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Winner of Your Best Picnic Dish

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Congratulations to AntoniaJames, whose Haricots Verts à la Dijonnaise won this week's contest for Your Best Picnic Dishearning her big prizes from VikingOXO and Tiny Prints, and a spot in the next food52 cookbook!

AntoniaJames  Haricot Verts a la Dijonnaise

Q&A with AntoniaJames

  • Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking. 
  • I grew up watching my mother cook. My parents designed the kitchen in our very old house, which they remodeled, to create a raised counter behind the stove and primary work area.  Until we were tall enough not to need them, we stood on chairs, looking over the counter, to watch my mother. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was not just learning how to prepare meals, but also how to solve problems. My mother loved trying new recipes from around the world, at a time when that was all very new and exciting. She approached it as a fun and interesting adventure, with enthusiasm, joy, and best of all, confidence. As soon as we were tall enough to hold a mixing bowl steady on a counter while beating with a spoon, she let us loose in the kitchen, encouraging us to make whatever we wanted, as long as we cleaned up after ourselves.  Experimentation was encouraged. (My best friend from childhood and I were chuckling about this when I visited her a few month ago, as we remembered the time we decided to make a blue cake, at about age 8. We failed to take into account that “one-bowl cake” batter is yellow, thus producing a green cake when large quantities of blue food coloring are added. It tasted good, however.) And my mother put my sisters and me to work as her sous-chefs, to help her prepare for and host the most pleasant dinner parties and open houses I’ve ever attended. Those lessons learned by example, and then by doing, have carried through to my own kitchen and, of course, to life in general. 

  • What's your least favorite food?
  • Bell peppers and all of their relatives, including any spice made from them. They don’t like me; I don’t like them.

  • What is the best thing you've made so far this year?
  • It would be a toss-up between my Crostata di Cassata alla Siciliana (described by my son as “quite possibly the best dessert you’ve ever made, Mother”) and a spatchcocked chicken made with sliced Italian sausages, artichoke hearts, white wine, aromatics and handfuls of fresh herbs (described by the same son as “quite possibly the best chicken you’ve ever made, Mother”). The latter is a combination of Merrill’s Chicken with Sausage, White Wine and Artichokes, but instead of using chicken thighs and cooking it on the stove, I braise-roast a whole chicken, using the techniques described in Amanda’s Spatchcocked and Braise-Roasted Chicken. And I use a handful of herbs from the pots outside my kitchen. I’ve made it at least four or five times since early March, and am looking forward to making it again!

  • Describe your most spectacular kitchen disaster.
  • So many to choose from ... one day, not fully aware of the limitations of Pyrex with respect to its response to temperature changes, I poured some cold white wine into a super hot Pyrex pie plate in the oven, which just happened to contain a partially cooked Wishbone Chicken (monkeymom’s fabulous recipe). The pie plate exploded. I cannot even begin to describe the mess. I was grateful that I wasn’t blinded by a flying shard of glass. And that I was alone at home at the time. Yikes.

  • What is your idea of comfort food?
  • My mother’s sour cream cake (posted here as “Bette’s Best, A Sour Cream Cake”). It brings back the best memories, of birthdays and big dinner parties, being surrounded by friends and family, and enjoying all the other amazing food at those events.

  • Apron or no apron?
  • Always a jacket. Not only does it keep me from ruining my clothes, but it protects against many burns on the arms as well.

  • What's your favorite food-related scene in a movie?
  • The opening scene in Eat Drink Man Woman. Ang Lee brilliantly communicates the father’s passion for excellent food, prepared with stunning efficiency and class. Watching the old chef’s techniques is spellbinding, too!

  • If you could make a show-stopping dinner for one person, living or dead, who would it be?
  • Alfred Brendel. Listening to his recordings of Schubert, Beethoven and Schumann, I have always believed that I’d like him. He seems so elegant, and so intelligent. We’d have a lovely meal, and then he’d play a few pieces (Moments Musicaux ... Bagatelles ... perhaps a sonata) on my old Steinway. It would be like something out of a dream.)

  • You prefer to cook: a. alone, b. with others, c. it depends on your mood
  • It depends entirely on who “the others” are, and where we are. I love cooking with my sister, Sally, and with my sons. I’m finding it increasingly difficult though not to make mistakes when others are around. I was trained always to be thinking ahead to the next five or six activities. It’s tough for me to do that when I’m engaged in conversation.

  • When it comes to tidying up, you usually: a. clean as you cook, b. do all the dishes once you've finished cooking, c. leave the kitchen a shambles for your spouse/roommate/kids to clean.
  • Actually, I do both (a) and (b) as time permits, and usually leave what’s left to Mr. T and the boys. But I often do the post-dinner clean up or most of it, as well, because I actually take pleasure in restoring order to one of my favorite places (my kitchen!), and in taking care of my tools and equipment. Plus, during baseball season, it allows me to enjoy listening to the games and post-game shows while doing something productive. ;o)

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