How To Entertain In A Small Kitchen (And On A Budget)

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When you have an expansive kitchen, entertaining is easy. There is tons of room to roll the dough for your pies and ample space to set up a kitchen-island buffet before sitting down to an immaculately-set dining room table. But, when you're a recent college graduate — or a young professional living in the big city — many find a lack of space makes entertaining a challenge.

But not Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine, the creators of Big Girls Small Kitchen. Since bonding over oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in the seventh grade, Cara and Phoebe have hosted many a cocktail or dinner party in their tiny New York City apartments. Their debut guide to entertaining in those closet-sized spaces (aptly named In the Small Kitchen) comes out tomorrow, and lucky for us, they're sharing some of their secrets with us.


Living in a tiny apartment in a big city is hard and entertaining when you have a closet-sized kitchen seems more impossible. How do you do it when you're short on space (and space-hogging appliances)?

Basically, we just try to keep it simple. We have a whole section in the book on one-pot meals, and we've got a lot on our site, too — think Lentil Chili, Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Golden Raisins, or a Sweet and Savory Moroccan Stew. When you're short on space, it's all about resisting the little extras and focusing your attention in the kitchen. We're proponents of buying (rather than making) any extras: bread, for example, is a great candidate for something you can pick up on your way home from work. 

In terms of equipment, we go for the best quality and skip the rest. We love our Le Creuset pots and our Cuisinart Mini Prep. Cara bakes a lot, but she gets by without a standing mixer — the handheld one does the trick 99% of the time. You can file the other 1% under "kitchen disasters."


You've done a fair share of entertaining in small, urban apartments both during college and after. Making a one-pot meal is one thing, but what about seating your guests?

If we're only a total of four or six, we'll have everyone pull chairs around our "dining room" tables. This feels moderately grown-up, even if the napkins are assorted colors and only four of the glasses match. But as soon as our parties get bigger, we move to the floor. The real table becomes the place where we put the buffet, and then we all make plates and sit on the floor or on couches around the coffee table. There's just something so cozy and casual about it, and though it may sound unrefined at first, no one ever minds. (In fact, you can see how happy we are to be curled up on the carpet in this photo!)

What about entertaining when you're on a budget?

BYOB is key! We discuss some of the best BYOB strategies both for hosts and appreciative guests in our book. Honestly, if you can calculate what you'd be comfortable spending in a restaurant when out with friends and stay under that, you should be fine. So, say that's $40 (at least in NYC). You can easily make dinner for six on that budget, so long as guests are bringing the booze. 

To keep it really cheap, though, we definitely advocate potlucking. Now that it's summer, no one even has to host — just go to the park! We even have a guide on our site about how to be a potluck all-star to get you started. Make sure someone volunteers to bring paper plates and disposable silverware — that even makes clean up a group effort!


As seasoned hostesses cooking in small kitchen, do you find yourself relying on one signature recipe?

Tartlettes (aka mini pizzettes) for sure. We've made tons of variations just by switching out the toppings, incorporating ricotta or smoked mozzarella. They're just pizza toppings on rounds of puff pastry, and they're so simple to make. They come out of the oven flaky and rich, and everyone is obsessed with them — including us. We'll serve them as hors d'oeuvres at dinner parties and feature them in cocktail party menus.


Okay, now spill the juicy stuff. Worst dinner party disaster?

Phoebe once broke the glass dish she was making her aunt's brisket in. It shattered when she poured cold broth onto the hot pan, scaring her completely. She was able to save some large wedges of meat that remained free of glass shards, but overall it was pretty traumatic. [Yikes.]

To read more tips on the art of setting the coffee table, rounding out one-pot meals, and how to host a brunch while sleeping in 'til noon, check out In The Small Kitchen, on sale May 24th.

Click here for the Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Golden Raisins recipe.