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What’s your earliest cooking memory? I don’t have a memory of a specific dish, but any early food-related memories take me right back to my grandparents’ kitchen in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. I grew up in that kitchen. My grandpa was half Greek, half Sicilian and did most of the cooking for our crazy, loud family, so you can imagine the smells and the sounds.
How would you characterize or describe your cooking style today? When it comes to cooking, I love simple, comforting dishes with lots of fresh ingredients. That philosophy extends to my baking as well — I think the most satisfying desserts are usually the least complicated ones.
What’s your favorite thing to cook at home? Why? My favorite dishes to prepare are the big, one-pot meals that perfume the whole house, with lots of chopping and stirring and layering of flavors. Stews and soups and that sort of thing — the kind of cooking that you can do with a glass of wine. I try to do that on the weekends, because it’s so fantastically domestic and soul-warming. But with work and two small kids, simple tends to be best when it comes to cooking at home the majority of the time. I’m always on the lookout for recipes with big flavors that can easily be converted to something kid-friendly, pulling out a portion of meat andvegetables before you throwin the big guns spices, stuff like that. I loathe feeling like a short-order cook, making two separate meals! When it comes to baking, I absolutely love simple cakes, like Bundts and pound cakes, the kind of things that you keep on the countertop and can nibble at all day long. I also have a bit of an obsession with homemade candies of all sorts.
What’s your “There’s Nothing in the Fridge" dinner? The one thing you often whip up with very few ingredients or, perhaps, very little inspiration? Breakfast for dinner! When my husband’s out of town, the kids get pancakes and eggs, and I get a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine in front of some trashy television after they go to bed. I actually get unnaturally excited about this.
What are three things you have in the pantry at all times? Dark muscovado sugar, fresh lemons and Vietnamese cinnamon.
What are some of your kitchen goals — skills you want to improve on or recipes you want to try or master? I’d really love to get into more old school baking — laminated doughs and bread baking. I just finished my third cookbook manuscript ("Real Sweet” comes out in early Spring 2015), a baking book with all natural sugars that’s more “hip” than “hippie,” and really turning the idea of baking with unrefined sugars on its head, so I’ve been consumed with coming up with creative ideas that haven’t been done to death, but sometimes it feels so good to get back to basics, the simple baking that takes an intuitive approach to get just right.
How has becoming a mother changed your experience as a home cook? There is definitely a separation between weekday and weekend cooking now — Monday through Thursday needs to be quick, simple and satisfying; Friday nights, I pray for take out; and I find myself bookmarking more involved recipes for Saturdays or Sundays, when I have to time to pull meals together without all the hurry. (And did I mention the wine drinking while cooking?)
What are some of your favorite cookbooks and/or food blogs? My cookbook collection is kind of out of hand at the moment — but my go-tos are Nigella Lawson, Donna Hay and Ina Garten, and I love the "Everyday Food" titles for weeknight meals that are easy and flavorful. "How to Eat Supper" by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift of “The Splendid Table” is basically my Bible. For baking, you can’t go wrong with anything by Alice Medrich or Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito of Brooklyn’s Baked bakery, and I also love "The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook."
Besides other cookbooks or food blogs, where do you draw inspiration for your cooking? When I’m developing baking recipes, it usually starts with a particular flavor combination that either pops into my head or something I have at a bakery or restaurant, or someplace I’ve traveled. I have boxes and folders of notes, recipes clippings, family recipes. I’m always pawing through them. And then from there I think about the textures that can best deliver those flavors — should it be a cookie, cake, something creamy or custard-y? Because I’ve done some dessert catering, I tend to think about my books in terms of having a balance of things, chocolate vs. fruit vs. spices, a little something for everyone. My next book is divided up by occasion, so I thought about the recipes in terms of how and when people would be using them, and organized them that way first. I’m always very inspired by how a certain recipe will be used, and how baking can fit into our lives in a practical, useful way.
Where else can we find you? These days, hosting Portico TV’s "Cooking Light" on YouTube (www.youtube.com/shaunasever), and doing various TV and radio appearances in San Francisco and beyond. I’m also working on developing a few television concepts. But honestly, I can most often be found with tiny people clinging to me in some manner, and trying to figure out what to make for dinner. It’s all very glamorous, really.