“I really learned to cook from reading each and every Silver Palate cover to cover, and cooking my way through that book, as well as the Moosewoods, the Cucina Rustica series, and others, and making pasta from Marcella Hazan’s book, and making about 4,000 Toll House chocolate chip cookies and Bisquick coffee cakes.”
Katie Workman was a kid who loved to cook, and a kid who loved cookbooks. Her first job after college was with Clarkson Potter Publishers, specializing, naturally, in cookbooks, and she remained there for 12 years learning every part of the cookbook publishing world while becoming a Senior Editor. After a shorter stint as Associate Publisher at Workman Publishing, Katie left to help launch Cookstr.com as the Founding Editor in Chief in 2008. This was also the beginning of her career as an active food writer. She established the popular Cookstr weekly newsletter, and wrote for many websites and publications, including The Daily Beast, AOL Food, KitchenDaily.com, AARP.com, bravo.com, Boston Globe and New York Magazine. She currently writes a bi-weekly column for The Huffington Post.
Katie lives with her husband and two children in New York City, where friends, neighbors, and families with kids are all welcome at her table. Visit Katie’s website.
With Thanksgiving on the way, we’re happy to introduce you to Katie Workman, a cookbook editor turned author. She recently wrote The Mom 100 featuring elevated classics to get moms out of their cooking ruts. This is what Giada DeLaurentis had say about it:
She’s got some great, hard-earned words of wisdom for moms on cooking, entertaining and mollifying even the pickiest little eaters.
We’re a website geared towards creative moms and we love your cookbook of elevated classics. There’s little as creative as a mom trying to get her kids to eat healthy! You also have some innovative features like The Fork in the Road — how did you come up with that idea?
So many of us feel like we can’t find one meal that will make everyone at the table happy, and I hear over and over again from parents that they find themselves cooking two or three different things, and feeling like a short order cook. The Fork in the Road idea means that you can make one recipe, and partway through the preparation you can separate out part of it, and keep it plain and simple for pickier eaters, and keep going with the rest of the recipe, adding more flavor or spice, other ingredients, to make it more interesting for the adventurous eaters at the table. I use the same kind of approach to make food to feed vegetarians and non vegetarians, or even during a meal like a taco night — lots of different toppings let everyone make the taco of their dreams, super simple, or loaded with everything.
A cookbook is often as much about the voice and personality of the writer as it is the recipes, how did you find your voice?
It’s funny, I really didn’t have to look too hard! People who know me first and then read the book say to me, “Oh, the books sounds just like the way you talk!” and people who read the book first and then meet me say, “Oh, you sound just like to write!”
Preparing for the cookbook photo shoot
I saw that you worked in publishing as a cookbook editor for quite a few years. Did that make writing your own book more appealing or daunting? Did you encounter anything unexpected when you switched sides of the table? What made you decide it was time to make the leap?
I definitely knew what the process was, so that made things easier. I did think of my poor editor, Suzanne — it’s like a doctor having a doctor for a patient! But we work really well together, and she’s an excellent editor — she makes things better and never interferes with the voice part. I actually wrote this book because Suzanne took me to lunch after reading some pieces I had written and said, “I think you need to write a cookbook now.” I had just come up with the idea for The Mom 100 Cookbook, and I told her about it, and she said, “You need to write this book.”
You actually come from cookbook lineage with your parents founding Workman Press. How did your parents influence the way you approach food? Did you have a favorite cookbook growing-up?
My mom was and is a really good intuitive cook. She wasn’t a big teacher, though, so I taught myself from cookbooks. My parents company published quite a number of them, including the hugely influential Silver Palate Cookbook. I really learned to cook from reading each and every Silver Palate cover to cover, and cooking my way through that book, as well as the Moosewoods, the Cucina Rustica series, and others, and making pasta from Marcella Hazan‘s book, and making about 4,000 Toll House chocolate chip cookies and Bisquick coffee cakes.
Can you tell us a few things that keep you inspired?
I love supermarkets, and any food shopping experience, online, farmers’ market, specialty store, you name it, and I will find a new ingredient, or see some beautiful dish at the prepared food counter, and want to go home and play with that. I do love reading cookbooks, too — even after so many years of working with them!
I belong to a CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) and every week I get an assortment of produce, and sometimes cheese or bread or cider and it’s always a cool puzzle to figure out what to do with all of it.
One of the biggest obstacles for most parents trying to cook fresh, healthy meals is often time. I read that you manage to cook every night. How long do you (on average) take for cooking each day? Do you have suggestions on shortcuts or ways to make cooking easier for moms in a time-crunch?
I don’t cook every single night, but most nights. And on the nights my family is still using eating food I made because I cook in pretty big quantities and there are always tons of leftovers in the fridge. I also might cook late night for the next day, or in the morning, and finish it or heat it at night. It’s not always a “I’m home at 6 cooking so we can eat at 7” thing. My biggest tip is to prep your week. On a Sunday or whenever you have time, chop up a few onions, mince some garlic juice some lemons, mince some parsley, whatever ingredients you use most often. Then you’ll have them in the fridge to grab all week long and you’ll be that much closer to dinner. Weeknight dinners are always challenging, but
I read a lot about getting your kids involved in the process. My daughter loves growing her veggie garden and cooking with me but then turns around and won´t eat any of it. What did I do wrong? Do you have advice for parents trying to expand their kids’ palette?
Being a parent is a patience-testing experience isn’t it? It sounds like you’re doing it quite right! It’s great that you are involving her in the process. This is sometimes a bit of a control thing, so if you are showing how much you want her to try things, maybe think about pulling back a bit and shrugging so it becomes less of a control moment. You could also discuss the food with other members of the family in a way that might make her want to be part of it, “Do you think this has enough seasoning? Do you think we should add some feta cheese next time?”
What is the process in your home for figuring out the perennial question “What´s for dinner?” How do you decide what to make? Do you plan your meals ahead? What’s your go to pantry meal that you can always throw together in a pinch?
It’s always changing — often i am testing recipes, so whatever is on the front burner, so to speak, is what we’re eating. But I always get inspiration from what looks good at the market, and often what’s on sale. It helps me constantly shake things up? Pork loin on sale? Whole roasters? Tilapia? Celeriac? I a a big online shopper for food as well; I use FreshDirect.com a lot (a NY based food delivery service) and they have great stuff and promote it all the time. I bought great pork from them last week for a stew, scallops turned into ceviche (that was for me, I will say). And of course, I also take requests from my kids and husband!
And finally a very important question, what your favorite Thanksgiving dish?
I love the turkey and mashed potatoes. Plus I make apple streusel pies and pumpkin pies every year!
Thank you Katie for your insightful answers! We can’t wait to cook up some of your delicious recipes and try them out on our hardest critics, the kids! Have a picky eater or need some extra meal ideas? Get her The Mom 100 Cookbook or read her tips on getting your kids excited about cooking.