- What do you remember about family meals and your mother’s cooking style when you were growing up? My mom liked to cook and bake and we would cook together. We had steak/chicken and vegetables style meals quite a bit, but she also tried certain Chinese style dishes, and made Hungarian specialties, like tongue and stuffed cabbage, that my father preferred.
Despite her time limitations (she is an attorney and always worked full-time even when I was very young) she almost always managed to cook a hot meal every night and we always ate as a family. I learned many useful skills from her – she would often give me directions over the phone when I got home from school, so I could prep ingredients.
- How is your cooking style different from your mother’s? I have a broader spice collection and am much more likely to plan meals around what is in season, but that’s because I have access to things she didn’t like a weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) box from a local farmer. My cooking is also more biased toward the Middle East and Far East, mostly because of travels in my 20s.
- How did you learn to cook? I learned to cook when I became vegetarian as a young teen. My mother brought home vegetarian cookbooks from the library and told me to plan menus. She shopped for them and then it was my responsibility to cook the food. It was fun and my whole family liked when I cooked – so I kept on doing it.
- Do you entertain, and in what circumstances? What is the biggest party or meal you have hosted to date? Yes, I like to entertain. Brunches are my favorite meal to host, because of all the possibilities of breakfast or luncheon foods. We host Shabbat meals on occasion, too. The biggest party I have ever hosted? I used to throw massive (200+ people) dance parties before my daughter was born. But I don’t think that is quite what you meant. <laughing> The largest sit-down meal I have ever hosted was a Passover seder for about 20 people. I would do it again.
- Can you share a typical daily menu? Weekly menu?
Daily: Breakfast – reheated oatmeal with either milk and brown sugar or grated veggies and spicy sauce (I make a big batch of oatmeal on Sunday and refrigerate it for the whole week.)
Lunch – usually leftovers from previous night’s dinner, or peanut butter sandwiches with fruit and a yogurt.
Dinner – Spinach and lentil soup with crackers, pickles and fresh or dried fruit.
Weekly: I plan meals for the coming week on Thursday nights, after I get our vegetable delivery – the farmer decides what’s in the CSA box each week. I usually cook, or have my husband cook, a vegetarian meal on Saturday nights, Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. One or two of those meals will probably be big salads. Friday nights are almost always roast or stewed chicken of some permutation, a salad, and challah with pickles and humus. Wednesday nights we usually go out to eat because I work particularly late that day and my husband and daughter meet me in town after work.
- How has your cooking style evolved over the years?
I was vegetarian as a teen and vegan in college. But later on my vegetarian militancy mellowed, though I still avoid meat most of the time (for all reasons – health, ethics, environment, cost.)
As an adult, cooking has become a way to indulge my taste for novelty. It is very exciting to try new foods. I often bake traditional Jewish-Hungarian breads, pastries and cakes that are impossible to purchase commercially around here. I can cook or bake anything I like if I have a recipe and can find the ingredients! But finding the ingredients is the hard part – I have not made many of the organ meat dishes my mother made in my childhood because I cannot get them kosher from local ethically-raised animals. My husband is relieved, I’m sure.
- Can you recommend any cookbooks, TV shows or websites that have inspired you?
I love cookbooks! It was hard to contain myself here…these are the ones I refer to most:
- Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian World of the East – You can look up any vegetable or spice in her immaculately indexed book and find several recipes that use it. She also explains various Asian cooking techniques in great detail. Almost Joy of Cooking-esque in her thoroughness and attention to detail. (I love the great 1980s line illustrations, too.)
- Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen – Great for anyone who wants to cook like their Jewish grandmother did. Stronger on Ashkenazi recipes than Sephardi.
- Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food – Lovely recipes, most of them simple. A lot of history on what influenced Middle Eastern food (Turkish, Iranian, Levantine and Arabian influences all explored.)
- Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan With A Vengeance – Moskowitz is the only vegan cookbook writer I know who combines strong vegan principles with an excellent (self taught?) knowledge of food chemistry. She’s very New York-centric and somewhat punk. But anyone can appreciate her recipes, which are well-written and delicious.
- What posts on CM have you enjoyed? Do you have suggestions for future posts?My favorite CM post ever was the pictorial tutorial on sour dough. I had always liked the idea of sour dough but was intimidated by the specifics of creating a starter. Your post gave me confidence!
- What is the most unusual dish you’ve ever made?
Cherry borscht. It is well-known to Hungarians but most Americans think I’m nuts when I mention it. The word ‘borscht’ throws them, I suppose. The soup is so good, I make it every year when sour cherries are in season. My parents have two sour cherry trees in their yard just so that we can make vast quantities of cherry borscht. It is a taste from my father’s family.
- What is the oldest item in your kitchen? The newest? The oldest item is the 1970s-era Kitchen Aide mixer (a lovely-awful muddled autumn yellow…think 1970s M&Ms) gifted to me by my mother. The newest is a covered bin for vegetable waste bound for the compost pile. We were tired of fruit flies hovering over my bowl of kitchen waste.
- What would you like to change about your cooking style in the coming year? Become more efficient…so that we always have leftovers for lunch, and never waste any food.
- Please share a favorite recipe and cooking tips.
My favorite cooking tip these days is to delegate! My husband arrives at home several hours before I do, so I leave detailed dinner preparation instructions and he executes them. If my toddler gives him enough time, that is.
I am also a fan of your discussions of energy efficiency. Perhaps you could do a future post laying out a “for example” schedule of a typical baking/cooking session? I am curious as to how to work out the different temperatures/timing of baking/cooking multiple dishes in the same oven.
Thank you, Kim, for your thoughts, ideas and suggestions. How is cherry borsht different from fruit soup? Many fruit soups consider sour cherries a key ingredient.