Kitchen Conﬁdence is something that so many of us want – the ability to walk into the kitchen, strap on that apron and creative cap, and whip up a dish that is not only delicious but nourishing for our family. Then reality sets in and we become overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities and even face insecurity in our ability to deliver. Joanne Weir’s Cooking Conﬁdence: Dinner Made Simple has been written to help every timid cook overcome those kitchen fears. Joanne sets the ‘table’ for success. With 100 recipes and six chapters, each oﬀering “Techniques Made Simple” to demystify some of those kitchen conundrums, she oﬀers us a way to deliver marvelous meals that taste wonderful, are easy-to-prepare, and best of all, are aﬀordable. We were lucky enough to connect with Joanne for a Q&A so she can impart some of this wisdom to readers.
OLDWAYS: For those who may not be familiar with your work – from your public television program(s), to your teaching and other culinary endeavors – can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to write Cooking Conﬁdence (Your 17th book!)?
JOANNE: I’ve written 16 cookbooks and was dying to write my 17th but what could I write about? I decided to canvas people and ﬁnd out if they liked to cook and if not, why not? What held them back?
I kept hearing the same answer over and over again… “I don’t cook because I don’t have conﬁdence.” As a chef, I know I take a lot for granted but I was shocked to ﬁnd out that people thought the word temper had to do with anger and ribbon was something you tied around a present. I thought everyone knew how to temper eggs, ribbon egg yolks and sugar, proof yeast, whip egg whites, and scald milk. With this new found knowledge, I decided that my new PBS cooking show shot right here in the neighborhood and my new cookbook would be called “Cooking Conﬁdence.”
But then I started to think, what recipes should I include in the book and on the show? It came to me that we don’t go crazy thinking about what to make for breakfast or lunch but it’s the daily dinner dilemma we struggle with, right?
Even as a professional chef, I struggle with the same issue. Like you, I’m incredibly busy every day. This year, I launched my own wine label, Joanne Weir Wines, opened my ﬁrst restaurant, Copita in Sausalito, created an iPad app, premiered my new cooking show, and started an online retail store via Open Sky. That’s on top of my usual SF cooking classes in my kitchen, culinary journeys to the Mediterranean, and writing for many magazines. By the end of each day, I’m spent. But the question still arises,- what’s for dinner? I want something that’s easy, delicious, healthy, and doesn’t break the bank.
I’m sure you’re the same. Regardless of whether you’re juggling family, a career, or both, you’re busy! If this is you, grab a copy of “Cooking Conﬁdence, Dinner Made Simple” and let me guide you. The book is ﬁlled with 100 recipes that are simple enough to make for your family on Tuesday night but “wow” enough to serve for company on Saturday night. I’ve even added suggestions on what to serve as a simple ﬁrst course and dessert as well as wine suggestions for every recipe if it’s for Saturday night and you want to make a whole meal out of it. There are lots of photographs that show you exactly how to master a technique, the idea being that once you master a new technique and have success making a new recipe, you realize there’s no reason to be intimidated. You’ll have the conﬁdence to try another recipe. You’ll soon discover that cooking isn’t rocket science and you can do it! Start by stocking your pantry and wine cellar! I include a fun list of items everyone should keep on hand.
My next word of advice is to get yourself into the kitchen, tie an apron around your waist, and with knife in hand, try cooking something you might never have cooked before. This is a great start!
I often say I have the best job in the world because I get to share my love of food with others – writing cookbooks, doing television shows, and traveling the globe teaching students how to cook. Although I can’t host each and every one of you in my cooking classes or on my show, I’ve done the next best thing. I’ve wrapped up all the conﬁdence-building tips, tricks, and recipes for making delicious home-cooked meals into this book. With my book in hand in your own kitchen, it will be like having me there by your side, whispering in your ear, encouraging you, guiding you, and giving you conﬁdence every step of the way. I know you can do it!
OLDWAYS: Joanne, your book is ﬁlled with down to earth ways that the everyday cook can build up their abilities. Can you share one or two of your ‘kitchen conﬁdence’ tips that you think can make a big diﬀerence in how someone handles routine cooking tasks?
JOANNE: I talk about knives and what you need to get the job done. For example, I suggest 4 basic knives, a 9-inch chef’s knife, a serrated knife, a 6-inch chef’s knife, and a 4-inch paring knife. You can do almost everything with these.
I show how to pare artichokes, chop an onion without crying, whip egg whites to a stiﬀ peak, the trick to cooking juicy chicken breasts, how to butterﬂy a whole chicken, how to truss a chicken, steam mussels, sear scallops, how to stock your pantry, how to braise, make homemade mayonnaise, how long to keep your spices, a fantastic 5-minute trick for making the perfect risotto, scald milk, cook polenta, store grains… the list could go on and on.
OLDWAYS: One of the topics you touch on is the idea of aﬀordable cooking and smart shopping. We love this! Could you share a few of your favorite aﬀordable shopping strategies with our readers?
JOANNE: The inspiration for aﬀordable food came in part from Alice Waters. I worked with her at Chez Panisse for years and for a long time she has said that she thought I should write a book about aﬀordable food.
First of all, what I tried to do was to change the center of the plate. Instead of having protein as the centerpiece, I increased the amount of grains, beans, and vegetables with a smaller amount of meat and ﬁsh. This is in part also inﬂuenced by eating in other countries in the world where this is the norm.
I also used less expensive cuts of meat in place of prime cuts. For example, instead of buying rib-eye steaks and topping them with a caramelized onion and gorgonzola butter and essence that takes you a whole day to make, make grass-fed burgers and top them with caramelized onions and gorgonzola. And instead of buying a loin of lamb, buy lamb sirloin.
And I also use techniques like braising and stewing and making soups using less expensive cuts of meat that cook for a longer period of time. For what they lack in cost, they add in ﬂavor. For example, instead of making American Pot Roast, try a Tuscan Pot Roast adding dried porcini and tomato paste! I include a lot of grain and bean dishes like the Farro, White Bean and Kale Stew, Spanish Beans with Chorizo, and Fregola with Clams and Tomatoes.
OLDWAYS: We often talk about stocking pantries and notice that you, too, talk about a well-stocked pantry being one way to ensure you can pull together a delicious dinner quickly. What are your top ﬁve must-have pantry items?
JOANNE: I’d like to say
extra virgin olive oil
extra virgin olive oil
extra virgin olive oil
extra virgin olive oil
extra virgin olive oil!
but I know that’s redundant. Let’s keep extra virgin olive oil on the top of the list but let’s also add:
- red, white wine, balsamic and sherry vinegars
- canned Italian tomatoes
- dry beans and assorted rice
- all kinds of spices
- Parmigiano Reggiano
And can I add:
That was tough, as you can see, limiting it to 5 must haves!
OLDWAYS: We could never walk away from an interview without asking, would you give us permission to share one of your Cooking Conﬁdence recipes in this blog post and on our website?
JOANNE: Absolutely! I would love to share the recipe for my Warm Moroccan Chicken and Sweet Potato Salad.
WARM MOROCCAN CHICKEN AND SWEET POTATO SALAD
From Cooking Conﬁdence, The Taunton Press, 2012
This potato salad is like no potato salad you’ve ever tasted. As I look over the list of ingredients, each individual component would be delicious in its own right, so when they’re combined in one dish, it’s quite a showstopper. First chicken is simmered with curry and cumin, creating incredibly moist and ﬂavorful shredded meat. Then sweet potatoes, almonds, and pumpkin seeds are coated in beautifully aromatic spices and roasted. Tossed all together with a cumin and red wine vinaigrette, topped with chopped cilantro and served warm, your taste buds are in for an exotic treat. Thanks to my South Australian chef friend, Mark McNamara, for his inspiration.
3 chicken breasts on the bone, about 1 ½ to 2 pounds
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups sweet potatoes, ¾-inch dice, about 1 ½ pounds
¼ cup whole almonds with skin, coarsely chopped
⅓ cup pumpkin seeds
1 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
½ cup chopped cilantro stems
4 green onions, white and green, thinly sliced
3 cups cilantro leaves and sprigs
Remove the skin from the chicken and discard. Place the chicken in a large saucepan with the curry powder, cumin, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the chicken is tender, 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and discard the liquid. Let the chicken cool.
When the chicken is cool, remove the meat from the bone and tear into pieces. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 ° F.
For the salad, mix the curry powder, ground cumin and 1½ teaspoons salt. Toss half of the spice mixture with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sweet potatoes and roast until tender, 30 minutes.
In the meantime, toss the almonds and pumpkin seeds with the remaining spice mixture and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, place on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until the almonds and pumpkins seeds are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside.
For the dressing, place the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan over medium high heat and toss until they are aromatic and begin to crackle, 30 to 40 seconds. Remove from the heat, place in a bowl. Add the vinegar, garlic, and remaining 5 tablespoons olive oil.
When the potatoes are done, add the chicken pieces, almonds, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, green onions, chopped cilantro, and half of the dressing; mix well. Place the salad in the center of a serving plate. Drizzle the remaining dressing around the plate and scatter with cilantro leaves.