q&a, vol. II

[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.

flour shaker godsend thing

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?


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.

I Hear It’s All Teh Rage: Smitten Kitchen, in an effort to connect with the “cool kids” now has a Facebook page. Come by, say hello and dork out with us over there!

One year ago: Mushrooms Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes</a

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24 comments on q&a, vol. II

  1. I have tried marrons glace twice and failed. Very frustrating. The results were ok (I think I mixed some into ice cream which was good), but they were nowhere near the purchased kind. Sigh. I think I never found the right recipe.

  2. Stacey

    Great questions, great answers! Thanks Deb! I agree about the pastry blender…and I had to laugh about your answer to 9, because they would have been my answer to question 10. I have never prepared anything with actual fresh artichokes because they seem very daunting indeed. And yet I love them when prepared by others…I am off to your archives to overcome my artichoke fear!

    Thanks again!

  3. thankful

    Hi Deb, I just wanted to say thank you for posting such great recipes. You have given my roommates and I something to share together, and it has made us better friends as a result. We’re not super-duper cooks, but we try things. Sometimes they’re a flop, but sometimes it’s awesome. And it’s generally done over a bottle of wine, and a good time is had regardless.
    So thank you.

  4. I have a question. Remember when the “cool women who rock” (cool women who suck is more like it) stole my empanadas at Amy’s big hippie full moon BS party?
    Can you make me some more? It’s my birthday. I still cry when I think about those patchouli wearing white girl dread ho’s eating my empanada’s from Smitten’s Kitchen. Crying, right now. Sniff Sniff.
    They make me want to vote for Guiliani. Those hippies are making me Republican. You can stop it! Don’t let me slide into the abyss of Bush loving. HELP!! You have the Power! Save me!

  5. Just wanted to let you know that I’ve added you to my favorite sites on my blog. Its a crafty site and I happen to think that your recipes and pictures and all the time you put into them, are definately a craft! I hope you will visit me!

  6. The question and answer part of your blog is so very helpful. All the pictures you post are great too! I think I might try the oatmeal cookies you posted a few days ago. They look very yummy indeed!

  7. PS. QUESTION **** My favorite 12 inch NON STICK frying pan has a nick as it were right in the center of the pan. Do I need to throw out this very expensive pan for a new non stick because of the Tephlon problem? I hate getting rid of a pan that is not broken – as well as the expense of buying a replacement. It’s my only non stick pan in my collection!

  8. I must address your response to question number six. If you didn’t like the wine, why would you cook with it? Isn’t that a cardinal rule of cooking?!?! Give me the wine in the fridge, we’re donating it to a wino on the street who will love it and give it a rousing farewell.

    As for a frying pan, I’d recommend a Le Crueset Cast Iron skillet, 11 1/2″. LOVE IT.

    PS…thanks for answering my question!

  9. Union square farmer’s market had chestnuts when I was there on Monday — don’t know if those are what you’re looking for, but I think those are probably better quality that grocery stores ones. :-) I’m frightened of cooking with chestnuts, period, so candying them is a LONG way off for me! Although your last recipe definitely got me thinking…

  10. EB

    I have to say I love your ‘one year ago’ feature. I love seeing how your blog progressed and looking back at favorite posts. Yes I was a long time lurker :)

  11. that was so fun to read your answers … i master bread making this year and i love it and now i do it every week … im sorry i missed out on the Q&A i have been dying to ask you what your favorite thanksgiving roll recipe is …

    happy friday


  12. What a great post! Though I do have one little thing to add to your answer to #4 – I think everyone needs a chef’s knife. You can get by without all the other little knives, but you need one big one to chop with.

  13. Great advice for Sarah. I mastered risotto at home because I was never satisfied with the results in restaurants. I still make the mistake of ordering it but I know I can do better.

  14. Kathryn

    I guess I should probably de-lurk, considering that I just friended you on Facebook, haha. I love your blog! Your photos are amazing and you just have the best sense of humor about cooking. I can’t wait for the pie crust recipe and the next installment of the Q&A!

  15. I just have to say I completely agree about the pastry blender. I went out and bought a KitchenAid mixer when I wasn’t strong enough to mix some cookie doughs by hand, but I will always make biscuits and pie crusts with a pastry blender. Back in the day, long before I even knew what a stand mixer was, I used a pastry blender to cream my sugar and shortening for all sorts of recipes. I wish I had my grandmother’s old wooden handled one, but my cheap one gets the job done for now.

  16. Christina

    i realize this comment is 2 years too late, but i just recently found your site and am now obsessively working my way through all the glorious recipes.

    i have to add another vote to the wondrousness of the pastry blender. in addition to making fantastic pie crusts, i have also discovered that it’s also great at tasks like making guacamole (which i actually make more often than pie…). it’s also good for making chunky mashed potatoes when you don’t want to be bothered with larger pieces of equipment or more dishes.

  17. Sally

    I like the pastry blender for cutting/mixing feta with things like chopped black olives and diced green chiles from a can. Use the mix to top cooked chorizo in a puff paste sheet and bake. Sour cream to garnish.

  18. Gina Moore

    Deb this post just came up on the “Suprise” button and I totally think you should do it again for your last post of 2020! Even these same questions :) xoxo