Expert Interview Series: Becky Brown of My Utensil Crock On Cooking With Versatile Ingredients

Versatile ingredients

Becky Brown targets her smart writing to busy professionals with an interest in healthy, easy, delicious recipes. We sat down with the creator of My Utensil Crock to chat with her about her cooking philosophies and some of her favorite dishes.

Why did you choose to start a cooking blog? And why choose the name My Utensil Crock?

I started My Utensil Crock as a way to organize the recipes I make – at first, just for myself. I had tried different paper organization systems, like index cards and a series of 3-ring binders, but I found myself wanting a more functional way to categorize and electronically tag them with more than one label. How do you file a recipe that is a dessert, but also could be served at brunch, is a family favorite for holidays, and is perfect for entertaining? Starting a blog with capabilities such as categories and tagging seemed like a practical solution to me.

The ceramic crock on my kitchen counter filled with my most-used gadgets is where I first turn when I need something in the kitchen; so when I was looking for a functional way to organize my most useful tools in the kitchen – recipes, tips, tricks, and more – my mind’s eye kept falling on … My Utensil Crock.

Where does your love of cooking come from? Who or what inspires you in the kitchen?

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t enjoy a good meal, so cooking can be a very social activity for me. I still remember the first time I had company over for a homemade dinner during law school almost 15 years ago. I made a lasagna (my mom’s recipe), something green (broccoli?), and brownies for dessert. I invited 3 friends and opened a bottle of wine. I had never entertained like that before; it was so fun and empowering to discover that skill set.

You talk about your cooking club on your blog. What have you learned from hosting/participating in a cooking club?

This fall marks 11 years of my cooking club! It is such an integral part of my life in Washington, D.C. Having a sounding board or “panel” of my friends to discuss ingredients, techniques, and more has been invaluable. It’s comforting to know we aren’t alone with our challenges in the kitchen, and it’s fun to share successes as well. Of course, the great recipes, menus, themes, friends, and memories along the way don’t hurt either.

You’re also a cooking instructor for people who want to improve their weeknight cooking. What skills are valuable to have for the busy weeknight cook who wants to prepare healthy dinners?

Identifying ingredients that can be repurposed in many dishes. One of my cooking class students coined the term “versatile greens” when I suggested that spinach was an ideal option for salads. Spinach can be used for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – in many more ways than a head of romaine! The same goes for certain grains, vegetables, and lean meats. If you use versatile ingredients, you won’t get to the end of the week with a fridge full of strays.

It is also helpful to get into a routine (which is not the same thing as being in a rut!). There is a reason your mom served meatloaf on Mondays and tacos on Tuesdays. Making similar dishes on similar days will help you streamline your shopping and cooking. The more you make a dish, the faster you will be able to shop for ingredients, prep, and cook; and it will become easier for you to introduce variations.

In addition to recipes, My Utensil Crock features Menu Ideas for various situations or gatherings. How did you come up with this fantastic idea?

Menu planning for events can be difficult, for reasons such as shared and timed oven or stovetop space, eating preferences or limitations of guests, or piecing together dishes that fit together. So when I have an “aha” moment and align all of the stars – or just have a really fun evening that I want to remember – I like to chronicle it. It’s a little glimpse into my life, and maybe it will provide inspiration to help others make memories.

Do you have a favorite category of cooking? Why do you like it so much?

I love making comfort foods – like chili and casseroles – with healthy additions or twists, such as adding spinach or kale or substituting quinoa for pasta. Along with making a satisfying dinner, these dishes usually transport well and are easy to reheat at work for lunch, too.

Could you share a favorite recipe with us from this category?

Sure, I love these Glazed Kale and Cheddar Mini-Meatloaves. You can find more info about them on my blog as well.

INGREDIENTS

Meatloaf:

.25 sweet onion

half a bunch of lacinato kale (~ 6 stalks), sliced very thinly and then chopped into smaller pieces

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 – 1.25lb lean ground beef

.5 c fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs or panko

1 T mustard (I use honey dijon or something grainy)

2 T ketchup

.5 t kosher salt

8 cranks freshly ground pepper

2 egg whites (or 1 egg)

.25 c shredded cheddar cheese (or more!)

Glaze:

2 T ketchup

1 t light brown sugar

1 t apple cider vinegar

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Heat the oven to 400.
  • Heat a large saute pan over high heat. When it’s hot, add extra virgin olive oil and heat the oil, swirling the oil to coat.
  • Add the onion and saute until lightly browned. Add the kale and stir, cooking through. Add the garlic slices, making sure they hit the bottom of the pan to get cooked through; then cook the moisture out of the mixture. Set aside to cool.
  • In a large bowl, place the ground beef, bread crumbs, mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, egg, and cheese. Mix with your hands until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  • Add the veggie mixture to the meat; use your hands to evenly distribute.
  • Pour a little oil on a paper towel and spread the oil around a large rimmed baking sheet.
  • Divide the meat mixture in half, and then divide each half into three, so you have 6 even sections. Place a round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter on the pan and use it as a ring mold, packing it with the meat mixture as tight as you can. Remove the cookie cutter, leaving the meat on the pan. Repeat for the rest of the meatloaves.
  • In a small bowl, mix the glaze by stirring together the ketchup, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Spoon about a teaspoon onto each meatloaf, and spread around, using your fingers or the spoon. Use all of the glaze!
  • Bake the meatloaves for 20 minutes.
  • Scrape off the pan with a flat metal spatula, to make sure you get all the crispy cheese and glaze.

You can find more info about this recipe on My Utensil Crock, as well.

Okay… what is LITERALLY in your utensil crock right now?

Several silicone spatulas, some wooden spoons and a wooden tool with a flat edge to break up meat when browning, a small hand-held sieve for rinsing quinoa, an offset metal spatula for casserole and lasagna corners, heat-resistant long-handled tongs, two whisks (one silicone coated), a large spoon and a large slotted spoon, and a zester.

What kind of kitchen gadget, appliance, or tool is the most helpful to you in the kitchen?

A great chef’s knife or santoku knife and quality cutting board are critical. But my food processor is close behind. I have been known to travel with a food processor for easy everything, like smoothies, dips, and chicken burgers, not to mention effortless shredding and slicing.

Are you in need of a good chef’s knife or santoku knife? Check out Cilantro’s selection today!

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