Rebekah Peppler, Food Stylist, Writer, Recipe Developer

Photos by  Christine Han Photography  for Pantry Confidential. 

Photos by Christine Han Photography for Pantry Confidential. 

Rebekah Peppler, Food Stylist, Writer, Recipe Developer
Oh, Rebekah! This is the type of person you can while away an entire afternoon with. A midwestern gal with Wisco roots (and proud of it!), she’s happiest talking about summer sausage and singing the virtues of the oft-misrepresented 7-layer salad (have you heard of either?). Rebekah’s down-to-earth demeanor belies her fancy classically-trained pastry chef background and Type A-when-it-comes-to-work personality, but it’s this ability to maintain balance so effortlessly while giving everything a just-so finishing touch that makes her the popular food stylist she is. She works hard, parties harder, and makes everything look like a breeze in the process—that’s when you know you’re dealing with a pro. 

Read on to learn what surprising ingredient Rebekah tries to incorporate into much of her baking and get your hands on a KILLER Negroni rhubarb float recipe—AND! A chance to win her Short Stack Editions: Honey cookbook!

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Hi Rebekah! Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do as a food stylist. Can you share with us the road you took to get to where you are today?
I studied journalism and art history in college back in Wisconsin then moved to New York City to study pastry arts at the French Culinary Institute. I always knew I wanted to combine my love of words, food and beauty in one place. Food styling and writing are two incredible channels to do so. 

I’ve found that the job of a food stylist is very often glorified into this epic dream gig. Don’t get me wrong, it totally is. But it’s not just hanging out on set with tweezers and spray bottles making food look gorgeous. The thing most people don’t know about food styling is the vast disparity between time in the kitchen and time on set. I spend 90 percent of my time sourcing, shopping, schlepping, prepping and cooking the food and about 10 percent playing with the food on camera. All that "preliminary" work leads to the perfect final shot, not just the fun Dexter tools. 

How did your Honey Short Stack book come about?
I've known and worked with the team behind Short Stacks for years now and consider them both friends and colleagues, a combination that always make for crazy fun collaborations. I remember when the idea behind the publication was just a twinkle in the publisher Nick's eye and I told him once he made it happen, I was in. Once Short Stacks came to fruition, he called me up, asked which ingredient I wanted and it snowballed from there. I’m lucky I claimed honey, it’s such an incredible ingredient to play with.

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Please walk us through a “typical” project. How exactly do you develop a recipe? Many people don’t know what goes into creating one, especially all the unseen labor that goes into simply procuring and preparing the ingredients.
Since I’m not sure a “typical” shoot exists, I’ll walk you through a stand-alone recipe. When I’m developing recipes they’re normally for either a magazine, online publication or a cookbook. First, a client reaches out with an idea of what they need, say 10 easy fall recipes for a food magazine. We work out the contract (rate, deadline, etc.), then I come back to them with one to two sentences on each recipe detailing the range of ingredients, what method I’m planning on using and anything else that might interest them. They come back to me and say, your ideas are perfect, go develop! I write up full drafts for each recipe (littered with “TK"s to fill when I’m in the kitchen), run to the store(s), shop all the ingredients and hop in the kitchen. Depending on the recipe, I'll test it two to four times to get it just right, sometimes more if it's finicky. Then I'm on my computer filling in the TK’s and adding any changes I made along the way. I also make sure each recipe is written in the style of the publication (everybody has their own quirks). I send the finished recipes out with my invoice and log all the details into my personal accounting sheet for the year (freelance is all about organization--I don't know what I'd do without Excel and Moleskin notebooks). If all goes well, I’ll eventually see the recipes in print, send a copy to my mom and et voilà! A recipe. 

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How would you describe your cooking style + food aesthetic? Where do you draw inspiration from? 
While I'm all for sampling the newest thing to enter the food world, when I'm in my home kitchen it's all about the classics with a twist. I grew up in the Midwest (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) and in a kitchen brimming with hearty, locally-sourced ingredients. To me, cooking at home isn't so much about technical skill or crazy ingredients but rather--as hokey as it sounds--the heart you put into it. My heart happens to have a particular fondness for dairy.

What do you like to make for yourself after a full day of cooking for others?
Does a glass of wine count? Honestly, after a completely packed day surrounded by food on set I can usually be found on the couch with a wine glass in one hand and a hunk of cheese in the other. Bonus points for also taking the time to pull out crackers and olives but don't count on it. 

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What do you love most about your kitchen? 
My kitchen is petite but has epic (compared to what I've had in the past) counter space. I put two stools on the opposite edge of the middle island and have spent many afternoons force feeding friends/getting them tipsy while I test recipes on the other side. It also boasts a (modest 20-inch) gas stove (especially dreamy as I suffered through electric in many of my past apartments) and (a first in my seven years in NYC) a dishwasher. 

Also, since the apartment is south-facing, it's flooded with light all day long which makes for particularly lovely prep and writing days (and even more delightful fire escape cocktail hours). Plus, the dainty size of the space has really allowed my Type A tendencies to blossom, forcing me to be extra creative with storage: I have one drawer and four narrow cabinets all day to work with and I can say with a happy heart that the only thing that is relegated to the (apartment's only) closet is the ice cream maker. If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is.

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Where do you shop for kitchen supplies?
Honestly, for such a tiny space (my apartment has a single closet), I have a completely stocked kitchen. I’m still holding out for a Vitamix but otherwise I can’t fit another thing in. If I need something for a shoot it’s NY Cake and Bake in the city, A Cook’s Companion on Atlantic in Brooklyn or I’ll hop on Amazon Prime

More often, I’m shopping for ingredients and there's plenty of places I love: Kalustyan’s, Sahadi’s and Dual Specialty Store for spices and dry goods. I’m constantly at Whole Foods, Fairway and Union Market. Plus there’s a deli down the street from me that has the craziest stuff; I’m always in there. 

Favorite utensils to use at home?
A fish spatula and a Microplane. They're in constant rotation.
 
Top pantry essentials in your kitchen?
I have an over-stocked pantry due to all the recipe testing I do, but personal essentials include whole coffee beans, honey, good crackers and always, always gummy candies.

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Do you have a secret ingredient you love to use?
It’s not a really secret or a surprise if you’ve ever worked with me but I absolutely love malted milk powder. The, I’d-bring-it-to-the-desert-island-with-me, kind of love. You give me free reign and 9 times out of 10 I’ll put either that or poppy seeds into a recipe. I also end up putting a ton of booze in recipes. My bar, conveniently located next to both my kitchen and my bed (a perk of living in a teeny apartment!), is nicely stocked and never fails to provide inspiration. Sometimes I’ll just buy an interesting spirit not so much for the cocktails I can make with it but what I imagine I’ll dream up in the kitchen with it. 

I’ve also recently started playing with powdered milk. Like the kind you get in the bag for a ridiculously cheap price. I’m trying to figure out how to make a cookie I used to eat as a kid and I’m convinced the secret lies in that bag of Carnation instant. 

Guilty pleasure ingredient or dish?
Seven layer salad. If you're not from Wisconsin you may not know what this is but, basically, fill a casserole dish with (in this order) a layer of lettuce, chopped bell peppers, red onion, celery, mayonnaise, sharp cheddar cheese and bacon and you have the dish I eat as soon as I land on home soil. I just got back from a trip home and, no joke, I ate it once a day… mostly for breakfast. So far, no one I've met in NYC (or anywhere outside my home town) gets the allure but I'm working diligently on changing that. 

CHEEZ DRAWER.

CHEEZ DRAWER.

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Who are the chefs and food producers you admire?
There are so many people in food to admire right now and I’m so darn fortunate to work with a lot of them. I’ll keep it short and personal: Melissa Clark is a dream to work with and her recipes are always spot on. I was cooking her recipes way before we met and find myself even more enamored with them—and her—the longer we work together. Same goes for my assistants, Jade Zimmerman and Adelaide Mueller. Those woman can cook and they make me look better than I could ever make myself. Lauren Deen for taking a chance on me so many, many years ago and pretty much throwing me into the start of my food styling career. And, oh, my grandma for pretty much everything. She still grows and picks her own raspberries and knows how to make a pie with them that will make you weep.

Favorite cookbooks, blogs and sites?
Anything by Dorie Greenspan. I spent most of college baking from her books and she never steered me wrong. Same goes for Julia (Child). 

Whose pantry would you like to raid?
Does everyone read that as panty raid at first? For the pantry, I’d raid my mom’s. She has the most meticulously organized and perfectly stocked pantry. It’s insane and I’m never happier than when I’m cooking in her kitchen. I’d also raid Bon Appetit's, because their test kitchen manager Brad keeps that place stocked to a T.

As for a panty raid, she’s going kill me for saying this but I’d totally raid my close girlfriend Erin Hartigan’s… she knows why. (Sorry, E.)

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*   *   *
Negroni-Rhubarb Floats

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Courtesy Rebekah Peppler

Makes about 2 cups 
1 pound rhubarb, sliced into 1-inch pieces 
½ pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 ounces Campari
3 ounces gin
2 ounces vermouth 
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 orange peel ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Vanilla ice cream
Champagne or sparkling wine

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a medium bowl, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, Campari, gin, vermouth, vanilla bean and seeds, orange peel and salt. Toss to combine and dissolve the sugar. Spread on a baking sheet in an even layer and roast until the rhubarb and strawberries are soft and jammy, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

To serve, scoop vanilla ice cream into chilled coupe glasses. Top with a generous spoonful of the roasted rhubarb mixture and a hefty splash of champagne. Serve immediately.

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Thank you for opening your home to us! Stay updated with Rebekah and her delectable creations on social media: 
Rebekah Peppler |  Instagram 
 

For your chance to win a copy of Rebekah's Short Stack book, Honey, please leave a comment below. You have until Friday, August 14, 11:59pm/EST, to enter. Winner will be chosen at random - good luck! 

*Photos by Christine Han Photography for Pantry Confidential. All photos on Pantry Confidential are original unless otherwise indicated. Please credit and link back to our site when using our images, thank you. 

Olga Massov, Food Writer and Creator of Sassy Radish

Olga Massov, Food Writer and Creator of Sassy Radish

Olga's story resonates with us on a number of levels. During a successful - but wholly unfulfilling - 10-year run on Wall Street, Olga would spend whatever bits of free time she had cooking and writing, tinkering around in her kitchen and sharing the adventures on her popular blog, Sassy Radish. Eventually, the Russian expat chose to leave the world of finance to follow her dreams full-time and so far, her gutsy move has paid off; her first co-written cookbook, The Kimchi Cookbook, came out last year and another one is in the works. Olga's writing, much like her food and cooking style, is full of wit, charm and humility, always leaving you hungry for more.

Read on for some candid advice for those looking to break into food writing and to get a glimpse of Olga's favorite sous chef - plus, a giveaway!

Hi Olga! Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your blog, Sassy Radish.

I started the blog so long ago, it makes me feel like a dinosaur, in 2005. Mostly I just wanted a wee space for myself where I was happy. I wasn't in a good place in my life: I was very unhappy at work and I worked very long hours. But then when I started the blog, I didn't really do much there, since I was working really long hours. It wasn't really until fall of 2008 when my life became much healthier and balanced that I started to spend a lot of time on the blog: writing, cooking, photographing. I think I started to find my voice, also, because I was spending a lot of time thinking about food and what I wanted to share.

You made a very brave jump from the corporate world of finance to food blogging and writing. What REAL advice would you offer to those dreaming about paving a similar path in the food industry? Break it down for us.

Ah, yes! Actually, the timing of this is funny, because, from my observation and what I've gathered, it's very hard, if not impossible to make a living just as a cookbook writer. I know a few people are doing it, but more and more, what I am hearing is that to make a living, a sustainable living, at it, is very very hard. I, myself, am re-evaluating what I need to be doing in order to keep my writing afloat. I don't want to give it up, but at the same time we cannot survive on the income I make as a writer. Molly O'Neill, the great [food writer] Molly O'Neill, gave me some great, not warm-and-fuzzy advice. She said, "Get yourself stable. Get yourself in a position where you're not worried about money. And write in the time in between. It'll be hard, but you will actually enjoy it more if you are less stressed out."

The advice I have is this: figure out what you're comfortable with. Everyone has a different budget and also people are in different places in their lives. Also, figure out what you actually want. Only very recently was I able to articulate that I wasn't interested in making a "name" for myself, in that if I never write my own book, or become a household name, it doesn't matter to me. I want to write, and I want to work on good projects – projects that are interesting and involving talented (and nice) people. It's not that that's not what I wanted, but for whatever reason, I couldn't articulate it succinctly, and there’s something to be said for that.

Because I have a blog, there's a lot of focus on SEO, comments, traffic, and all that stuff. I have not been immune to it in the past, but ever since I've let go and stopped caring, I've been much happier about writing on the blog and creating. I'm not out there to become everyone’s go-to blog. I write because it makes me happy. And people who want to read it – do. And if it means Google search ranks me lower because I don’t have some plug-in – eh, I am okay with it.

Kudos on your continued cookbook writing success! Please tell us how you were able to make that initial jump into writing about - of all things - kimchi-making and cooking!

I honestly couldn't have done ANY of it without Melissa Clark, who I often joke is just like my fairy godmother, except she's way prettier than fairy godmothers have been, historically, in books.

I have, I suppose, a rather unorthodox way of trying to eke out a living as a food writer. I didn't go to cooking school, and outside of a one-day trail in ABC Kitchen, I've never worked in a restaurant. In fact, I spent almost a decade working in finance before doing this.

In the winter of 2011, the company I was working for shut down its New York office and moved entirely to Asia. I took the opportunity to try to work in food, making it work as a writer, recipe tester, stylist and general assistant. It was Melissa who took a chance on me and took me under her wing, and let me come into her kitchen and be her assistant for some time. I did everything from taping receipts and making expense reports (I'm a wonder with Excel!) to running out for groceries to testing recipes when needed. Melissa also allowed me to help out with various books and freelance work that she was working on, so I got to see start-to-finish how a pro writes a book with other people. What she looks for, how she structures her time, how to properly test a recipe, etc. Melissa was the one to introduce me to Lauryn Chun of MILKimchi in the summer of 2011, and she and I wound up writing the The Kimchi Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2012) together. I'm also working on a book with Iron Chef Marc Forgione (due out in the spring 2014).

How do you think you've grown as a cook and writer since committing to this career switch full-time?

I'm a lot more fearless, but also, sometimes, after a day of testing various recipes, I realize that cookies and condiments do not a meal make, so my husband and I order take-out a fair amount, actually. Ditto for days when I'm cooking at another place and am on my feet all day. I come home and sit on the couch. I know it sounds crazy, but if you cook all day, you want someone else to cook your dinner!

I've become a better cook overall though. More intuitive. Much more willing to take risks. It has also made me a lot more humble. I've learned that there are as many ways to cook eggs as there are people cooking them. Ditto with chicken. Ditto with ricotta. Anyone who tells you that this is the best way to make something might need to step back and cook with other people more.

I think when you work for yourself and by yourself, you have to be disciplined or else. I'm very disciplined about when I get up, when I sit down to work, when I have to meet a deadline. I'm very diligent about that. I'm less diligent about, say, going to the gym, but that's more of a mental thing.

Writing is a muscle. I try to write every day. Random thoughts and bits. Things that no one ever sees. Sometimes it's just a sentence or two. Other times it's pages. It all depends. Sometimes you start writing about a chair you're sitting on and how you should've paid a little extra and purchased lumbar support (if only you knew it was an option!) and you wind up remembering a cake your grandmother made. Just the process of putting words on paper is excellent. And people who really want to write, should do it regularly, much like that gym I'm so good at avoiding.

And last, but certainly not least, I read a piece in McSweeney's recently that basically said, "Good writers are also good readers." It's so important for writers to be reading as much as possible. I realize that this might be a very bourgeois thing to say, when we're all running around and are feeling behind schedule, but reading other people's work, good work, makes you a better writer in turn.

Top pantry essentials?

Lemons, salt, quality vinegars, mustards, anchovies, garlic, chili flakes, Aleppo pepper, various chiles, piment d’Espelette, good olive oil (or a few), flaky sea salt, good bread (we are addicted to the miche we get from Bien Cuit), vanilla beans, honey, maple syrup, mayonnaise, Sriracha, kimchi (duh), preserved lemons, olives, capers, onions (I panic when we're out of onions), cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel seed, mustard seed, dried chickpeas and beans, lentils, quinoa and rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, quality canned sardines, dried fruit and nuts, Finn crisps.

What do you and your husband love to cook at home?

We have several that we made frequently: green curry mussels; midnight pasta (with capers, anchovies, garlic and chiles); roasted cauliflower with za'atar and spiced yogurt dip; roasted chicken; whole roasted branzino with rosemary, lemon, and garlic; roasted shrimp and broccoli.

Who is your biggest professional or personal food inspiration?

It's a mix. Sometimes I taste something in a restaurant and I'll have a huge grin from ear to ear. There are some amazingly talented people working in food. I think I am mostly inspired by people I know personally because I know what drives their cooking and how they think and it's much more personal that way.

Favorite kitchen utensils or gadgets?

So many. I love my Microplane zester and I have even traveled with it. I can't stand when people's zesters are dull and just tear the skin off the fruit rather than give you beautiful zest. My $2 vegetable peeler that does not quit. I love my Vitamix. I know it sounds so froufrou to say that a very expensive blender will change your life, but it will. A blender does not equal a blender. Mine gets almost daily use. I love my knives: I have a few good chef’s knives and a cheap, but amazing paring knife. I could probably just live with those two knives and be fine. My KitchenAid mixer is a powerhouse and my Cuisinart food processor is amazing. It's very large so I can make a lot of pie dough at once, freeze it, and then make pie last minute. My used wooden spoons show me how much I've cooked with them; it's nostalgic. My All-Clad pots and pans; my Staub cocotte; my copper jam pot. I know it sounds like I'm listing a lot but here's the thing: anything that enters my kitchen, anything that has a permanent spot, means I have scrutinized it and thought: can I live without it? All of those items make my life easier and better as a cook, and happier. So many good memories with all those kitchen objects.

A tomato red pegboard that would make the great Julia Child beam with pride

Soldiers reporting for duty!

How would you describe your cooking style? How much does your Russian heritage influence your cooking, aesthetic and pantry?

Hm, if anything I don’t have enough Russian ingredients. I wish I had more. At the moment, I am not really cooking anything Russian; I'm going through a serious Middle Eastern phase. I'm cooking a lot from Jerusalem (Yotam Ottolenghi's new book), and a relative just sent me this amazing book on Persian food.

I love Russian food though – to me it is true comfort food. The one I want to make when I'm sick or sad. Salad Olivier, venigret, Russian cabbage soup, herring and potatoes, pelmeni – those are my comfort foods. But my ultimate comfort food is a simple bowl of mashed potatoes. I can go on and on about its restorative (and therapeutic) properties, but I'll hold back. But I recently read Nora Ephron's Heartburn and she went on and on, in the same way, about mashed potatoes. In fact, her character makes it to console herself that she's seven months pregnant, with a toddler, and a husband who is cheating on her. And she even gives the recipe in the book!

But back to my influences. I went through a phase, as a teenager, where I loathed anything Russian. I was in a pretty American setting and being different in middle school and high school, is not exactly what you aspire to. Maybe I would have, if I spoke fluent English and life was generally stable. But I was an immigrant and everything about me was different, and I was trying so hard to keep some things from not standing out. I couldn't control my accent, but I could control what I ate, and so I shunned Russian food and embraced all things American: Thanksgiving, pizza, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, peanut butter – you name it. The only thing I couldn't get behind was Marshmallow Fluff.

Favorite cookbooks/blogs/sites?

At the moment I'm cooking a lot from Jerusalem. I very much like both of Melissa Clark's books: Cook This Now and In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite (they are great for cooking everyday meals); Tom Colicchio's Think Like A Chef is fantastic; Edna Lewis's workJulia Child's; Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book is genius; The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is unlike anything else, as is the Chez Panisse series (I'm a huge fan of the Desserts one). I just started reading A Girl and Her Pig and Vegetable Literacy, and all I want to do is just lock myself away for a few days and read every single page. Gorgeous, amazing, inspiring books! As for blogs: I love what Heidi Swanson does on 101Cookbooks and I've been reading a lot of Dinner: A Love Story (I'm a latecomer to Jennie's blog). Also: Smitten KitchenOrangetteThe Wednesday ChefThis Yellow HouseSweet Amandine. Everything Elissa Altman (of Poor Man’s Feast) writes is incredible. I love David Lebovitz’s humor and irreverence. Lately I've been enchanted by The Guardian's food writers lately: Yotam Ottolenghi, Nigel Slater, Felicity Cloake.

Favorite restaurants?

So many… La VaraFranny'sMarc Forgione (I know I'm writing a book with him, but it has been one of my favorites since he opened in 2008), RecetteABC KitchenAldeaFisherman's Dawta (an amazing Jamaican place in our neighborhood), Gramercy TavernMaialinoBuvettePrune. I know I'm missing a whole bunch, but in general, I'm a sucker for cozy places and great food. I can appreciate fine dining, but I always have a far better time somewhere where I can show up in jeans and a T-shirt, and not have six forks and five knives. Those places are lovely, but I feel more comfortable somewhere less formal.

Play out your ideal last meal for us.

Ooof, that would be a big meal… Start with Wellfleet oysters and beer. Then I'd want to eat lots of vegetable salads and sides from ABC Kitchen and Franny's. Also, ABC Kitchen's clam pizza and Marc Forgione's spicy lobster (and the kanpachi appetizer); I think I'd want the cacio e pepe from Maialino; a cold borscht from my grandmother; herring and potatoes; pelmeni; then a small break and have actual New England lobster with corn on the cob and finish everything with a homemade blueberry pie. In between, I'd like to eat some lemon squares and Melissa Clark's pecan pie. I know I am forgetting a lot of things. But if it's my last meal, I need to really eat up! I think I'd like it to be picnic-style and outside on a cliff overlooking the ocean. And I'd like to share it with my husband, Leon Panetta (because he has the best laugh), Michael Symon (also the laugh), Rachel Maddow (because she makes a mean cocktail and because I am obsessed with her show), my and Andrew's families, our best friends (really we're throwing a party!), and our cat, Forrest, because he'll be begging everyone for food.

Whose pantry would you like to raid?

I'd love to raid a pantry of someone who cooks totally different food: so someone with a very Thai-centric pantry or a very Indian pantry because I don't have as many items in my arsenal. Also, anyone who is a passionate cook has an interesting pantry – so I'm not picky.

***

Anchovy-Panko Roasted Broccoli and Farro Salad

Serves 4

1 cup farro
Kosher salt
1 cup panko
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
5 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed into a paste
2 pounds broccoli, trimmed and cut into long spears
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, optional
Juice of 1 lemon
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Soak farro in water for 25 minutes. While farro soaks, prep your other ingredients.

Drain the farro and transfer to a medium pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover farro by at least 1 inch and set it over high heat. Bring farro and water to a boil, season with enough salt until the water tastes like the ocean, and cook until the farro is al dente, about 20 to 25 minutes. If necessary, add more water to the pot. As soon as farro is done, drain it and set aside in large bowl.

While the farro cooks, heat the oven to 400 degrees F with the rack positioned in the middle. In a medium skillet set over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the panko, anchovy, and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape into a bowl with the farro and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the broccoli with the remaining olive oil and very lightly season with salt. Spread the broccoli on a shallow baking sheet and roast for about 15 to 20 minutes, turning once midway, until slightly tender and lightly browned. Transfer the broccoli to the bowl with farro and panko, add the parsley and lemon juice, and toss everything to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with more olive oil and serve.

Be sure to follow Olga's blog, Sassy Radish, for other tasty, well-tested recipes, as well as on TwitterFacebook and Instagram (to keep up with Forrest's shenanigans, naturally!).

Thanks, Olga! For your chance to win a copy of The Kimchi Cookbook, please leave us a comment below. You have until the last day of the month, Tuesday, April 30, at 11:59pm/EST. Winner will be chosen at random - good luck!

*Photos by Christine Han Photography for Pantry Confidential. All photos on Pantry Confidential are original. Please credit and link back to our site when using our images, thank you.

Mindy Fox, Food Editor of La Cucina Italiana and Author of "Salads: Beyond the Bowl"

Mindy Fox, Food Editor of La Cucina Italiana and Author of Salads: Beyond the Bowl

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!

My parents.

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!

Favorite cookbooks/blogs/sites?

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 CookbookFrank 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 extra virgin 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! :)

*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.

Tamar Adler, Author of "An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace"

Tamar Adler, Author of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace

“There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well. It isn’t true." 

The opening lines of Tamar's first book, An Everlasting Meal, speak to the heart of natural, resourceful cooking and eating that often gets muddled in this age of shiny tools and instant meals. She shares simple, but no less valuable, lessons in beautifully crafted essays that let you know she's equally adept with words as she is with ingredients. Having trained in the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Prune, Tamar provides thoughtful recipes (which don't often read like traditional recipes) that yield tremendously satisfying results, for both stomach and soul.

Read on to find out what irks Tamar in the kitchen and for your chance to win a signed copy of her amazing book!

Please tell us a bit about your writing process and if you can draw any comparisons between cooking and writing.

Something that's true of my writing is that I find that when things are just beginning, they're really tender, like small children, and I don't think they're ready to be thrown into the world. I'm not sure there's a correlate to that in cooking. Except that I can say, for me, that I don't particularly like making a lot of decisions before I'm in the middle of cooking something. That is to say that when people ask me how much salt I add to something, or how I'm going to finish something, or even sometimes what the finished dish is, I can't often answer. I add salt by tasting, like most cooks who haven't been beaten down by the cult of the recipe. Sometimes it's only when I've roasted broccoli, or cooked beans, or roasted a chicken that I decide that I want to make a broccoli bread salad, or make a chili oil for the chicken. So, in those cases, I suppose the idea of the finished dish is a little like the early stages of writing something.

That said, I don't have very intense expectations for what I cook. I just want it to taste good. When it comes to writing, I am meticulous. Every word matters, every comma matters, the rhythm of sentences read out loud matters. The nicest compliments I've gotten about An Everlasting Meal were the ones that said that parts of it read like poetry. One of my friends tried to get me to stop fretting about my fish chapter while I was working on the first draft by reminding me that I was writing a book on cooking, not a poem. But rhythm, diction, and cadence always matter to me, regardless of what I'm writing about, or for what. I've tried to rein that in a little as I've been asked to write blog posts and do written interviews because I could spend days on something people will skim in under a minute, if that.

As a professional cook, you must have some tricks up your sleeve. What is just one for all our readers, amateur, avid and everything in between?

Taste, taste, taste. And let yourself make changes if it doesn't taste right. Lemon helps everything, so does olive oil. If it tastes dull, make a little herby salsa, and breathe deeply.

Any tips to navigate the green market this season?

Go early. No, I would say to let yourself eat the most labor intensive vegetables raw. This can even go for artichokes, which can be de-leaf-ed and then sliced thinly for a salad. For everything else, buy a big, huge bag, and then put it on the table for everyone to help themselves to -- there's nothing wrong with having everyone snap and eat their own peas, or favas. And if you want to cook whatever it is, at least get help in the preparing.

You've worked in some incredible kitchens. Can you share with us a memorable war story?

I resist the current characterization of kitchens as mega-tough places. I tend to think of anyone who dramatizes the intensity of professional cooking as someone who just handles stress badly. I did have a rather mortifying experience one day in the prep kitchen at Chez Panisse when the chef that day -- cheffing duties are split between two people, with one working each half of the week to keep from burning out -- tasting these incredibly labor intensive tomato-potato tians I'd just made -- two massive ones, each with layers and layers of peeled, mandolined potatoes, thinly sliced incredibly ripe, salted, drained tomatoes, fresh herbs, oil -- and declaring them inedibly salty. I was saved by the fact that the second chef was in that day for a meeting, tasted them to confirm or deny, because deciding that would have meant either starting over or changing the menu, and deciding that they weren't at all, but only quite savory, as cooked, caramelized tomatoes can be.

Who is your biggest food inspiration?

Fergus Henderson; my old boss [at Chez Panisse], Cal Peternell; my brother, John Adler.

Favorite kitchen utensils or gadgets?

Mortar and pestle. Everything needs pounding.

Where do you shop for kitchen supplies?

I can't remember the last time I bought a kitchen supply. I like a Japanese knife store called Hida in Berkeley, and when I'm there I buy a little paring knife, if mine is lost, which is often is. My kitchen utensils are old. I was just given a nice blender for appearing on a panel, and it's so new and shiny I've been scared to use it.

Top pantry essentials in your kitchen?

Good olive oil, kosher salt, lemons, dried chilies, red wine vinegar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, fresh or stale bread, beans.

What are some of your favorite restaurants?

Franny's, where my brother is chef; Camino in Oakland.

What are some of your most trusted cookbooks?

Simple French FoodThe Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Edna Lewis's The Taste of Country CookingNose to Tail Eating, anything by Hugh Fearnley WhittingstallBiba's Italian Kitchen.

What is your biggest kitchen pet peeve?

I really dislike when people leave something out after using it. I can't bear when someone has used jam or honey and then left it out, or left out the rest of the milk after using a little for coffee. It's so easy to put things away.

Whose pantry would you like to raid?

Alice [Waters]'s! She has the most wonderful utensils and ingredients and everything.

***

Braised Beef

Adapted from Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal

3 pounds meat from a tougher part of a happily raised animal
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt
up to 1 cup clean vegetable scraps: onion, celery, carrot, fennel. If you've got no scraps, use pieces from whole vegetables
a bundle of parsley stems, sprigs of thyme, and a bay leaf
optional: 1/2 teaspoon spices such as fennel seed, cumin, and/or coriander
8 cups stock, heated if you've got time
2 cups white or red wine or beer (or a nice rosé, in today's case), or a combination of any and the liquid from a can of tomatoes

Between a day and three hours before you want to cook the meat, salt it heavily.

If the meat has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature two hours before you want to cook it.

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Heat the oil in a pot big enough to hold the meat plus all the liquid. Add the vegetable scraps and herbs to the pot. If you're using the spices, add them, too. Once the vegetables have begun to soften, add the meat, stock, and wine-beer combination, and bring almost to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover tightly, and let cook for 3 to 4 hour in the oven (or a low simmer on the stove top) until the meat is tender enough to fall apart when it's pressed with the side of a wooden spoon. Check the pot more frequently if you're cooking different cuts of meat. Smaller pieces of meat will get fully cooked before larger or denser ones. When any is completely tender, remove it.

Strain the vegetabley liquid through a strainer. Discard the vegetables and taste the liquid. If it's too salty, add a little stock or water or some tomato paste. If you're eating the meat immediately, once it's cool enough to handle, cut it into slices or pull it into large pieces. Skim whatever fat you can off the braising liquid. Serve the meat with a little of its liquid on warm polenta, boiled vegetables, or beans.

If you have time, refrigerate the meat in its liquid overnight or for a few days. Fat will harden on its surface. Remove it and save it to cook vegetables in. Slice or tear the meat, reheat it in a little liquid, and serve as above.

*In today's application, Tamar suggests serving the beef at room temperature with olive-hazelnut tapenade, which can easily be made by finely chopping olives, pounding a little garlic with salt, adding red wine vinegar and toasted hazelnuts, and mixing in a good amount of olive oil. 

Thank you, Tamar, for fitting us into your busy schedule and letting us peek into your pantry! You can read more about Tamar on her website. She writes for The New York TimesMartha Stewart LivingGilt TasteFine Cooking, and The New Republic, among other publications.

Those in New York City-area are also invited to an event this Thursday, June 28, at Bubby's Tribeca, 120 Hudson Street. There is a free panel, whose speakers include Tamar, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Ruth Reichl, Jack Hitt, Gerry Marzorati, and Ron Silver, on the influence of MFK Fisher, at 6pm. There is a ticketed dinner at 7:30pm. More information on Bubby's site.

*Don't forget to leave a comment below for a chance to nab your very own SIGNED, paperback copy of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. You have until next Thursday, July 5, at 11:59pm/EST. We will choose the winner at random and announce the lucky winner the following day - good luck! :)

*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.