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Blogger Spotlight: Ronnie Fein

Couscous salad

About my Blog:

I started Kitchen Vignettes as something like a memoir. Like when Proust nibbled the famous madeleine cookie and it evoked enough memories for him to write a book. There are so many foods, so many different recipes that call up my memories, whether it is for some traditional dish that my mother or grandmother cooked or a special dish I ate in a restaurant or while traveling in a foreign country or while I was experimenting with an ingredient for an article I was writing or even some concoction I remember seeing or tasting at school when I was a kid. So, many of the blog posts on Kitchen Vignettes are just that: little reminiscences that speak to why I am choosing a particular recipe to share. I believe that when people read about food memories it also evokes their own memories. And that may make them want to cook whatever dish it is that I’m writing about. And that makes me feel terrific, as if I have accomplished something not just for me but whoever is reading the blog. And I hope it gives them some good time with their own memories.

My First Cooking Memory:

I am not sure whether I actually remember this or whether my Mom told me the story so many times that I think I remember. But my earliest cooking memory, real or imagined, is of me, a long, long time ago, age 5, standing on a chair at the kitchen sink, with a big adult-size apron around me, cleaning a chicken. We were away for the summer and my mother ordered a chicken from a local, unfamiliar butcher. The chicken wasn’t eviscerated (this was a long time ago!) and she threatened to throw it away. But I knew she had planned to make fried chicken that night and her fried chicken was so good I couldn’t imagine throwing away that wonderful chicken that was going to be that wonderful dinner. So I said that I’d rip out the insides and so she said okay, and so I did, and then she let me help dip the chicken in seasoned flour, which was great fun! Then I watched her fry her wonderful fried chicken that we all enjoyed for dinner.

My Favorite Kitchen Gadget:

My favorite kitchen gadget, oh I actually have two. First I love my microplanes. I have several sizes for grating different ingredients. A microplane does a perfect job getting the outer peel off of an orange or lemon because it makes ultra-thin, teeny shreds or pieces that blend with other ingredients more easily and allows the peel to be more evenly distributed. (These gadgets are also ideal for grating cheese.) I also like my small citrus juicer (two parts; you put a reamer on top of a plastic pitcher, press the fruit through a strainer and pour out as much juice as is needed). I obviously use a lot of citrus in my cooking! I find it adds a fresh vitality to a variety of foods.

What is my Favorite Kosher Dish to Cook:

I don’t think I could pick a favorite kosher dish to cook. There are too too many. I can say that I make Mujadarah (called Bulgur Wheat with Lentils, Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms in my book, “Hip Kosher”) very often because it is one of my children’s, in-law children’s, grandchildren’s and husband’s (and my) favorite things to eat. But when I serve that I usually also make Spinach Pie (also in the book), which we also love and before that dinner we often have Carrot and Parsnip Soup, another well-loved, well-used recipe (from the book). Of course I hate to brag but everyone says my Challah is worth an academy award, and I make it almost every week and in fact I double the recipe because an 8-cup of flour recipe will barely last the weekend. If I had to pick a favorite kosher meat recipe I suppose it would be Chicken with Dates and Toasted Almonds (also in “Hip Kosher”) because it is bountiful in flavor, a hint of both sweet and spicy and I can make it ahead and heat it up when I need it. It’s winter now and I am feeing cold, so this dish, which is braised, is particularly warming. In the summer, when it’s hot I would probably choose Bulgogi, a Korean dish for the grill that makes you re-think what you can do with cheaper cuts of meat like flanken. As you can see, none of these dishes sounds exactly kosher, but everyone who knows me knows that I am not a traditional cook. My mission is to show the world that anyone can make modern, culturally diverse, globally-influenced food that may not be traditionally Jewish but is definitely kosher!

Who is my Cooking Inspiration:

I have two cooking inspirations. My Mom, who always let me “potchky” in the kitchen and never worried about the mess. She taught me the basics of course and was insistent on the judicious use of herbs and spices, which is probably why I like to experiment with different flavors. My other inspiration is Julia Child, the best cooking teacher there ever was, no-nonsense but fun. A woman who understood that cooking should be enjoyable and inspiring, not an intimidating chore. And some of her best recipes translate beautifully in the kosher kitchen (I bet she never knew that!).

Here’s the best tip I can give any home cook:

Always keep certain stock items in your kitchen: lemons, an orange, canned beans, packaged (or frozen) stock (vegetable, chicken and beef), sun dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, imported olives, dry pasta, condiments such as Harissa and Hoisin sauce, spices and so on (there are 4 pages of suggestions in “Hip Kosher”) because these ingredients give you flexibility and open up a world of possibilities for your meals. I encourage everyone to experiment with new flavors, even if only to see how they fit into old, tried-and-true recipes: for example, instead of making pasta with tomato sauce, use olive oil and a can of beans, some cut up sun dried tomatoes and peas. Or add some Harissa to vegetable soup. This is how tasty new recipes get invented.

My best advice?

Don’t let the kitchen scare you. Cooking is fun. Do what you can. Enjoy what you cook. Don’t try to be Julia Child or the Iron Chef. Be you.

What recipes are you sharing with us?

Roasted Moroccan Spiced Chicken Breasts
Chicken (or Turkey) Couscous Salad with Grapes, Oranges and Cashews
Baked Goat Cheese with Dried Cranberries and Honey

Ronnie Fein has been a freelance food and lifestyle writer since 1980. She has her own food blog, calledKitchen Vignettes. Ronnie is the author of Hip Kosher and operates the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, Connecticut, where she lives with her husband. She has two married daughters and four grandchildren.

Ronnie Fein