For thousands of us, fall is the real season of renewal, when back-to-school planning encompasses everything from freshly sharpened pencils to visions of easier, tastier — and saner — mealtimes. If those visions are starting to blur a couple of weeks into the new routine, take heart and meet Katie Workman. The mother of an 11- and a 14-year-old, she is the author of The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket.
The book’s frank and funny tone, elevated comfort food and down-to-earth suggestions for involving kids in the kitchen have endeared Workman to legions of fans (and helped spawn a sequel due out next summer). Last month, she stopped by Food Network Kitchen in New York’s Chelsea Market to make her Taco Night tacos and dish on late-night cooking, the one kitchen tool she can’t live without and annoying food habits all parents should avoid. Here are some questions and answers from our conversation, plus three family-friendly recipes worth incorporating into your repertoire right now. (For more on Katie’s visit, check out The One Recipe: Katie Workman’s Taco Night Tacos.)
Food Network Kitchen: How often do you cook?
Katie Workman: Every day — though not necessarily at dinnertime. I’ll come home from an evening out and cook food for the next day. My kids are like, “Can we please order pizza?” and I’m like, “No.”
FNK: But you admit you do go out sometimes. Is that where you get your inspiration?
KW: Not really. It’s more from the food I might come across at a market or shop. When I see beautiful food in the prepared-food case, I look at it closely to figure out what’s in there and how I can replicate it.
FNK: You come from cookbook royalty. [Workman’s parents founded Workman Publishing.] Cookbooks must play a part in your meals, too.
KW: I taught myself to cook from The Silver Palate Cookbook. It was so different from everything else at the time. It had an energy and joyfulness. It’s about how entertaining can be fun, lively and exciting. The recipes have a genius combination of flavors. And now they are so recognizable. Once my friend came over and looked in the fridge. “Is that Chicken Marbella?” she asked. She could spot it in a leftovers container! From Cucina Rustica I learned about good ingredients and the importance of taking something away — the beauty of just a few ingredients. David Tannis, Mark Bittman and Ina Garten‘s books were huge for me, too. Now, I rarely use a cookbook to follow a recipe through. I use it for inspiration.
FNK: What about equipment — do you have a desert-island pan you can’t live without?
KW: Yes! The 6-quart All-Clad saute pan with lid. I cook large amounts of food and do it very often.
FNK: What’s your biggest peeve when it comes to food and kids?
KW: I don’t think it’s attractive for people to brag about what good eaters their kids are. On the other hand, I also don’t like it when they say, “All my kid will eat is chicken nuggets.” You have to ask, “What are you putting on the table every night?” There’s so much processed food out there — even if it’s vegetarian or organic — it makes children unfamiliar with real food. It’s OK for kids not to like everything. I don’t like everything. If they don’t like Brussels sprouts, it doesn’t mean they don’t like all vegetables. You have to keep trying.
FNK: What are the home runs from the book?
KW: People go berserk for the Fudgy One-Pot Brownies. And the Lemon Chicken gets you over your fear of the broiler. It was inspired by the Lemon Chicken at Rao’s, where I got to eat once in my life. You broil the chicken and make an incredibly simple sauce you just pour over it. A lot of sauce remains, so you have to serve it over a starch like rice or potatoes.
FNK: Why do you cook?
KW: The great motivator for me is other people. I like to cook knowing someone is going to be eating it. That’s the joy of cooking. It’s not about the technicality — it’s about comfort and flavor.
Get the recipes from The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket: