In the Kitchen With: "What I Made For Dinner"
Inside Adriana Velez's kitchen
I love seeing other people's kitchens, don't you? That's why I thought it'd be fun to do a series of behind-the-scenes kitchen tours with talented food bloggers.
First up is Adriana Velez of the fabulous What I Made for Dinner.
I'm absolutely thrilled that Adriana agreed to give us a tour of her Brooklyn kitchen. I was introduced to her blog about a month ago, and I've been checking in ever since because I love her recipes. She uses an intriguing variety of fresh and seasonal ingredients—but not too "intriguing" that her 5-year-old son Jasper won't eat what she makes.
Here's what Adriana had to say about her kitchen, her cooking philosophy, and her family's favorite dishes...
1. Tell us about your family.
I have a small family, just my husband (Lane Twitchell) and our 5-year-old son, Jasper. Lane is a visual artist, and Jasper is an aspiring paleontologist and radiologist. We live in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
2. How would you describe your cooking style?
I am a home cook (no formal culinary training) who focuses on local and seasonal foods. I start by shopping at the Food Coop or at the farmer's market and pick out produce first, always trying to buy mostly locally-grown and organic or minimally-treated fruits and vegetables. This is hard to do in the winter, of course, but even then there are seasonal specialties, like blood oranges and Meyer lemons that we don't get any other time of the year. Once I get home I let the produce inspire me. I'll look up recipes for specific vegetables and adapt them for whatever other ingredients I happen to have. Or, I'll just make something up! It's rare that I will go to the store with a specific plan or recipe in mind.
Local and seasonal are important to me for the usual sustainability reasons (lower carbon footprint, supporting small farms, etc.). But it's also about enriching my life. I love that there are certain fruits and vegetables for the different seasons—it makes asparagus so much more special if I only eat it in the spring. I love the variety that comes from diverse, specialty crops. And I just think food tastes better when it's grown with love and doesn't have to travel far. I still buy my share of hothouse greens in the winter, of course, but being more deliberate in my food choices makes food more precious and delicious.
3. Can we see the inside of your kitchen? Where is your favorite spot in the kitchen?
My kitchen is incredibly small and in serious need of an update. I was so happy when I read that Mark Bittman's kitchen is small, too. Where is my favorite spot? Um, it's so small in there there's only one spot, really.
I have this plate I picked up in an antique shop outside the Alhambra in Spain. Something about it just seemed quintessentially Spanish. It also just seems to belong in the kitchen—the colors, I suppose. It also reminds me of the amazing tomatoes and nectarines in southern Spain.
Antique plate from Spain
Antique plate from Spain
I also love what Jasper does with our Obama refrigerator magnets.
Jasper's Obama refrigerator magnets
4. When it comes to cooking, where do you find inspiration?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, my first inspiration is the produce. But I also read several food blogs (see question No. 10 below). My favorite food magazine is Saveur, though I've been so busy I let my subscription lapse. Sometimes I taste something at a restaurant and try to replicate it at home. Right now I've been gleaning recipes from The Silver Spoon, Laurie Colwin's cookbooks, and Amanda Hesser's The Cook and the Gardener. I also get ideas from my friends, even the ones who claim they aren't cooks; everyone has at least one great idea and I am only too happy to steal it!
5. What traditions or rituals do you and your family have with respect to food? Are any of your recipes passed down from other family members?
While I don't really use any recipes passed down from other family members I did inherit my palate from my family, if that makes sense. I am Mexican on both sides, so I grew up eating my mother's enchiladas and my father's guacamole. My mother learned to cook from Diana Kennedy cookbooks, actually, and I still use and love her copy of the classic The Cuisines of Mexico.
Since becoming parents we are just starting to form our own family food rituals. I like having family dinner together each night, but work doesn't always allow this. I do enjoy a very decadent ritual—my husband serves me and our son breakfast in bed every morning. I know, who do I think I am? But he's a morning person and loves doing it. A couple of years ago we spent the holidays in Venice and since then we've always made Northern Italian food for Christmas.
6. What is your one (food-related) indulgence?
I'm afraid I have more than one, but the most important is probably really good chocolate. Right now I'm obsessed with Mast Brothers chocolate bars. These two brothers make the chocolate themselves from the bean in their Brooklyn workshop. The chocolate is amazing, of course, but they also design the wrappers, which are printed in Italy on thick, luscious paper. I always have a bar in my handbag and try to make it last a week.
7. What do you make better than anyone else?
I let Lane answer that question and he said roasted chicken. Actually, I think anyone can roast a chicken—it's ridiculously easy—but I do think it helps to start with a good chicken. Try to get a free-range bird from a local farm as they are more flavorful than your usual mass-produced bird.
Adriana's roasted chicken
There are many different ways to roast, but lately I've been doing it in a cast-iron pot. I brown the bird breast-side down in a little olive oil over the stove, flip and cover the chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika, stuff with half a lemon, thyme, and rosemary, and surround it with garlic cloves. I cover the bird with parchment or waxed paper and put the lid on and then roast at about 450 degrees for about an hour. (Use a thermometer at the thigh bone to make sure it's thoroughly cooked). I remove the lid and the paper for the last 10 minutes to let the skin crisp. Let the bird rest outside the oven for another 10 minutes before serving. Take the roasted garlic cloves and mash them with some potatoes.
Adriana's roasted chicken
8. How has your taste/cooking changed since you had children?
I've become a lot less ambitious since becoming a mother! I used to come home from work and cook for hours—we would eat dinner around 9pm, sometimes later. Now I'm just too busy, and I have to get dinner on the table by 7pm, so I try to make something in under an hour—preferably 30 minutes. We eat a lot of one-pot meals. Jasper usually eats what we eat so I avoid spicy foods on his behalf. He doesn't always eat everything I make, but I think it's still important for him to see/smell all kinds of foods and see his parents enjoy them.
9. What are some ingredients/food items that you could never, ever live without?
It's hard to narrow the list, actually, even in these hard economic times. Food is an area of my life where I do not like to scrimp. We'll keep living in the smallest apartment in Brooklyn just as long as I can continue to eat well! But the essentials for me are good olive oil, real butter, milk from grass-fed cows, and fresh/local produce. I've been cutting down on meat, but even that's mainly to justify buying exclusively grass-fed or otherwise sustainably-raised meat, which can get expensive—but is always worth it.
10. What are you favorite food blogs or websites?
- Brooklyn Farmhouse
- Cafe Fernando
- Cafe Johnsonia
- Endless Simmer
- The Foodinista
- Fugue Salad
- Miss Ginsu
- Smitten Kitchen