As a food writer currently making do with a less than optimal rental kitchen, I find it especially satisfying when I get to visit others in my profession who, after years of cooking and recipe testing, have pulled their preferences and experience together to create, at last, their dream kitchen. This is how it was when I visited Carla Snyder, a cookbook author and food writer who lives near Cleveland, Ohio.
Come peek into Carla's warm, inviting kitchen — a space that is set up just to her taste and to her needs as a woman who cooks many, many dishes every single day. There are so many things to love about this kitchen!
Carla has had an unusual and pleasant food career: For most of it, she has been writing cookbooks in a partnership with her good friend, Meredith Deeds. Doesn't that sound like fun? Writing cookbooks with someone else? These two friends don't currently live in the same city, so there are plenty of emails and phone calls back and forth!
• Visit Carla's website: Meredith & Carla
• Follow Carla on Twitter: Carla Snyder (carlacooks) on Twitter
• Find Carla's newest book: Everyday to Entertaining: 200 Sensational Recipes That Transform from Casual to Elegant, $18.96 at Amazon
Carla raised her family in a 1961 center hall colonial, located in a quiet neighborhood in Hudson, Ohio. She has lived there for 23 years, and during much of that time the nearly 50-year-old kitchen had only two functioning burners and, as Carla put it, "a satanic double wall oven that went from 350 to broil on its own accord."
This was obviously not the ideal place to test recipes, and so a few years ago Carla took the plunge and remodeled. "Aside from the births of my children, it was the best thing I've ever done," says Carla.
The footprint is still the same, but the kitchen is vastly different. She splurged on a dual fuel range, and an instant-hot faucet. She also now has a couch facing the kitchen where friends and family can perch and chat while she cooks, but most of the time, says Carla, "My little dog Leroy lies on it waiting for me to sit down so he can reclaim my lap."
"I've probably tested almost 700 recipes in the last 4 years in my red and green kitchen and I hope to test another 700, preferably spread out over a bit more time."
10 Questions for Carla Snyder (and Her Kitchen)
1. What's your cooking style?
I mostly cook Mediterranean and French inspired food. I like to cook on the fly and figure it out as I go. Unless I'm baking, it's really hard for me to follow a recipe exactly. Switching out and exchanging elements of a dish is my idea of a good time.
2. What inspires your kitchen?
Definitely the best local produce I can find. I always overbuy at the farmer's market because the fruit and vegetables are so beautiful. The more I cook, the simpler my cooking becomes. It's all about finding the most flavorful basic ingredients and then letting them do the talking.
3. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
As the co-author with Meredith Deeds of The Mixer Bible, I'd have to say my citron Artisan KitchenAid mixer and attachments. Especially the pasta rollers and cutters, ice cream maker and grinder. There are so many great dishes from soup to nuts just waiting to be created and this machine makes it all so easy.
On the simpler side, I couldn't live without my 10-inch chef knife, Microplane, bench scraper and heat resistant rubber spatulas of all sizes.
4. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received?
In cooking school, I was taught to season and balance food as it cooked with salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne and acid in the form of lemon or vinegars. I think it was the best lesson in teaching one to taste critically and to help a dish to become all that it can be.
The second tip is straight from Julia Child: Never apologize to your guests about the food on your table. They probably think it tastes great and are so happy to be invited into your home to share food and drink. I know I always am.
5. Biggest challenge in your kitchen?
Hmmmm. I wish I'd gotten honed granite instead of polished. I don't enjoy the upkeep on that shiny surface which smudges and gets spotty every time I turn on a burner.
6. Biggest indulgence?
As you can see from the before and after photos, my whole kitchen is an indulgence compared to what I had before. I'd have to say the extra counter space and no fuss granite countertops means I have lots of space to spread out and can sit blazing hot pans anywhere without worrying about damaging them.
7. Dream tool or splurge:
Definitely my dual fuel Wolf 6-burner range. I really thought long and hard about whether I needed the dual fuel and am so glad I chose it. I use the convection mode every time I turn on the oven. It's fast and browns beautifully. I can honestly say that the food coming out of it is better looking and tasting than I thought possible.
I also love, love, love my instant hot and kwc pull out faucet. I use the instant hot every day when I make my French press coffee, instantly. And I appreciate the heft of the brushed stainless steel faucet when I pull it out to use it, which is about 50 times a day.
8. What are you cooking this week?
We've finally gotten some nice local tomatoes so I'm making fresh pasta with chopped tomatoes and basil from my garden and garlic butter croutons. It's summer on a fork.
9. What cookbook has inspired you the most?
I'm going to give a short eulogy to Gourmet magazine. Back in the late 70's as a young stay at home mom, I turned to Gourmet for a creative outlet. After all, we had to eat, right? So, I figured it might as well be delicious and fun. Back then the recipes were in prose format: no ingredient list and very few explanations about the hows and whys or even techniques. It was pure trial and error, which I think is the best way to learn how to cook. I learned the whys and hows through experience.
Later, Shirley Corriher wrote CookWise (more recently BakeWise) and with her explanations of the science of cooking it all came together for me. I must have read that book through at least twice over the years and recommend it highly for those who want to learn to cook without a recipe.
10. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
I think it was my son, Corey's graduation dinner last December. My daughter, Jessica, and I planned a 5 course meal with each course corresponding to a stage in his life. We started out with peanut soup with grapes rolled in goat cheese and chopped peanuts (for peanut butter and jelly days), balsamic popcorn salad with arugula (baseball days), coconut shrimp with red curry sauce (lifeguard days), filet mignon with celery root remoulade (college days) and chocolate chip cookie-wiches filled with homemade Butterfinger ice cream (cookie monster days). Jessica made little cards for each course with a picture of Corey at that stage of life with the title of the dish on it. It was all a surprise and no one knew what dish was coming next.
My measure for whether a dinner was a success or not is based on how long we sit at the table. We sat there for a long time that night, chewing, drinking, laughing. It was fun.
• Contractor/Mark Biro
• Trevarrow for Wolf and Sub Zero
• Acme Arsena for uba tuba granite countertops
• Edelman and Sons for kwc faucet, cabinet pulls and Franke sink,
• Design and Omega cabinets from MBA Cabinetry
• Thomas Brick for hand made backsplash tiles from Clay Art Center
• Pendant lights from House of Lights
A Few of Carla's Favorite Kitchen Things
We're always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
Submit your kitchen here.
(Images: Faith Durand)