One of the most interesting experiences I had at BlogHer ’12 was a chance to interview Karen Berner, the Food Editor of Taste of Home magazine. Published by Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home showcases the food and recipes of home cooks like you and me. To that I say, “Right on!” I love it when home cooks get their due. The magazine’s readers submit over 40,000 of their best original recipes every year and a team of professional cooks test hundreds of those recipes a week in their test kitchens. Only finest recipes make it into the pages of the magazine.
Now, Taste of Home has published a new cookbook of over 1400 of their Best Loved Recipes. This impressive tome is chock-full of recipes for every occasion from weeknight dinners to holiday celebrations and naturally tons of desserts! Every recipe is credited to the home cook who submitted it and contains a little anecdote about the recipe — its inspiration or what makes it special. The book is also full of helpful tips from how to chop a red pepper to how to prepare a cake pan. It’s a great resource for cooks of all skill levels.
As the Food Editor of Taste of Home, Karen Berner is professionally-trained chef who is immersed in the world of the home cook. Because I am a passionate home cook who always wonders what secrets the professionals are hiding from us, I was excited to have a chance to sit down with Karen to hear about the new cookbook and how she views us amateurs.
One of my first questions to Karen was how she, as a professional, feels home cooks are doing. She said, very kindly, that she thinks that home cooks don’t give themselves enough credit. (I think that this home cook gives herself enough credit, by the way. But I still liked hearing that.) While we may not use all the technical terms, home cooks use the same techniques, from braising to roasting, that professional chefs use in restaurant kitchens. (I would just point out that the professional chefs are doing those techniques with way better equipment, but okay.)
I also asked Karen what she says to amateur cooks who express interest in becoming professionals themselves (ahem). She pointed out that cooking professionally is a lot different than cooking at home. (That’s true. I realized that when I read Michael Ruhlman’s book The Making of a Chef and found out that at the Culinary Institute of America the students have to take something called “Culinary Math.” Yikes. That was enough to dissuade me.) Karen pointed out that the life of a restaurant chef is a hard one — long hours and very physically demanding work. But she did note that there are many different paths a professionally trained chef can take, such as working in a test kitchen, for example. (I could do that job! Taste of Home has a test kitchen very near me in Milwaukee, WI. I may just show up on their door one day….)
With my dreams of a professional cooking career dashed, I set my sights a little lower and asked Karen about how a home cook can get one of his or her recipes published in Taste of Home. She said that one of things that grabs their attention in the test kitchen is a great story behind the recipe. They also look for the categories that resonate with their readers, such as easy weeknight dinners, great potluck dishes, and special holiday recipes.
I also asked Karen what trends she had seen in her years at the magazine and she answered that the variety of ingredients that people are cooking with has expanded tremendously in recent years with the growing popularity of farmers’ markets and high end grocery stores like Whole Foods. I think that is great news. I know that experimenting with new and unfamiliar ingredients is one of my favorite things to do as a cook. The cookbook reflects that trend, although the editors do ensure that all of the recipes contain ingredients accessible to the average cook. Karen also said that while the magazine’s readers express interest in cooking healthfully, they still receive tons of dessert recipes every year. That doesn’t surprise me at all. What home cook doesn’t love to show off with an amazing dessert?
All my jokes about wanting to be a professional chef aside, I think that home cooks like my mother and my grandmothers before me, and many of my friends, are doing amazing things in kitchens all across this country. My desire to bring attention to the talents of some of these cooks is what led me to co-found the Chicago Food Swap last year with one of the best home cooks I know: Vanessa Druckman. I think it is terrific that Best Loved Recipes is a cookbook devoted to giving home cooks their due. I can’t wait to start making some of the amazing recipes in this book.
Full disclosure time: I received a review copy of Best Loved Recipes free of charge. I was not asked to write about the book nor have I received any compensation for doing so. As always, all opinions expressed are entirely my own. For more information, visit Taste of Home on Facebook or Twitter. You can also follow Karen Berner on Twitter.