The Homemade Kitchen
Recipes For Cooking With Pleasure
By Alana Chernila
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book Podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Alana Chernila: I'm Alana Chernila, and my cookbook is The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure.
Suzy Chase: The Homemade Kitchen is essential for any home cook dealing with the ups and downs that come with trying to be the perfect chef in the kitchen. Alana, how does your cookbook inspire us to feel more adventurous and optimistic in the kitchen?
Alana Chernila: What I'm trying to do with this book is to really help home cooks just let go of any idea that they have to be perfect in the kitchen at all. I think these days, especially fronted by Instagram and Pinterest and food TV, there are just endless examples of perfection in home cooked food, and they're just not real. We don't need it there. I mean, what happen if we just let go of that and understand that if we make food in the kitchen and we're feeding ourselves and our families and our friends, that food is a success. Let's just move on and eat it and enjoy it and just be easy on ourselves.
Suzy Chase: You've built this book around a collection of phrases that you've taped up on your fridge over the years. My favorite is, "Slow down." Do you have a favorite go-to phrase?
Alana Chernila: I think my favorite right now, especially because I'm in book season is, "Do your best and then let go." That one, I just, I'm constantly repeating to myself because I have a little bit of a tendency to hold myself up to a high standard. I think in so many different areas of life whether it's parenting or my work in food or just my interactions with people, I just really want to do the best that I can, so I'm always trying to remind myself, you know what, do your best, and then stop, stop over analyzing, stop stressing it, let go, and move on to the next thing. That one has been really helpful for me. I also love, if I can choose two, I love "don't be afraid of food." That one, and I ... It's just, it's something that people are really responding to with this book because I feel like with such an active food conversation going on these days, sometimes it veers over into fear. It just, it's not what food is about. Food is supposed to bring us together. It's for celebration, for nourishment, for joy. The moment we start being afraid in the kitchen, whether we're afraid of an ingredient or afraid we're going to mess something up or afraid it's going to make us fat or ... Pick a fear, any fear, then I think it just brings us further away from where we need to be with our food.
Suzy Chase: The first section of this cookbook is chock-full of how-tos. What caught my eye was How to Make a Salad. I have to admit, I avoid making salads at home for my family because I, like you, dislike washing lettuce. I hate it.
Alana Chernila: Isn't it funny how much we all hate that? Suzy Chase: It's the, I don't know why, it's the worst.
Alana Chernila: Yeah.
Suzy Chase: Tell us about your Platter Salads.
Alana Chernila: Oh, I love that one. The Platter Salad is a great recipe when you have a lot of produce and you don't quite know what to do with it because I feel like, especially if you're shopping at the farmer's market or maybe you have your own backyard garden or you're even a member of a CSA farm, all of a sudden, you end up with so much produce, and it can be a little bit stressful, like how do I use this beautiful produce before it gets slimy. Platter Salads are great way to use a bunch of things. I really like to use a combination of cooked and raw vegetables. Really, it's just a layering of all different vegetables that are all tossed in a dressing. Usually there's a little protein in there and maybe some cheese and nuts, but what I like to do is often start with some roasted or steamed potatoes or roasted beets and toss those in dressing. I'll add maybe some steamed green beans and some beautiful little raw cherry tomatoes and perhaps some feta or chevre, which you could make yourself as well. Really, everything in there goes. The thing that is often missing, which is funny, is lettuce, you know?
Suzy Chase: Good.
Alana Chernila: It's like, it's good to sort of step beyond our idea of what a salad can be. This really becomes a whole meal. It's also a great party food because you can really layer these vegetables with all the beautiful colors and textures on a big platter. It's just, it's art on the table. Everyone finds what they like. It's really, it's a stunner.
Suzy Chase: Korea's national dish kimchi is so popular at the moment. Can you walk us through your Kimchi recipe?
Alana Chernila: Oh, absolutely. I love making kimchi, mostly because I love eating kimchi. My kimchi is really a pumped up sauerkraut. I've been making sauerkraut for years, just in the crock with salt and cabbage and that's it. My kimchi just adds hot peppers and garlic and ginger and varies the type of cabbage a little bit. It's really the same process. It's a great thing to do right now when all that produce is ready to go. I'm always making kimchi in the late summer, early fall. Really, all those vegetables just get combined in a big bowl with some salt, and you can just beat up the vegetables until they release a little bit of brine, which is happens when you beat up cabbage with salt. Then I put it in my crock and I weight it down with a plate in often a jar filled with water. Then I just let it make myself because my favorite recipes are the ones that I don't actually have to make, which is why fermentation is so wonderful. It usually takes a week to 10 days, and then I have fantastic spicy kimchi. I love it. We just eat it in everything.
Suzy Chase: That kimchi really confuses me. Is it a condiment? Is it a main dish?
Alana Chernila: You know, it can be whatever you want it to be. But in my kitchen, it really, it's more of a condiment because I like to put it in soups and noodles. I have a recipe that I love that's in this book, which we call Kimchi Breakfast Tata. Tata's actually a name that my daughter made up for this dish when she was little. It's really, it's a breakfast quesadilla because kimchi goes so well with eggs. I eat it at breakfast time all the time. It's great, just like a scoop on scrambled eggs. We ended up making a breakfast quesadilla with eggs and cheese, and then there's kimchi cooked right into the scrambled eggs, and it all goes into the tortilla. It is so delicious. It's a great way to eat kimchi for breakfast.
Suzy Chase: Now, I know your husband loves kimchi. What's the strangest thing he has put kimchi on?
Alana Chernila: Oh, I think there's nothing he hasn't put kimchi on. So-
Suzy Chase: That's hilarious.
Alana Chernila: Yeah, I think I caught him putting kimchi on plain spaghetti. That was funny to me. Someone was just actually telling me about making kimchi and peanut butter sandwiches, which kind of made sense when I talk about it because kimchi is really wonderful on sesame noodles, anything with peanut sauce. But my first response was, "Wha? Kimchi and peanut butter sandwich." But I think when you have something that good and that packed in flavor, it's usually good wherever you want to put it.
Suzy Chase: We live in a world of wasted scraps. What are some of your handy tips to keep vegetables longer in the fridge?
Alana Chernila: Oh yeah. I have worked really hard in trying to preserve produce in my own kitchen just because I hate seeing things go to waste. But I am a big labeler, so I will often label things. I'll keep lists outside of the fridge so that I know what's there, so that things don't get forgotten. I'm just really careful to store things in glass containers or plastic bags often with paper towels to absorb their moisture, just really taking care to store each vegetable in the way that makes the most sense for it. I do, I spent a lot of time developing those guidelines that I have in the book for what works best for each produce. But I think just being really good about labeling and knowing what you have in your fridge goes a long way.
Suzy Chase: I never knew that the snack that I make for my little boy after school was called Ploughman's Snack? Where did you get that term, and what are your favorite little plates to put together?
Alana Chernila: That really came from years and years ago. My husband and I, we went out for a beer at a bar in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and that was what they called their delicious little platter snack. I just loved it. I just thought it was, it just sounded good to me, so for years and years, we've been calling it a Ploughman Snack. What it is, it's really, it's your classic, charcuterie, a little bit of cheese, nuts, crackers, maybe a pickle, a fresh fruit or vegetable. Sometimes these are more complicated. When I'm having a dinner party, I'll set that out before dinner, but sometimes I like to just set out a simple Ploughman Snack right after school so that when everyone comes in and I'm still working ... My husband's a teacher, so my husband and my two girls come in and they're just starving. I can set that out, and it just gives everyone something to eat quickly. I love to do a little bit of fresh cheese. I make a lot of feta at home, so I like to do slices of fresh feta, and I will do maybe a little bit of cured salami or ham, which is wonderful. I'll often have some quick pickles, like I'll do quick pickles in the kitchen, maybe a couple days ahead of time so that they're always ready to go. The Ploughman Snack, so I'll have carrots or pickles with ginger or fennel and a few olives, maybe some roasted nuts that I've done with rosemary and lemon and olive oil. I just like to have these snacks ready to go so I can make a beautiful little platter, and it makes us all happy. It's amazing how much food can turn into a celebration just by putting a little bit of care into it.
Suzy Chase: Very rarely, if ever, does grief come up in a cookbook. Talk to us about your miso soup. It sounds like such a warm, comforting gesture.
Alana Chernila: Yeah, that has been really helpful for me over the years. I have a whole chapter in the book that's really about bringing food to people in times of birth and death and illness and just moments when a warm, lovingly cooked meal makes a really big difference. That miso soup recipe is something that I use when someone in my community has lost someone and I don't know what to do and I need some way to reach out. Miso soup is such a simple soup. It just has a few vegetables and a little bit of protein with the tofu, but what it really has is that salt from the miso. I find, in times when I've been in grief, the miso is so helpful for me because we just lose so much salt through our tears. There's a way I think both in a poetic sense and in a real sense that bringing that salty soup, it helps replenish it. It's just, it's comforting to everyone. That has been the most effective tool I have, although it's so hard when people in our community lose someone and you just don't know what to do, so I'm trying to offer a few tools for people to reach out to when they're in that position.
Suzy Chase: Last night for dinner, I made your recipe for Butternut Squash Pasta with Bacon and Sage Brown Butter on page 166.
Alana Chernila: Oh, I love that one.
Suzy Chase: That meal made me feel like, okay, it's fall.
Alana Chernila: Yeah, that one really says fall to me too. I love how everything roasts in the oven. It's sort of, once it's all going, it comes together so quickly.
Suzy Chase: The Homemade Kitchen is a nice reminder that cooking should be pleasurable. Alana, where can we find you on the web?
Alana Chernila: Well, my website is called eatingfromthegroundup.com, and I continue to write there about all the goings-on in my kitchen. There's all the information about the book, and my big book tour, which is coming up, I'm going all over the country, that is all on my website.
Suzy Chase: Great. Thanks for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Alana Chernila: Thank you so much for having me. I loved it.