q&a, vol. II

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[Q&A Vol. I] Phew! You guys really came through with that Q&A request, so thank you. In the interest of not writing The Longest Food Blog Entry, Ever I’m going to handle these in batches of ten, in the order they were received, and pepper them throughout the next month or so. (Only on days where the task of cooking seems ludicrous–can I hear it for the day after Thanksgiving? I mean, seriously. That was the only day last November that I was skeptical about the value of daily posting.)

1. Jenifer from Houston asks: What’s your favorite messed up dish that turned out fabulous?

I suppose it goes without saying that even an undercooked, overflowing, cracked or, heck, fallen on the floor dessert is incapable of tasting bad. Fine, I’m just kidding about that floor part. What? Why don’t you believe me? That said, I have to admit that although there was too much stock/brown butter/lemon/shallot sauce in last night’s brussels and chestnuts, it was absolutely delicious over a bowl of egg noodles. I mean, I might actually make the sauce again, for that purpose alone. Total Eastern European comfort food–is it possible to feel your gene pool smiling? No Deb, that’s just weird.

2. Amy asks What is your very favorite tool in the kitchen? Which kitchen tool has the most interesting story (how you got it, something funny that happened while using it, whatever)?

I am a huge fan of the humble pastry blender. I know that some people like to use their fingers to rub butter into flour for crusts, others swear by the food processor (which I agree works splendidly) or the KitchenAid (haven’t gotten the hang of this for crusts yet) but I love the simplicity and fewer dishes involved in this simple tool.

I brought it home three Thanksgivings ago, actually, and Alex–wary of my mounting kitchen purchases, oh, if he only knew how bad it would get!–questioned whether something of such limited use would actually be worth owning. That night, we made three double-crust apple pies together and by the end of the night, he was a whiz with it. Since we were noobs back then, I didn’t say ‘I told you so.’ But I’m not above saying it now, heh heh. Even though I have a food processor and a zillion fancier tools now, I still go for it first.

I bet you didn’t know that someone can write 165 words on a pastry blender, eh? I aim to baffle, people.

3. Sarah wants to know what advice I would give to someone who was interested in starting to cook–where should they start? She lives alone and says she rarely has the gumption to cook for one after a day’s work.

I would start with the thing that is a constant disappointment to you whenever you eat it out. Nothing will be so satisfying when you conquer it at home, even imperfectly, and you might find the process addicting.

More practical however, if your interest is having something that will last for a week’s worth of meals, try a stew or hearty soup. Me, I’m addicted to eggy things, like quiche or a tortilla patata. That’s the kind of thing I’d make and reheat throughout the week with a green salad or cup of soup. But it’s got to be something you get excited about enough that you won’t mind the extra steps needed to do it yourself.

4. Do you have any suggestions for what you absolutely need to have on hand in your kitchen?

There are a lot of lists out there, and I’m reluctant to add to them. But think basics–a cast-iron skillet, a large saucepan, a big mixing bowl (in fact, I love the 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup, because it does a double-duty in the bowl/measuring department), wooden spoon, silicon spatula. You can get surprisingly far with few things, and a little creativity. I try not to buy something for the kitchen until I’ve cursed at least ten times that I didn’t own it. Then again, we have significant space limitations, but even in a bigger space, moderation is good practice.

5. Mary asks a few questions: What was the first thing you remember eating and loving?

Gah, pinwheel cookies? Artichokes… Mm… tapioca pudding… Breyers Neopolitan. No one thing stands out more than others, but I remember loving all three of these things at a young age.

6. What do you always have in your refrigerator?

Something old that needs to be thrown away that Alex and I are in a stand-off with. Also: something pickled, often some extra-sharp cheddar cheese, butter, seltzer, eggs, nearly a dozen types of nuts/seeds and two types of yeast. An old bottle of wine we bought, didn’t like, and I am saving for cooking.

7. What do you think about the word “foodie”?

Not a fan. Food as an identity? Yawn. I know what you’re thinking–but aren’t cooking, photography and babbling about foods your hobby, Deb? And my response is, of course they are. But they are not my life. Also, I think the term has been long been attached to the sort of people who chase shards of thousand dollar white truffles around the city, something that scares me tremendously.

8. What is your favorite cooking trick (you know, that thing that makes you proud you know how to do it)?

Homemade bread. I love finally getting feel for it, so I don’t have to be daunted by recipes. I wish I could convince everyone to try it, at least once. No matter how good a bread bakery, it’s never as good as when it comes from your own oven because you miss out on the baking aroma.

9. What is your favorite food?

Artichokes.

10. Is there something that you’ve always wanted to make but haven’t yet (either because you haven’t gotten around to it or because it’s just so daunting)?

Yes. Marrons glaces. I swore I’d make them last year and I am swearing it again this year. I know they’re very difficult and time-consuming to make (why they’re typically a few dollars apiece), but I can get past that. What I have a harder time overcoming is that I lack a recipe I feel utmost confidence in, and fear that the chestnuts widely available may not be a high enough quality to candy.

Bored yet? Stay tuned tomorrow for my often-promised but rarely delivered Pie Crust 101. It involves vodka. You’re welcome.

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One year ago: Mushrooms Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes


q&a, vol. II was originally published on smittenkitchen.com

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