She is former Executive Editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and is a contributing editor for Fine Cooking magazine. Her food articles have appeared in Food and Wine, Fine Cooking, Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Real Simple, Better Homes and Gardens, Saveur, Ladies Home Journal, and The Washington Post. She has been featured in US News and World Report. She teaches cooking classes across the country and appears frequently on TV and radio.
Diet Detective: My first question is really about how you became got started cooking? And what stimulated you to cook as a career?
Pam: I have always loved to cook — even as a child. By age 12 I could cut up and fry a chicken by myself. Soon after graduating from college I started my own catering business in the Chicago area, but my career took a turn when my husband and I moved to Connecticut. I realized I lived just 30 minutes from Cooks Magazine (which eventually morphed into Cook’s Illustrated) and applied for a job. I worked there from 1987 to 1999, starting as the test cook, leaving as executive editor.
Diet Detective: Your book, The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Eating Great, was the first focused on healthy cooking. Did you find it more difficult to write?
Pam: Although the time preceding my weight loss was difficult (I was physically and emotionally unhealthy), actually changing my lifestyle and writing this book was very satisfying — downright fun, in fact!
Diet Detective:Are there tricks to cooking healthfully — perhaps something that you discovered when creating the recipes for this book?
Pam: There are lots of tricks to cooking healthfully. Use evaporated and 2% evaporated milk in place of heavy cream. Whisk a little cornstarch dissolved in water rather than butter into pan sauces to give them body. Substitute one egg and 1/4 cup of liquid egg whites for 2 whole eggs in omelets and crustless quiches. Drizzle or sprinkle sweeteners over foods rather than stirring them in. (They taste sweeter and you can get away with using less.)
Diet Detective: Who and what influenced the way you think about food?
Pam: I grew up in the south among great Southern cooks — especially my mom, my grandmother, Annie, and my Aunt Juliaette. I also learned how to eat and drink well from my French friends, Serge and Betty Beccari.
Diet Detective: If you could eat one unhealthy food (candy, cakes, etc..) whenever you wanted without gaining weight, what would it be?
Pam: Potato chips.
Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy breakfast?
Pam: A poached egg (I can make one in the microwave in just 2 1/2 minutes) on whole-wheat toast with a half-ounce or so of melted thin-sliced extra-sharp cheddar cheese.
Diet Detective: What’s in your refrigerator and pantry right now?
Pam: Olive oil, vinegar, canned crushed tomatoes, canned beans, tuna, capers, olives, evaporated milk (2% and regular), whole-wheat pasta, rice, nuts, dried fruit, cookies, onions, garlic, bananas, apples, strawberries, grapes, low-sugar jams, peanut butter, Dijon mustard, low-fat mayonnaise, honey, brown sugar, bread and white whole-wheat flour, pizza crusts, canned pasteurized crab meat, shrimp, chicken breasts, turkey sausage, feta, goat, sharp cheddar, parmesan, yogurt, butter, asparagus, greens beans, cherry tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, carrots, celery, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, lemons.
I have all kinds of weird things in my fridge, freezer and pantry. My friend says my kitchen is like Mary Poppins’ purse. If you ask for it, I’ve generally got it.
Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient? What’s the one thing you’d suggest people keep in their kitchen if they want to cook healthy meals?
Pam: I’m not sure you can reduce healthy eating to one ingredient, but I love all the prepared ingredients that make it so easy for us to make a delicious, easy, main-course salad — washed baby greens, rotisserie chicken, cooked shrimp, grape tomatoes, crumbled cheese, roasted nuts, boiled eggs, canned beans, dried fruits, cooked vegetables, pitted olives. There really is no excuse for not making a flavorful, colorful lunch salad.
Diet Detective: What’s the one kitchen utensil or tool that you can’t live without?
Pam: Silicone mats keep baked good like pizza and cookies from sticking. More importantly, they keep the pan clean enough so I don’t usually have to wash them. The microplane makes it easy to add finely grated citrus zests (high flavor) to pastas, pan sauces, and baked goods. The more flavorful the food, the more satisfied you are, and the less likely you are to over eat.
Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food?
Pam: One of my favorite “perfect” foods is white whole-wheat flour. It gives foods the look, texture and flavor of white flour with all the health benefits of whole wheat.
Diet Detective: Who do you respect most and why?
Pam: I respect anyone who’s in the process of waking up to life because their lives are generally guided by love rather than fear.
Diet Detective: What do you do to reduce stress/relax/center your mind? Do you participate in an organized relaxation activity such as yoga, meditation or tai chi?
Pam: I meditate for 20 minutes each morning. Would love to do it twice a day, but I’m not there yet.
Diet Detective: Do you have a Calorie Bargain?
Pam: Roasted nuts satisfy my hunger quickly and keep me from savory junk food’s lure.
Diet Detective: What was your worst summer job?
Pam: Waitress at a seafood buffet restaurant on Panama City Beach, FL.
Diet Detective: What did you want to be at the age of 5? (as far as a career)?
Pam: I didn’t have a clue, but I remember constructing a little restaurant under our redwood picnic table. My friends would sidle up to the bench, and I’d serve them a plastic steak, chicken leg, ear of corn — whatever was fresh and the chef felt like creating that day!