Most people remember their grandmother’s recipe book or box, stuffed full of slips of paper with tried-and-true recipes jotted down by hand, sometimes decorated with dried-on cookie batter or a grease stain. It sat in the kitchen. It was an encyclopedia of family culinary knowledge.
As memorable as those collections were, however, people today often don’t bother to write recipes down by hand. That’s why home chef and blogger Jenn Knapp, 36, who runs the cooking website My Salty Kitchen, has her site in the first place: to create a digital recipe book for her family. Knapp, a Chelsea-based stay-at-home mom to children Sophie, 6, and Maverick, 4, has spent the past 15 years teaching herself to cook, and has now amassed enough time-tested recipes to offer a wide array of entrees, appetizers and desserts for any occasion. The Bangor Daily News asked her about her food, her family and her love of salt, and she also shared three of her favorite recipes.
When did you start learning to cook?
It was pretty much right around when I became an adult. I had no background in food. My family didn’t teach me how to do it. I just jumped in and made lots of mistakes. I definitely learned by doing. It’s a lot of trial and error. It’s a science experiment.
Why did you start My Salty Kitchen, and what are you going for with it?
I cook for my kids and my friends and family constantly. It’s my favorite thing to do. They’d always tell me I should have a site or write a cookbook, but for me, it was more about having a digital recipe book for my kids or my grandkids. I do all this work, so I might as well document it. Plus, my best friend is a web designer. I want it to first and foremost be relatable and helpful. If you want to read about me and my family, you can read the blog. If you want recipes that I know are good, you can go straight to the recipes. I keep it simple and easy. People hear the world “galette” and think it’s so fancy and French, but it’s really just a free-form pie. It’s super easy. Cooking should be fun. My aim is to make it that way.
Why the name “My Salty Kitchen”?
I have a major salt tooth. Way more than sweet. Even my desserts have a savory element. And it’s also a play on words, but I think I’m pretty salty. I don’t mince words. I say things how they are. When you come into my kitchen, you’re going to hear curse words. I have a sailor’s mouth. So with the combination of my love of salt and my salty nature, it seemed right … And as it progresses, I’m going to try to keep it very seasonal.
Are your kids adventurous eaters? What do you make that they love?
My kids probably like more stuff than the average kid. They’ll eat steamed artichokes. My daughter loves goat cheese and feta. But they also love things like homemade marinara sauce and meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs are always a big hit. When I made the beef stew [the recipe for which is included here], I put mushrooms in it. She’d heard over and over from her father that mushrooms are gross, but when I made the stew I didn’t tell her, and she loved it. I think kids are a lot more likely to try new things if they are involved in the process.
5 cups mushrooms, sliced thin (I used a mix of Maitake and Chicken of the Wood)
1 shallot, minced
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
⅓ cup chopped walnuts
6 sage leaves
salt and pepper
Pie dough, enough for one crust (homemade, or buy premade at store)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and melt butter with the olive oil. When the butter’s melted, add the pepper flakes and shallots and cook until softened. Add mushrooms and cook until browned, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a plate and to cool for a few minutes.
Heat a tablespoon of butter in the skillet and fry the sage leaves for about 30 seconds, until crisp. Set aside.
Roll out the pie dough to about ⅛-inch thick and lay out the round on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Mix the mushrooms with half the chopped walnuts and spread on the pie dough, leaving a 1½-inch edge. Fold the extra dough over the mushroom mixture, pleating as needed to create a circular shape.
Beat the egg with a dash of water and brush all over the galette. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the pastry is browned. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a plate if serving immediately or to a cooling rack if serving later. Scatter with fried sage leaves and the remaining walnuts.
½ pound bacon, cut with kitchen scissors
3 pounds lean stew meat, cut into small cubes
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
10-15 fingerling potatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon dried thyme
4 bay leaves
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups dry red wine
3-4 cups beef broth
fresh flat leaf parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Pat meat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Season generously with salt and pepper and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is beginning to crisp. Remove bacon, and set aside.
When the bacon fat is very hot, but not quite smoking, place about 1/4 of the meat into it, browning quickly on all sides, taking care not to crowd or it will just steam the meat. Continue cooking the meat in this way, until it is all browned, removing the meat from the pan each time and setting it aside.
Cook the mushrooms in the bacon fat until browned, about 5-10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Add the vegetables to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes, or until slightly tender. Add tomato paste, bay leaves, and thyme and cook for about a minute.
Return the bacon, beef and mushrooms to the pan and sprinkle on the flour, salt and pepper and toss to coat.
Add the wine and broth and bring to a boil. Place in the oven and cook for 2½-3 hours. Garnish with chopped parsley, serve with warm, crusty bread.
1 box puff pastry
fig jam (see recipe)
dark chocolate chocolate sauce
Thaw puff pastry according to directions and place a thin layer of fig jam, leaving ¼-inch border. Drizzle chocolate sauce over the jam. Roll both sides of pastry toward the center until both sides meet. With a sharp knife, make ½-inch cuts across the roll and place slices cut side down on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Allow to cool completely on pan. Transfer to a serving platter.
12 fresh figs quartered
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 small piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 tablespoons blackberry brandy (or use apple juice)
Juice of ½ a lemon
Place all ingredients except for lemon juice into sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Allow mixture to cool, remove ginger, add lemon juice, and puree in a food processor.
Note: if you cannot find fresh figs, you can use dried figs. Simply reconstitute them by letting them soak in some hot water for a few minutes until they plump up.