What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I was eight years old. Armed with my brand new Betty Crocker Boys & Girls Cookbook purchased with my own money from Haslems’ Book Store, I announced one day that I would like to make dinner for the family. The menu was Jell-O, macaroni and cheese and for dessert, a cake from the Easy Bake Oven Santa had brought the Christmas before. From what I remember, I did most of the cooking myself – Daddy helped with the macaroni prep (back in those days, macaroni was just that – no fancy terms like ‘pasta’ were thrown around), but other than that, it was all me. Even set the table too – even at that age, I knew my way around a place setting. And a passion was born.
Who had the most influence on your cooking?
I had two serious influences – first and foremost, there’s my paternal grandmother – Mama J. Even though we didn’t see a lot of each other when I was a wee lass, we definitely had a bond, the strongest thread of which was cooking. I still have a number of her cookbooks, with inscriptions and notes all throughout in her handwriting. Treasures.
Secondly, there’s Julia Child. No joke. I spent many a Saturday afternoon sitting in my bean bag chair on the floor of the bedroom, watching her “The French Chef” show in glorious black and white on our PBS station. My first grown-up cookbook was the companion to this series – and I still cook out of it often. Her technique was fascinating – but it was her sheer joy of the craft that made the biggest impression on me. Even to this day.
Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
Somewhere, in the iPhotos file on my other computer that I can’t access at the moment (don’t ask) I do indeed. But in lieu of that, I offer a photo of me, circa 1982 or ’83, in my childhood kitchen. And yes, that’s a bottle of tonic water I’m opening – the bottle of vodka was just out of camera range.
Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
Pie crust from scratch. Can’t do it. No matter how hard I try. I think I have a mental block about this particular item, as I have friends who are much less accomplished cooks than I (yeah, I know that sounds uppity, but if the apron fits…) who can make a great crust. Maybe someday…
What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
Most valued: My santoku knife. The Cuisinart. The Kitchen-Aid mixer. And my first Le Cruset dutch oven.
Biggest letdown: any garlic prep gadget other than a mincer – all a big waste of coin and time. Pfffft.
Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
One of my favorite salads: cottage cheese, cantaloupe, grapes and bananas, poppy seed salad dressing and raisin bran.
Shut up. It’s delish.
What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don't want to live without?
High quality parmesan-reggiano; high quality balsamic vinegar; milk (I LOVE milk and drink at least a gallon of skim a week.)
Your favorite ice-cream...
Pistachio, pralines and cream, cinnamon, Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby
You will probably never eat...
Your own signature dish...
Chicken Florentine Lasagna; French Onion Soup: BBQ and all the fixins; Brasato al Barolo