Congratulations to creamtea, whose Dilled, Crunchy Sweet-Corn Salad with Buttermilk Dressing won this week's contest for Your Best Dish in the Raw, earning her big prizes from Viking, OXO and Tiny Prints, and a spot in the next food52 cookbook!
Q&A with creamtea
Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking.
My mother, who immigrated at the age of 19 after World War II, encouraged us to “always try new things.” An excellent cook, she took immediately to the country that provided her with a new life. She learned to cook American classics from her neighbors, and to experiment with recipes from other countries. Julia Child made frequent appearances in our home—on the small screen. Of my mother’s many dishes, beery Carbonnade flamande was not a huge hit for me—though my sisters adore it. Stuffed Derma (a Jewish specialty), Caesar Salad, or a puffy German pancake were and still are personal favorites.
My parents taught us how to eat well. We would drive into Los Angeles from our home town, Riverside, for a concert or play and finish the big day with a meal of chilled cucumber soup, Gravlax Smørrebrod and Chocolate Mousse Cake in the garden room of the beautiful old Scandia restaurant. The more plebeian, formica-clad El Centro Basco was the setting for generous farm-country meals. Once, we drove a hundred miles out of our way to visit Johnnie’s Steakhouse in Omaha. And I’ll always be grateful for the permission to order an ice-cream sundae breakfast at a Howard Johnson’s somewhere outside of Chicago after one of my father’s wearying red-eye drives on that same cross-country road trip.
There were many such journeys. A field of ripening tomatoes in California’s Central Valley suggested an impromptu roadside picnic. Seeds and juice dripped down our chins and stained our blouses, but I’ve never again tasted any tomato quite like those. A heel of crusty bread, the crust rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and the cut side smeared with generous lashings of sweet butter, was heralded with the words, “this is how the peasants ate where I grew up. Taste.” It was a meal worthy of royalty.
Although I do not serve my family quite the same way, I am grateful to have experienced the flavors of truly well-prepared foods. Friday nights bring our family together around a dinner table laden with freshly baked challahs, roast chicken, and perhaps lemon cake or brownies. I try to bring the excitement of those remembered flavors into my own kitchen and to share them with family and friends.
What's your least favorite food?
Meat loaf. Medium-rare, charred burgers are a better expression of ground beef to my mind.
- What is the best thing you've made so far this year?
- A favorite of family and friends is a chocolate cream roll. It is based on Susan G. Purdy’s chocolate roll in her book, A Piece of Cake, but filled with a simple whipped-cream filling, stabilized with only confectioner’s sugar. Her chocolate sponge is as light as a whisper. It is the most-requested birthday cake at our house.
- Describe your most spectacular kitchen disaster.
- We had invited a family friend over to help finish the Thanksgiving turkey on Friday night. The upstairs neighbors were away on vacation, but somehow, their apartment flooded. The water dripped down through the ceiling and all over the turkey, which was sitting out on the stovetop. It poured like rain 3 stories on, down to the lobby. As for the ruined main dish, well, there was no backup plan.
- What is your idea of comfort food?
- A bowl of spaghetti with marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese brings me back to my childhood.
- Apron or no apron?
- Usually an apron, although sometimes I may be in the middle of dinner preparations before I remember.
- What's your favorite food-related scene in a movie?
- The exquisite meal in Babette’s Feast. The wines and food, lovingly prepared, soothe old wounds, melt past transgressions, re-kindle aging hearts and envelope the townspeople in a cloak of warmth and forgiveness.
- If you could make a show-stopping dinner for one person, living or dead, who would it be?
- My high-school English teacher, Mrs. Hernandez. I wish I could thank her properly for all she taught me.
- You prefer to cook: a. alone, b. with others, c. it depends on your mood
- Mostly alone. But we have Sunday brunch for the family each week, and I do like it when the kids help.
- 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.
- I like to clean as I cook. Nevertheless, there does always seem to be a lot of cleanup at the finish line.