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Book Review: Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl

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“My kitchen is so small…”

 “How small is it?”

 “It’s so small we keep the refrigerator outside.”

That joke may not be hilariously funny, but it’s true. My kitchen is so small that if I’m cooking and someone else is hanging out, he'd better sit down before I find a new use for my chef’s knife. We have a cabinet-sized refrigerator sort of built in beneath a (you guessed it) cabinet, which we use for cold drinks and condiments. Our refrigerator and freezer are in a tiny smokehouse that’s fine if it doesn’t freeze outside (then the food in the fridge freezes, too. If you’ve ever dealt with defrosted mayo, you know it’s not pretty.) Canned foods and other non-perishables in animal-proof containers are out there (we really don’t want to attract bears and coyotes), as well as my bakeware (and my leaf-blower, but that’s another story).

Jennifer Schaertl has written a cookbook for all of us who suffer from KD, kitchen dysfunction, due to undersized kitchen facilities. In addition to fabulous recipes (I’m not exaggerating) like “Swanky Strawberry Salsa,” “Hot-and-Bothered-Dragonfly-Prawns” and “Bread Pudding with Bourbon Crème Anglaise,” Schaertl includes a plethora of information in sidebars like “Swap It” (you can make the bread pudding with rum instead of bourbon, if you like) and “Did You Know this Crap” (e.g., facts about Brussels sprouts and how to choose the right ones), and “Chefology” (explanations of a variety of things, like saffron).

Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens is illustrated with photographs that jump off the page, grab you by the throat, and scream, “Make me!” How appetizing are the photos? I’ve got barbecued ribs going right now, but it’s the photos in this book that are making me drool!

Schaertl does a fine job of listing and describing the kitchen tools you absolutely must have in a small kitchen, and the ones you should deep-six. I love her suggestion for a ceiling pot-rack, but with our seven-foot ceilings, my six-foot husband would regularly be in stitches, and not because I’m funny. She emphasizes that the home gourmet cook does not require the same equipment needed in a restaurant kitchen, and her recipe directions reflect this philosophy by using a small assortment of utensils and tools.

With chapters like “It’s Not What You Have, It’s How You Use It,” and “Preventing Crappy Little Casualties,” Schaertl gives more than instruction; she gives encouragement.  Her recipes include everything from appetizers to desserts, with wonderful entrees, and “Dignified One-Pot Creations.”

In a crappy little kitchen like mine, I have to be very selective about cookbooks. Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens definitely deserves space, even if it means sending The Nancy Drew Cookbook and The Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook out to the smokehouse. One warning, though: after trying these gourmet dishes, you will never go back to Hamburger Helper.

Bottom Line: Would I buy Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens? Absolutely — for myself and for anyone I love who is cooking in a CLK.

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