Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Interview (and Rosh Hashana Recipe!) with "Kosher In The Kitch" star Nina Safar!

LadyMama had a virtual "sit-down" with Nina Safar, creator of KosherInTheKitch.com.Read her honest take on life in the kitch, her memorable dish flops, great buying tips for the kitch and what she cares about more than Prada and Chanel (you guessed it, her dream kitchen!). 

Saving the best for last!  **RECIPE!**
Don't miss the incredible Rosh Hashana recipe Nina shares at the end of the interview! 

When did you start appreciating food and being in the kitchen?

Growing up, there was always a warm home cooked meal and yummy snacks waiting for us after school. My moms cinnamon buns and chocolate babka are still my favorite desserts and I love the fact that I can always count on there being freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in her cookie jar!

What are the challenges of keeping Kosher in the Kitch? Have you ever craved making a non-kosher recipe? Be honest.

I am a food-show addict. In fact, when I was pregnant with my son I was too sick to eat but still had the usual pregnancy cravings so I would watch “Man Vs. Food” and lived vicariously through Adam Richman. I always get jealous watching him travel the states and sample grub from all over. Thick juicy burgers, cheesy pizza, sweet and savory breakfasts like french toast with sunny side up eggs on top, dripping with syrup. It always looks AMAZING. The orthodox foodie in me is furious that us Kosher eaters don’t seem to have as many options when it comes to eating out. Kosher food does not have to be boring. Why is it that most Kosher spots only serve scrambled eggs and bland potatoes for breakfast? It’s not non Kosher food I crave, it’s the adventurous and unique options non Kosher eaters have available to them that I am envious of.

What is one kitchen tool that every woman must own?

I’m often asked that and I sit and try and think of one product that I cannot live without and I can’t really think of just one item that is a MUST. There are plenty of appliances that make cooking and baking easier. I adore my yellow KitchenAid but I think that’s more due to the fact that it matches my walls than how it performs! It’s a great product and helps when mixing batter however there are plenty of times when I would rather mix by hand so as not to have to wash the KitchenAid after! Same goes for my Cusinart which has not been touched since I got it the second month I was married. I am confident it would make peeling and grinding potatoes a lot easier, but my fear of the sharp blades and again, having to clean it afterwards has kept me from actually using it. I would have to say a really good sharp knife is a must (that’s actually more for safety than anything else! You don’t want to cut up a butternut squash with a dull knife). A good set of pots and pans is also important for both cooking evenly and lasting longer as they are easier to clean. Throw in a set of mixing bowls, a cutting board and peeler and you have what you need to prepare your next meal. Oh, for cooking poultry and meat, a good cooking thermometer is a MUST! Okay, there you have it: your must item ;)

Do you think there’s hope for women who don’t consider themselves “good in the kitch?” What tips would you offer LadyMamas who don’t consider cooking and baking their strong point?

You don't have to be a professional chef to cook a good meal! People assume because I run a recipe site, that I enjoy spending long periods of time in the kitchen. Honestly, I can't spend more than 20 minutes in front of the oven, tops! I get satisfaction from preparing a good meal, having my guests smile and take seconds; however the actual task of cooking and baking can be tiresome. Which is why I like finding shortcuts in the kitchen. When I host parties, my specialty is cupcakes. I adore the size because you can indulge your sweet tooth without the guilt of slicing into a cake. There are only three cakes I make from scratch: Banana Cake, Zucchini Cake and Carrot Cake! Otherwise, when baking marble or chocolate I ALWAYS use a ready-made mix. My favorite is Duncan Hines. They have a great Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake that comes out very moist. The trick is to make homemade frosting so it seems like it was made from scratch!

Tell us about your biggest flop in the kitchen!

Oh boy, which one? The worst would have to be the time I attempted to make minestrone soup right before a fast. I threw in an entire box of pasta, thinking the shells were so small I would need the entire box for the soup. Big mistake. The pasta soaked up all the liquid and my soup turned into a pot overflowing with pasta. I had to order in sandwiches so we wouldn’t be hungry before the fast even started.

Can you describe your dream kitchen? What kind of a kitchen would you build if you had a million dollars?

I have entire sites bookmarked in the hopes that one day I will be able to design my dream kitchen. While most girls crave Prada and Chanel, I have a wish list for kitchen appliances and products. The ideal kitchen is large and roomy, with plenty of sunlight and an island. Two large sinks, a separate oven for both meat and dairy, a dishwasher and fridge and freezer large enough to store leftovers from Shabbat without spending 30 minutes rearranging all the items on the shelves!

Have you ever served something that you know people didn’t think was good?

I once made pesto pasta using parsley instead of basil (I am always confusing them at the store. All those herbs look the same!). It tasted terrible and I had no idea why. My husband was kind enough to eat the entire thing without saying anything, but once I mentioned I also thought it was awful he said “Thank goodness you won’t be making this again!” Now he lets me know right away if a dish is off.

What are some absolute rules in your home when it comes to the kitchen, eating, serving?

Never try out a new recipe when having guests. Otherwise, do not be afraid to experiment with new recipes and ingredients. Remember, if its truly terrible, you can always serve cereal!

Who is your biggest kitchen inspiration?  

All women who find time to whip up a home cooked meal! Seriously, since I have had my son it’s a struggle to find time to boil a pot of water for pasta let alone prepare both a main and side dish for dinner. My friend Mira is a mom of four and a full time lawyer, yet whenever I go there for a meal she always serves these amazing savory dishes as well as a delicious dessert. My sister in law Shany has her hands full with four kids under the age of seven, yet when I go there for Shabbos, I am filling my plate with fresh and tasty food. Her challah is unreal. In fact, I recently fought my niece for the last piece. Not my proudest moment, but I did get one last piece of challah for my chummus.

What’s your guilty food pleasure you can’t seem to drop?  

Cupcakes. Cake. Donuts. Okay, all baked goods!

If you could serve a meal to anyone (alive or dead), who would it be?  

My grandparents. Though they are no longer with us they are an inspiration to me daily both in the kitchen and out. My grandfather taught me how to make an omelet before I knew how to boil water for pasta and my grandmother is definitely the one who gave us all our sweet tooth!  She was delighted when I created KITK and always enjoyed hearing about the recipes and how people interacted with the site.

What do you have to say about men who spend more time cooking than their wives?

There are male chefs in restaurants so I am always surprised when people think the home kitchen is exclusively meant for women. If you enjoy cooking, get into the kitch! My brother-in-law is an amazing cook. My sister would rather have cereal than prepare dinner so he does the cooking. I myself am pretty territorial about my kitchen and would get anxious if someone else stepped in front of the oven!

For the LadyMama that likes to dress her table, where are some good places to shop?

Target and Walmart are great places for shopping on a budget (did I just state the obvious?).
If you don’t want to spend money, shop in your own kitchen cabinets!  I like to use ceramic pitchers for flowers and tea cups and other small pretty jars are also nice alternatives to the traditional vase. I have a small coffee cup and saucer set that I serve dessert on, I use the cups for ice cream and will place cookies or slices of cake on the saucer. I love soup served in mugs, no need for a spoon and it automatically makes guests feel comfy.

How do you manage being invested in great food while juggling all your other roles? Any tips for the overwhelmed Mama?

Before I became a mom I would experiment all the time with new dishes and ingredients. Since I have had my son I do not have the time to whip up new stuff as often, so I stick to quick and easy dishes that I know will come out tasty. I’ll save new recipes for those nights I get my son to bed early or for weekends when I have the energy to hang out in the kitchen.

What’s one thing you want every Jewish woman to know about feeding her family?

Keeping Kosher doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on flavor. Kosher food can taste good, too!

Tell us a little bit about your project, Kosher in the Kitch (kosherintheKitch.com). How did it start? Who is it geared for? What do you hope to accomplish?

Kosher in the Kitch is a community recipe site moderated by Nina Safar. It is an online resource for Kosher recipes, Kosher products, and questions relating to food and the kitchen.

The first dinner I ever cooked was Sesame Teriyaki Salmon served with couscous. It was a couple of weeks after I got married and my husband was getting a bit annoyed of having to shlep to my moms for dinner every night, while my mother was upset I wasn’t using my brand new dishes she had so carefully selected for me. It was easier playing the role of wifey when I was getting Mazal Tovs and receiving gifts. Preparing dinner on the other hand, was a little more difficult. In a panic I called my older sister Tova and told her I had to make dinner and had no idea what to cook. Give me something good and give me something easy! (I didn’t think my confidence could handle a disaster the first night in the kitchen) I don't remember her exact wording, but being that she is married almost 10 years with five boys, I am sure she must have laughed at my fear and told me to chill out. And then she gave me an easy recipe for a great tasting dish. After that first night I spent many more nights calling up my older sisters, my mother, my sister in laws and friends for recipes that were both quick and flavorful. I had received some cookbooks when I got married but was disappointed because with the exception of a few, most of them simply took up space on my counter while only containing a few recipes that I enjoyed making. I started to Google recipes online in search of tomorrow nights dinner and although I found many delicious recipes, it was frustrating because all too often they were meat dishes that contained dairy, or involved some other non-Kosher product. I was tired of having to constantly search through multiple sites to find one night’s dinner. I wanted instant access to good Kosher recipes. I decided to create a group on Facebook called, "Kosher in the Kitch" to post recipes that I liked and hopefully encourage others to do the same. I had no idea my "online recipe book" would attract such a large amount of people! (We now have over 10, 000 fans with all of our social media networks combined as well as our mailing list.) I decided to make it easier for people to browse recipes by creating the site in addition to the Facebook group. This way, it would eliminate the process of having to sign onto Facebook to get a recipe. And for those really busy folks, with no time to even search the website, I started sending out weekly pre-planned dinner menus with tasty and easy dishes for the week as well as salad ideas and tips for the kitchen. We have over 2,000 people subscribed! (you can join it by signing up here: http://www.kosherinthekitch.com/signup)

What can Kosher in the Kitch fans look forward to in the future?

KITK has had a makeover! As you look at the latest batch of easy and tasty recipes, you will notice our fresh new look. Please keep in mind, our updated layout is still under construction as we have a few more tweaks to make before it's just right. Look out for more tips for the kitch, delicious new recipes and fun giveaways!

Speaking of free stuff, I am pleased to announce that KITK is now collaborating with Oh Nuts on our latest contest: The Battle of the Dinner Photos! Our readers will be able to compete in the monthly contest  and enter the chance to win a gift certificate to Oh Nuts. Also, we have officially launched our store, The Kosher Shoppe, with gift baskets just in time for the holiday season! You can view and purchase them here: http://www.kosherinthekitch.com/shop/

This year I will be spending Rosh Hashanah with my in laws, which means I am going to be enjoying some delicious dishes and will leave with a ton of new recipes for the site. If you don’t want to stress about planning your holiday menu, join KITK’s mailing list for our pre-planned dinner menus, this week’s will include a special holiday menu! Sign up here: http://www.kosherinthekitch.com/signup

The following is a recipe I picked up from a previous stay at the in laws!

Yemenite Tilapia:

This is the dish that convinced my husband that I could cook beyond my ashkenazic comfort zone of gefilta fish! When we spent Rosh Hashana last year with his fam, his uncle who is of Yemenite descent made this dish and it was fantastic! It is full of rich flavors like cilantro and garlic and the fish comes out very tender.
This is a GREAT sauce to cook any fish in. I used Tilapia however you can use Salmon or White Fish as well.

A bunch of cilantro, chopped up
8 cloves of garlic, diced
1 red pepper (diced or cut into strips)
1 green pepper (diced or cut into strips)
2 tomatoes, diced
1 small can of tomato sauce (8 oz.)
1 tablespoon of chicken soup mix (I use the one without msg)
Saute the garlic. Then add cilantro. Once the garlic has browned slightly,  add the red peppers/green peppers and tomatoes. Cook for about ten minutes then add the can of tomato sauce with a little bit of water to thin it out a bit. (I use the tomato sauce can to add some water) Then add lots of paprika, a little bit of cumin, salt, pepper and chicken soup mix. (If you like it spicy, you can add schug to it as well!)
Once the peppers are soft, add the fish. Shouldn’t take more than 10-15 min for it to cook.
I often serve this dish for the first course on shabbat however it can also be served for dinner as the main course with rice. (I would serve it with a simple white or brown rice. There is so much flavor in the sauce you won’t need to add any spices to the rice)

1 LadyMama voices:

IndiaMorgan said... [Reply to comment]

I see you live in Brooklyn! Regarding the lack of Kosher restaurants that Nina mentioned in the interview, I wonder if either of you have tried Pardes on Atlantic Ave in Boerum Hill? The chef Moshe can be a bit intense but the food is truly outstanding! Not to mention the plethora of interesting wine and beer he has to pair it with. I highly recommend going for a very early or very late dinner - it gets crazy packed! Be sure to make a reservation.