Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking. For me, food has always been both an outlet for creativity and a way to express affection. When my husband and I met in New York City, we were both “starving” artists in our early 20’s: He was studying painting at Cooper Union and I was an actress. Not long after we were introduced by a mutual friend, I cooked a meal for him on a two-burner hot plate in the unfinished cement-floor basement where he lived. I remember making Chicken Marengo, rice pilaf, and asparagus with hollandaise sauce, all dishes I had learned to cook by watching Julia Child on television. That meal clinched it for him, and we are about to celebrate our 43rd anniversary.
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What's your least favorite kitchen task? Anything involved with cleaning. I love to cook but hate to clean. I always pray that no one looks too closely at my kitchen floor.
Your favorite kitchen tool? It's a toss-up between my Vitamix blender and my ceramic blade mandoline. I use both almost every day.
What is your idea of comfort food? Comfort foods that I gravitate towards most often are tamales, enchiladas, refried beans, and cooked salsas. I grew up in Los Angeles and my parents were fairly adventurous eaters. As a child I was taken to Mexican restaurants, and the flavors of corn masa and chiles are fundamental to the development of my personal palate.
What is your greatest kitchen disaster? As a young cook, I invited a fairly sophisticated older couple to my house for dinner. I chose to cook a complex recipe from a Dione Lucas cookbook which I’d never made before -- big beginner’s mistake. It was a boneless lamb leg stuffed with a sausage forcemeat; rolled, tied, and roasted, and served with a caper sauce. I knew that lamb should be served pink, but didn’t troubleshoot the recipe. If I had, I would have realized that if the lamb stayed medium rare, the pork sausage in the center wouldn’t cook through. When I sliced the roast I found raw sausage in the center, and everyone had to wait while I frantically broiled the sliced roulade. The lamb, of course, was well done when I finally served it. It was an important lesson about the need for good cookbook editing, and I’ve never slavishly or unquestioningly followed a recipe since. However, I sometimes court danger by serving company a dish I’ve never made before.