Happy Monday! I kicked off this morning by getting my butt back to the gym (I took a minor hiatus for about a week and a half), eating some oatmeal with almonds and blueberries, and enjoying a giant coffee. So today I thought it would be fun to change it up a bit and do a little FAQ for you! I often get a lot of the same questions about cooking, the blog and Shaun, so today I'm dishing up Part I of You Asked, We're Answering. Oh and if you're feeling Thanksgivingy, head on over to Haute Apple Pie where they're serving up a Thanksgiving Pot Luck and I'm kicking off the week with my guest blog about mashed potatoes! Now let's get down to it, shall we?
Where did you learn to cook?
Growing up with an Italian mother, many things revolved around food. Any holiday, party, gathering or dinner has always been all about the food. From an early age, I always served as my mom’s sous chef. I really never had any interest in learning how to cook.
Instead, I used the time as a reason to spend time with my mom and sisters, and some of my favorite memories are of us cooking together...or, more realistically, her cooking while I watched and kept her company :) That all changed when I married the love of my life on a beach in Aruba...
...and we found a joint love of the Food Network (coupled with my desire to be an awesome wife who could cook and watch football like a champ). Now I learn by doing (getting my butt in my avid kitchen), watching (so many hours of Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, Rick Bayless, Lydia Bastianich - she is Shaun’s favorite - and many more) and reading (lots of other fantabulous food blogs!). And if I can do it, so can you and you might even develop a full-blown food obsession, just like me!
Why do you write this blog anyway?
Love of food? Personal fulfillment? A hobby beyond my day job? I had actually always been a burgeoning writer, from creating short stories in 8th grade to becoming an editor of my high school newspaper. Though my passion got lost somewhere along the way, it was rekindled when I decided to start blogging. Why food? I love it. It’s comforting and fun. It brings people together like nothing else since it’s something that everyone is interested in at some level. At the end of the day I write this blog because it makes me happy and I often find myself perma-smiling when someone tells me they read it (and extra teeth-baring when they say they like it!)!
Do you cook every night?
Probably 5 out of 7 nights a week, we cook dinner at home, be it something grandiose like braised short ribs or cheesy enchiladas, or something quick and easy like grilled cheese or simple pasta with butter and cheese. Often on the weekends we are out and about at parties or spending time with family or splurging on a night out to dinner! We also might order in one night a week - pizza is usually our go-to.
Do you bake all the time? There are an awful lot of cupcakes going on here...
I do bake whenever the mood strikes...which is often. It ranges from Sunday afternoon to a random Thursday night after work, occasionally for no purpose other than my own enjoyment.
Speaking of all those cupcakes, do you and Shaun weigh 500 pounds?
Nope. While we are by no means skin and bones, every decadent dish you see on TAA is counterbalanced with fruits, veggies and low calorie, high protein, high fiber foods. We both try to at least maintain healthy eating throughout the day and most of the week and choose to eat the bulk of our calories on the weekends. We also lead a pretty active lifestyle which includes hitting to the gym multiple times per week. Also, an urban lifestyle is pretty condusive to walking and climbing subway stairs (I never take the escalator, which also keeps me from feeling like a wandering sheep). We also partake in fun activities, like rafting down the Yellowstone River...
That way, we don’t feel quite so terrible about binging on pastrami sandwiches, eating dip for dinner or spending an afternoon trolling the city for good eats. Is this a perfect system for us? Nope. Is it for others? I have no idea. But this is how we make it work and still fit into our pants the next morning...so far.
Where/How do you food shop?
Since I often get home after 7 each night from work, and can’t bare the thought of giving up even a second of my weekend to food shopping, I often order my groceries from my local A&P. A&P will deliver our groceries in the evening and even leave them with our building concierge if we are not at home. I have also heard a rumor that Fresh Direct now delivers to our neighborhood.
Isn’t that hard? Do you get what you want? What about produce?
Admittedly, this is not always the best method, since I am a very loyal brand shopper. If the grocer is out of a brand that I usually like, such as Red Pack tomato sauce products, they will often pick a substitute at random, even if it’s not my first choice substitute. Though this rarely happens and is still not enough of an annoyance to negate the convenience of online grocery shopping. As for produce, I will often make a quick stop at Tribeca’s Whole Foods on my way home from work or stop at the local fruit vendors who lurk on many an NYC corner. Oh and we also have a farmer’s market near the Jersey City Path station two nights a week. Nothing like fresh, locally grown, hand-picked produce! I’ve learned not to let the grocer pick my produce for me. Again, it’s an extra stop in the grocery shopping train, but I’d rather run into Whole Foods for 10 minutes than do a 2 hour grocery shopping trip!
Is there anything you don’t eat?
I’m not going to lie to you...there isn’t much. I have a short list of things that just don’t appeal to me, despite my best efforts to train my palette otherwise. A few things include salmon, rosemary, and peas - all things that Shaun loves but I just can't make it happen! Of all of them, I really wish I liked salmon.
Is there anything Shaun won’t eat?
Though the mister and I share a love of all things food and neither of us are picky eaters by any means, Shaun also has a short list of foods that he just won’t touch. Topping the list? Pork. About 3 years ago, after viewing an episode of Dirty Jobs that took place on a pig farm, Shaun decided that he would no longer eat pork. To this day, I pull an ‘ear muffs’ if he tries to describe the episode to me, since I’m not ready to say bye-bye to bacon. At home, that usually means turkey bacon and turkey sausage are substituted for the real deal, while I use turkey pepperoni atop pizza dips. He also has issues with rice pudding, a dish that I would eat all day everyday.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Other great food blogs, cooking shows, magazines, cookbooks (which I often read like literature), suggestions from friends and family, my mom and her amazing domestic godessness. Here she is making her famous gravy on Thanksgiving at my aunt's house.
What ingredients are your go-to’s?
I plan to do a series of must-haves for my own avid kitchen. Stay tuned! My short list is Greek yogurt, tomato sauce/crushed tomatoes/diced tomatoes, whole wheat bread crumbs, frozen spinach, some sort of protein like ground turkey, chicken or frozen shrimp, orzo pasta, kosher salt, parmesean cheese, white wine. The list goes on and on so I'm planning a more detailed and comprehensive list for you coming soon!
What are your go-to dishes on a weeknight?
I always have ingredients to make shrimp sautee with orzo, enchiladas, some sort of pasta derivative, meatloaf or a baked chicken dish. Any of these can be snapped together in a pinch!
Does Shaun eat like a king?
You’d have to ask him that, but at the very least, he never gets bored! Since I’m always trying to keep things fresh around here, I’m always dishing up new recipes for us to sample. He does have the patience of a saint, however, in that he always waits until I’m finished food styling and snapping lots of photos for the blog. He doesn’t even flinch when I jump up in the middle of dinner to snap a few more photos under the kitchen lights. Nor does he ever utter even a sigh of exasperation when I ask him to repeatedly snap photos of me in cooking action, asking him to please retake it over and over while I reposition myself so as to mask my double chin. Love ya honey!
Does Shaun ever cook?
Oh yes, and he’s darn good at it too. In fact, if I didn’t demand offer to cook most dishes so I can write about them, he’d probably do a lot more cooking in our avid kitchen. But with creations like buffalo chicken dip, homemade tortilla chips, seven-layer dip, spaghetti and meatballs, I’d be a crazy person not to let him have free rein of the kitchen! And did I mention that he's also a grill master?
What’s Shaun’s favorite dinner?
Let’s ask him. Shaun? I have had the pleasure of partaking in my favorite dinner on many occasions over the past ten or so years. It's not that the food is unique or exotic but that it starts with great ingredients, properly prepared and under very enjoyable circumstances. Rachel and I began dating when we were both in college, and inevitably both strapped for cash. Most of the time we spent more money on transportation (thanks for nothing Amtrak and Greyhound) to see each other than we did on dinners once we actually got together. So, one time we thought we would splurge on a fancy lobster dinner (at either RPI, NYU or in Old Bridge, I can't remember) complete with melted butter and some sort of side vegetable. So we bought the little critters from the supermarket and along with corn on the cob (or maybe in the can) and brought them to the kitchen. Rachel was a bit timid when it came to tossing the live lobsters into the boiling pot of water (this was at least eight years before The Avid Appetite) but I having a deep loathing for insects and have always found this practice somewhat satisfying. Needless to say, Rachel and I have made this dish at home, in a dorm and in a camper, but it always turns out great! Lobster, melted butter and some vegetable... usually corn.
So there you have it. A not-so-little roundup of some of our Frequently Asked Questions. I have lots more in the pipeline so stay tuned! Meanwhile, if you have any questions for Shaun or me, feel free to send them over, either in the comments or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org! So the question of the morning is: Regardless of your level of expertise, do you cook? Do you cook with your significant other? Or do you live vicariously through other cooks?