A Little Saffron
On her blog, Ileana documents the food journey of her and her fiancé (now husband), Danny, and all the stories behind their meals. Besides writing for A Little Saffron, Ileana pens a column for the Tampa Bay Times called In Our Kitchen, which is based on the blog, and she’s also written for the Associated Press and the Miami Herald.
I am so delighted to have Ileana Morales Valentine of A Little Saffron joining me on the show today.
On The Idea Behind Her Blog:
I think it was brewing for a long time. In college, I was studying, you could say, studying food blogs, just obsessively looking at them. Then, I moved to Tampa and met Danny and I think it took me a year just to settle on the name. It was easier to start cooking more regularly when you have someone else to cook for, so it just started from there. He was really encouraging and I just started one day.
On Being a Writer and Her Inspirations:
Growing up as a kid, I always loved to read. I was a bookworm. When I was really little it was Roald Dahl, stuff like that, and then I got into teen stuff. I’m trying to think of one writer. I’m so terrible at picking favorites, but if I focus on food writers, one person I really love is Molly of Orangette.
I think she has an incredible knack for writing about such everyday things, but it’s from her perspective and it’s so interesting. I’ll read anything she writes.
The focus on food came in the last few years. I’ve always been someone who loves to eat. I think maybe that’s where it comes from. I was a chubby middle schooler. I’ve always loved food. Then when I went to college I had to start cooking for myself. I was a vegetarian too so I really had to pay attention to what I was doing, go do groceries, and it sort of started from there.
On Her Passion for Food:
The women in my family take pride in what they cook for sure, but they have their staples that they stick to. They don’t have a ton of cookbooks the way I have. They don’t have a cookbook problem at all. They just have their tried and true recipes, which is great too because then I can request that when I go home. I could ask my grandma, “Can you make arroz aguado,” or one of the other things she makes. It’s great.
I always loved to eat but growing up we mostly stuck to Nicaraguan Latin food. I grew up in Miami so that was pretty much what we stuck to, but once I left for college, I was in Gainesville, such a vegetarian-friendly town, I tried things like tempeh and tofu. It was a whole new world.
On What Cooking Means to Her:
My mom cooked, especially when I was growing up–I’m the oldest–she cooked all the time and there was always a homemade meal on the table. It wasn’t a dinner unless it had rice. It’s not a full meal without rice.
Food was important. My mom has a ton of plates and utensils because there are constantly people over at the house and it’s constantly around the food. It’s just a ridiculous amount of food.
When Danny came to my parents’ house the first couple of times, they just overwhelmed him with food. That’s how they show their love and to show you’re welcome here.
For Danny, who grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, his dad has a garden and seems to be kind of into food. He has a little cooking journal. His mom is very focused on working out, a high protein diet, but he grew up eating things like meatloaf and stuff that to me is very foreign, but very American classics like that.
I think we both are very good eaters and are so excited about trying new things. I think the interesting balance is that he’s such a stickler for the recipe and I try to tell him all the time, “A recipe is a guideline. You can improvise. If it calls for a scallion, you can use another kind of onion-y thing,” but he just wants to stick to whatever the recipe says.
On a Kitchen Disaster:
One of the kitchen disasters that comes to mind is–this was in our first apartment together–he was making some kind of spicy pork. We had been up late. The movie There Will be Blood is tied to this because we were watching it. It’s such an intense movie. At some point, Danny just took over the meal. I was like, “Okay. I’m tired. You’re going to exactly follow the recipe. Fine.”
It’s after midnight and the thing is still not done.
We finally sit down to eat it and it’s painfully spicy. You cannot even eat it, so I think I ate a cracker and went to bed.
Turns out he should’ve bought the Guajillo chilis. He got the only ones that were available at the store, these tiny little red ones. If it’s a tiny little red pepper, that’s your first clue. Don’t put the whole thing in there.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
What are some food blogs or websites that we have to know about?
Definitely Food 52. I think it’s beautiful and smart and has so much great content on there.
Orangette. Molly Yeh. She’s just incredibly creative. She had a gummy bear sangria on there the other day. She’s just insane in a very good way. Two Red Bowls, I really like. She has beautiful photography and some very cool recipes from her background, her perspective, which is interesting. Local Milk has really beautiful photos and recipes as well.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter that make you happy?
On Instagram I follow Food 52, Jillian Guyette–she has a food blog. She has a really beautiful aesthetic. It’s very minimalist, and she cooks a lot with her fiancé, so I kind of relate to that. I like her stuff a lot.
What is something all home cooks should have in their pantry?
Canned beans. For me, I grew up eating beans and rice. That’s my comfort food. While I love beans made from scratch, I don’t always have the time to do it, and if you have a can of beans you can make dinner.
Name one ingredient you cannot live without?
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
One that I got recently that is excellent is from my friend Molly Gilbert. She blogs at Dunk and Crumble and the book is Sheet Pan Suppers, which is a really brilliant idea. I love the oven, just to throw it in there and let the oven do most of the work.
She has a lot of really smart recipes in there. There’s one where you’re using the polenta that comes in a tube, which I don’t usually buy but I got for the recipe, and you put sausage and bursted grapes in there and thyme and it’s so good and it’s on one sheet pan.
So that’s definitely one, for sure. It’s so great. Then anything Ottolenghi. His book Plenty is constantly inspiring. I don’t necessarily make all that stuff, especially not on a weeknight, but it’s a lot of inspiration in the book.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I actually love cooking to Brazilian music, like samba and stuff like that. Brazilian music is great background noise.