‘Gourmet Meals’ cookbook helps tackle space constraints

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Experiences in restaurants, small apartment kitchens inspire chef to write book

Jennifer Schaertl knows a thing or two about cooking in crappy kitchens, something many college students must deal with on a daily basis. In “Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens” Schaertl gives readers advice and recipes specifically tailored to cooking extraordinary meals in small kitchens with inadequate equipment.
While working as an office manager in New York, Jennifer experienced cooking in her first crappy kitchen in her apartment in Brooklyn.

“It was just such an extreme version of one,” Schaertl said. “They took a tiny little bedroom and slapped a little sink and little stove and little refrigerator against the wall, so I started doing a whole lot of crazy stuff in that place trying to make meals.”

Schaertl said that her experience cooking in her small kitchen in Brooklyn influenced her decision to go to culinary school.

“The whole time I lived there I was just making the best meals because I was two blocks away from this really great farmers market,” she said. “It was a great place to learn to cook and whenever I decided to move back to Texas I decided if I was going to start over, I might as well start completely over.”

Schaertl received her culinary training from El Centro College and went on to work at top Dallas restaurants such as Savory Catering, Taste and The Grape Restaurant. Her experience working in these kitchens combined with her experience cooking in her small Brooklyn apartment inspired her to write “Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens.”

“When I moved to Dallas and started working in restaurants, I learned that most restaurants have crappy little kitchens and that’s where a lot of the mechanics of cooking in a small kitchen came from,” she said. “In the book, I adapted that to living at home.”

Schaertl saw a gap in the cookbook market that “Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens” could fill.

“There really aren’t any space constraint cookbooks out there,” she said. “Everything is time constraint or health constraints or monetary constraints, but no one really talks about what to do if you don’t have storage for equipment, or even food.”

In her book, Schaertl assures readers that their surroundings do not have to restrain what they can make in their kitchen. She offers the following tips in her book and extends them to college students living in the dorms.

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Cooking tips

Only buy things the day you're going to cook them

"Then you don't have to worry about storing it in your fridge."

Utilize your microwave

"I did a cooking demonstration at UT Dallas in a dorm room where I steamed crab legs and I steamed artichokes and made white rice and chocolate truffles all inside a microwave."

Don't have multiples of the same equipment

"You need a chef's knife, you need a bread knife, you need a paring knife, a saute pan, a stock pot, and a sauce pot -- that's all you need."

Use what you have available and what's local and fresh

"The great thing about food is that when it's at its best quality is when it is most affordable also. That, I think, is truly the key to gourmet cooking. It's got nothing to do with gadgets, it's got nothing to do with space, it has everything to do with your raw materials."

Source: "Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens"