Interview with Cleveland Reader Chavi Cohen

Chavi Cohen's bundt cake and KitchenAid mixer Please welcome Chavi Cohen for today’s reader interview. Chavi is married with two adorable little munchkins, 22 months and 3 months. Read more about her on her blog, Harvard Housewife.

  1. What do you remember about family meals and your mother’s cooking style when you were growing up? My family almost always had dinner together.  My mother’s cooking style was classic Jewish Eastern European. Lots of meat and potatoes with vegetables as more of an afterthought.  We had red meat at least 2-3 times a week. My mom has a bit of a gourmet side and liked to experiment every once in a while with new recipes and flavor profiles.  But mostly, we had savory, heavy dinners.
  2. How is your cooking style different from your mother’s? I still have a preference for meat, but because my husband is from Florida and enjoys more vegetables, we do a lot more salads.  I also love Mexican/Argentine food (a nod to my Argentine roots – my grandfather grew up there) and my husband spent 10 years living in Arizona, so we usually have some sort of Hispanic dish once a week.  I love enchiladas, burritos… I make a great Mexican stew.  Since we didn’t eat traditional Shabbos (Sabbath) meals in my parents’ house, I also make a lot more kugels and do a ton of baking. My mom was more the bakery sort, I think mostly because she didn’t have a Kitchenaid mixer.
  3. What is your favorite gadget? My baby pink kitchen aid mixer.  When I was engaged I loved baby pink (still do!) so I ended up with lots of baby pink housewares.
  4. Do you entertain, and in what circumstances? What is the biggest party or meal you have hosted to date? I love to entertain.  We mostly entertain on Shabbos.  I don’t mind inviting very large families. They always almost want to invite us instead but we’re happy to have them.  The biggest party or meal I have hosted was probably my son’s bris seudah (celebratory circumcision meal).  I wasn’t really at my peak hosting ability but I was able to direct my amazing friends who came to help and I had cooked and frozen a ton of food ahead of time.  I also made some easy things a few days before. Inevitably, with these parties/meals where I cook a lot of food, I leave one item in the fridge!  This time it was the roast I made.  But my husband was thrilled because we were able to keep it to ourselves and eat once all our guests had gone home later in the week.
  5. Can you share a typical daily menu? Weekly menu? Since my husband likes to cook and I work full-time, I’m thrilled he’s able to cook once or twice a week.  For the day, I usually have toast for breakfast and some of the dinner leftovers for lunch.  For dinner during the week, we try to mix it up.  We usually have one Italian night, usually dairy, although pasta with chicken and veggies with all different types of sauces and spices usually makes it into the menu.  We also do one Mexican night.  We try to have red meat, like steak or ground meat once a week as well (can’t forget your roots!).  Occasionally we have big salad nights.  We also, like most people, have one night of leftovers.  Salmon is also featured probably once a week (we get very inexpensive kosher frozen salmon from Giant Eagle).  We also love classic American food, especially in the summer, when meat/chicken/hamburgers on the grill are a must.
  6. How has your cooking style evolved over the years? In the almost three years that I’ve been cooking seriously (my mom never let me in the kitchen!) I have definitely expanded to use a lot of different spices and ingredients that I never saw in my parents house like cumin, ground ginger and sesame oil.  In New York where there are lots of different kosher restaurants, if I wanted a specific cuisine, I would just go out to eat!  But here in Cleveland, I’ve learned to make authentic American Chinese meals, Mexican food and fresh veggies and salads, not just steak and broiled chicken and baked potatoes.
  7. Can you recommend any cookbooks, TV shows or websites that have inspired you? The cookbook that really jumpstarted my cooking was the first Quick and Kosher cookbook by Jaime Geller.  I got it only four days after getting married and have relied on it ever since.  I also Google ingredients for inspiration or look at a number of recipes and combine my favorite elements.  Lastly, I keep an eye out for interesting and easy recipes in Binah magazine and love trying them out occasionally.
  8. What posts on CM have you enjoyed? Do you have suggestions for future posts? Love the posts on how to shop for bargains, would love more of those!
  9. What is the oldest item in your kitchen? The oldest item, while not really for cooking, is a handmade wooden stepstool my grandfather made years and years ago.  It’s great for reaching the top shelves and my daughter loves using it to see what we’re doing on the countertops.  The newest? The newest is probably a set of metal mixing bowls my husband picked up from the Marc’s closeouts (Clevelanders will know what I’m talking about) for almost nothing.  We used to use glass bowls and slowly but surely they are all breaking – so we’re hoping these bowls last a while.
  10. What would you like to change about your cooking style in the coming year? I would love to follow my husband’s lead and use different and interesting spice combinations.  Unfortunately, after years of using the sacred combination of onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper, it’s hard to deviate!
  11. Chavi Cohen and familyPlease share a favorite recipe and cooking tips. Cooking tip: My favorite way to get a crisp top on a piece of salmon or chicken is to use tons of Pam spray!!  It’s low-fat and easy to do.  Especially on salmon, if you put some breadcrumbs on top and then put a good layer of cooking spray on top, you’ll get a moist layer of breading that is just delicious!  My mom does this and it was such a good tip I use it all the time! Also, to get an authentic Mexican flavor, use cumin and a mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheese in your dish and for authentic Chinese, invest in sesame oil – it’s expensive but you only use a little for each meal and the difference in taste is quite significant. You’ll think you’re eating out at your favorite Chinese restaurant!

You may also enjoy:

Five Basic Recipes for the Food Processor

Sourdough Pancakes

The Secret to Great Home Cooking


  1. Great interview! Hello – how come I didn’t know about the Giant Eagle Salmon? That’s really good info. I also enjoyed the tip about how to spice food Mexican-style. I’ll definitely try it. 🙂