Alaina Browne, General Manager of Serious Eats
In this day and age, it seems just about everyone has a blog to call their own. The world of food blogging is especially active and we can thank people like Alaina for helping to create such an open, dynamic community on the web. She's most currently associated with one of our favorite sites, Serious Eats, but her work online is long and storied. We loved getting to know this down-to-earth talent, who's not only an inspiration for crafting her dream job, melding the arenas of tech and food, but an amazing wife (of another prolific online presence, Anil Dash) and doting mother.
Read on for simple Indian home cooking tips and shamelessly adorable photos of her son, Malcolm!
Hi Alaina! Please tell us a little about yourself and your awesome gig at Serious Eats.
I grew up in North Carolina and have lived in New York City since late December 2002 except for 2.5 years in San Francisco. As GM of Serious Eats, I'm responsible for developing and managing our strategy for making SeriousEats.com, the best and most loved food website. It's a perfect Venn diagram of my passions for the web and for food. It also requires tasting many of the delicious things that find their way into our office.
You also manage a ladies cookbook club [of which we PC gals are proud members!] - how'd that come about?
I'd wanted to organize a monthly potluck for a while as an easy way to get together with friends, but always had an excuse (too busy, my apartment was too small, my dog was too grumpy, etc). While many of those excuses are still valid, reading this blog post inspired me to send an email to some friends and see if anyone wanted meet every other month to cook dishes from the same book and share food. Turns out they did! There are now about 40 women on the mailing list.
How would you describe your food aesthetic + cooking style? How did you eat growing up?
Growing up, we always ate dinner together as a family and it always consisted of meat, veg, starch, and cooked by mom. A friend I grew up with recently said, "I remember there were always healthy snacks at your house." I wasn't aware of it at the time, but it's true -- there wasn't a lot of junk food in the house. My mom is Chinese, and my memories of time spent with that side of the family are always tied to food because we're always eating and planning the next meal. I think my food aesthetic and cooking style is still a work in progress. I try to cook and eat local and in season as much as possible. I'm not afraid of salt or fat or spicy heat. I love Asian flavors. I love ginger, and will always use more than is called for.
As a busy New Yorker and new mom, how often do you cook at home vs. eat out? Has the frequency of either changed over the years?
Since my son Malcolm was born, there's been a natural shift to cooking more at home. Before Malcolm, there was a lot more eating out and delivery and a lot more thinking and reading about cooking than cooking. Now I prepare all of Malcolm's meals, so I might as well cook for all of us. Malcolm's a good little eater, and it's fun to see him discover new foods. And I enjoy cooking.
Fresh illustrations and season-driven tea towels by the talented Claudia Pearson
Spring is here! What dish or ingredient are you most looking forward to eating/cooking?
Asparagus! I like them hammered, a la Gina dePalma. But let's be honest. The greenmarket doesn't really hit its stride until August, which is still a long way off.
Favorite kitchen utensils or gadgets?
My Sodastream. I drink a lot of seltzer water and it's a lot more convenient and affordable with my own Sodastream.
Where do you shop for kitchen supplies?
Fresh Direct and Whole Foods for staple groceries, Union Square Greenmarket, Kalusytan's and Dual Specialty.
Top pantry essentials in your kitchen?
I always have ginger, onion, garlic, olive oil, Sriracha sauce, rice, lentils, eggs.
My mom and my mother-in-law. Both are self-taught and their interpretation of the foods from their homelands (China and India, respectively) are uniquely their own. They both love to feed people, and luckily I love being fed. Professional chefs: Gabrielle Hamilton, April Bloomfield, Floyd Cardoz.
Favorite high and lowbrow restaurants?
Low: Joe Junior (16th St and 3rd Ave). I have a weakness for diners. Joe Junior has a particularly good cheeseburger and better than average eggs. Veselka on 2nd. Avenue. Great New York Noodle Town. Xi'an Famous Foods.
High: Momofuku Ssam Bar and Torrisi - do these count as "high"?
Favorite cookbooks/blogs/sites (other than Serious Eats, of course)?
Other than Serious Eats, Food52, The Canal House Cookbook series, Suvir Saran's Indian Home Cooking, Shopsin's cookbook.
Whose pantries would you like to raid?
Floyd Cardoz. Doug Quint (of Big Gay Ice Cream).
Courtesy of 101 Cookbooks
1 1/2 pounds fresh (baby) spinach, well washed and dried
2 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter, or unsalted butter
8 - 12 oz paneer cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon spice mixture* (see below)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup buttermilk
Splash of cream or dollop of plain yogurt (optional)
Fresh lemon to finish, and toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle
Chop the spinach well, and set aside in a large bowl.
While you're chopping spinach, cook the paneer in one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Make sure the paneer is in a single layer and use a spatula to flip it regularly so all sides get deeply brown. This typically takes 7 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Heat the other tablespoon of butter in your largest soup pot. Add the onions and salt, and saute until the onions soften up, five minutes or so. Add the garlic, ginger, spice mixture, and turmeric. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and nicely combined - a minute or two.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the spinach to the pan all at once, if possible. Cook, stirring all the while, until the spinach is collapsed and wilted, a couple of minutes. If you need to add the spinach in batches (adding more spinach as it collapses), that is fine too, just do it as quickly as possible.
Stir in the buttermilk and cream and heat gently while stirring. If the mixture seems dry, add more buttermilk a splash at a time (this rarely happens to me). Taste and add more salt if necessary and more red pepper flakes if you like. Add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, stir in the paneer, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.
*Spice Mixture: Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind the following spices as finely as possible: 2 tablespoons cumin seed, 1 tablespoons coriander seed, 2 teaspoons mustard seed, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 3 whole cloves. Store in an airtight container and use as needed.
Alaina keeps track of her recipes using the Pepperplate app for iPad |
Buttermilk in a pinch: add 1TB vinegar to about 1 cup whole milk; let it stand 5 minutes before using
Simple Lentil Dal with Fresh Ginger, Green Chilies and Cilantro
Courtesy of Suvir Saran
1 cup lentils, picked over, washed and drained
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
4 cups water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/4 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 whole, dried red chilies
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 fresh, hot green chili, minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
1. Put the lentils into a large saucepan with the turmeric, salt and water. Bring to a boil and skim well. Turn the down and simmer, covered, until the lentils crumble when you touch them, about 15 minutes. Taste for salt and add more if you need to.
2. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the lentils into a small bowl and mash them with a spoon. Return the mashed lentils to the pot and give the dal a stir. Then continue cooking at a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes to thicken. If you like a thicker dal, use a whisk to break the lentils up into a puree.
3. For the tempering oil, heat the oil with the cumin seeds in a small frying pan or kadai over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the cumin turns a light brown color, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the dried chilies, the ginger, garlic and green chili and cook, stirring, until the garlic no longer smells raw and turns a golden brown color, about 30 more seconds. Remove the pan from the fire, add the cayenne and sprinkle in a few drops of water to stop the cooking.
4. Stir half of the tempering oil, half of the cilantro and all of the lime or lemon juice into the dal. Simmer very gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Transfer the dal to a serving bowl. Pour the remaining tempering oil over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cilantro. Serve hot.
Thank you Alaina, Anil and Malcolm (and Raptor) for opening up your home! Aside from SeriousEats.com, Alaina can also be found on Twitter. Be sure to check out A Full Belly - it may not be updated regularly, but it's one of the first blogs of its kind!
*Photos by Christine Han Photography for Pantry Confidential. All photos on Pantry Confidential are original and copyrighted. Please credit and link back to our site when using our images, thank you.