Once you start reading food blogs, you'll find that a lot of what's out there is all kind of the same. When I came upon Last Night's Dinner sometime last year, it was like a breath of fresh air. Like a lot of bloggers, Jennifer Hess writes about what she cooks, both simple pasta dishes and more complicated fare like homemade duck proscuitto. She also takes beautiful photographs. But unlike many bloggers, she doesn't include recipes, choosing to make her site more of a culinary record of what was going on in her life. She also thinks that avoiding recipes might promote a freer, more instinctive way of cooking. Recipes are great--it's how I do most of my cooking--but sometimes when I look at Jennifer's site, I come away with a nugget of an idea about flavors or presentation that I might use down the road. And in some ways, those little tricks are what make us good cooks.
1. Name, occupation, and city
Jennifer Hess; desk jockey by day, home cook and food blogger by night; Providence, RI
2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
It has been far too long for my liking. My husband and I are currently in a tiny carriage house that isn’t really set up for indoor entertaining, but we have shared some wonderful alfresco meals with our neighbors during the summer months in our shared yard. Very casual and fun, but I dream of the day we can have friends over for a proper sit-down dinner.
3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
I really love having people over for brunch – its such a fun and relaxed way to entertain. I set out a spread of bagels and home-cured salmon with all the trimmings, yogurt and seasonal fruit, a pitcher of Bloody Marys, juices and chilled Cava, then serve one or two heartier dishes: a custardy breakfast bread pudding, a frittata or Spanish tortilla, or a sausage, fennel and potato hash. And of course, you can’t forget coffee and plenty of thick-cut bacon.
4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
My husband Mike is a cocktail writer, so spirits are always in the mix, but when left to my own devices, I’m perfectly content with a nice glass of wine. For now, though, I’m off the sauce – we’re expecting a baby in September. (Ed: Congrats!)
5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
We have a large and varied music collection, so party tunes can range from old school soul to power pop, from Dylan to Cash or Sinatra, from swing to ska to classic punk.
6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?
Something classic and unfussy – roast chicken, creamy buttermilk mashed potatoes and pan gravy, or a simple pasta dish. Add a big green salad and plenty of wine, and you’re good to go.
7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
I can be pretty Type-A in the kitchen, so if I’m taking on responsibility for a meal, I typically do it myself.
8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
A well-curated pantry is a cook’s best friend. I’m absolutely okay with serving well-made store-bought items as part of a spread, especially when entertaining. As type-A as I can be in the kitchen, I’ve learned that trying to do it all is a recipe for disaster! That said, the majority of what comes out of our kitchen is homemade, especially now that Mike and I have started canning and fermenting (and since he has been making much of our bread).
9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
A cheese course. I’m not big on sweets, and I don’t like to bake, plus we have a killer cheese shop here (Farmstead in Wayland Square).
10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?
My grandma. She turns 90 in May, and she’s my biggest inspiration - the reason I started cooking. I’ve cooked with her but never for her, so it would be a real treat.
[Photo: Lauren Martin]