If you're a mother who loves to cook but struggles with how to fit time in the kitchen on your daily agenda, you might want to get to know Kelsey Banfield a little better. Banfield, who blogs at The Naptime Chef has a just-released cookbook on the shelves that focuses on techniques like batch cooking, staged preparation, and creative reuse of leftovers to ease the process of not just cooking, but cooking well. The Naptime Chef: Fitting Great Food Into Family Life is a solid resource for those facing the time-to-cook challenge. I caught up with Banfield this week about food, motherhood, and the importance of finding a rhythm in the kitchen.
GG: What's the one piece of advice you'd give a new mother trying to feed herself and her family?
KB: Give yourself a break and allow yourself the pleasure of a good meal. Good food and good cooking is nourishing for both the body and soul, especially during the chaos of life with an infant. A lot of literature I see contains so many reductive solutions about how to make meals when you are racing against a clock. The language is all about scrambling to feed kids and getting healthy meals with x number of vitamins on the table. I say, if you enjoyed cooking before you had kids, you can enjoy cooking after they are born. Find the down time in the day that works for you and carve it out to be your time in the kitchen. Prepare things ahead of time and bring back that feeling of cooking enjoyment into your life. I believe that cooking for your family should never, ever be considered a chore. Don't sweat the small stuff, just have fun.
What three pieces of kitchen equipment could you absolutely not live without as you're trying to keep up your Naptime Chef routine?
A good set of sharp knives is key. I have a very basic knife set and I use them every single day. These are especially handy when I buy whole fruits and vegetables, because good knives make it easy to chop them quickly. It also means I save money because whole foods are cheaper to buy. I also love my stand mixer because I use it to bake, make pasta (with the attachment), and I just started exploring grinding my own meat. Finally, my dutch oven is an essential. I use it for pretty much everything and it always works beautifully.
How much meal planning goes into your average week of cooking?
I actually plan less than you might think. I think planning an entire menu seven days in advance is very stressful. I usually start with a big meal on Sunday that I know will give me good leftovers for Monday. On Tuesday I talk with my daughter about what she is in the mood for and try and involve her in a little meal preparation. By mid-week we have our farmer's market, and I inevitably draw inspiration from something I pick up. I am also constantly reading food blogs, newspaper, and magazines, so sometimes I tab something I feel compelled to make immediately because it either looks good or I have all the ingredients in my pantry!
What recipes in the cookbook would you particularly recommend for beginner Naptime Chefs who might be feeling a little overwhelmed?
It is important to start with manageable recipes when you are beginning to cook during naptime. Something like the Baked Chicken Thighs is super simple and can give you a good gauge on how long it takes you to mix a simple sauce and marinate meat. It was my go-to meal when I had an infant, because it was impossible to screw up no matter how sleep-deprived I was and always tasted great. A simple batch of pesto also goes a long way. It can be used for so many things and only requires a food processor or mini-chopper to make. For a vegetable, I'd recommend simple roasted carrots. They can be served alongside the chicken and round out a healthy meal!
And what recipes would you particularly recommend for more advanced cooks trying to get their mojo back in the kitchen after losing their rhythm?
To reclaim your mojo, I think it is fun to make something big that seems complicated but isn't. A roast chicken or pulled pork in the dutch oven are great meals that are surprisingly easy to make and provide a big sense of accomplishment. A hearty soup like Chicken Sausage Tortellini is also a great one. The Artichoke Lasagna is a personal favorite and takes a little more skill with the sauce. People always go crazy for it and it will last for at least one or two meals. The Pastitso is another good one because it takes several steps but makes the most amazing meal when it is complete!
On nights when all plans have gone out the window and nothing's going right, what is your go-to meal?
In the summer it is gazpacho with grilled chicken. The gazpacho is a personal favorite because I just add stuff to the blender until it is made. When I have no time I often mine the freezer for frozen meatballs and frozen soups.
What was it like to transition from writing a blog to writing a cookbook? What about the process was unexpected?
On my blog, I write what I am feeling that day. The book was much more about broad strokes. I also had to balance the recipes so the book had even amounts of everything. With my blog, I write what I am cooking, but producing a book was about cooking what I was writing. It took a little while to get into a rhythm of thinking ahead and adjusting to a rigorous testing schedule.
What has surprised you the most about cooking for your daughter?
I never thought much about having two parents who loved to cook. It was always just the way it had been for me. But now I notice my daughter sees how much I love cooking and often joins me in the kitchen. It is gratifying for me to know she will grow up with the same feelings of happiness and enjoyment around food. I also find that I enjoy cooking new things just for her to try. I love that she already understands the perfect flavor of a crisp apple or carrot straight from the garden. I look forward to a lifetime of exploring these pleasures with her.
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