While we were in New York over New Year’s we had the chance to do an interview with Julia Turshen of Small Victories Cookbook and pry deeper into her cooking process as well as ask our own kitchen-related questions. Small Victories (released in Fall 2016) is a culmination of years of experience in the kitchen that began when Julia was a child. Julia is also well known as the co-author of Gwenyth Paltrow’s popular cookbook, It’s All Good, and for writing hundreds of recipes for other award winning cookbooks. It was Julia’s recipes in It’s All Good that transformed our cooking skills from moderate to excellent. Julia has a way of combining surprising tastes and textures to create a delicious meal. Her recipes are not only simple, but the ingredients are easy to find! No crawling on the floor in Whole Foods to find obscure products! We suspected that Julia is as sweet as her recipes and we were right. After the interview you’ll find two of Her Vancouver’s favourite recipes from Small Victories; so read, cook, bake and enjoy!
How would you describe your cooking philosophy in a few words?
I would say I cook really simple food that is not afraid of big flavor. All the recipes I write are recipes you could make successfully at home. I have the home cook in mind because that is who I am.
I find that with some recipes, the instructions are complicated and extensive and then the portions are really small. What I find with your recipes are they make enough and than some. I’m feeding three little boys for Pete’s sake! I need large portions.
I’m so glad. I definitely like abundance. I love leftovers.
What’s the best mistake you’ve made while cooking?
I make tons! The best mistake? Any time I forget about something I’m roasting. That’s usually great because I can be a little impatient but I love when things are brown and crispy: all those wonderful things. So anytime I’m doing a few too many things at once and forget about something in the oven that usually turns out for the best.
As a cook do you find it frustrating trying to prepare a meal because of all the food sensitivities people have? What would you say would be the best recipe in Small Victories for those suffering with dairy and gluten allergies?
I don’t find that frustrating at all. My goal when I’m cooking for people is that everyone feels taken care of and happy. Especially if something is going to cause them discomfort. The first recipe that comes too mind when you have people coming for dinner if you can’t have gluten and dairy is the roast chicken recipe. It’s really, really simple. So simple I wasn’t actually going to include it. But I think that the recipe has a lot of really helpful small victories, techniques that give you this wonderful result. It’s such a simple recipe but so good: A perfect roast chicken using just rosemary, fennel and lemon. It’s totally good for you. No extra fat, or dairy or gluten. Everyone loves it and you can throw extra vegetables in the pan, make a salad and call it a day.
Yeah, I’ve done the recipe and my husband really loved it. It’s the fennel I love. Actually you kind of taught me how to make a roast chicken, so thank-you!
Your welcome! That makes me so happy!
I grew up eating chicken breasts from Costco so to no longer be intimidated by a whole chicken and than learning how to make broth and soups with the leftovers: It’s a game-changer.
Yeah it’s a meal that keeps on giving. It’s very empowering to roast a whole chicken if you haven’t spent that much time in the kitchen. It’s a really great place to start.
After that I did my first turkey. I find that about your recipes. They are a confidence boost for sure.
That’s great to hear because that’s definitely the goal.
What would you say is your favourite new food trend or product if you have one?
I’m really not trendy at all. I like lots of old things. My wife Grace has Type One diabetes so we try to eat really healthfully. We pay a lot of attention to carbs and that kind of stuff and a friend of ours suggested these almond tortillas which at first I was like,‘How would that even work?’ But they’re great. Grace has them almost every day. That’s definitely, I think, a newer food on the market. It’s the Siete brand, made from almond flour. They’re not as pliable as a flour or corn tortilla but they get really crispy if you heat them up in a skillet.
What do you think about switching up ingredients in a recipe? For example a lot of people are scared of using refined sugar so they’re switching in coconut sugar. Do you feel like that really messes up a recipe?
I think in general recipes are way more flexible than those cookbooks would lead you to believe and that’s why there are all those spin-off recipes in Small Victories, all the variations, because I think you can really successfully change a lot of ingredients or end up with something totally different as well. That’s what I love about cooking. I think specifically with sugar in baking recipes it’s slightly trickier just because the chemistry of sugar, fat and whatever is binding it together like flour. Whatever you’re using, you start to change those ratios, you can end up with a different result. It can be done successfully but not in a free handed style. I was mentioning the way we eat in our home, we try not to eat any sugar, and if we do, a tiny bit of coconut sugar. I think in lots of recipes sugar can be reduced significantly before you even have to consider a switch. A lot of things can turn out really well with just less sugar. It’s a little hard when you start substituting things that come in a liquid form: Maple syrup, honey, agave because you’re introducing more liquid into your recipe. It can totally be done; you just have to do it with a bit of understanding of baking chemistry. That’s why we cook recipes over and over.
I’ve had bad experiments substituting refined sugar with liquid sweeteners for sure. However, I made your raspberry bun recipe and I switched the refined sugar with coconut sugar and it was fine.
Yeah. Something with just a little like that would be fine. In general any recipe with all-purpose white flour, I’ve found almost always you can substitute at least half of it with whole wheat and whole grain flour without very much disruption. That’s also a nice thing to be able to do.
Another trend right now is a lot of people do not want to use canola oil, so when a recipe is calling for neutral oil what else can you use besides canola?
I definitely use it sometimes but I think a really good alternative is grapeseed oil. It’s super neutral. It doesn’t have that flavor like you get from olive or coconut oil. It’s really nice for cooking and baking because it has a high smoking point so you can get it really hot without having any issues with the flavor. It can be a little bit more expensive which is why I don’t think you see it called for as often but it’s a really good option.
Are you the main cook at your house?
We both cook a lot. Grace cooks breakfast pretty much every day. We take turns making other meals. I maybe cook a little bit more but she also takes care of the pets a little more than I do.
Do you have a favourite crowd pleasing recipe for large gatherings?
The turkey and ricotta meatballs in Small Victories. I think judging from my friends and family and Instagram they are the most popular recipe in the book because they’re so great for a crowd, it’s already a big portion, you can easily double it or triple it and you can do them a few days ahead and they reheat. Everyone loves them, kids love them, adults love them, they’re gluten free, you can make a vegetable, a big salad or pasta to go with. We eat them all the time next to cooked greens. They’re obviously delicious on spaghetti. You can please a lot of people of all different needs.
I’ve made them too. My kids love them.
How old are your boys?
Seven, five and three. That they’re loving them is a big deal, I’ve got some pickiness happening. Same with the bun recipe. I did a variation where I used dark chocolate and rosemary in the bun with a bit of olive oil and they loved it.
Oh that sounds good. That sounds amazing! I want to try that!
I did a savoury version which was one of the spinoffs you had as well. It was cool for them too because it was like a little science experiment, seeing how the yeast works because I had never used yeast before. It was a family affair which is always fun in the kitchen.
Oh that’s awesome. I love hearing that.
Since we’re in NYC what’s your favourite place to eat? We’re staying in Brooklyn.
That is a very hard question! I have a long list. I think the best food in Brooklyn is a slice of Pizza from Di Fara’s Pizzeria. You sometimes have to wait in a long line for it but I think it’s the best. It’s not a fancy restaurant by any means. There are a few tables there but it’s not really a sit-down place. It’s amazing pizza and it’s been in the family for decades. It’s very special. I like a lot of old school places in New York. We live in upstate New York now so when I am in the city I’m not really interested in going to a new place. I want to go to a place I’ve been going to my whole life.
Now that you’re up state are you able to grow any of your own produce?
We were actually just talking about that this morning; being excited for when spring comes. We don’t have a full-blown garden but we have planters with different vegetables and herbs so last summer we had a really good time doing that. We’ll keep that going.
Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
I’m working on getting ready to do another book. I’m always sort of pitching other magazine articles and stuff like that because books take a really long time. It’s nice to see something a little bit sooner. I’m always experimenting with cooking and writing stuff down.
Thanks Julia for chatting with Her Vancouver! Of course we can’t talk about an amazing cookbook and send you away drooling with no recipex to test immediately! Below find Julia’s Turkey Ricotta Meatball and Afternoon Cake recipes.
Turkey + Ricotta Meatballs
SERVES 8, OR 4 WITH LOTS OF LEFTOVERS (MAKES ABOUT 30 MEATBALLS)
Two 28-oz [794-g] cans whole peeled tomatoes
7 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves; 4 thinly sliced,
1 cup [40 g] fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 cup [40 g] fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 ½ cups [300 g] fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup [50 g] finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 lb [900 g] ground turkey (preferably dark meat), at room temperature
Pour the contents of the tomato cans into a large bowl (set the cans aside) and crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job, and a very good one for children). Rinse one of the cans with about ¼ cup [60 ml] water, pour it into the second can and swish it around to get all the excess tomato out of the cans, and then pour the water into the tomato bowl.
In a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat, warm 3 Tbsp of the olive oil, add the sliced garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and a very large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced and has lost any tin-can taste, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425°F [220°C]. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle
2 Tbsp olive oil on the baking sheet and use your hands to rub it over the entire surface of the sheet. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the minced garlic, basil, parsley, ricotta, Parmesan, turkey, and
1 Tbsp salt. Blend everything together gently but authoritatively with your hands (they’re the best tool for the job) until well mixed. Then, use your hands to form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs; the mixture will be sticky, so wet your hands with a bit of water to help prevent the meat from sticking to them. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet as you form them (it’s okay if they are touching a little). Drizzle the meatballs with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil and roast until they’re browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to the simmering sauce (discard whatever juice and fat is left on the baking sheet). Cook the meatballs for 10 minutes in the sauce (they can be left in the gently simmering sauce for up to 1 hour) and serve.
FOR SAUSAGE AND RICOTTA MEATBALLS, instead of ground turkey, use 2 lb [910 g] of your favorite sausage meat. Just take it out of its casings and proceed as directed. I like using half sweet and half spicy Italian sausage.
FOR A SLIGHTLY MOROCCAN RIFF, use ground lamb instead of turkey and finely crumbled feta instead of Parmesan. Leave out the ricotta. Add a handful each of toasted pine nuts and raisins to the mixture, and use mint instead of basil. Add a cinnamon stick to the tomato sauce (remove it before serving the meatballs).
MAKES ONE 8-IN [20-CM] CAKE
1 cup [120 g] all-purpose flour
½ cup [50 g] finely ground nuts (see Note)
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
½ cup [120 ml] extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup [100 g] granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 orange, plus ¼ cup [60 ml] fresh orange juice
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat your oven to 350°F [180°C]. Use your hands to butter the bottom and sides of an 8-in[20-cm] cake pan, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. For good measure, butter the parchment paper. Set the pan aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground nuts, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until the whites and yolks are fully combined. Add the olive oil and granulated sugar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved (test by rubbing some of the mixture between two fingers). Whisk in the vanilla, orange zest, and orange juice. Whisk in the flour mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, being sure to use a rubber spatula to get it all out of the bowl. Hold the pan just a little bit above the counter and then drop it on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles.
Bake until the cake is beautifully golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the cake, still in its pan, to a wire rack and let it cool completely. Once cool, use a dinner knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan and invert it onto your work surface (you might need to give the pan a little whack). Peel off and discard the parchment. Invert the cake one more time onto a serving platter so the flat side is down and the domed side is up.
Just before serving, dust the cake with powdered sugar.
note: Any nut works well in this cake. To make ground nuts, just put whichever type of nut you’d like (I’ve made this cake successfully with walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios, and am sure pecans and pine nuts would also be great) in the food processor and blitz until they’re as fine as cornmeal. Or use a mortar and pestle. Or purchase ground nuts, which often go by the name “meal” or “flour” as in “almond meal” or “almond flour.” For a nut-free cake, simply omit the ground nuts and add an additional ½ cup [60 g] flour.
Feel free to SUBSTITUTE ANY CITRUS in place of the orange. Clementine, tangerine, blood orange, and grapefruit zest all work very well.
FOR A LEMON–POPPY SEED CAKE, use lemon zest and juice instead of orange and add 1 Tbsp poppy seeds to the batter.
If you’re using ground almonds, add ½ tsp ALMOND EXTRACT to the batter for a more intense almond flavor.
Just before you put the cake in the oven, dot the top with ¼ cup [80 g] RASPBERRY JAM and use a fork or the tip of a paring knife to swirl in the jam.