Welcome to the first post of which I hope becomes a feature at Kitchen Billets-Doux: the Kitchen Questionnaire! I’ll be asking home cooks a set of ten questions and sharing their answers here with you. If you know someone who should answer these questions, especially if it is yourself, then please do contact me!
My first victim, I mean, my lovely guinea pig, is my friend Jennifer. I met her at Goodreads, where she founded one of my most favorite book clubs ever and from there we became connected across all sorts of social media. She is loads of fun and I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.
She is a writer and book reviewer in Canada with a special place in her heart for debut novels. I have learned a lot about Canadian literature from her and because of that I have become super enthusiastic about CanLit in general, ranging from the classics through the debut novels and other contemporary Canadian literature. As an American, I am really envious of this thing up North called “Canada Reads,” which happens every year. Jennifer actually attended this year and got to ask the panelists questions! Jennifer keeps at blog called Literal Life, and you should check it out, especially if you love reading like we do!
Anyway, besides books, Jennifer and I share a love of food. So here we go, let’s find out what Jennifer had to say in response to my questions!
KBD: When did you start cooking?
J: I began cooking when I was fairly young. When I was very small, my grandmother would let me “help” her when she baked. I would have been three or four-years old and I remember helping by gently stirring her bran muffin batter, tossing apples in cinnamon and sugar for her pie filling and pinching the dough of her pie crusts. By the time I was about eight-years old, my brother and I would come home from school for lunch on our own. We would make Chef Boyardee or Kraft Dinner, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup or just peanut butter sandwiches sometimes too. I learned how to make cakes around this same age as well. And brownies. When I was in grade 6, I had evolved with my skills to making simple meals – baking chicken, baked or roasted potatoes, steamed vegetables. By grade 7, my brother and I were each responsible for preparing dinner once or twice a week. So…yeah. I have been cooking for a long time now.
KBD: What is your favorite comfort food to make?
J: Oh — homemade macaroni and cheese (usually with beef added in). Or scalloped potatoes. Apparently rich, creamy and cheesy is where it’s at when I need comfort food.
KBD: What is the best thing you ever made and what is your worst kitchen disaster?
J: Best. Hmm, we once had friends over for dinner (they have four children who were fussy eaters, so it had to be kid-friendly) and I made spaghetti and meatballs, spinach salad, and for dessert brownies. OMG! It was all sooooo good. I have this great homemade marinara sauce I make, and the meatballs came out perfect and I used fresh pasta. With the brownies, I served them with vanilla ice cream and had made a homemade chocolate sauce to drizzle on top. It was just one of those meals, that…eight years later, I can still recall. Everything just turned out beautifully. It was a simple meal but so fresh and delicious. My friends went home with all the recipes. Haha.
Worst. Oh dear. Okay. So, this one time…haha! No really, there was this one time – I had recently graduated from university, was working my first full-time job and had just moved into a new place, shared with four roommates. It was Christmas-time and my roommates were all away at their families’ homes for the holidays. So I decided to have my brother and dad come over for Christmas dinner. My dad really liked these Butterball turkeys that come pre-stuffed and you cook them from frozen. So even though I wanted to get a fresh bird…I agreed to get what he wanted. Christmas Day arrives and I go to get the FROZEN turkey to pop in the oven (because with these pre-stuffed ones, you don’t defrost them. *SIGH*) and realize THIS IS NOT A PRE-STUFFED TURKEY! Uh-oh. The bird needs to be defrosted before it can be roasted. So now, it’s Christmas. It’s about 11am and my brother and dad are arriving at 4pm. And the turkey is frozen. I kicked into action and attempted to get the bird defrosted while not giving us all salmonella poisoning in the process. It did not go well. I tend to be anxious about germs and so the idea that I could make us all very sick was looming large. I soaked the bird in the sink for a bit. It remained very solidly frozen. I tried to get it into the microwave…but it was too big. So, back into the sink it went, with cool water to help it along. Meanwhile…the brother and dad arrive promptly at 4pm. Just in time to see the turkey get put into the oven. We ate our Christmas dinner at 1am. And, after the hors d’oeuvres were long gone and the people were still hungry, a peanut butter sandwich or six might have been eaten. And we ate dessert first. At about midnight. At the time, everyone was a bit on edge and cranky about this cooking disaster, but it quickly became a story we laugh about again and again.
KBD: What is your favorite food memory (whether or not you were the cook)?
J: I have quite a few favourite food moments that stand out in my mind, but I will share my top three – and I wasn’t the cook in any of these moments, haha!
i) For our honeymoon, 15 years ago, my husband and I stayed at a Club Med in Turks and Caicos. They made this amazing chocolate bread. It wasn’t totally a bread, it wasn’t a loaf and it wasn’t a pain au chocolat…but holy cow was it so freaking delicious. I guess it was sort of a cross between a rustic white bread and a sourdough bread, and then ribbons of chocolate were woven, ooey and gooily throughout. MMMMMM. We mourn the absence of this bread in our life still. 🙂
ii) I went to university southeast of Montreal and one of my good friends lived in Montreal. So we would go into the city about once a month. There is this place on rue Ste. Catherine, Kojax Souflaki. I have not been there in…22 years, but I can totally still taste their most amazing and delicious chicken souvlaki on a pita. HOLY SMOKES YOU GUYS! I can’t vouch for it today, but even thinking about it, right now, is making my mouth drooly.
iii) my oldest niece is nearly sixteen now, but when she was two-and-a-half-years-old, we sat on the back deck of my brother’s house and ate a giant bowl of cherries. They were the most delicious cherries ever grown in the history of cherry growing, and we got all sticky, gooey and pink in the lovely warm sunshine.
KBD: Where does your kitchen inspiration usually come from (books, tv, restaurant meals, friends, family)?
J: I feel lucky to have so many people in my family who are great cooks! I get a lot of ideas and recipes from them – my mum and brother in particular. My husband and I do watch a lot of stuff on the the Food Network, so I would say seeing things on different shows does give me ideas. I actually love reading cookbooks, so I think most of my inspiration comes from them. Though I definitely operate from a place of “Hmm, what can I make with these ingredients?” I am not very good at planning our meals so do a lot of improvising with what’s on hand, while staring into the refrigerator.
To be continued…