Food Writer Melissa Clark Invites Us into Her Kitchen

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Clark: The New York Times columnist, author of countless cookbooks (including her latest, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite) and the mastermind behind the feature story, A Global Potluck in the September issue of Parents magazine. Clark dishes on her fool-proof cooking method, her love of pie, and the cookbook she couldn't live without.

Parents magazine: What is your earliest memory in the kitchen?

Melissa Clark holding daughter

Heather Weston


Melissa Clark: My earliest memory in the kitchen was probably when I was about 4 years old. I remember waking up so early that it was still black outside. I went down to the kitchen to wait for my parents to wake up. We had a TV in the room and I turned it on. There was no programming at that hour, and I remember staring at a multicolor, striped screen, eating a banana, enjoying the peace.

I also remember helping my dad make cookies. He loved to make walnut crescents, and I helped him by rolling the dough into little logs that he shaped into slivered moons. Licking my fingers was the best part, naturally.

Parents: If I you had to choose one recipe from your newest book, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, for readers to make, what would it be?

MC: That's tough, but I'll go for something really easy and very tasty: Spicy, Garlicky Cashew Chicken. It's quick enough for after work but packs huge flavor, and it's the kind of recipe that takes well to variation. You can use the cashew sauce on anything from pork to tofu to fish to soba noodles.

Parents: What do you do to get Dahlia to eat food she doesn't want to eat?

MC: Bad parenting confession: I've been known to bribe her ("eat this one piece of broccoli and you can have dried mango for dessert"), to make it into a game ("look, mommy's eating a piece of chicken, let's see who can eat it faster!"), to cajole: ("eat a bite of barley for Grandma"), and to stuff pieces of sausage into her mouth when she's distracted. Sigh.

Parents: Does your husband help you out in the kitchen?

MC: He's my best (and only) sous chef. He dices, chops, minces, and helps clean up. Not to mention he mixes the cocktails.

Parents: What inspired you to get into cooking and food writing?

MC: It was such a natural way for me to combine the two pastimes I loved the most -- eating and writing. And then when I discovered MFK Fisher, I had a model.

Parents: If you had to choose between cookies, pie, or cake for dessert and could eat only one, what would you eat?

MC: This is brutally difficult, but I'll go for pie!

Parents: What is your favorite city to eat in outside of New York?

MC: Easy, Paris. In the USA, I adore L.A. for great eating.

Parents: Is there anything that you refuse to eat?

MC: I was once offered water bug on a stick in Thailand. It looked too much like the roaches in my old East Village apartment so I declined. I did eat the grasshoppers though.

Parents: What advice would you give to parents who want to include their children in the cooking process but aren't sure where to start?

MC: Cook more yourself, and let your kids watch. They will start asking to help. Even my 21-month-old likes to take the peas out of the pod.

Parents: Do you have a fool-proof go-to ingredient or recipe?

MC: Roasting! I roast anything that won't crawl out of the oven. It seems to work on nearly every type of meat, fish, or veg, and it's so easy. I can put a chicken or whole fish or tray of sliced eggplant in the oven before Dahlia's bedtime, then sit down to dinner when she's asleep -- on nights when we are eating late.

Parents: As a working mom, how often do you cook dinner for your family and how often do you eat out or deliver take-out?

MC: I have the great advantage of working at home, so I cook a lot, about four to five times per week. But I'm also immersed in the food world, so it's easy for me to cook in small doses -- a little chopping here, some washing of greens there. We typically order in once a week, and go out once or twice.

Parents: What is your favorite aspect of being a food writer?

MC: Getting paid to obsess over food, to cook it, eat it, and share it.

Parents: Name one recipe that you're in the process of perfecting.

MC: I've been working on a whole wheat scone recipe for a while; I want it rich and not too healthy tasting, but I also want to keep it from turning into a sugar bomb. It's a balance and I haven't got it down yet.

Parents: What is Dahlia's favorite dish?

MC: Right now it's creamed corn, but it changes a lot. (Take the kernels off one ear of corn, simmer in a few tablespoons of heavy cream -- that's all you do!) She also loves "coco rice" (brown rice cooked with half water and half coconut milk), prosciutto, and sausages.

Parents: What's your favorite food to make with Dahlia?

MC: She loves to take the peas out of the pod and eat them. That's about as sophisticated as it gets! Oh, she helps me make smoothies by breaking up the banana and throwing it into the blender.

Interview Continued:

Parents: What was your favorite food to make with your mother?

MC: Anything sweet and runny enough for me to lick the bowl. Cookies, cakes, custards ...

Parents: When cooking dinner for your family after a long day at work seems daunting, what do you do?

MC: I broil sausages and make a salad. It's about as easy as it gets. Or, you know, order in.

Parents: What three things are always in your fridge? What three items are always in your pantry?

MC: In the fridge: good butter, anchovies, lemons. In the pantry: good extra virgin olive oil, soy sauce, hot sauce.

Parents: What's next for you?

MC: My next book! A kitchen diary to be released by Hyperion in 2011.

Parents: Do you have any kitchen tricks/tips you can share?

MC: The most important one was something my mother taught me: Clean as you go! That way you're not left with a kitchen that looks like a tornado made dinner.

Parents: What's your go-to weeknight dinner?

MC: Red Lentil Soup with Lemon. I can make it from pantry staples in about 40 minutes, most of which is just simmering time. In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite has the recipe.

Parents: If you were stranded on a desert island, what appliance would you want with you? Cookbook?

MC: Appliance -- a good knife. Cookbook -- Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

Parents: Describe your ideal day of eating.

MC: Breakfast: Fresh strawberries (really good, farmer's market ones) with cream and maple sugar, bagels and lox, assam tea. Lunch: Avocado and arugula salad with gruyere cheese, whole grain bread and good butter, and sliced serrano ham, an Arnold Palmer to drink. Snack: Cookies, maybe ginger or shortbread, and more assam tea. Dinner: Some kind of amazing pasta, maybe with pesto, cherry tomatoes, and ricotta, or a creamy cheesy sauce, roasted veggies, and almond or caramel gelato for dessert. Wine to drink, of course!

Parents: What sets In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite apart from other cookbooks?

MC: The stories behind the meals, I think, is what makes it particularly engaging. I hope, anyway. And all the recipes work!

Parents: What's a typical breakfast for you? For Dahlia? For your husband?

MC: Me: the buttered crusts from Dahlia's toast, a bowl of fruit and yogurt (or a smoothie), assam tea with milk. Daniel: a Clif bar, green tea, and a smoothie. Dahlia: Oatmeal with currants (we call them baby raisins; we make the oatmeal with milk), some kind of seasonal fruit, buttered toast.

Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.

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