Being a professional chef and food editor, most people assume I grew up sharing the apron strings with my Julia Child-like mother, learning the much-loved recipes handed down from generation to generation. Well, not quite. My mother’s passions lay outside the kitchen, and while we never went hungry, cooking wasn’t high on her love-to-do list. Instead I learned the fine art of dining out and finding a good caterer! Much to my mother’s surprise and delight, cooking was an adventure I discovered on my own. However, there were other “life lessons” mom taught that I use in the kitchen. So with that in mind, here’s my best advice.
I have fond memories of Sunday roasts that later reappeared as hot sandwiches during the week. Nowadays I only do a roast on special occasions, but I always make sure to do a really big one, so I have leftovers to add to soups, stir-fries or pasta. Just bag ’em up and freeze until needed.
My favourite trick is to simmer our Devilled pot roast, then shred leftover meat into the sauce and serve over rigatoni for a dynamite Bolognese.
Come party time, I learned from the master that a beautiful table counts just as much as the food. Often, a stunningly set table full of gorgeous flowers, colourful linens, good china and silver – or your favourite funky pieces – can save any kitchen disaster from ruining the party. Failing that, my mom makes a mean martini!
The true genius in being a good cook is being an organized one – otherwise the only thing you’ll whip up is a mess. Growing up I just thought of myself as “creative” (OK, messy), but soon learned from many angry chefs I studied under (who used very different language than my mother) to clean it, wash it and put it back where it came from.
To keep your kitchen tidy, check out IKEA, kitchen stores and other storage-solution shops for handy tools such spice racks, drawer inserts for ungainly kitchen tools, knife blocks, space savers and more.
Clean a dirty dish by soaking it in water first and if the stains are stubborn, sprinkle the bottom with a little dishwasher detergent and let it sit. (I’m a big fan of leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight.) I learned this after a rather nasty pan of caked-on scalloped potatoes. Elbow grease is good – but a long sudsy soak first makes it almost effortless. Go ahead and dirty a pan with our Stilton-mushroom scalloped potatoes.
Dinner really isn’t just about food, it’s about sharing and togetherness. We always ate as a family at the table – not in front of the TV. Eating together gave everyone the time to talk about fun stuff and weightier issues, too. Schedules are always hectic, so doing this on a nightly basis may not be practical for everyone, but it’s worth trying. Don’t fuss about what’s for dinner – dish up some good memories over our fast and easy Lemony chicken stir-fry and enjoy each other.