *think* spaghetti and meatballs might have been first, but I can’t be completely sure. (Hey, I’m over 40!) I remember making them with my boyfriend as a meal to serve to both sets of parents. They totally fell apart, but the resulting meat sauce was very tasty nevertheless –and boyfriend & I have been married for 20 years.ReplyCancel

  • hildy

    The first thing I cooked on my own was Snickerdoodle cookies at the age of 7, learned in my 4-H club. The second thing, and first meal that I learned to cook, also in 4-H, was barbecued hot dogs. I still remember the ingredients: ketchup, mustard powder, brown sugar, vinegar, dried onion flakes, S&P, and of course, hot dogs. My dad, bless his heart, continued to ask me to make them at least once every weekend for the next year!ReplyCancel

  • Vicki

    Fried rice – I was in college, and beginning to teach myself to cook. My then boyfriend (later to become my first husband) was treated to fried rice, over and over again, because it was the only thing I knew how to cook, unless you count bagels with cream cheese and Annie Green Springs wine. These cookbooks sound great, and I love Trader Joes, for so many reasons!ReplyCancel

  • Randyll Shook

    Got married while still in my teens. The only thing I knew how to make besides dessert was chicken rolled in cornflake crumbs. Of course, my dear husband didn’t like it. I didn’t cook much until after I had two kids ready to eat something that didn’t come in a jar. Love your blog.ReplyCancel

  • margie s

    My first dish was what we called Loosey Hamburger over Mashed Potatoes, at 18. Unles you count chocolate chip cookies, and I’ve been cooking them since I was 10.ReplyCancel

  • Steven

    Oh boy! First thing I mastered when I got out on my own, was good old creamy Mac & Cheese…ReplyCancel

  • Heather

    The first dish I remember REALLY learning to cook was this thing called “Mock Steak” that my Gramma used to make. Looking back at it now it makes me shudder but I LOVED that stuff as an adolescent! I think I really mastered it around 13 or 14 when I stayed with Gramma during the summers. It’s basically a less-spiced meat loaf cut in squares, fried and then baked with mushroom soup on top. Again, now I shudder. Back then, I squealed with delight when I go to make it for dinner! :DReplyCancel

  • Katie

    The first thing I learned to cook, or at least the first thing I actually followed a recipe for, was snickerdoodle cookies as a child. I make them now when I’m feeling nostalgic!ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen B

    I think the first one I remember is peach cobbler, from my grandmother. The first thing I learned to cook on my own, through experimentation (and amazingly, it was astoundingly delicious on the first try!) was tomato sauce from scratch. I think the key was making it with sausage, because when I try to make it another way, to this day it never turns out quite as good as the sausage way.ReplyCancel

  • [...] a few fun little newsworthy nibbles for you today. First, announcing the winner of our two-cookbook giveaway! Congratulations to Jenna, commenter number three. You are the winner of two lovely new [...]ReplyCancel

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