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'It's not rocket science'

By Trysta Eakin
Dec. 20, 2010 at 6:20 a.m.


"Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens"

Debut: April 2010

What's inside: 150 pages of space-saving advice, small-space experiences and 130 recipes of salads, soups, side dishes, entrees, desserts and more to make in your apartment-sized, dorm room, or oversized Crappy Little Kitchen (CLK).

Available at: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, HCI Books

More information: www.crappylittlekitchens.com for book info, show info, how-to videos, recipes and more.

Future book ideas: Crappy Little Kitchens 2, baking in CLKs, and traveling with CLKs. "If I can do a traveling one, I want to go into a boat's kitchen and on an island - like cooking over an open spit in Hawaii. They're all recipes that can be found in your house, but the circumstances are just more challenging."

Book Excerpt

Top Five Reasons Why CLKs Rock More Than Glitzy Gourmet Kitchens

1. CLKs take less time to clean.

2. Everything you need is within arm's reach and never gets lost.

3. Stainless steel leaves fingerprints.

4. Making physical contact with your partner, roommate, or friend is easy (and unavoidable) in your CLK.

5. You only have what you need and only need what you have.

Schaertl's holiday CLK recipes

ThanksgivingLamb Shank Shepherd's Pie

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

Lamb shanks, 1/2

Sea salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

1/4

2 cups yellow onion, large dice

1 cup carrot, peel and cut on the bias*

1 cup celery, cut on the bias*

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/4

2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 qt. vegetable stock

3 lb. Yukon gold fingerling potatoes

1/4

*Cut them 1/2

Directions

1. Pre-heat your oven to 400°. Put your Dutch oven or braising pan on the burner, heat to medium high heat, and add your olive oil.

2. Season your lamb shanks heavily with salt and pepper; some will fall off into the pan, so don't worry about over seasoning. Dust them lightly with flour.

3. When the olive oil has begun to smoke slightly, use your tongs to lay one lamb shank on its side into the oil. Let it brown for about a minute, and then turn it slightly to begin browning the entire shank. Once it is brown on all sides, remove from the pan and begin again with another shank. Repeat this for all the shanks, and feel free to brown more than one at a time, if you are comfortable.

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

6. Present this right in the roasting pan. Garnish with lots of chopped parsley, and place it in the center of the table. It's just too magnificent not to.

Schaertl's note: If we were using veal shank here and took away the potato, we'd be making osso bucco. I like doing my shepherd's pie this way for the wow factor. The presentation is outstanding, and no one will know it was a one-pot wonder, so it will blow their minds. If your guests are lucky enough to be in your Crappy Little Kitchen when you pull this out of the oven, you will become legend.

ChristmasIndividual Wellingtons

Ingredients

Beef tenderloin steaks, 8 oz. each, 4 total

3 Tbsp. olive oil + more for pan

Sea salt as needed

Black pepper as needed

2 oz. foie gras, small cubes

3 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped + more for garnish

1 lb. cremini mushrooms, finely chopped

8 oz. unsalted butter

1 shallot, sliced

1 box phyllo dough

Charred Tomato Red Wine Demi recipe

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 350°. Place your 12-inch sauté pan over a medium-high heat. Rub some olive oil over each steak and season them heavily with salt and pepper. When the pan begins to smoke, carefully place each steak into the pan to brown for 2 minutes on this side and then turn them to brown another 2 minutes. Repeat this until the tenderloins have become completely seared and crispy on all sides. Move them to a clean plate and refrigerate them.

2. Place your 12-inch sauté pan back over the heat (don't wash it out, those bits have a lot of flavor), and throw in the cubes of foie gras. Immediately they will start render fat. Add the fresh thyme and mushrooms. Toss this all together and reduce your heat to medium while the mushrooms sweat. Place your 1-quart saucepot over a low heat and add your butter and shallot to slowly melt together.

3. Place a small strainer over the saucepot of butter, and once the mushrooms are completely soft, pour them into the strainer to drain. Top your chilling steaks with the strained mushroom mixture and return them to the fridge. Remove the butter from the heat.

4. Open your phyllo dough and unroll it onto your cutting board, and cut it directly down the middle making 2 even rectangles. Stack them together, and pull one sheet off the top. Using a pastry brush, very lightly paint the piece of phyllo with melted butter. Take another piece of phyllo and place it directly on top of the buttered piece. Butter this layer and continue until you have 6 layers.

5. Place 1/4

6. Lightly grease a baking pan with olive oil, place each steak folded side down onto the pan, and place it in the oven for 12 minutes or until an internal temperature of 135°. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes before cutting a small wedge out of each Wellington. Place the large portions in the center of each dinner plate. Spoon a circle of the sauce off to one side and place the small wedge of Wellington in the center of that circle. Garnish with chopped thyme and serve immediately.

Schaertl's note: A traditional beef Wellington would be an entire beef tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry, but these individual ones are so beautiful. We're also going to use phyllo pastry instead of puff, because it's much more CLK friendly. Foie gras is a very rich, buttery piece of duck or goose live - and very expensive. Luckily you can usually buy it in small amounts at any gourmet food store.

New Year's EveChampagne Oysters

Ingredients

12 fresh oysters

3 oz. unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups brut Champagne

3 Tbsp. chives, minced + 1-inch strips for garnish

Sea salt to taste

Rock salt as needed

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 400°. Shucking oysters is something that does require finesse. Buy them only from a reputable seafood purveyor, who you trust to only sell fresh oysters. If possible, get that person to shuck the oysters for you. However, it isn't impossible to do it yourself.

2. If you are right handed (opposite true for lefties), place a thick dishtowel in the center of your left hand, and place the hinge of one oyster into the palm of the towel wielding hand. If you don't have an oyster knife in your crappy little kitchen, not to worry. Take a butter knife (not a paring knife - you will cut yourself!), and insert the tip between the 2 shells against the little protrusion, and while applying firm pressure, wiggle the blade between the shells. Once the shells are pried apart, take your paring knife and carefully separate the top shell from the bottom one holding the oyster. Run the knife along the bottom shell, cutting through the two muscles and free the oyster, but leave it in the shell. Repeat with the remaining 11 oysters.

3. Heat your 1-quart saucepot over a medium high heat, and add the Champagne and chives bringing it to a boil. Allow the liquid to begin to evaporate until the Champagne has reduced by half.

4. While you wait for the liquid to reduce, place the oysters on the half shell on a baking sheet. If they are rounded enough that they might tip over, put a small pile of rock salt under each shell to keep them level. Put the oysters in the oven and roast for 5 minutes. When you take them out of the oven be careful not to lose any of the juice inside the shells.

5. Turn the heat on your reduced Champagne down to low. Slowly (a tablespoon at a time) whisk the butter into the reduced Champagne. Whisk quickly in order to emulsify the butter and Champagne, and remove from the heat. Season to your taste with salt.

6. Fill a serving tray with rock salt and arrange the oysters on top. Spoon about a teaspoon of Champagne butter sauce over each oyster on the half shell, and top with a strip of chive at an angle over the oyster like a sword. Serve immediately.

Schaertl's note: For oyster experts out there who feel confident eating raw oysters, this recipe absolutely applies to fresh raw oysters. Just skip the roasting step. I, however, prefer the texture of a roasted oyster, which is why the recipe is written this way. If you're feeling adventurous, or if the occasion is far more extraordinary, add a dollop of sturgeon caviar to each oyster. As bold of a statement that oysters make, this recipe is incredibly CLK friendly. All you need is a butter knife, a baking sheet, and a 1-quart saucepot. Feel like MacGuiver yet?

What does kung-fu movie production, cooking gourmet meals and writing a book have in common?

Shiner native Jennifer Schaertl.

Although this hodgepodge of adventures might seem disjointed to the casual onlooker, these three chapters of the 31-year-old Dallas resident's life are serendipitously connected.

Schaertl worked her way into a comfy executive chef's position by following her heart, starting with an inclination toward city living.

"You know how some people will go to New York and say, 'This is a great place to visit, but I would never live here'? Well I'm the opposite. I looked at Shiner as a great place to visit, but not to live. I'm a big-town kind of girl."

New York, New York

Being third-generation "Shinese," Schaertl graduating from Shiner High School in 1997. After earning a degree in management information systems from University of Texas at Austin, she migrated to the Big Apple, eventually living in a small Brooklyn brownstone apartment, where the idea to become a chef and write a quirky recipe book first began.

"I was able to eat at a lot of fancy restaurants (in New York), because by then I was making a grown-up person's salary," Schaertl said. "Living in Austin there's a lot of great restaurants, but as a college student, I couldn't afford to eat at any of them. So now I could taste a lot of different foods and ingredients, and that's when I started cooking a lot more at home."

Working as an office manager for a company that produced Brooklyn-based kung-fu movies, she spent free time in her tiny kitchenette, perfecting her cooking skills and feeding her friends.

"The book title actually came from a friend. He said to me once, 'You cook the best gourmet meals in a crappy little kitchen.'"

The phrase stuck with her and several years later, it transformed into a book title, "Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens."

Living the dream

As it seemed more and more apparent that business field and office work just weren't working for her, the former Miss Shiner (1995), decided to move back to Dallas and pursue the passion she'd been slowly developing - cooking.

As a child, influenced by her parents' and two grandmothers' amateur culinary skills, she said cooking and eating delicious foods denoted happiness.

"Food was always considered a celebration. Food was fun."

Despite a few mishaps along the way - "My dad likes to tell the story about how I burned water cooking spaghetti, and I once made a Boston cream pie with salt instead of sugar" - Schaertl was eager to do what she loved, graduating from Dallas' El Centro College Food and Hospitality Institute in 2003.

At 24, she was older and perhaps more confident and focused than the others in her class, but she wouldn't have had it any other way, she said.

"I think I might have traveled first (instead of college), but I would have gone to culinary school at the same time that I did."

Since then, working in several restaurants in the Texas metropolis, she's been the sous-chef for Savory, as well as Taste, executive sous-chef for Grape and a pastry chef for Suze.

For the past two years, Schaertl has been the executive chef at Dallas' North Central Surgical Center, serving meals to private rooms of high-profile patients, including several members of the Dallas Cowboys.

Claim to fame

If many publishing companies out there had their way, "Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens" would not exist.

After several no's, a couple of yes's turned the tide on Schaertl's story, but the journey didn't start there.

"If you count all the time I spent not realizing I was writing a book, it took about eight years. But from the time I sat down to put it all together, it was a year."

Her experiences of cooking in limited spaces, both in small New York apartments and at many of the Dallas restaurants on her resume, along with the practice of standardizing recipes for many chefs, Schaertl realized she had valuable advice she could impart on many would-be cooks out there.

Clueless as to what it would take to write, publish and sell a book, she did what most of us would do - Googled it.

"When I decided to finally do the book, I Googled 'how to write a book.' After that, I Googled 'how to get published,' and when I wanted to find a literary agent, I Googled, 'how to find a literary agent.'"

Making its debut in April 2010, Schaertl said the book's success is unexpected, as is the position of semi-celebrity in which she finds herself.

Parting advice

Being a chef is not all glamour, as she gives up holidays, grinds out 14-hour days and makes sacrifices for the craft, Schaertl said, but cooking from your home is a piece of cake, sort of.

Many people who think they can't cook or don't get a something right just might have a simple, easy-to-fix problem, she said.

Seasoning with salt and pepper goes a long way in the outcome of a dish.

"So if you're making sauce and when you taste it, it doesn't taste like anything, add a little salt. By adding a little salt, you'll start to taste the mushrooms in it. If you add a little more, you'll start to taste something else . When you get to the point where one taste is exactly the same as the last, then you're there."

Otherwise, it's all there in the recipe.

"If you can read, you can cook. It's not rocket science; if it was, I wouldn't be doing it."

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