Green Bean

Winner of Your Best Picnic Dish

July  6, 2011

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)

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • neverenoughtime
  • mcs3000
  • innoabrd
  • My Pantry Shelf
    My Pantry Shelf
  • vvvanessa

Written by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)


neverenoughtime August 27, 2012
Antonia, I made your haricots verts recipe several days ago and tried the technique that you suggested for roasting individual cloves of garlic. Unfortunately, I used a small porcelain ramekin as the roasting vessel, and it developed a hairline crack as a result -- or the crack may have been there and the roasting may have made it more obvious. I suspect that, while those ramekins are "ovenproof", they are intended to be used only when they are almost completely filled with a substance that is being baked and set in a larger pan filled with water. It made me wonder whether I would have been better off using a Pyrex custard cup, but having just read about your experience with the exploding Pyrex pie plate, I think I'll give that a pass, too! Perhaps I'll try the stove-top method appended to the recipe by Amanda and Merrill. Anyway, thanks for your recipe!
mcs3000 July 11, 2011
Awesome Q&A. Congrats on your win!
innoabrd July 7, 2011
You rock, AJ!
My P. July 7, 2011
Congratulations, AJ! Your dish looks beautiful, I will be making it as soon as our beans are ready to harvest.
vvvanessa July 7, 2011
Midge July 7, 2011
Congrats AJ! I know we're in for a big treat whenever I make any of your recipes.
wssmom July 7, 2011
So wonderful!
mrslarkin July 7, 2011
Congratulations, AJ! I love reading more about you!
EmilyC July 7, 2011
Congrats on your win! Looking forward to trying your recipe!
JoanG July 7, 2011
Congratulations Antonia! What a wonderful recipe you created!
thirschfeld July 7, 2011
congratulations and what a great recipe
Fairmount_market July 7, 2011
Congratulations AJ on a beautiful recipe. And thanks for being the first person to welcome me to this site with your kind words on my first recipe submission. I really appreciate your attention to detail on all of your recipes. When I read them, I feel like I have an encouraging friend looking over my shoulder.
susan G. July 6, 2011
Another well deserved trophy -- congratulations! I love hearing about your family, and I'm another one with a Pyrex disaster, as well as having made scrambled eggs with blue food color (pre-Dr. Suess, had to eat them with eyes closed, same age too). Always looking for your contributions, so generously shared.
AntoniaJames July 6, 2011
Thank you so much, all of you. Your kindness and appreciation leave me utterly speechless. Incidentally, the photo of me on this page was taken on the Thanksgiving Day that is the subject of my very first ever food52 submission: a photo slideshow of our rather unusual T-Day in 2009, before many of you joined. You might find it interesting: Actually, all of the finalist entries are very interesting.
Love you all. ;o)
Bevi July 6, 2011
I have done the Mt. Tam to Stinson Beach hike several times. Are you familiar with the beer garden that is tucked away somewhere on one of the Muir Woods/ Mt. Tam trails?
fo July 6, 2011
congrats sister! this is awesome!
monkeymom July 6, 2011
Congrats AntoniaJames! Beautiful recipe and stories about how wonderful food and family are together.
Lizthechef July 6, 2011
Such a well-deserved win, AJ - best congratulations and kudos!
lastnightsdinner July 6, 2011
Congratulations! String beans are just hitting our farmers' markets this week - I look forward to making this soon (and likely many times throughout the summer)!
wanderash July 6, 2011
Congrats on a great recipe win! My mom and I are going to make this this weekend!
lorigoldsby July 6, 2011
Congrats AJ! We love the stories behind the food!