Alaina Browne, General Manager of Serious Eats

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, 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 GreenmarketKalusytan's and Dual Specialty.

Top pantry essentials in your kitchen?

I always have ginger, onion, garlic, olive oil, Sriracha sauce, rice, lentils, eggs.

Who is your biggest food inspiration?

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 TownXi'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 EatsFood52The Canal House Cookbook series, Suvir Saran's Indian Home CookingShopsin's cookbook.

Whose pantries would you like to raid?

Floyd Cardoz. Doug Quint (of Big Gay Ice Cream).


Saag Paneer

Courtesy of 101 Cookbooks

Serves 4-6

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

Serves 4

1 cup lentils, picked over, washed and drained
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
4 cups water

Tempering Oil
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, 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.

Dorothy Neagle, Co-Founder of Good Food Jobs

Dorothy Neagle, Co-Founder of Good Food Jobs

Entrepreneur, mother, food altruist. Three equally important and weighty roles that our new friend Dorothy seems to manage with graceful aplomb. This Bluegrass State native, who incidentally owes her great eye to a background in interior design, found a way to share her love of food and community to an eager audience hungry for both when creating Good Food Jobs. Oh, and can we just take a minute to point out her insanely enviable Victorian era porcelain skin?

Read on to learn more about Good Food Jobs and Dorothy's favorite squash pie recipe!

Please tell us what you do.

As a co-Founder of Good Food Jobs, with my lovely partner Taylor, most of my work is done in front of the computer (the paradox of creating a website to build community is that we have to make an effort to get out and be in the community, physically rather than electronically). Although we strived to create a website that was user-friendly and do-it-yourself, we personally review and approve all jobs posted on the site, so there can be a lot of day to day work. As with most jobs these days, there’s a tremendous amount of emailing. And I also do a lot of the graphics for the site, including print materials and miscellaneous things like that. That part is fun enough that it doesn’t feel like work.

How would you describe your food aesthetic/cooking style?

Homemade and comfortable. I grew up watching my mom make everything from bread to apple sauce from scratch. I love the process involved in making even simple things, like pancakes or mashed potatoes.

What are your favorite kitchen utensils or gadgets?

When I was growing up, we didn’t have any simple gadgets, we had things like a giant tabletop apple sauce grinder that spit pulp and peel out the side while fresh hot apple sauce poured from the front; or an unwieldy, hand-operated ice cream churn that took what seemed like half the day to use. When I went to college, I discovered more elemental things like whisks (a fork really is not a good substitute – sorry, mom) and lemon squeezers. I still don’t go for anything too fancy or specific – I love a big wooden spoon, a plastic spatula to help you get every inch of brownie batter from the bowl, a good microplane for zesting citrus.

Where do you shop for kitchen supplies?

Where do I not shop for kitchen supplies? Okay, you asked first… I love even the big chain kitchen stores like Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, but living in New York I feel it’s my duty to make the trip to the occasional one-of-a-kind spot, like New York Cake & Baking Supply on 22nd Street, or to wander along the Bowery for discounts. I also love Fishs Eddy for things like glassware – that’s where I found the perfect glass lemonade pitchers this past summer.

What are the top pantry essentials in your kitchen?

I don’t know what I’d do without dairy: we always have butter, cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs and ice cream. (I’ve tested the theory that you can make a meal out of anything if you put a fried egg on top of it.) I also keep plenty of dried beans, pasta, and polenta on hand. And we couldn’t live without olive oil and good sea salt. I’ve always had a jar of peanut butter in the pantry, since way before we had a baby on board.

Do you have secret, surprise or unexpected ingredient you love to use?

My secrets are pretty simple. I use lots of butter or olive oil, and salt. I use lard in my pie crusts (except when my Jewish in-laws are coming for dinner, of course!) and I actually cut the sugar in most recipes by at least half.

Favorite cookbooks/blogs/sites?

I always feel compelled to confess that I’m not good at keeping up with food blogs, even though I have one! But the one that I return to over and over is Smitten Kitchen. Cookbooks are another story - if the kitchen is my house of worship, they are the holy texts. My mother passed on her reverence for The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and The Vegetarian Epicure Book. Recent favorites are Rustic Fruit Desserts and Once Upon a Tart (a great café in Soho). I use Nourishing Traditions for basic things like mayonnaise and chicken stock.

Has having a baby changed the way you cook/eat at home? How do you determine your meals?

All I can think to say is… having a baby changed EVERYTHING! But yes, it did change the way we cook, mostly by narrowing the focus down to ease above all else. I also put more energy into preparing things in advance, and making things that freeze well in bigger quantities. Meatballs in tomato sauce is a good example. Or pie and quiche crusts.

What are your favorite dishes to make at home for you and your family?

I love to make dishes like lasagna or quiche that require assembly, but lately we’ve been making a lot of meals out of vegetables and adding a cheese and a nut – like roasted cauliflower with parmesan and walnuts. Or Brussels sprouts finely chopped and sautéed with almonds and feta. This time of year we’ve making lots of soups: butternut squash with coconut milk, curried corn chowder, broccoli cheddar, Italian wedding soup - those are always perfectly simple with a piece of crusty bread and butter.

Function meets design with sleek Global knives and a stainless steel compost pail.

Rich Squash Pie

Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

Basic Pastry Dough for 9-inch pie shell (recipe follows)

1 cup pureed cooked winter squash
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a pie pan with the pastry dough. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and beat until smooth and well blended. Pour into the lined pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300F and bake for 45-60 minutes more or until the filling is firm.

Basic Pastry Dough

Courtesy Group Recipes

For 8-inch Single Pie Shell:
1 cup + 2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

For 9-inch Single Pie Shell:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water

Combine the flour and salt.

Cut in the shortening using a pastry blender or food processor on "pulse."

Combine lightly until the mixture resembles course meal or really tiny peas.

Sprinkle water over the mixture 1 Tbsp at a timeand mix lightly with a fork or your hands. (If you used a food processor, transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl before adding the water.)

Use only enough water so the pastry will hold together when pressed gently

Who is your biggest food inspiration?

Although my parents had the most influence on me, I’d have to say that my partner Taylor is my biggest inspiration. She never seems to tire of being in the kitchen, and her enthusiasm is infectious.

Any chefs/food producers you admire and why?

I have the most admiration for farmers. There is nothing more appealing to me than having knowledge of the natural world. When someone can tell you the difference, in sight, texture, and flavor, between one squash and the next, it makes me feel full of wonder, like a child. No one knows more about flavor than the farmer, because he or she knows about the soil conditions and the weather patterns and the ripest moment for each crop. And there’s nothing like taste testing by picking something right off the vine.

Do you have a tasty hole-in-the-wall you'd be willing to share?

We love going out for pizza or tacos, and in our house it’s Di Fara for the former and Tacos Matamoros for the latter (both in Brooklyn, of course).

What do you like to listen to while you cook?

Just about anything. Some favorites are Louis ArmstrongJoni MitchellDolly Parton– things that remind me of home.

Whose pantry(ies) would you like to raid?

Mark Bittman, Martha Stewart, Ruth Reichl.

What is your go-to dish that's sure to draw raves from guests?

Having dinner guests feels like a distant memory of a former life, but if I remember correctly, we always loved making spaghetti and meatballs with roasted broccoli.

What's your idea of a perfect dinner party?

The potluck isn’t thought of as a very sophisticated affair, but I love when guests bring something. It makes everybody feel good to share, and no matter how inspired you might be feeling as the host, it’s always nice to have some collaboration. The scene would be a mid-summer evening in the country, everyone a little worn out from the afternoon’s outdoor pursuits, eating outside at a big table, or in the grass. It would always involve fresh berries for dessert, picked that morning at a nearby farm, and hopefully an excuse for whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Please share your best tips for novice home cooks.

Try not to overthink it. A great meal can be very simple. And don’t be overwhelmed by the effort it takes to make simple things, because the results (once perfected) are more than worth it.

*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.