Just in time for Mother's Day, Trish Magwood, author of the prestigious James Beard award-winning cookbook Dish Entertains, has published a new book of family recipes, titled In my Mother's Kitchen: Three Generations of Simple, Delicious Family Food.
The Toronto food and lifestyle consultant is perhaps most well known as the cheery host of the Food Network show Party Dish, which offers guidance on how to entertain with style and ease. For her latest book, she has mined her own collection of comfort food favourites to create a compilation of no-fuss dishes made for sharing around the kitchen table, from oven-baked French toast to her Aunt Nancy's dry rub ribs.
Ms. Magwood, who is a mother of three children aged 7, 5 and 2, shares with The Globe and Mail a few of the lessons she's gleaned from the kitchen counters of her family's matriarchs.
What culinary secrets or advice did your mother pass on to you?
I've got three brothers, so there were a lot of mouths to feed. And somehow my mom always managed to do fabulous, albeit simple, home-cooked meals. One thing I picked up is stick to what you know and stick to what you like.
I always think of behavioural things when I think of my mother's advice. It's kind of old-fashioned bribery and I do it with my children: If you eat your dinner, you'll always get dessert. We always had dessert as that low-hanging fruit, and so you could push through the green beans or the peas because you knew there was going to be a fabulous dessert.
What about actual cooking tips?
Bacon fat was always a big one: Don't throw out the bacon fat. This comes from my grandmother and I mean, bacon has made a major resurgence - it's now in our chocolate and in with our coffee - but I mean the use of bacon fat in cooking. So hold on to your bacon fat, keep it in the fridge because you can use it in the browning of your meat. Or there's a salad I've done in the cookbook called Dutch lettuce that's actually a wilted salad that uses warm bacon fat. Everything in moderation.
Did you ever witness your mom or grandmothers perform any kitchen disasters?
There's a lot of sort of arguing and fighting for who's the boss of the kitchen. Recently at Easter, we all got together and it's hard to know who's in charge because there's my grandmother, my mom, my aunt, my three sister-in-laws and me. (You'll notice I didn't list my brothers or my husband or my father. They steer clear.) But it's always clear my mom's the boss. And so when she's cooking, we sort of revert to being 16 and we step out. I think that's her way of making sure there's no kitchen disasters. She controls what's going on in the kitchen.
But probably my biggest witness of a public kitchen disaster? I was staging with Julia Child when I was in chefs' school in New York in '97, and she was coming for what ended up being her final media tour in New York. She was, you know, quite old at the time and she was a very tall woman. She was doing something - I forget, it was a roast, it was something big and heavy - and she wouldn't let me help her and she lifted it out of the oven and dropped it. She sort of picked it up and, as she says in all of her books: Whatever happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen. There's always disasters that happen in the kitchen but they're usually kept a secret. My mother and grandmothers must have kept disasters from me because none springs to mind.
What's your favourite mom-made meal?
Christmas dinner. Isn't that boring? Mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing. I don't know if it's all the memories and all the emotions that are attached to Christmas, or if it's the dinner itself, but I always have seconds and I rarely have second helpings for dinner. My mom and my dad sort of wrestle the bird together. My mom and my aunt argue over who makes the best stuffing, and my grandmother makes the cranberry sauce. It's very collaborative.
What are your plans for this Mother's Day?
It's always a tricky balance. I'm a mother of three, and then I have my mother and my grandmother, so it's like who trumps?
I'm happy if the kids have done homemade cards and I get a really good cup of coffee brought to me, and maybe a sweet treat like a chocolate croissant.
In terms of what we'd typically do for my mom is we would get together for dinner, and at the end of the day, she'd probably end up making it. I don't think mothers ever really get a day off, ever. And if they do, I want to know the secret.
This interview has been condensed and edited.