Terrific easy Easter recipes from new recipe book, Crappy Little Kitchens

If you think gourmet meals in Crappy Little Kitchens is an oxymoron, think again!  Chef Jennifer Schaertl, in her cookbook debut, brings space-saving techniques and fabulous recipes to the millions of people who are kitchen impaired.

Most of us have all lived in a place that had a crappy little kitchen (CLK)…maybe our first apartment or a dorm room.  And maybe we still don’t have the kitchen we really want. 

Chef Jennifer Schaertl believes that “cooking in a crappy little kitchen builds character and personality – two attributes of downright delicious gourmet meals.” 

Jennifer Schaertl met her first crappy little kitchen when she moved to New York and found the perfect brownstone apartment in Brooklyn.  After all her worldly possessions arrived, she found out just how small 300 square feet truly was.  This was the inspiration for Jennifer’s, “Gourmet Meals In Crappy Little Kitchens”  (HCI Books; April 2010; ISBN-10:0-7573-1365-5).

Within the pages, Jennifer shows us how to love our kitchens and create fun and exciting gourmet meals in them.

Debunking myths about gourmet cooking and showing home cooks how to make fun and delectable meals despite the lack of counter space and high-tech, expensive appliances, and gadgets is what her book is all about.

“Gourmet meals don’t need to be intimidating or overly complicated.  The word ‘gourmet’ tends to strike fear in some and inspire awe in others.  I want to take the stuffy out of gourmet so I created this cookbook to bring gourmet cooking into kitchens of all sizes.”

The Art of Cooking in Your Crappy Little Kitchen covers topics such as:

-          CLK Basics

-          It’s Not What You Have, It’s How You Use It

-          The CLK Pantry

-          Preventing Crappy Little Casualties

-          Nine Gourmet Rules

Recipes cover everything needed to create a delicious meal, including “A”-Game Appetizers, Toss Everything but These Salads, Dignified One-Pot Creations, Artful Accompaniments, Saucy Sauces, and Desserts to Die For. The fun Jennifer had creating recipes in her own crappy little kitchen shows through in every page.  She makes home-cooking an adventure with recipes such as:

-          When the Saints Come Marchin’ in Gumbo

-          Smokin’ Leftover Turkey Soup

-          Scallops Ceviche

-          Hot-and-Bothered Dragonfly Prawns

-          Wassup! Wasabi Chicken Salad

-          Caramelized Fennel and Goat Cheese with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

-          Hunka Hunka Monkfish

-          The Perfect Pot Roast

-          Snake-Charmin’ Moroccan Lamb Chops

-          Barbequeless Barbequed Salmon

-          Rum-Infused, Caramelized Pork Chops

-          Leaning Tower of Tofu Lasagna Stacks

-          The-Morning-After Pasta Frittata

-          The Best Paella You’ll Ever Eat

-          Rock-‘n’-Roasted Vegetables

-          Butternutty Squash Bread Pudding

-          Under-the-Sea Timables

-          Fig and Lavender Honey Yogurt Pie

-          Coconut Poached Pears with Burgundy Sauce

Packed with color photos, line drawings, interactive sidebars, you will learn:

-           Why a Crappy Little Kitchen can actually be an asset, not a liability

-          The must-haves for every Crappy Little Kitchen pantry

-           Crappy Kitchen Saboteurs: Pointless items that eat up small spaces

-          How to enhance the functionality of your Crappy Little Kitchen space—emphasizing the surprising attributes of working in a small kitchen, plus space-saving ideas that help expand space and utility, allowing for the creation of the most complex dishes

-          How to double or triple the function of utensils to eliminate clutter

-          Swap It Skills: Replacing hard-to-find, gourmet ingredients with everyday items without sacrificing taste

-          How to cohabitate in Crappy Little Kitchens—Jennifer tells readers how to share the tight space and avoid Crappy Little Casualties with chef-proven techniques she learned working in busy and cramped restaurant kitchens

-          Ways to create beautiful plating presentations with secretly guarded tricks of the trade

“Don’t fall prey to the misconception that having a crappy little kitchen limits your possibilities or confines your pallet,” Jennifer explains.  “In fact, the opposite is true.  My own experiences shows fine food and cramped kitchen quarters are not mutually exclusive. Remember, what sets your Crappy Little Kitchen apart from all the others, is the gourmet chef – – you.”

Jennifer’s first job inside a professional crappy little kitchen was actually that of a dishwasher, where she eventually worked her way up to sous chef. Since that humble beginning Jennifer has worked as a chef in some of Dallas’ top restaurants, including Savory, Taste, and The Grape, and even as a pastry chef at Suze,  all the while creating and documenting her own recipes both for her restaurant menus and her family gatherings.

A native of Texas, Jennifer Schaertl now lives in Dallas working as an Executive Chef at the North Central Surgical Center.

She has already completed the pilot episode of the television series Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens. To view this episode and join her monthly mailing list “The Crappy Little Newsletter,” visit www.crappylittlekitchens.com. From here you can also see her latest press, and get recipes and CLK tips.

She has shared with Monsters and Critics three easy Easter / Spring recipes for a gathering or feast:

My Big Fat Greek Salad

The colorful fresh veggies in this recipe make the presentation beautiful on its own, and its mixture of flavors and textures makes it impressive for the most discerning guests.

Serves 8

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon minced anchovy (1 or 2)

1/4 cup fresh oregano

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup diced English cucumber

2 Roma tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup diced red onion

1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives

3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese, plus extra for garnish

1 cup thinly sliced romaine lettuce (use your bread knife to make thin slices from a head of romaine)

4 slices sourdough bread, toasted

   1. In your blender, pulse the mustard, anchovy, and oregano until mixed. Add the sherry vinegar and pulse until well combined. While blending at medium speed, drizzle in the olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
   2. In a large bowl, toss the cucumber, tomato, onion, olives, feta cheese, and romaine with 1/2 cup of the dressing. Taste the salad to see if it needs more dressing, salt, or pepper.
   3. Mound the salad in a large serving bowl. Cut the toasted bread into wedges, tuck the wedges around, and garnish it with more crumbled feta. For individual portions, hold the toasted bread wedge in the center of each small plate, and pile the salad high around it. This makes each plate look like a sailboat. You could also serve individual salad portions in margarita or martini glasses with the toast jutting out like a sail.
   4. Store the leftover dressing in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You can toss the leftover salad as well as the dressing with some pasta for a great Greek pasta salad.

Oh Lamby Boy!

This shepherd’s pie recipe is high on the wow factor. The presentation is outstanding, and no one will know how easy this one-pot wonder is to prepare!

Serves 8

1/4 cup olive oil

4 lamb shanks, 1/2 lb each

Sea salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 cups large dice yellow onion

1 cup, peeled and cut in one-inch lengths on the bias, carrots

1 cup, cut in one inch lengths on the bias, celery

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup chopped garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

2 bay leaves (preferably fresh, but can substitute dried in equal portion)

4 cups vegetable stock

3 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes, halved

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

   1. Preheat oven to 400°. Put your Dutch oven on the burner, heat to medium-high heat, and add the olive oil.
   2. Season the lamb shanks heavily with salt and pepper; don’t worry about over-seasoning. Dust them lightly with flour.
   3. When the olive oil begins to smoke slightly, use your tongs to lay the lamb shanks on their sides into the oil without overcrowding them. Let them brown for about a minute, and then turn them slightly to begin

browning the next section. Once they are brown on all sides, remove them from the pan. Repeat this for all the shanks.

   4. Reduce the heat in the pan to medium, and add the onion, carrot, and celery. Move them around in the pan using a heat-resistant spatula to help cook them evenly. When they have begun to soften and caramelize

slightly after about 10 minutes, add the butter and allow it to melt. Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf and allow this to cook together for 1 minute.

   5. Add the stock and bring it to a boil. Turn off the burner, arrange the 4 shanks in the middle of the pan and surround with the fingerling potatoes. Sprinkle a pinch more salt and black pepper over the potatoes. Cover the pan and put it in the oven for about 3-1/2 hours. When the meat peels away from the bone, the lamb is ready! Present this right in the roasting pan. Garnish with lots of chopped parsley, and place it in the center of the table.

How to Cut on the Bias:

“On the bias” means cutting on a slight angle. Lay the vegetable horizontally on the cutting board and, with your non-knife-wielding hand, hold it down close to the end where you’ll begin cutting. Curl your fingers so that the tips are tucked under and the knuckles point outward—in the chef world, this is called the “claw grip.” Hold the blade of your chef’s knife against the vegetable at a 45-degree angle. Begin slicing slowly toward your holding hand, making sure to keep your fingers tucked in. Reposition your “claw grip” to make sure it doesn’t wind up a few fingers too short!


LAMB SHANK – Cut from the arm of shoulder, lamb shank contains the leg bone and part of the round shoulder bone and is covered by a thin layer of fat and fell (a paper-like covering). Lamb shank is usually prepared by braising or by cooking in liquid.

Fig and Lavender Honey Yogurt Pie

Summertime begs for cool, no-bake desserts, and this is one of the best, with no mixer or special equipment required.

Serves 10 to 12

1-1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup quick cooking oats

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 pinch sea salt

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

3 tablespoons cold water

1 cup Greek-style yogurt

1/2 cup lavender honey

1-1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled

12 purple mission figs, quartered lengthwise

1.       Stir together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, oats, brown sugar, and salt until moistened. Press into the bottom of a 6-inch spring form pan and half way up the sides, packing it tightly with your fingertips so it is even and compacted.

2.       Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small sauté pan and let soften for two minutes. Whisk together the yogurt and honey in a medium-size bowl. Set the small sauté pan over the lowest flame possible while

stirring constantly, just until it melts. Whisk the melted gelatin into the yogurt mixture until smooth.

3.       Whip the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Gently fold half of the whipped cream into the yogurt mixture, taking care not to deflate the cream. Now fold the last of the whipped cream into the yogurt

mixture. Gently spoon the mixture into the prepared spring form pan, then cover the pan with plastic wrap,

and refrigerate it until completely set, at least 6 hours and up toone day.

4.       Hold a small knife under hot tap water, and then run it along the sides of the pie to help release it from

the pan. Open the spring, and slice the pie into wedges. Serve each slice on a dessert plate. Place two pieces   of fig fig on top of each slice, and scatter a few fig pieces on the plate. Serve ice cold.

Swap It:

You can substitute low-fat “Greek-style” yogurt in this recipe with fantastic results. It has a thicker, creamier consistency than regular yogurt because it has been strained to remove the excess liquid.

*Recipes courtesy of Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl

(HCI Books; April 2010; Trade paperback/$18.95)