1) What is an early memory of cooking or helping your mom in the kitchen?
I don’t have an actual memory of it. I have seen pictures of myself with a mixer and a big grin on my face and I know I did help around the kitchen a lot. But I don’t really remember much of it. I do know that my mother taught me what her mother taught her about not being wasteful so until recently, I always scraped the inside of an eggshell with my finger to get all the eggy goodness out. It is only within the last few years that I decided that I didn’t want to do it anymore and stopped. That’s me, super wasteful.
2) Did you have a "specialty" as a kid?
Again, I don’t really remember much of my childhood. Maybe it was those several concussions or something. I know I made a lot of cakes, I baked beer bread, I made my own bagels and pretzels, and I helped with dinner and all that kind of stuff. But I don’t think I really had a specialty until I was a teenager. Then I became very fond of a chocolate cake that was actually made from mix. In fact, I have the recipe memorized. It was originally called “Peggy Lennon’s Christmas Cake” when I found the recipe in a magazine but over the years it has be called, “Karen’s Chocolate cake” and sometimes “Dan’s cake” after a guy who really liked it. Here it is in all its high fat glory:
Mix one box of the darkest chocolate cake mix (no pudding in the mix) that you can find with 1 package chocolate pudding (I have used instant and non-instant, they both seem to work), 4 eggs, 1/2 cup oil. 1/2 cup water and large container sour cream. Mix that nicely and then add one bag of chocolate chips. Put the whole lot in a greased and floured (use a little cocoa instead of flour if you want) bundt pan. Chuck it in the oven at about 350° for 45 or so minutes. You can’t really do the toothpick test on this one because it will always be too moist but makes sure it’s not jiggly in the middle. Let cool and then sprinkle with a little confectioners sugar. You really don’t want to ice this cake, it’s just overkill. I have made a lower fat version of this and it’s good but not as good. But it can be done! Choose your own poison.
3) I know you love to bake cupcakes. Do you have a favorite that you make?
The cupcake thing is actually a rather new thing for me. I have made them before but it is only since they became trendy that I really started experimenting with them. The thing is, you should be able to use just any old recipe, but I have found that it really doesn’t work as well as you would expect. Because of the small size of the cakes, I am finding that you really need a rich recipe to keep them moist. So far I have found a good peanut butter cupcake recipe and a good yellow one called “Golden Butter Cupcakes”. I haven’t found a chocolate one that I like yet. But I will cheerfully continue the experimentation.
4) Are there any non-baked foods you enjoy making?
I like cooking in general. I like to make pretty much anything but I am not terribly fond of frying food. Too much mess and danger for me. I do it on occasion but I really avoid anything that takes more than a light coating of oil in the bottom of a skillet. I do especially like to experiment with vegetarian dishes though. I like to try and make it taste good…which, as we all know, can be something of a challenge. Oh! I like making soup too! In the past month or so I have made chicken noodle, New England Clam Chowder (lo-fat version) and Tomato soup. All of them were at the very least, edible.
5) What is your favorite market to shop in for your ingredients?
Hmmm…well, I usually end up in three markets, Albertson’s for staples, like flour and sugar, Trader Joe’s for eggs and dairy and pre-prepared stuff and Whole Foods for the slightly more exotic stuff like whole wheat pastry flour and flax seeds and stuff like that. I really like buying my vegetables and fruits at farmer’s markets but I tend to not use what I buy fast enough so I usually only go there when I know I am making something special. I had the same problem when I used to order my fruits and veggies online from Organic Express. They have a great service and excellent food but I found I couldn’t use it fast enough.
6) Will you be cooking for Thanksgiving this year?
Ah, I don’t know yet. I’m sure I will be cooking SOMETHING, but we haven’t made firm plans yet.
Will you cook a turkey?
One way or another I am sure I will make a turkey, even if I don’t cook it for the actual Thanksgiving dinner. The whole big Thanksgiving deal is probably my favorite meal of the year. I don’t really need it more than at Thanksgiving and Christmas but I really, really like it. Someday though, I do intend to try a Tofurkey. I made some homemade tofu turkey slices once and they were…not good. But I really want to try a good one…ok, well…I really want to try one…I don’t know how good it will be.
7) Do you help relatives cook when you go home for holidays?
A bit. Probably not as much as I could. I help a bit with Christmas dinner, usually by stirring the gravy and Christmas breakfast by making toast. Last year I carved the turkey for the first time (my dad usually does it but he didn’t feel like it). Sometimes when I go home I make Deviled Clams for my family or I help my mom make whatever it is she is making but I don’t really do any baking or anything. My nephews like to make cookies with their Grammy so they take care of that. And my mom has what she likes down pretty well. I do take some stuff with me though; usually I give my family homemade candy at Christmas time, Guinness Truffles, Caramel Flur De Sal Truffles and Bourbon Balls. I don’t much care for them but they seem to like them. Maybe this year I will introduce them to scrambled tofu!
8) You may have mentioned this before, but do you have a favorite TV chef and/or cooking show?
It might be easier to say whom I don’t like. But…well that seems mean. I am fond of Ina Garten who has a show called “Barefoot Contessa” and I love Nigella Lawson, she makes great British-y food. I think what I like best about both of them is that they look like kind of elegant, lovely posh women but they both mix stuff with their hands and say “Hey, if you don’t feel like making stock from scratch, buy it from a can!”. They have a more realistic and relaxed attitude than someone like Martha Stewart, who I also like to watch but I don’t very often. I still enjoy watching Emeril Lagasse although I don’t feel like I learn very much from him, I just think he’s kind of cute. I am a long time fan of Julia Child and I am kind of currently obsessed with two PBS cooking shows, One Plate Mexico with Rick Bayless and New Scandanavian Cooking. Which I think I may have mentioned before.
9) Do you cook from recipes or do you improvise?
I read recipes but I rarely follow them to the letter. I love reading cookbooks but I almost never do exactly what a recipe says. I guess sometimes I should but I tend to know what I like as far as spices and textures and adjust accordingly. For example, I know that I like my cakes to have a pronounced vanilla flavor so I usually double the amount of vanilla called for, and I don’t care for the underlying taste of coffee with chocolate, even though they say it enhances the chocolate, so I don’t add it. Also, anyone that calls for an eighth of a teaspoon of pepper is just crazy so I add to taste, which is probably more like a teaspoon for me, maybe more.
10) Do you like mushy peas? Someone in England sent me a recipe, but I'm not even sure where to get the ingredients. Would you be willing to at least consult?
I like mushy peas just fine but I think I have only had them once or twice. I’m betting it’s the marrowfat peas that you are concerned about finding and I have no idea where you would get those, but I suspect one of the British stores can help. And I would be more than happy to help you make them or even make them for you.