Kate of Our Best Bites and her husband, Sam
Recently, we spoke with Sara Wells of Our Best Bites about cooking for her family in Idaho. In part two of our series, her co-blogger Kate Jones tells us about the dishes she makes better than anyone else and how every Louisiana kitchen needs a gator hot pad.
CM: Tell us about your family.
I was born and raised in Logan, Utah, where my dad was a college professor. My mom died when I was young, and my dad remarried, so I grew up in a real, true Brady Bunch situation. When I graduated from high school, I decided to rebel and not attend the university where my dad taught but rather head south to Brigham Young University and give dorm life a shot. After a few years, I met and married my husband, Sam, and then graduated with my degree in English in 2004.
My son, Clark, who was supposed to be a 7-pound, head-down girl named Olivia, arrived in January of 2005—9 1/2-pounds, breech, boy parts. My doctor was an idiot. My husband swears up and down we agreed to name him Clark, which is something I categorically deny. However, pregnancy hormones tend to not only remove the filter between my brain and my mouth, but they also seem to erase giant patches of memory. So it's entirely possible that the discussion of naming my first-born son after a superhero did actually take place.
Nearly two years ago, our daughter, Meredith, arrived by a very uneventful repeat c-section. While her brother was completely mischief-free (but full of sass), she's sweetness and snuggles, all while emptying jars of sprinkles, tormenting her brother, and coloring any and all surfaces with rogue markers she finds lying around. Daily, Clark offers to trade Meredith for another baby he likes better (his friend Ivy, his cousin Beck, his cousin Naomi, a puppy).
After my husband graduated with his degree in Manufacturing Engineering about 1 1/2 years ago, we moved to Louisiana where he works as a process engineer manager. I tutor English and essay-writing when I'm not busy cooking, picture-taking, blog-writing, mess-cleaning, and waiting in the carpool line at Clark's preschool. When I get a second, I love to read, dream of decorating a house that I'm not co-renting with mouse-sized cockroaches, and watch Chuck, Lost, The Office, and 30 Rock. Oh, and I have fantasies of starring on So You Think You Can Dance. Sadly, that will never happen because I'm a) 28 and b) I know I can't dance. I'm embarrassingly awful.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I'm a people-pleaser, what can I say? I tend to make things that seem to be enjoyed by most people. I also seem to have a serious dirty dish rule—if I have to use, say, more than two large dishes that are unlikely to fit in my dishwasher, it's going to have to be AMAZING to make it worth it to me. I like to strike a balance between updated, healthier, and easier classic comfort food and fresh, bright flavors that you get from citrus and fresh herbs. I firmly believe that bread products are infinitely better when they're fresh (as in baked today, not freshly stocked on the shelves at Kroger), and that pretty much any food tastes better when it's cooked over fire.
Can we see the inside of your kitchen?
We're currently renting the house we live in (you know, something to do with living here for six months before making a decision and then watching the whole housing market fall apart), and although the kitchen isn't my dream kitchen, I do love it. It's bigger, airier, and has far more counter space than any other kitchen had since I moved away from home.
It gets a lot of natural light. There's a window over the sink and the glass door that opens to the back patio face east, and then there's another north-facing window also by the sink, so I love that I can open the blinds and leave the lights off in the kitchen all day.
In our last house, there was absolutely no room to keep anything on the countertops—the microwave was the exception, and it was wedged underneath a cabinet. I discovered that cooking was far leas fun when I had to haul the Kitchenaid and the food processor out of all the nooks and crannies where they were hidden, so I love having them right there at my fingertips.
Of course, it has its downsides. I'm pretty sure that a kitchen that could house all my small appliances, dishes, platters, and utensils would be a magical kitchen, so cupboard space is definitely at a premium. But the biggest drawback? Check out the washer and dryer in the corner.
That's a major bummer, especially when my full-sized washer and dryer are idling away in our storage unit. On the bright side, it's always an interesting conversation piece when the dryer buzzer goes off while I'm talking on the phone and doing dishes at the same time. And hey, I guess I don't have to walk down into the scary basement to do laundry like I used to! Also, you never know what kind of lingerie will be drying in the kitchen when guests come over. I just tell myself that not having exactly what I want means I always have interesting stories to tell!
It wouldn't be Louisiana without a gator hot pad!
It wouldn't be Louisiana without a gator hot pad!
When it comes to cooking, where do you find inspiration?
Occasionally, I'll stumble across a cookbook that I'll just pore over for days on end. I'll read it again and again, marking recipes I want to try, knowing what I'll like (and what I won't). I find Cooking Light to have consistently wonderful recipes. The Internet has become an amazing, evolving source of inspiration—it's so easy to find everything from genuine ethnic recipes to copycat recipes from popular restaurants. When I was really learning to cook, the Internet was a HUGE resource for me as I gained my footing and discovered what I liked and what I didn't, what worked for me and what didn't.
What traditions or rituals do you and your family have with respect to food?
I would say that I have more food memories than food traditions from my growing up years. My dad is a wonderful cook, although he doesn't do it nearly as much as he should. In particular, he's really amazing at outdoor cooking or stuff that's a little "rustic." On Christmas or the 4th of July, he'll whip up cinnamon rolls and omelets in his Dutch oven. He's been known to roast suckling pigs in the ground or cook scones and omelets for hundreds of people at church activities. I think the earliest memory I have of being completely blown away by something I ate was his Chicken Cacciatore (although it was pheasant cacciatore, made from pheasants that he and my brother had hunted). In that spirit, I don't have many (or any) recipes that have been passed down to me, but I have versions of those recipes that have become traditions with my own husband and kids.
What do you make better than anyone else?
Like Sara said, for everything I make well, someone else makes it better. However, in terms of friend and family favorites, my dinner rolls and orange rolls are always a huge hit.
Like my dad, I make a mean chicken cacciatore...
...and I really do like my red beans and rice better than just about any others I've ever had.
What is your one indulgence?
My one indulgence? Funny! No, I love Coke—the real thing, caffeine, sugar, everything. Last summer, I went to a dinner party for my husband's job, and it was held in the amazing backyard of one of the head honchos from work. It was hot and muggy, but the late afternoon thunderheads were building and a breeze was blowing. I sat there, ice-cold Coke with a squeeze of lime in hand, feeling the warm breeze and thinking that was pretty much as close to heaven as I could imagine. As far as non-beverages go, I'm a completely gluttonous sucker for cookies and fresh Mexican food. But not together.
How has your taste/cooking changed since you had children?
It really hasn't changed all that much. I do eat way more Goldfish crackers than would probably be considered acceptable by polite society, but we're trying to adapt the kids to our tastes, not revert ours to theirs. Sure, they eat their share of chicken nuggets and Kraft Mac and Cheese, but they almost always eat what we eat for dinner. Meredith's always been a great eater (in fact, the other night, she polished off Clark's jambalaya when he wasn't watching), but Clark has been quite picky for most of his life. He's now at peace with the age rule—because he's four, he has to eat four bites of whatever we're having for dinner. He usually ends up eating more. There's still a fair amount of coaxing involved, but it sure beats the Exorcist moments of dinners a year ago!
What are some ingredients/food items that you could never, ever live without?
- Butter, butter, butter. And real butter—none of this margarine poppycock.
- Cheese. All kinds. Recently, I've been having a dairy-related love affair with Mexican Cotija cheese.
- Garlic. I almost always use at least twice what the recipe calls for.
- Pasta. Noticing a pattern here? I'm pretty sure I would shrivel and die without pasta.
- Fresh produce. Fresh limes, onions, cilantro, spinach, watermelon in the summer, oranges in the winter, and fresh apples in the fall.
- Extra-virgin olive oil. I could die happy if I died while smelling garlic being sauteed in olive oil.
What are you favorite food blogs or Web sites?
Like Sara, I love www.allrecipes.com. I've gotten a lot of inspiration and ideas for recipes from that site. Recipezaar is another good resource, especially when I'm looking for something simple. I recently stumbled upon www.iheartcuppycakes.com and am blown away by her creativity. Leigh Ann at www.yourhomebasedmom.com and I have very similar tastes in food and cooking and she always has amazing ideas for food and family. Nola Cuisine has been a huge resource to me as I've been learning to cook like a Cajun. I also really enjoy The Homesick Texan. Lest I forget anyone I love, there's a big old list of Web sites we love over here on our blog.
Thank you to Sara and Kate! And don't miss these other "In the Kitchen..." features: