Tag Archives: Kitchen

Interviewing Me: In the Kitchen

Q: What is your first cooking memory? A: I think I was about four years old. I can remember sitting on the counter (something I still do) and helping my mom mix batter in a big white bowl with a large wooden spoon. (She gave me that bowl when I moved out on my own after college, and I still use it regularly.) I also remember begging for her “last little bit” of coffee (yes, at age four). Love at first sip!

Q: Describe your cooking style in fifteen words or less. A: Experimenting With and Sharing Fresh, Organic Traditions with Plenty of Butter, Garlic, Passion and Joy.

Q: Do you have a favorite cookbook? A: My go-to cookbook is The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook (I have the 1989 edition). I love this one because you can find recipes based on food groups. Each food group is alphabetized, for example, in the “Vegetable” section, it will list Tomato before Squash. Each vegetable gets a basic “how to prepare” and a few recipes that include it.  A new favorite is Simply Organic. This one has beautiful pictures and is fun because the chapters are based on seasonal availability.

Q: Any favorite chefs or food celebrities? A: Favorite chefs would be Bryan (my husband), my mom, and my Grandma Thompson. My absolute favorite food celebrity is Giada De Laurentiis. I especially love her “Giada at Home” show! I started watching her when I began my weight loss journey (it was one of the few things on TV at the time I would go to the gym every day). I love her style and that so many of her recipes are healthful. Plus, she obviously takes care of herself. I hope I look that great at 40! A close second would have to go to Ina Garten, “The Barefoot Contessa.” And runner-up would be a tie between Sunny Anderson’s “Cooking for Real” and Pat and Gina Neely’s “Down Home with the Neelys.”

Q: What is your go-to dish or meal? A: Breakfast for Dinner! Specifically, Egg Casserole and Fruit Salad.

Q: What culinary creation are you most proud of? A: My Turkey Feta Meatballs with Tomato Caper Pasta. I have a coworker that I shared this recipe with and she makes it for her family about once a week!

Q: Do you have a memorable kitchen disaster? A: I was about 7 years old, and mom had gotten my twin sister and I a Better Homes and Garden New Junior Cookbook (1991 ed.). I was making “Scrambled Eggs,” something no one really needs a recipe for, but I was a kid and making them on my own for the first time. The recipe called for 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 c. milk. You guessed it. I switched the two amounts. 1/4 tsp. milk and 1/4 c. salt. Trust me, it took forever to pour that much salt, but I was patient, because I was determined to follow the recipe exactly. The result: the saltiest eggs in the world! We didn’t even get a chance to chew or swallow. As soon as it touched our tongue, it went back to the plate! My family still teases me about that one!

Q: Is there anything else that gives you trouble in the kitchen? A: Anything sharp! Mostly it’s the microplane, but the cheese grater has been known to knick a knuckle or two as well! Speaking of knuckles, they always seem to find the bottom edge of the cabinets too. And, like any good cook, I have my share of scars from knives and oven burns. I would never be a hand model! Thank God for the food processor!

Q: Do you have any favorite kitchen tips that you wish to share? A: 1. Clean As You Go! 2. Wash your hands with salt and lemon juice or lemon-scented soap after chopping garlic, onions, or handling fish. 3. Clean As You Go!

Q: What’s your favorite dessert? A: Hands down, Grandma Great’s Oatmeal Crispies! (They’re also the cookie that I gave to Bryan during our “getting to know you” phase at camp, the summer of 2004, and one thing he still asks for (“The way to a man’s heart…”). “Grandma Great” was my Great Grandmother Kahler, my Grandma Thompson’s mother. Bryan’s Apple Pie a la Mode would be a close second though.

Q: What other kitchen memories stand out to you from your childhood? A: I remember in 1st grade, I got the chicken pox for the second time (at least they told me it was chicken pox again. It didn’t itch like the first time, but I didn’t care because I was a first grader and got to miss a week of school). I spent the whole week baking with my Grandma Thompson! We made pies and cookies and played with blocks and puzzles, and she showed me her secret stash of drawings she had done when she graduated from high school. I love her!

Q: Who does most of the cooking in your house? A: Growing up, my mom and I did most of the cooking, though my sister and brother would help on a regular basis too. I just always had more of a passion for cooking, I think. Now, Dad was the Grill Master, and he had a few other signature dishes that he’d make too: scrambled eggs (I watched him instead of following a cookbook after that first experience), sliced tomatoes with homemade Thousand Island dressing and sugar, and Pheasant Chowder (yes, he shot the pheasant himself). Now, Bryan and I share kitchen duties. His mom cooks, but his dad is the one with the culinary passion. Bryan spent several months on an out-of-town construction assignment with his dad before we got married and had him teach him several favorite recipes, my favorite of which is his made-from-scratch turkey ‘n’ dumplins. We love cooking together too! It’s fun to have like passions!

Q: Do you have a favorite kitchen quote? A: I can think of a few.

From the 1995 movie Sabrina, while eating Moroccan chicken on the floor:

Sabrina: “It’s really so much better if you eat with your hands.”
Linus: “It’s interesting. I’ll have to try it with soup sometime.”

From the 2007 movie No Reservations:

Kate: “I wish there was a cookbook for life, you know? Recipes telling us exactly what to do….”
Therapist: “Well, …you know better than anyone, it’s the recipes that you create yourself that are the best.”

And an anonymous poem called “Kitchen Joy” that always sat on my mother’s kitchen sink windowsill:

“Thank God for dirty dishes; they have a tale to tell. While other folks go hungry, we’re eating very well. With home and health and happiness, we surely shouldn’t fuss. For by this stack of evidence, God is very good to us.”

Love Your Kitchen – You Spend a Lot of Time There! (Mar. 9, 2010)

How much time do you spend in your kitchen each day? A recent poll revealed that time in the kitchen over the last 40 years has decreased significantly, mostly due to the creation of efficient food prep items (like the microwave: an appliance we don’t own and don’t care to). Most families don’t even create 4 homemade meals per week nowadays! This was a really interesting article, but it was kind of sad to me. To see the full article, click here.

I was trying to calculate how much time I spend in the kitchen. Let’s take Sunday, for example. I always spend more time in my kitchen over the weekends than during the week, as I work an 8-5 job on Mondays through Fridays. Sunday, I got up and prepped the London broil for lunch (took about 10 minutes to find the recipe, mix the marinade and stick the meat back in the refrigerator). Then I had to prep the dough for our week’s bread (I have this great sourdough starter that I just keep feeding and bake about once a week). That took about 15 minutes. Then I poured myself a pre-made smoothie, wiped down the counters and went upstairs to get ready for church. So, we’re at about 30 minutes so far.

We got home from church about 12:45 and I started fixing lunch. I had my cousin chop the asparagus and onions, while I chopped potatoes, got them boiling, put the green beans on the stove and preheated the oven to broil. While everything was doing its thing on the stove and in the oven, I made some black bean hummus to serve with my All Natural The Works chips. Rinsed dishes and put them in the dishwasher, and cleaned up the countertops. We ate around 1:30, so lunch took 45 minutes, and we’re up to 1 hr. 15 minutes.

After lunch was clean up. I took my time and it was another 25 minutes – I know I’m weird, but washing dishes is therapeutic to me. Then I made a French press of coffee (about 5 minutes). So we’re up to 1 hr. 45 minutes.

Prep for dinner was fairly simple. We had Italian sausage and sauerkraut with apples (see recipe in previous post). It took about 30 minutes, then 10 minutes to clean up afterwards. So, since yesterday was a fairly typical Sunday, I’m going to say I spend about 2 ½ hrs. in the kitchen on Sundays. That’s a good chunk of my day. If our table was in the kitchen, you could add another hour and 15 minutes to that, which makes almost 4 hours in one day!

During the week, my time in the kitchen looks like this: 15 minutes in the a.m. to pack breakfast and lunch and 1 hr. in the evening to prep food and clean up afterwards. Inevitably, when we have company, we end up talking in the kitchen, either while we cook together, or just fixing tea and chatting. Our kitchen is too small to have a table in it, so we eat in the dining room for most meals. If you have a table in your kitchen, your time spent in the kitchen obviously increases. Growing up, the kitchen table was the place we gathered for our after school snacks, homework time, craft time, or just family discussion time, and we always shared dinner as a family (a tradition that many Americans are sadly missing out on today).

My point is this: we spend a lot of time in our kitchens, so make it a place of retreat and enjoyment, and make it work for you.
Pick cheerful colors for the walls, and if you have windows, make it so the sun can shine in! We just redid our kitchen. When we bought the house, it had a country style wallpaper print of vines and blue and pink flowers with thick lace curtains. When we finally got around to removing the wallpaper this winter, I literally felt like I could breathe better (I think those vines were strangling me)! We chose a Lyndhurst Duchess Blue for the top, a Lyndhurst Estate Cream for the trim, and Granola Crunch for below the chair rail. My mom helped me pick out these adorable bright curtains with the same blue and brown and a green that matches our dining room. They’re fresh and fun and energizing. I love them!
Make it efficient for how you work! I built a custom spice rack out of excess crown molding and dowel rods because I was tired of digging through the cupboard for the right herbs and spices every time I was in the kitchen. This way, I can have them alphabetized! The geek in me loves that! (Warning: I also sort my cans by meal type.)

Here’s a little sneak peek into my kitchen (before with wallpaper):

And after (sans wallpaper). It’s a place I love to be now:

And finally, a picture of the dining room, so you can see the fresh color that matches my kitchen curtains (Organic Vegetable Garden: yep, that’s really what it’s called)!
Organic Vegetable Garden

What’s on My Spice Rack, You Ask?

That’s a very good question. Here is my list:

Adobo All-Purpose Seasoning (especially good on chicken)
Basil Leaves
Bay Leaves
Beef Bouillon
Cajun Seasoning
Canadian Steak Seasoning
Caraway Seed
Cardamom, Ground
Celery Seed
Chicken Bouillon
Chili Powder
Chipotle Chili Powder
Chipotle Rub
Chinese Five Spice
Chives
Cilantro
Cinnamon, Ground and Sticks
Coffee, Instant
Cloves, Ground and Whole
Coriander
Cream of Tartar
Cumin
Curry Powder
Dill
Emeril’s Chicken Rub
Emeril’s Original Essence
Emeril’s Southwest Essence
Flax Seed
Garlic Cloves
Garlic Powder
Garlic Salt
Ginger, Ground
Greek Rub
Marjoram Leaves
Mustard, Dried
Nutmeg, Ground and Whole
Onion Flakes
Orange Peel
Oregano
Paprika
Parsley
Poppy Seeds
Peppercorn, Whole
Pumpkin Pie Seasoning
Red Crushed Pepper
Rosemary
Sage, Rubbed
Sesame Seeds
Star Anise
Taco Seasoning
Tarragon
Thyme
Turmeric
Wasabi
Vanilla Beans

And here’s a picture of my spice rack. It’s leftover pieces of crown molding and dowel rods, spray painted to match the trim in my kitchen. My father in law and I built it one Saturday afternoon.

What Every Kitchen Needs

If you’re starting out on your own, or planning a wedding and registering for your first set of kitchen equipment, you may not know where to begin. If you have a good cookbook, like The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook or the Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book, you may find a list in the front of the book. If you register at Williams-Sonoma, they provide a whole kit with lists of what you should register for. If nothing else, get the list from Williams-Sonoma and register elsewhere (though you might as well register at W-S; they have wonderful cooking equipment and great customer service). Now, to my list.

In my opinion, the most important equipment you should have is a good set of sharp kitchen knives, including a pair of kitchen shears and a knife sharpener. If you have to choose and can only buy a few good knives, select a paring knife, a chef’s knife (6″ or 8″), and a serrated bread knife. Sharp knives are actually safer than dull ones. They require less pressure, and thus yield more control by the user. Also, if one does accidentally cut oneself, a straight cut heals more quickly than a jagged laceration. My favorite brands include Shun, Henckel, and Wusthoff.

The next thing you will need is a cutting board. Regardless of what Rachel Ray says, you should NEVER use a plastic board for raw meat. Plastic is fine for vegetables and fruits, but it tends to hold bacteria in the pores of the board. Wood contains natural anti-bacterials that will help kill off any bacteria the meat leaves behind. Regardless of what board you use, be sure to sanitize them, and never cut on your countertops unless they are designed to be used in that fashion (most are not).

As for cookingware, obtain a 10-12″ omelet pan, a 4 qt. saucepan, a dutch oven, and a 8-12 qt. stockpot. You may want to get multiple sizes. Make sure that each pan has a lid that fits well and can go in the oven. I suggest the Emeril’s set; you can get this in stainless steel or nonstick.
As for bakingware, I use as much stoneware as I can. Find a glazed stoneware if you can (I recommend checking out TJMaxx for inexpensive yet high quality glazed stoneware). If I had to pick one stoneware pan to get, it would be a large bar pan (see http://www.PamperedChef.com for what it looks like; it’s also sometimes called a jelly roll pan, 15x10x1″). Other stoneware pans I recommend are muffin pans, casserole pan, pizza pan, 2 pie plates, a loaf pan (or pans) and a square pan (8×8″ or 9×9″). You can buy a separate baking sheet for cookies, or use the bar pan for such jobs.
As for other essential tools, here’s my list:
blender (Osterman is a good brand)
can opener with a bottle opener
colander (for straining vegetables or pasta)
corkscrew (if you like cooking with wine)
first aid kit (every kitchen should have one)
french press
grater (try to find one with multiple size grating options for grating everything from spices to cheese)
hand mixer (if you can afford a food processor or standing mixer, like a Kitchenaid, enjoy it and use it)
hot pads or mittens
ice cream scoop (can be used for scooping muffins into mufin pans)
mixing bowls (get a variety of sizes, at least 3; glass is recommended, though one metal bowl is recommended for items that whip better in chilled bowls, as metal retains the cool temperatures the longest)
pastry cutter and pastry brush
rolling pin
serving spoons: ladle, slotted spoons, pasta server, mesh skimmer and pancake turner
spatulas (preferably, one small, one medium, and one large, for various jobs)
set of measuring spoons (1/4 tsp., 1/2 tsp., 1 tsp., 1 Tbsp.) and measuring cups (1/4 c., 1/3 c., 1/2 c., and 1 c.)
tea kettle
tongs
whisk (my favorite is the ball whisk because it’s easiest to clean – instead of the ends being connected, each whisk wire is separate with a small ball at its end)
wire cooling rack
wooden spoons and spatulas
Optional:
coffee maker
food processor
griddle
microwave
standing mixer
toaster
waffle maker
You may also consider getting a toaster oven that has a convection oven feature on it. This will eliminate the need for a toaster and allow you to cook small portions without using the energy of your conventional oven. I personally do not own or use a microwave oven, but if you do, make sure that any of your dishes that you put into the microwave are microwave-safe.

As for setting a beautiful table, I recommend sticking with white dishes, including serving dishes. To add color to your table, decorate the table with placemats, napkins, and a fresh flower arrangement. Corningware has some great white serving dishes. Also, you’ll want matching flatware (or silverware, if you can afford it).

This is not an exhaustive list, but I do hope it is helpful.

Melissa