I recently spent an afternoon with Melissa Clark in her Brooklyn kitchen. She had me over to talk about what it's like to be pregnant (she is, I was), working on a cookbook while pregnant (she is now, I was then), and about to take a sledgehammer to the kitchen with the baby just weeks away (she is, I did.)
I was greeted by Emma the cat and the wafting scents of a crock pot simmering some Ham Hock and Pinto Bean Stew for the cookbook Melissa is doing with Paula Deen. A pleasant greeting, to say the least.
The fridge was filled with all kinds of inviting tubs of food she'd tested for the Deen project, and the book she's working on for owners of the Blue Ribbon restaurants. There are about six other projects she has simmering. Pregnancy aside, she is a busy woman.
This is a recipe writer and tester's dream space. Full of great supplies and equipment, all with stories. Her artillery of knives and cookware, curated by combining the eclectic collections she and her husband had prior to meeting. There is a beautiful orange enameled custard mold that came from her mother who made a "panna cotta-like dish" whose name changed depending on the theme of the meal. "If it was a French dinner, it was a French Creme; if it was a Spanish dinner, it was Spanish Crema."
It pays to live nearby (I witnessed chicken being passed over a fence to a neighbor) or stop by (as I did) while Melissa is working. On this particular day, she tested a recipe for Apricot Parfait, which is featured in her column in today's NY Times Dining section. I got to plunge a spoon in and take a first taste.
It was a treat to watch her work and to discover that our styles are quite similar. Perched at her copper-trimmed kitchen island (for sale in our classifieds! enter "island" in the search box), she is both careful and easeful as she sketches out her formulas. She uses a pen to take notes in a food-splattered notebook (the laptop stays out of the kitchen). She tastes with her fingers and smiles a lot. She closes her eyes and smells things.
She makes unanticipated changes due to lack of an ingredient or a accidentally generous pour, and sometimes creates something unexpectedly better.
Washing down the parfait with some of her hand-delivered seltzer, in heavy rotation during pregnancy and heat waves, we compared notes on our professional methods and our personal dreams for little girls who will grow up eating well, and maybe even cooking for their mothers.
• Honey-Apricot Parfait With Greek Yogurt, Walnuts and Cinnamon (NY Times, August 5, 2008)