Come peek into her warm, homey kitchen with us, and get her recipe for refreshing Boiled Vegetable Salad with Umeboshi-Scallion Dressing.
With a fully stocked kitchen and an experienced chef to cook for them, Ann's family has enjoyed many fine home-cooked meals. Ann's kitchen has a full range, plenty of counter space, an island and an eat-in nook. There are racks of pots hanging over a cutting board island, with pot lids stashed below. A compost bin is readily available for the scraps of food, while their refrigerator is overstocked with an incredible variety of food, vegetables and condiments.
Looking beyond the technical details, however, her kitchen's charm lies in the details and history of the family that occupies it. Along the side of the stove is a round wooden stool that Ann keeps as a keepsake of her son. She reminisces how it was his step stool for when he would help in the kitchen and couldn't yet reach the counters.
My favorite thing in the entire kitchen — near the back door there is a wall that has been marked over the years of her children's heights. Traditionally a family congregates over the family meals, and I love that this room is truly the soul of the home.
10 Questions for Ann Gentry (and Her Kitchen)
What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
I am inspired by who I am cooking for. The impending guest inspires me to impress and please. The weather, my mood and what is available at the market the day I shop all feed my inspiration.
What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
My kitchen scissors. I use them constantly. I get upset if they aren't put back into the right drawer. A pair of long wooden chopsticks that are tied with a piece of string that I bought in Japanese kitchen store. My cast-iron skillet because it reminds me of the one my mother had in her kitchen. Finally, the three-inch thick butcher block cutting board that was made from an old table in my restaurant.
What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
One winter's day when I was baking individual stuffed squashes for a dinner party of eight when unexpectedly the temperature soared into the 90s. The whole house became over-heated. I made a fast turn around with dishes normally served hot. My curried apple yam soup chilled beautifully, steamed kale turned into a delicious raw kale salad. I moved the dinner party outside under the shade of our Chinese elm tree. My guests were cool about it all!
The biggest challenge for cooking in your kitchen:
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
We moved into our house in 2003 three weeks before our son was born! The kitchen had most likely had been renovated a decade earlier. The dishwasher needed replacing so we installed a KitchenAid as well as a new water filtration system for drinking and cooking water. Two years later, we purchased a new fridge and added a Viking stovetop range. My volume of cooking requires six burners, more BTUs and better flame control. Right before I tested all the recipes for my latest cookbook, I had the two wall mounted Viking ovens re-calibrated. I regret not having splurged for a new oven, as I don't think the repair made much of a difference. Unfortunately, my stove temperatures seem to have a mind of their own.
Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen?
My silver. Besides the Chantilly pattern all the ladies in my family favored, I inherited an "everyday" pattern from my first-cousin-once-removed. Because the silver is real, it is best to wash by hand which drives my husband crazy that he can't put it in the dishwasher.
Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
My kitchen has lots of natural light shining through three large south facing windows. I can see the sky from where I prep and cook. I wouldn't trade that for anything.
How would you describe your cooking style?
Simple, seasonal, nurturing and educational.
Best cooking advice or tip you ever received?
Cook from your heart.
What are you cooking this week?
Seasonal vegetables, individually and lightly boiled and each night doused with a different vinegar or splash of citrus.
Besides what I mentioned earlier, I use the following small wares:
• Aeternum, an Italian line of cookware that I have been using since I started cooking.
• Le Creuset pots and pans and my beloved cast-iron skillet.
• I'm fussy about my knives, in the last couple of years; I've really enjoyed the Shun Knives.
• I still have the first Cuisinart I bought over 20 years ago. Cuisinart at no cost to me replaced the motor, so it runs like new.
• My super blender is a Vita-Mix.
• We eat off Fiestaware mixed with plates and bowls hand-painted by my grandmother and great aunts.
A Recipe from Ann
Boiled Vegetable Salad with Umeboshi-Scallion Dressing
Don't let the title fool you: It's important to cook each vegetable separately in boiling water just long enough to reach their peak tenderness and flavor. I've chosen my favorite vegetables; feel free to incorporate any combination of seasonal vegetables that you especially like. The quick and easy dressing adds a depth of flavor and color; it incorporates umeboshi, which can't be topped for its clean, light, and refreshing flavor. I prefer to make this dressing with the umeboshi paste; however, you can substitute umeboshi vinegar for the paste and water. Simply sprinkle with vinegar to taste.
1/2 head cauliflower, trimmed into florets (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 red or tricolored radishes, trimmed
1 1/2 celery stalks, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch- thick slices (about 1 cup)
1 yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch- thick half-moons (about 1 cup)
1/2 head broccoli, trimmed into florets (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium carrots, peeled and roll-cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons umeboshi paste
3 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Vegetables: Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Working with one vegetable at a time, cook the vegetables in the order listed until their colors brighten and they are just tender, about 2 minutes for each vegetable. After each vegetable is cooked, immediately submerge it in a large bowl of ice water to stop it from cooking, then drain it well and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Quarter the larger radishes or cut the smaller radishes in half.
Dressing: Whisk the 1/2 cup water with the umeboshi paste in a small bowl to blend. Stir in the scallions and 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds.
Assembly: Gently toss the vegetables in a large bowl with enough of the dressing to coat. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame seeds and serve.
Ann's new book: Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone
$16.50 at Amazon
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(Images: Bethany Nauert. Recipe reprinted with permission from Vegan Family Meals, Real Food For Everyone by Ann Gentry. Andrews McMeel Publishing 2011)