Congratulations to the winner of our Genius Sweepstakes, Janice Donica, from Tampa, Florida! We chatted with her about her love of Williams-Sonoma cooking technique classes, her go-to spring recipe, and her favorite restaurants in New York City.
Describe an early food experience that shaped the way you cook and eat.
When I was a freshman in high school, my biology class went camping for a week. I spent the week living on candy bars and came back several pounds heavier with a face full of blemishes. That got my attention. I realized that my mother's warnings about food choices might be warranted. I started researching calories and nutrition back before they put them on nutrition labels. Also, my parents lived in a small town, so they used to grow many of their own vegetables. It introduced me to the many ways that you can cook with an abundance of produce.
What's your go-to spring recipe?
My favorite recipe for spring or summer is an orzo and wild rice salad with red, green, and yellow peppers, corn, red onion, basil, parsley, and currants. It's comparable to what they serve at J. Alexander's. All of the colors and textures mix beautifully. You can serve it by itself for a light meal or pair it with a protein.
What cookbook can you not live without?
I have an old Betty Crocker cookbook that I got when I was 20 that is full of useful guidance as well as recipes. If I need a good basic recipe for something that I've never made before, I can usually find it there. I've also regularly attended the free technique classes at my local Williams-Sonoma since 2008. I love the handouts that they provide with each class. I have one from every class and, collectively, they almost comprise a cookbook.
What has been your greatest kitchen disaster?
My greatest kitchen disaster occurred when I attempted to make a chocolate mousse for a new friend (who happened to be one of the food editors for the local paper) and her husband. I thought that the recipe for the mousse sounded awfully heavy, so I tried to lighten it up a bit by reducing the fat content. Of course, now I realize that the fat content is key in some recipes. I wasn't savvy enough at that age to make a backup for my experiment and I ended up having to serve bowls of thin, runny, chocolate soup. It was quite embarrassing.
You won a trip to New York City to celebrate the release of the Genius Recipes cookbook. What are you most excited to do during your trip?
Coming to New York is always a treat! I cannot leave without at least one trip through Central Park to the Met (hopefully not in a spring shower). I am also looking forward to visiting restaurants. I love Becco on 46th St. and the Cornelia Street Cafe, but it's hard to chose between visiting old favorites and looking for new ones. It is, however, a rather nice problem to have. Just walking around the city and soaking up the electricity and energy are also a thrill.
Photo of Janice provided by herself; all others by James Ransom