A Quick Bite with Katie Workman

A Quick Bite with Katie Workman

It’s no secret that one of the reasons we started the Quick Bite column was to give us an opportunity to meet and chat with writers, cooks or parents we admire. Katie Workman would be on the top of any of those three lists and she happens to be all three.

Her first cook book, The Mom 100 became an instant classic when it came out a few years ago. Dinner Solved, which came out last summer, and dug even deeper into the challenges of cooking for a family. The genius behind this book is the way it teaches you to take a recipe and spin it in different directions – so that everyone in a family can be happy about dinner and the cook isn’t making four different meals. She calls these turning points in recipes “forks in the road.” So brilliant. And here’s why. We all know there are a million recipes out there. But a way to think about how to cook and not get overwhelmed by the conflicting tastes of your family? That is a lifeline.

And it doesn’t hurt that she delivers all of her recipes and insights with a calm confidence that makes you feel like you’re going to get through, not only this dinner, but all the dinners. Basically, you need her in your life. Funny, Katie did not want to move in with my family and look after us. Isn’t that strange? She did generously make time to chat with us about her own relationship with food and how it all goes down in her house.

 

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Sweet Potato Chronicles: How did you learn to cook?

Katie Workman: My mom was an intuitive and very good cook, but I really taught myself how to cook by reading cookbooks!  I used to read them in bed from the age of….8,9,10?  I pretty much cooked my way through the first Silver Palate Cookbook, then Sheila Lukins’ other books.  Other big early infludencers, at different points of my life, were the Moosewood Books, Deborah Madison’s Greens, the Cucina Fresca/Cucina Rustica Books by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman.  And the Joy of Cooking.  And some funny little freezer book.

SPC: What’s your cooking style at home? What’s your specialty

KW: That’s a tough question for a food writer!  I am always developing and testing recipes for various publications, so it’s pretty-eclectic.  I like flavor, and color, and putting twists on the crowd pleasers.  It’s never fussy, it’s not complicated.  We love having people over, so it’s almost always copious and served family-style.

SPC: What do you like best about cooking?

KW: After all these years of cooking, even doing it professionally, I still find it to be the most relaxing and creative thing I do.  I would probably hardly ever cook at all if I lived on a deserted island – I need to know I am cooking for someone, family, friends, or I also love cooking for others as a volunteer, even people I might never meet.

SPC: Why do you think so many parents find food and cooking daunting? How can people make it simpler?

KW: I think it’s the planning that gets most people.  They hate the feeling of not knowing what they are making for dinner at 3 or 4 p.m., but planning feels so daunting.  But if you line up a few meals for the week, and spend a little bit of time chopping onions, mincing garlic, maybe dicing chicken for a specific recipe, you will thank yourself profusely all week long as you walk in the door and a) know what you’re making and b) have some of the ingredients prepped and ready to go.

SPC: Do you like to cook solo or with others?

KW: Both!

SPC: What is your idea of the ultimate comfort food and why?

KW: I love the comfort foods of different countries.  I feel like when you eat a bowl of congee or a plate of Migas you can recognize a comfort food of another country pretty instantly, even if you’ve never had it before.  It just lives up to its inception, and its calling.  I have a wide range of foods that qualify as comfort foods to me.  I also love leftovers.

SPC: Do you have a sweet or salty tooth? What’s your guilty pleasure?

KW: Salt and fat!  A plate of hot crispy french fries…. man, watch your fingers.

SPC: How has parenthood changed the way you cook?

KW: Not a ton!

SPC: Do your children join you in the kitchen?

KW: Not as often as I would like, since they are now teenagers with busy lives. But I love when they do.

SPC: What do your kids not eat that you wish they would?

KW: Charlie doesn’t do scallops, and Jack is off shrimp these days, which are favorite for me and Gary.
SPC: Are there rules at your table? (Clean your plate? Eat your vegetables or no dessert?)
KW: They evolve, as the kids get older.
SPC: What’s your go-to- late-home- from-work- on-a- weekday dish?
KW: There is a casserole in The Mom 100 Cookbook with fresh mozzarella, jarred vodka sauce, and pasta, which is a go-to for us, and I happen to know, a bunch of other people! I have been very touched to hear a couple of friends say their families refer to it as “Katie’s Pasta.”

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