Don't let that disarming megawatt smile fool you - Mindy means business in the kitchen and she's got the chops to prove it! After years of cooking professionally in restaurant kitchens, Mindy turned to publishing, gracing the general public with her flavorful and often Mediterranean-inflected cooking through titles like A Bird in the Oven and Then Some and Olives and Oranges. Her latest cookbook, Salads: Beyond the Bowl, explores precisely that, shaking up the paradigm of orthodox greens and infusing a fresh, delicious point of view - perfect for now, when the dog days of summer settle in and green markets really start to flourish. Meet this incredible woman whose love of good food is matched only by her passion for good design. A true fox! (Sorry Mindy, we simply couldn't resist!)
Read on to learn an easy technique for making garlic paste and to find out how to take stock of your fridge "bank account" - plus, your chance to win a copy of Salads: Beyond the Bowl!
Hi Mindy! Please tell us a bit about your background and the incredible road you took to get to where you are today.
I'm the food editor at La Cucina Italiana magazine, and a food writer and cookbook author. I’m so grateful to be able to do a variety of things that I love, including developing, testing and editing recipes; styling food or overseeing styling at photo shoots; and researching, developing and writing food articles. Sometimes I travel to cover an article -- new environments, people, languages, ingredients, architecture, design, history and more are so inspiring to me; all are tied to food and cooking in all sorts of cool ways. Occasionally I do a TV segment to promote my new book, Salads: Beyond the Bowl. I also teach cooking classes.
My mom and dad are serious food enthusiasts and talented at the stove; both are adventurous with food and travel—they’ve influenced and inspired my food from day one. When I was 13, we moved from Chicago via NYC to New England. I was devastated! I missed my friends and felt like an outsider -- a big city kid who needed to form new friendship bonds and adapt to small town life. I sulked for what seemed like forever. Then I got busy with my mom in her kitchen and beautiful gardens. We had apple trees, a blackberry bramble, rhubarb and blueberry bushes, nasturtiums, zucchinis and their blossoms, pumpkins and more. My dad decided to raise a small flock of sheep, so in came the rams and ewes and of course the gorgeous little lambs then arrived (I went through a vegetarian phase at that time!). My mom began to market her famous Fox More Than a Mustard. We earned our allowance by putting labels on jars for her!
We didn't live off the land, but we did harvest and cook with everything we grew and raised. When I opened my eyes to what we had and how life had changed, it was magical. I began my path to understanding the value and quality of organic and freshly harvested ingredients, the deep satisfaction in raising and growing your own food, and the importance of farm preservation and sustainable land use. I spent a lot of time cooking with my mom during those years; it was transformative and the springboard to my career.
At college in Madison, Wis., I worked the outdoor coffee cart for a local cafe called Victor’s. On Saturday mornings I woke at 3am to brew coffee for the farmers' market. I’d pull up to the market around 5:30am to set up. As the sun rose over the Capitol building, the farmers unloaded gorgeous vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, cheeses, honeys, pies, maple syrup, and more from their trucks. Then they’d line up for coffee and to share their bounty with me before the throngs of marketers arrived. The sense of community among the farmers and people who worked the market was fantastic. I’ve found this same sort of bond in the greater food world, too.
My obsession with food and cooking continued to grow in Paris, France, where I spent my junior year studying film theory and photography. It was my first time in Europe. I fell madly in love with the culture of food shopping: going to the butcher for my meat and the cheese shop for my cheese; purchasing pastries from the patisserie. Each artisan doing business from his or her own focused environment felt natural and appropriate. I lived in a tiny maid’s room, with just a sink and a hot plate. No fridge! In the winter, I kept milk and other perishables on my windowsill. I’m amazed to this day how simply and well I cooked and ate in that sweet little space with such elemental tools. After college I worked my way up the line as a restaurant cook in Boston, then came back to NYC, where I landed my dream job as an assistant editor at Saveur. My publishing career grew from there.
Left: Mindy's mother's tasty mustard | Right: A favorite shopping staple
How would you describe your food aesthetic and cooking style?
Fresh and seasonal. Clean, vibrant flavors. Unfussy but dignified, i.e., simple-chic! Not too rule-oriented; healthy, but not without a bit of bacon, chorizo, prosciutto or mortadella often involved! Aside from Dijon mustard and Hellman's mayo (I love both and I use mayo on sandwiches and for quick weeknight aiolis), I’m not big on condiments. I love spices. My favorites include Aleppo pepper, piment d'Espelette, smoked paprika, sumac, coriander, za’atar, fennel pollen and fennel seed, and I rely heavily on good sea salts and freshly cracked pepper. My dad taught me about dried Greek oregano which I find at Greek and ethnic markets, often in long cellophane packages; it’s fantastic – intensely fragrant and flavorful.
What is the motivation behind your latest book focusing on salads?
I'm a serious salad fanatic! Salad is truly part of my everyday eating lifestyle. With Salads: Beyond the Bowl, I teach the craft and balance of a truly great salad. This involves everything from how you shop for, store and handle ingredients to the best way to dress and toss. A few little technique tweaks can help you master the dish!
Since a salad can contain as little as one main ingredient or many, and can include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, grains, pasta, fish, beef, poultry or game, and flavor influence from any culture, the variations are truly endless. And great salads can be made throughout the seasons! Have you ever shredded a raw celery root or shaved raw Brussels sprouts for a salad? You might be surprised how amazing it is!
We all like the idea of incorporating more vegetables and hearty grains and legumes into our diets, and it’s imperative that we do. When healthy food tastes incredible, you forget the “good for you” part. It just becomes fantastic eating.
Nothing is more gratifying to me than when I can contribute to another person’s enjoyment of food and cooking, and share how simple and phenomenal healthy eating can be.
Do you have any good chef/restaurant tips you can impart to the enthusiastic home cook?
I sure do! Much can be said here, but these are my biggies:
1. As much as is reasonably do-able for you, purchase ingredients locally and as close to the time you plan to cook them as possible to ensure vibrant and “alive” flavors.
2. It’s totally ok – encouraged even! — to veer off the recipe roadmap; this can help ensure that you use the freshest of what you find in the market and/or to waste less in your own home by using ingredients you already have on hand.
3. Relating directly to the above, I take an inventory of my fridge contents once or twice a week, and my freezer every few weeks; I jot it all down on a piece of paper and keep it handy to remind me to use up what I have. Chefs do this to look after their bottom line; you can do it, too. In 2010, the New York Times published an article stating that 25 percent of the food we bring into our homes is wasted. Try thinking of your fridge like a food ‘bank account’!
4. Prepare your mise en place (i.e., chop your veggies, garlic, herbs; measure your liquids, etc.) before you go to the stove to begin a recipe, instead of during the cooking process. And “clean as you go.” Both techniques help you keep organized and focused -- a major key to cooking well.
Clean as you go!
What are your favorite kitchen utensils or gadgets?
The tools that probably get the biggest daily workouts in my kitchen are my microplane zester, which I use most often to zest lemons and grate Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and my timers. When you develop and test recipes, it's crucial to have good-quality timers that count both up and down. I also love my adjustable-blade slicer; it cuts radishes, fennel and all sorts of other veggies paper-thin which is very hard, if not tedious, to do with a knife, even a good sharp one, or thicker, depending on what you want. The way you slice a vegetable impacts the way you experience its texture and flavor; the same goes with cheeses and other ingredients.
Where do you shop for kitchen supplies?
Despaña in NYC is one of my all-time favorite shops. They have a Soho location and a lesser know outpost in Queens, which is a great local scene and is where they make their outstanding homemade chorizo and morcilla sausages. I go on Saturdays when as early as 9am they will pour you a glass of red wine to wash down the generous bites of cheeses, olives, sausages and more that are offered for sampling. (Sounds right up our alley!)
I also love Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market, and Eataly, where the espresso and gelato can’t be beat!! I shop at both often for ingredients for La Cucina Italiana magazine recipes. And I teach classes at Eataly; they have a great school there.
Also Fante’s, which is very special kitchen shop in Philly. They have an extensive selection of Italian tools, including hard-to-find items like chitarra pasta makers and corzetti stamps. If you love to make pasta, these two shapes are really fun and easy. Check out recipes for chitarra, corzetti and more at La Cucina Italiana.
For kitchen and home gifts, I’m especially crazy about Marimekko, where I purchased the apron I’m wearing and our blue dot coffee cups, and The Global Table in Soho, for gorgeous bowls, serving ware and more.
What are your top pantry essentials in your kitchen?
I always have several high-quality extra-virgin olive oils, plus a good "cooking" ‘EVOO’ on hand. A great red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar and sherry vinegar (there are many others, but those tend to be my most reached for). A selection of high-quality sea salts. Black peppercorns. Garlic—especially fresh from the farmer's market when in season; what a difference! Anchovies. Lemons. Salt-packed capers. Good-quality canned tuna. Good dried pasta; several shapes. Freekeh and farro. Lentils. Sriracha! Pumpkinseed oil is a recent obsession... Honey; lots of varieties. Farmers' market eggs. La Colombe coffee beans!
Who is your biggest professional and personal food inspiration?
So many people! Here are a few:
Dorothy Kalins: My first boss in the food publishing world at Saveur, where she was founding editor. Dorothy is smart, funny, exuberant, demanding for all the right reasons and very real. Her instinct for intuiting what resonates with readers is genius and totally from the heart. Dorothy launched and edited powerhouse magazines for decades. She's produced stacks of fantastic cookbooks, including My New Orleans, by John Besh, which is one of our official 'house favorites'!
Alice Waters, for simple but amazing cooking and cookbooks, and for her beautiful life mission to help people eat better from a young age.
Heidi Swanson, for her unique flavor combinations and gorgeous photography, and her all around elegance and style.
Michael Tusk, for the way he so subtly puts his own touch on Italian cuisine while staying true to root principles of the culture and ingredients, and for his deep knowledge of and excitement about many lesser-known Italian ingredients.
Sara Jenkins: I love how she brings a broad range of Mediterranean ingredients into her Italian cooking. And for her tenacity and her porchetta!
Is there a tasty hole-in-the-wall, neighborhood spot you'd be willing to share?
I love Tanoreen in Bay Ridge for delicious Middle Eastern/Mediteranean. Chao Thai: tiny super-spicy Thai place in Queens. Casamento's in New Orleans (family-owned since 1919!!) for the oyster loaf sandwich – supremely plump and crispy cornmeal-fried oysters between 2 slices of pillow-soft white Bunny Bread, slathered with a mayo and pickle mash-up and topped with shredded iceberg; a sublime and very particular sort of heaven... There’s a great tiny Mexican resto, hidden in the back of a bodega up here in Washington Heights, where I live... I can’t remember the name!
I love 101 Cookbooks, which is Heidi Swanson’s blog. I also am a dedicated reader of The Improvised Life and Remodelista blogs, which are about creativity, architecture, art and design, with lots of food and kitchen overlap.
I love so many cookbooks; too many to mention, so I’ll name some of the lesser-known: Lebanese Cuisine, by Madelain Farah; The Golden Lemon, by Doris Tobias and Mary Merris; The Geometry of Pasta, by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kennedy; The Balthazar Cookbook; Frank Stitt’s Southern Table.
AND lovely, interesting, super-cool food writing: Gumbo Tales, by Sara Roahen; Serious Pig, by John Thorne; and anything by Calvin Trillin.
Whose pantries would you like to raid?
1. Angelica and Marcos Intriango; owners of Despaña in Soho -- for AMAZING Spanish everything!!
2. Stanley Tucci -- he's a serious cook, the host of Vine Talk on PBS and is set to debut his cookbook this fall! And his role as Paul Child in Julie & Julia!? WOW; so sweet.
3. Sara Jenkins --we share a love for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ingredients; she introduced me to Aleppo pepper, fennel pollen and sumac, and she’s always finding something new.
4. Massimo Vignelli -- I've actually pawed through his pantry and I'd do it again any day! Massimo designed the award-winning line of colorful melamine stacking dinnerware called Hellerware; I still have pieces from my parents' 70s collection! I’ve written about him for Saveur and Edible Manhattan magazines. He’s one of my design superheroes.
When beautiful form meets practical function: good design on display
What else should we know about you? ;)
My husband, Steve Hoffman, is an architect with his own design/build firm here in NYC, called DBA. He recently redesigned one side of our kitchen (the previous owner had done a gorgeous job with the other side. We surmise that her budget only allowed for that 50%!). We tore out the old and built the new together over one insanely crazy long weekend. We found elegant, simple cabinet doors and drawer fronts at Ikea, which we outfitted with invisible touch latches. And we got our dream fridge, a Fisher & Paykel "Active Smart". After years and years of using very old, super low-quality fridges, we are in supreme fridge heaven, and it's beautiful, too--smooth white with brushed aluminum handles.
Mindy with her sweet dog, Jasper
Panzanella Di Farro | Tuscan Bread Salad with Farro
Courtesy of Salads: Beyond the Bowl, by Mindy Fox
Serves 4 to 6
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Fine sea salt
1 large ear of corn, shucked
½ pound green beans, trimmed
6 tablespoons very good extravirgin olive oil
1¼ cups farro
1 large garlic clove
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Finely ground black pepper
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced into half moons
1 cup packed basil leaves, large leaves torn
4 medium radishes, halved and very thinly sliced
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. In a large serving bowl, toss together the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside.
Cook the corn and the green beans together in the boiling water; after 3 minutes, using tongs, transfer the corn to a cutting board. Continue to cook the green beans until crisp-tender, 1 to 2 minutes more. using tongs, transfer the beans to a colander to drain, pat dry and place in a medium bowl (reserve the pot of water). Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and toss to combine.
Cook the farro in the boiling water that you used for the corn and beans, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm to the bite, 18 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the green beans until golden on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Let the beans cool, then cut into 1-inch lengths. Cut the corn kernels off the cob.
On a cutting board, slice the garlic clove, then mound the garlic together with ½ teaspoon salt, and using both the blade and the flat side of a chef's knife, chop and scrape the mixture into a paste. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 5 tablespoons oil and the vinegar. Add the garlic paste and ¼ teaspoon pepper, and vigorously whisk the dressing to combine.
Drain the farro, then spread it on a baking sheet set over a wire rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. When the farro is cool, whisk together the dressing and add it to the tomatoes, along with the farro, green beans, corn, cucumber, basil, radishes, scallions, ¾ teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt. Toss the salad to combine well.
What's your favorite way to enjoy salads this season? Share with us in the comments below and enter for your chance to win a copy of Mindy's inspiring cookbook, Salads: Beyond the Bowl! Deadline: Friday, August 10, at 11:59pm/EST. Good luck, readers! :)