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Winner of Your Best Chocolate & Spice

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Congratulations to vrunka whose Thai Peanut Butter Cups won this week's contest for Your Best Chocolate and Spice!

vrunka  thai peanut butter cups

1. Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking.

My grandmother was a huge influence on how I think about food and cooking. She lived with us when I was growing up and would do most of the cooking. My earliest memories are of watching her cook in the kitchen. She was a force of nature! She cooked whole-heartedly, completely absorbed in what she was doing -- and at the end would pile the table with a great variety of delicious dishes. One of my fondest childhood memories is of sitting with her at the kitchen table and making dozens upon dozens of homemade pot stickers. Sure, you could buy frozen ones, but what could beat the ones made by hand in your own kitchen?

2. What's your least favorite food?

A year or two ago, I would have said beets, but I have since learned that I like them raw and grated -- delicious! Now there's not much I won't at least try... except maybe durian!

3. What is the best thing you've made so far this year?

I made a Moroccan Butternut Squash Pie for National Pie Day that I have to say was pretty darn tasty (see below). It was kind of a vegetarian version of basteeya. I entered it in a pie contest and though it didn't win, I'm happy I got a chance to work on that recipe because it's a keeper!

's Moroccan Butternut Squash Pie

4. Describe your most spectacular kitchen disaster.

There have been too many to count, but speaking of pie contests... a couple years ago I made a custard-base pie for a pie contest. I guess I was too much in a rush because when I got to the contest venue, I brought out the pie and realized that the custard had not yet set... and had, in fact, spilled all over the car seat. Needless to say, I did not win that contest. 

5. What is your idea of comfort food?

My favorite comfort foods are the ones that remind me of my childhood and my grandmother -- hot bowls of congee, potstickers, ginger chicken. 

6. Apron or no apron?

Despite my large collection of aprons, I often go without -- much to the detriment of my wardrobe. 

7. What's your favorite food-related scene in a movie?

One of my all time favorite movies is Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood for Love. The two main characters are always finding excuses to "accidentally" run into each other at the neighborhood noodle joint. Never have take out containers of noodles ever looked so seductive! 

8. If you could make a show-stopping dinner for one person, living or dead, who would it be?

I never cook very well under pressure so I don't know if I'd try to make a "show-stopper" for anyone. But if I could have someone over for dinner, there are plenty of people I'd love to chat with over a bowl a soup or plate of pasta. I've been reading a lot of Lynda Barry's work recently and she seems like she'd be a hoot to chat and eat with! 

9. You prefer to cook:
a. alone
b. with others
c. it depends on your mood

When I need to decompress from a long day at work, there's nothing better than to just sink into the kitchen and cook by myself, following my own rules and whimsies. But if I'm feeling more social, it's so much fun to cook with other people. I love all that joking around, bobbing and weaving around each other and the serendipitous dishes that arise from all those minds and hands at work. All that good energy really makes the food taste great!

10. 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 have often described my cooking style as, "Kitchen Tornado." This results in a whirlwind of dishes, utensils, ingredients flying every which way until dinner is served. So while I truly admire people who can (a.) clean as they cook, me, I'm doing well if I can manage to (b.) do all the dishes once I've finished cooking. Of course, if you ask my husband, he'll tell you that it's really (c.) and that I usually leave the kitchen a shambles. Hey, it's hard to be a cook in a kitchen with no dishwasher!