In The Kitchen With: The Naptime Chef

Kim Conte
In the Kitchen with the naptime chef

Kelsey (with her daughter, Daphne) of The Naptime Chef

This week we go In the Kitchen With Kelsey Banfield, a.k.a. The Naptime Chef.

Join us for a peek at her lovely family, spotless kitchen, and a cookbook collection I would kill for...

After her daughter was born, Kelsey discovered that the best time to cook and bake is during the precious afternoon naptime. (Sound familiar?) Thus, her blog, The Naptime Chef, was born. Here she tells us how she makes the most of limited time in the kitchen.

CM: Tell us about your family.

My husband, Duncan, and I have been married for almost five years. Our wonderful daughter, Daphne, will turn 2 this November. My husband is very supportive of my Web site and career ambitions, and is, luckily, always willing to try anything I cook. On the weekends we frequently travel to Cooperstown, New York, to visit my parents; it is where I was born and raised. Or, we head east to Martha's Vineyard to spend the weekends boating and grilling with my in-laws.

in the kitchen with the naptime chef

Duncan and Daphne on the dunes.


in the kitchen with the naptime chef

Daphne is a beach girl, she enjoys romping in the waves all day long!

How would you describe your cooking style?

As a home cook, I create delicious and accessible family food that appeals to the foodie in all of us. I love the small scale and intimacy of home cooking, and have always subscribed to the adage "food is love." Whenever I cook for family and friends I strive to create savory meals that convey warmth and happiness from my kitchen.

Before I became a great cook I was an excellent baker, and baking is still one of my favorite things to do. I tend to bake goods that fall into the classic comfort food category like soft breads, cookies, brownies, muffins, and moist cakes. On occasion I'll branch out and tackle a complicated overnight bread or pastry recipe. But I have a wonderful bakery in my neighborhood and am happy to purchase my daily baguettes there.

Can we see the inside of your kitchen?

I love my quintessential New York galley kitchen because it is designed well and efficient to work in. My favorite things are the extra-deep sink that is great for washing vegetables, wide counters with room for my stand mixer and workspace, and the tall cabinets. I have to use a ladder to reach the higher shelves, but it is a luxury to have so much room for ingredients. Living with limited storage has made me appreciate that it is unnecessary to buy loads of kitchen equipment; instead I invest in good basics and keep them at my fingertips. Also, thanks to the large south facing window, my kitchen gets lots of natural sunlight all day long.

In the Kitchen with the naptime chef

My NYC apartment galley kitchen is 5 paces long and 1 pace wide.

My other favorite thing is how my small space has been styled so well. My mother-in-law is a talented interior decorator, and she has helped me add some wonderful accents with great fabrics and tableware. My favorite pieces are my growing collection of Droll Designs, I love the funky painted platters and dishes that always make my table look warm and lively. She also had me buy a cheetah pattern rug for our dining room, and it looks awesome!

In the Kitchen with the naptime chef

I grow fresh herbs on my windowsill...Lemon Balm, Lemon Thyme, Mint, and baby basil.


In the Kitchen with the naptime chef

This is a great workspace, and I use it for serving buffets, too.

My favorite spot in the kitchen is the counter that I call my "workspace." When my daughter goes down for her nap, I love to open my computer, gather my ingredients and relax with a good recipe. Above my workspace is the cabinet containing all of my ingredients, to my left is the mixer, and my right is the sink. Behind me are the refrigerator, oven, knives and chopping board. The beauty of a galley kitchen is that I barely have to take more than three steps to make anything.

In the Kitchen with the naptime chef

This is how I set-up my kitchen when I relax with a good recipe while my daughter is napping.

Where do you find inspiration?

My inspiration comes from two main sources: ingredients and books. I tend to cook seasonally based on what is available in the farmers' market, and always get loads of menu ideas when I browse the markets in the warmer months. In the winter, when I cook heavier food, I'll survey my local grocery store for inspiration, usually picking up great homemade pastas and meats for stews and lasagnas.

In the Kitchen with the naptime chef

My beloved cookbook collection!

Great food writing is always inspiring and I constantly find myself returning to my favorites—Laurie Colwin, Amanda Hesser, and Dorie Greenspan—for ideas and recipes. I also have an enormous collection of cookbooks (pictured) and sometimes flip through them for a fresh perspective. My current favorites are Apples for Jam, by Tessa Kiros (the chapters are organized by food color!); Park Avenue Potluck, by Florence Faricant and SMSKCC; and anything by Ina Garten or Jamie Oliver. These are all books geared toward home cooks with great recipes for families. I also have the gigantic recipe binder containing recipes from friends, family, and random sources.

In the Kitchen with the naptime chef

My cherished recipe daughter likes to draw on the cover with her crayons!

What traditions do you and your family have with respect to food?

I was raised by two excellent cooks, as was my husband, so there are loads of food traditions and rituals in our house. We have a set menu for almost every holiday meal, even birthdays. In late summer it is tradition that my father cans his famous bread and butter pickles, and together we can tomatoes and peach jam. When I got married, my husband brought with him a whole new set of traditions, including my mother-in-law's famous secret cornbread recipe at Thanksgiving, and our annual swordfish cookout to kick-off Memorial Day.

Almost half the recipes I cook and publish on my site are inherited from my parents, in-laws, and grandparents. My goal is to share good home cooking with other people, to show how delicious food can appeal to both parents and foodies alike. By my best estimate I have at least three years to go before I run through my family recipe file alone, there are so many great dishes to share!

What do you make better than anyone else?

My most amazing meal is Roasted Eggplant and Prosciutto Lasagna, followed by my Favorite Zucchini Bread for dessert. The lasagna is a decadent dish full of sweet eggplant, salty prosciutto and a creamy bechamel sauce. I add lots of herbs and chicken stock to create a delicious flavor that can't be beat. Best of all, I can prepare the lasagna ahead of time and bake it right before dinner.

In the Kitchen with the naptime chef

Roasted Eggplant and Prosciutto Lasagna

The Perfect Zucchini Bread is amazing for dessert. I cut the oil in half and substitute applesauce so that the bread stays extra moist, but contains less fat.  The applesauce also gives it additional flavor, adding a subtle natural sweetness. I have been eating this bread my whole life, it is one of my mother's recipes, which she has now given to me.

In the Kitchen with the naptime chef

Perfect Zucchini Bread

What is your one (food-related) indulgence?

Bread and chocolate. Ok, that's two, but they go together. Some people say that bread should only be eaten in moderate amounts, but I disagree. I like bread everyday and don't feel bad about indulging at all. My favorite is to melt a square of chocolate on a baguette slice and top it with a sprinkle of sea salt. It is a totally decadent treat that I could eat forever!

How has your taste/cooking changed since you had children?

The Naptime ChefTM started because of the birth of my daughter. Nothing throws a wrench in your cooking style like the arrival of a baby, and I was no different. I love to cook and bake, but with an infant I had no time or energy! I would start thinking about dinner at 4:30 pm and, totally overwhelmed by the prospect of cooking from scratch, end up ordering delivery instead. It was awful. About three months after she was born I started "reworking" my favorite recipes to figure out how I could make them while she napped and complete them in the evening. After all, my tastes hadn't changed, I still wanted to eat and make good food!

Once I figured out how to make all my favorites I was thrilled. Shortly thereafter I went to playgroup and told my friends about the lasagna I had recently made, they looked at me like I was crazy. I realized that they were struggling with cooking at home so I started The Naptime ChefTM to help them.

I purposely publish recipes that can be prepared ahead of time and completed in the evening, or whipped up on a moment's notice. I want all home cooks to get excited and realize that is possible to cook delicious food with children at home, you don't have to give up being a foodie just because you are a parent! Remarkably, many adults with grown children have told me that my work has reminded them of the joys of home cooking, and has motivated them to get cooking again.

The great news is that the site is currently being redesigned and will re-launch this fall with great features like an ingredient "search" bar, a recipe box, printable recipe pages, and loads of helpful advice for all home cooks.

What are some ingredients that you could never, ever live without?

Home cooking generally calls for classic ingredient staples. I could never, ever live without Kosher salt, butter, sugar, flour, eggs, olive oil, chocolate, bread, tomatoes, cheeses, pasta, garlic, and apples. Thought it is expensive, I always buy the highest quality ingredients I can find, it makes a difference with flavor. I don't buy much processed food since I don't think it is good for you. Instead we snack on air-popped popcorn tossed with butter and freshly grated parmesan, or fresh fruits from the bowl. I will admit I can't live without Nutella, that stuff is so darn good. I also can't live without Constant Comment tea, I drink it hot in the winter and iced in the summer.

What are you favorite food blogs or websites?

I have made so many great friends in the blogosphere that there are too many sites to name, but they are listed on my Web site's sidebar. I will say that I have been a fan of Orangette since it's inception. Molly is a home cook like me, and I can closely relate to her writing and cooking style. I love One Little Bite, Cookie Magazine's Food Blog, for ideas and tips for feeding families. Bitten, Mark Bittman's blog, is always insightful, plus his minimalist recipes are perfect for Naptime Chef-ing. I can't wait to see more of Food52, Amanda Hesser's new project. Of course, like all mommies, in addition to cooking, I do my internet shopping while my daughter naps. When I need to add to my modern preppy mommy wardrobe I head straight to, they have the best clothes and are basically my uniform. To satisfy my interest in design I love reading All The Best, I am always inspired with new ideas for adding style to my home.

Thank you to Kelsey for sharing her kitchen! And don't miss these other "In the Kitchen With..." features:

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