In this episode, I’m so excited to be joined by Jenny Rosenstratch. Jenny is a great cook, author of the Weekday Vegetarians, and also my neighbor. She’s also a freelance writer for a Cup of Joe’s food column.
This episode, we discuss…
[4:45] The distinction between chef and home cook
Jenny tells us that if you’re cooking food at home, in the microwave, out of the freezer, then you are a home cook. She thinks that when people hear the word “chef” they get certain associations with fancy sauces and equipment. Jenny’s books focus on how the home cook gets dinner on the table, and making dinner feel like a gift you give yourself at the end of the day.
Of course, in order for dinner to feel like a gift, you have to start out with a certain amount of enthusiasm for cooking and eating in the first place. While some people won’t ever be there, Jenny has devoted the last decade of her life to helping people come over to that side. She runs into so many parents who really love to cook and used to love to sit down to dinner, but the kids have thrown everything off and they don’t know what to make that everyone will be happy about in the 30 minutes they have to get it all done. It becomes a source of stress, and Jenny likes to help them right the ship a little bit.
[7:23] Betsy’s key meals she always defaults to
I really like the box meals from Marley Spoon and Green Chef, and after we eat these box meals I have my kids rate them. We keep a book of the meals they like, and that becomes my cookbook. Cookbooks are so critical, and having those key meals you can always go to that you know are going to be a success is so important.
[8:52] Why Betsy is no longer vegetarian/vegan
Jenny’s cookbook also connected with me because I was a vegetarian for 12 years and a vegan for 4 years. I became a vegetarian when I was 12, because I was super into animal rights. I still feel the same way, but somehow it’s easier to have convictions when you’re younger. That may sound weird, but a lot of my convictions have become diluted as I get older and encounter new challenges. I’m from Missouri, and we were a meat and potatoes family. My mom did not know what to do with me, and if I wouldn’t eat what she cooked then I was on my own. In college, I got into a real food rut eating a lot of carbs, fruits, and raw vegetables.
[10:07] How to get out of the rut of eating the same foods all the time
Jenny shares that they were also a real meat and potatoes family for a long time. They made a lot of family recipes, like Grandma’s meatballs and Mom’s breaded chicken cutlets. There was a lot of nostalgia involved in their meat dishes.
She had been hearing the conversation about dialing back meat consumption being one of the best things you can do to combat climate change, and a little voice in her head was nagging her to cut back on the amount of meat her family consumed. Once her children and her husband were on board with this plan, they were able to start decreasing their meat consumption.
[10:53] How Jenny’s family began to eliminate meat from their diet
While they were eating meat five out of seven nights a week, their goal shifted to the opposite. They started out trying to eat meatless meals five out of seven days a week, because it felt a bit more doable.
At first, Jenny felt overwhelmed. They had been eating a lot of the same meals for decades, and her kids defined their childhoods through that food. She was also writing her blog at the time, and she shared with her readers that she was challenging herself to write this cookbook.
[12:50] How Jenny used her reader’s feedback to craft her cookbook
Her readers encouraged her to avoid creating another cookbook full of pasta recipes and incorporating cheese instead of meat. There are certainly some recipes in the book that cater to that kind of night, because we can’t have green salads and tofu every night. In general, however, Jenny didn’t want to eat that way either.
[13:18] What hooks are and how to incorporate them into your meals
There is a section in the back of the cookbook highlighting vegetarians’ special bag of hooks and tricks. When you make a meal, especially for kids, you want there to be a hook on the plate – something that’s delicious. That sounds obvious, right? But it can be so many different things. It can be a spicy peanut sauce, a really good homemade Caesar dressing, crispy chickpeas, or eggs cooked a certain way. Every family has different hooks and tricks, and they aren’t always super nutritious. For example, you might include crispy potatoes or a buttery corn bread. If you have corn bread next to a three-bean chili, it can really make that chili more appetizing.
[20:15] How Jenny comes up with new recipes
Jenny can be inspired by other cookbooks or by others on Instagram. Just like with interior design, you can build off a germ of another idea. When I’m trying to figure out how to solve a window treatment problem, I’ll Google to see how other people have done it. It takes a village.
[20:42] How to get the most bang for your buck out of your vegetables
Jenny read a story in Bon Appetit about making roasted vegetable dips out of vegetables that are on their last legs. You just whirl them with yogurt and tahini, and they become these amazing vegetable dips. Jenny started to do that as a solution to save vegetables that were about to go bad, and now she actually buys sweet potatoes, beets, and cauliflower with the specific intent to make them into dips because they will soon go bad. They make the best dips right before they start to rot.
[23:41] The best blender to have in your home
For me, the joy of cooking only came when I had good knives. I have to have items that I love, and if they’re not clean then I don’t enjoy making dinner. I asked Jenny what blender I should have, and she shared that everyone will tell you that you should have a Vitamix. They do make nice blenders, but they are very expensive. She recently used an Instant Pot blender, and she liked it ore than the Vitamix. It was more solid and very powerful. So ultimately, Jenny is not convinced that you need to spend that much money to get a decent blender.
A blender, in general, is crucial to a lot of this cooking because you want your vegetables to be super emulsified and velvety. You can’t do that with a JV level blender.
[25:12] Jenny’s thoughts on the Instant Pot
Jenny shares that she is the wrong person to ask about these items, because she isn’t a “kitchen gear” person. She doesn’t like clutter. She does, however, have an Instant Pot because a friend told her that if she wanted to be vegetarian then she would have to get on board with really good beans. That means you have to do the whole soaking overnight thing, which most of us don’t have time for or don’t think to do ahead of time. If you use an Instant Pot, you can do this in 25 minutes. It’s totally worth it for that alone, if nothing else.
[31:03] Jenny’s opinion on fake meats on the market
When I was a vegetarian, I was always seeking things that tasted like meat. Jenny’s cookbook is devoted to eating vegetarian food without using meat substitutes. In March 2020, she set up a taste test with 10 different brands of plant-based burgers. Once everything shut down due to the pandemic, she was stuck with all of these burgers. Her family ate through them, but Jenny did not enjoy them. They tasted like processed meat, and her goal was really to eat simple. She ended up creating a really good veggie burger, and it is her favorite recipe in her cookbook.
[34:33] Jenny’s opinion on colorful disheware
When I’m shopping for dishware, I love patterns and colors. I’m obsessed with patterns and colors, in fact, but it always turns into a hot mess in the cupboard. Nothing ever matches, some of it breaks, and then I have to buy something new. When I was looking at Jenny’s cookbook, I noticed all the dishes were white.
Jenny shares that she loves color too, and her house is filled with color. Food, however, looks better on white plates and the color comes from the food. White dishes work together beautifully, and they make everything feel very clean. It then frees you up to have more colorful table decor.
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