Come on into my kitchen…
It’s a real place where we — the Husband and Daughters #1 & #2 and the Dogs — spend almost all our time, and where daily meals are made. Well, almost daily. Daily cooking can really wear on a person, and make it hard to get excited about cooking the fancy stuff. Daily cooking means making more than one single dish, if you’re trying to feed your people with a balanced-ish diet.
My approach is to think in terms of whole meals, cooked with an intuition that you can learn. What comes with that intuition is the flexibility to work with what’s on hand, making sure you have some things in the pantry that can make all the difference, and the self-preservation impulse to pair a more complex preparation with a few easy accompaniments. Kitchenelly is elaborated basics, homemade gourmet, a foodie kitchen — welcome!
Okay, I have cooked under all these circumstances:
1. Inspired Creativity
2. Utter Duty/Boredom
3. Fussy Eaters
7. Vegan (sorry!)
9. Zero Food @ Home
11. Pregnant (twice!)
14. Prohibited Ingredients (allergies, religious affiliation, etc.)
But I have cooked through these challenges of the kitchen and amazingly I still love to cook. Right now the trend in the food world is locally grown, quality over quantity, organically grown and raised. What we’re losing track of are the techniques and skills and sheer joy of cooking all this great stuff. Cooking is hands-on, physical, demanding of your senses. If you can get into it, it’s better and healthier than what you can eat out or buy pre-prepared. Certainly less expensive and more relaxing, since no one is waiting for your table or charging you for the wine.
I have published six cookbooks, mostly on grilling, so you’ll see a lot of grilling on my blog. My books are mostly still available: Grill Book (IACP Award Winner), The Art of Grilling, Vegetables on the Grill, Go Fish, One Bowl, and Salad. I’m currently researching a cookbook about a character from the late 1800s who “discovered” the food of the Southwest while tramping across New Mexico and Arizona on foot. He would have trundled through on a train and never tasted the chile he first thought was poison and then came to realize was pure pleasurable heat. Writing about food is wonderful, but the process is very different from the everyday task of cooking, for a partner, a spouse, a family, a party.
My Band, Border Radio
Four of us in my roots folk/Americana band — I’m the lead singer and (mostly) songwriter. We are all acoustic, with great singing and fiddle playing, dobro twanging, guitar pickin’, and upright bass. Here’s where you’ll find out all about the band: www.border-radio.com!
Meals are my Construction Projects
I come from a family of architects and builders of things, so making things runs in the blood. Cooking is like construction: you take quality materials, cut them up and break them down, put them back together according to a plan, and you’ve made something wonderful. I like to use the best raw materials (an quality chicken), well-built tools (my good, inexpensive knife), tried and true techniques (butterfly that bird), lots of detail without overdoing it (herbs under the skin), and have a logical plan for what I want (roast and baste and then hit it with a dash of white balsamic vinegar). The plate is your real estate, and you’ve got to put something great on it.
Since the best food comes from the best ingredients, shopping is an important step in creating great food. I’m thinking all the time about the food stores near me: big and impersonal, gourmet, health food, ethnic, upscale chain, tiny market, and so on. I like to create recipes that anyone can make, shopping in any neighborhood or town or city. But being an explorer is part of the process. I also have respect for a budget, so I don’t always buy the most expensive ingredient. That tiny Mexican market may have more interesting hot sauce than the gourmet store and it will cost considerably less.
Time is also a challenge in the kitchen. It’s difficult to come home from work at 6 and try to get dinner on the table. Makes the nearby Thai take-out look good every time. Intuition and improvisation are the best kitchen tools you can have.
Here’s some more info about me:
What’s your kitchen like?
I don’t have a large kitchen, and I don’t I have fancy equipment (though I fantasize about that Sub-Zero fridge and the Wolf range, no maybe the Viking…). I have a very ordinary gas oven/range, with one high-BTU burner. I love a gas range for the responsive control. You can work with electric — you just have to be prepared to get the pots off the heat while the burner cools down, and it’s a little less carefree. My fridge is small, and I don’t have a lot of counter space. But one important habit I developed while living in my even smaller apartment with almost NO counter space: clean up as you go. Can’t stress that enough. It’s the biggest key to enjoying the kitchen.
What’s your training?
I have taken many short cooking courses, but most influential was a French pastry class I took at Madeleine Kamman’s restaurant, the Modern Gourmet, in Newton, Mass. That galvanized my budding interest in cooking (at 20), though interestingly I don’t make much French pastry (except pie crust or pate brisee). I moved to San Francisco in 1980, when Alice Waters was emerging on the national food scene and “California Cuisine” was a new term, setting the stage for a whole new way of eating. One restaurant in particular that influenced my cooking was Zuni Cafe for their straightforward approach to the freshest ingredients and insistence on presenting each flavor. There were little markets springing up that sold locally grown produce and Laura Chenel’s chevre – she had just gotten her goat farm going right then. At that time most prominent book on grilling was Sunset Magazine’s venerable and many-time reprinted Barbecue Book. Vegetables were relegated to foil packets, and mesquite charcoal was not even on the radar. I wrote Grill Book in the spirit of the time, taking even my Oklahoma barbecue roots and upturning them onto the grill. Cook hot, think simple, use fresh ingredients, and ramp up the flavor was my approach to Grill Book and all the books that followed. I learned as I went. I tested everything on a Weber Kettle using mesquite charcoal from Mexico, and my family tasted the results. But my basic training is the day-to-day of simply cooking: shopping for the ingredients, staring at my options in the fridge and the pantry, thinking about combinations. I’ve got to get dinner on the table for the Husband and Daughter #1 and Daughter #2.
Do you have a particular philosophy in the kitchen?
I like for flavors to be distinct. I like a range of textures on a plate. A range of color is also nice, and I like to avoid clashing colors (like carrots and tomatoes, though there is always an exception!). I try to use a minimal amount of butter, almost never use cream, and almost always use olive oil though sparingly. A very small bit of butter can add so much flavor, usually at least half what a recipe calls for unless you’re baking. I clean up as I go, which is central (did I mention this one?). I don’t under salt. A glass of wine is a lovely muse while cooking, as is NPR (well, not lately with all the bad news about the economy). I never eat standing up, even when I’m having a small lunch. Cloth napkins have a big payoff and little maintenance, especially if you have dedicated napkin rings for your clan. Eat real food, use real stuff.
A big part of my philosophy is this:
If food is really beautiful before it’s cooked, it will also be beautiful after it’s cooked.
So I enjoy the entire process of cooking: handling the raw food, putting some muscle behind the cutting, chopping, and lifting, making it look appealing as I go, and making it taste and look good when it’s finished. Ahh…..
What about healthy eating? And eating responsibly?
Fat content in food is a constant hum in my mind while I’m cooking. I use very little oil, almost always olive oil, and very little butter. I like my non-stick frypan because it allows me to be sparing with fats. And since I use it all the time I’ve gotten myself a good quality one, one that has a solid aluminum coating rather than a plastic Teflon-type coating. I replace it when it gets ratty-looking. And I use wooden tools and plastic spatulas with it. I buy organic when I can but sometimes price, convenience, or availability win over on that one. I look for locally grown produce, which is mainly available at the weekend farmer’s market around here. I haven’t given up beef entirely and you’ll find recipes for it at kitchenelly, but I am cooking a lot less of it. Cows are tough on the planet, so I think hard before buying beef. And I’m a girl from Oklahoma, home of some of the best beef going, so this is a very big sacrifice for me!
What kind of pots and pans do you have?
I have several All-Clad saucepans and a 10” All-Clad sauté pan. My stock pots are heavy anodized aluminum but nothing classy. I have one Le Creuset saucepan that I love, and in my fantasy future I have many, many more. I have two very tiny saucepans that I use all the time, and a good quality non-stick 10” frypan that I use all the time. And of course, an 8” cast iron skillet. Essential.
What knives do you use?
I use a hodge-podge of knives. Several good Wusthof-Tridents, but the knife I use the most is a Forschner (not expensive!) 6” chef’s knife. I did have an amazing high-carbon 8” Sabatier but I think it got thrown away in a pizza box! I have several serrated knives, and I was a sucker for a young Cutco saleskid and have a couple of those. My favorite of theirs is a paddle-shaped serrated “sandwich” knife. Use that little guy all the time. I do keep the knives upside down in a knife block, not in a drawer. And I regularly (like, every evening before I use it) put the edge back on whatever knife I’m using with a steel. I have them all professionally sharpened every few years, which probably isn’t often enough. Knives are really important in cooking. When they’re sharp you don’t get hurt, and you can go so much faster and more efficiently!
What are your favorite kitchen tools?
I use a relatively small cutting board that I can handle easily. I can pick it up to scrape things into a pot, rinse it quickly to cut up something else, and turn it over when I’ve been cutting meat on one side. I’ve cooked for huge parties using that little cutting board! I have short tongs and long tongs and use them all the time. I have several wooden spoons and scrapers, some dedicated to baking and others dedicated to savory food. My immersion blender is key for all kinds of tasks – because of it I rarely get out my Cuisinart. Rice cooker, a life-saver. But you can start a great kitchen with a 6” chef’s knife, a paring knife, a small cutting board, a good 10” sauté pan, a medium-sized saucepan, and a stockpot (think of this as something you’re likely to boil pasta in). Okay, maybe you need a can opener and of course a corkscrew! I would have said a peppermill, but if you’re on a tight budget you can buy the bottled peppercorns that come with a grinder – that will hold you until you make out your Santa list.
Who do you cook for?
The Husband and Daughter #1 and Daughter #2, but #1 is now away at college. One daughter ate artichokes when she was in a high chair, and the other ate only brown and white food (now she’s got a more sophisticated palate, and I’m forbidden to say which is which). The Husband lived in Italy at a crucial gastronomic moment, and became a master of peasant pasta dishes. We have friends over quite often, and I love to cook for them. But I love to hang out with them, too, so I insist on menus that don’t require my constant attention. Nothing is worse than a dinner party you can’t even attend yourself!
Do you take the pictures for Kitchenelly?
I take all the pictures for the blog, which is an ongoing learning experience for me. Food does sit still, unlike your average kid or your adorable dog, but you’ll always think a kid or a dog looks great in a photo, while food…hmmm…it needs to look appetizing. Even raw, which I want to show. I use a Canon Rebel Xsi with a 60mm macro lens, and that makes food look pretty good. So does natural light. I was at every photo shoot for my cookbooks, and I learned a lot from those very talented food stylists. We never “faked” anything for the books — there were no blowtorches or oil spritzers or dry ice — so I figured out how fast you have to move to get a good picture. Then it’s all about eating it up.
Are you in a folky bluegrassy cowboy Americana band?
Yes! I’ve had a great acoustic band for about nine years (with a couple off) called Border Radio. You can find our music on our website as well as our gig schedule — we mostly play in the Los Angeles area but we’ve traveled as far as Austin (for SXSW and Kerrville, TX for the folk festival). I’ve written a lot of the songs, but I have yet to write a recipe song. Thinkin’ about it, though. And we often raffle off homemade apple pies at our gigs. The pie crust recipe is here.
What cookbooks would you have if you could only have three?
I love Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. I was always going to work my way through her Art books, but never did, and this book really distills the essence of her amazing talent. I also use the Fannie Farmer Cookbook all the time. It has the basics for everything, including measuring conversions, lemonade, béchamel, and hermit bars. From those fundamentals you can add, tweak, and explore. One book I pull out all the time is Larousse French Home Cooking by Jacqueline Gerard and Madeleine Kamman. It’s so clearly written and everything in it comes out perfectly. But I may be the only person using that book, sadly.