Canada’s own Monda Rosenberg retired as Food Editor of CHATELAINE, Canada’s largest circulation magazine, in 2009. She was responsible for the magazine’s entire award-winning Food section, including writing and recipe development of over 2,000 recipes a year and overseeing food photography. Before joining CHATELAINE, Monda Rosenberg was Food Editor of the Toronto Star for five years.
Monda has received an impressive number of food writing, styling and publishing awards including the Nabisco Food Writer’s Magazine Food Editor of the Year Award, the New York Art Directors Award for Food Styling and the General Foods Nutrition Writing Award. She has been president of the Ontario Home Economics Association and president of the Toronto Home Economics Association for a double term.
A frequent guest on national television and radio shows, Monda is the author of The New Chatelaine Cookbook, two Vitality Cookbooks, the Quickies series of 7 cookbooks and Chatelaine’s Wonder Foods.
1. Where did you learn how to cook?
I learned standing beside my grandmother and what a women she was! Her passion was food. As soon as she finished breakfast she was planning dinner. Coming from a big farming family in Tincap Ontario (close to Brockville), her life centered around the kitchen making everything from what they grew, raised or preserved. They even made their own pillows from the goose feathers and flour sacks.
Nan moved to Brockville with her fireman husband and during the war, their door was always open, Many have told me without her they would have gone hungry. After granddad passed away, fortunately she moved in with us. I was about 2 years old and she was the center of my universe.
Little did I know that the rest of the world did not get up on Saturday morning and make yeast doughnuts and then cake doughnuts, and then pies and cakes for Sunday – because, of course, you could not bake on Sundays. You went to church and then for a Sunday drive.
I was always glued to her apron. She would give me dough scraps to play with which were quickly turned into a big grey blob. She would let me stir the cake batter and I would splatter it all over the floor. The dog loved it.
We had a root cellar and another basement room where her hundreds of preserves were lined up in neat rows. I remember helping to make tomato chili sauce before I learned how to ride a bike. And all of this was much more exciting than playing hop scotch.
She made the world’s lightest dumplings. Her chicken and dumplings were renowned on Pearl Street and somehow the guys in the firehall knew when they were ready and would just happen to pop over with their bowls in hand.
While I know I’ll never come close to recreating the memorable textures of her dumplings or lard pastry, I am eternally grateful for the rewarding love of cooking she passed on to me. I never ever tire of trying a new recipe, or new idea or technique. I just hope she is looking down and knows she is still giving me joy.
2. When developing recipes, do you stick with the latest trends or do you find inspiration from foods you’ve tried?
Wow, that is a big question. I get ideas constantly – from something I hear on the radio, see on television, in newspapers, magazines, buy on the street in Shanghai and on and on. But my vocation has always been to help people gain pure pleasure from their time in the kitchen so the first criteria is – will it be appealing to the average Canadian and will it work in their lifestyle?
While I may get revved up about slow roasting a pork belly, braising ribs 12 hours, poaching lobster in butter or making a rolled salmon soufflé - these are not the kind of recipes I primarily provide for my readers.
For anyone to enjoy my work beyond reading the copy and liking the look of my pictures, they have to cook the recipe and love it. That means taking the time and money to buy the groceries and then to cook them.
So the first step in creating a recipe is that it has to have a reason for being. Just publishing another macaroni and cheese recipe is silly. You have to create a recipe that has something special to draw the reader in or there is no justification for doing it. That unique bait could be that it has just 50 calories a serving (just kidding) or can be made in 5 minutes, calls for ingredients most Canadians have in their kitchens or perhaps it contains your favourite blue cheese and on and on.
So every recipe has to instantly let the readers know what that appeal is through its title, it’s sell line and it’s photograph. They have to be drawn in.
Titles are important. Call a recipe a Chicken Stir fry and it is not going to jump off the page at you. Call it Cashew Chili Stir fry and the promise of something hot, crunchy and healthy may be enough to bring some readers in to read the sell lines – that’s the description that goes under the title.
Every recipe has to have a reason for being. The sell line lists the recipes virtues. It may tell you that the recipe is a fast knockoff of one of your favourite dishes. That it only takes 5 ingredients or mere minutes to start cooking so you can then go off and have a glass of wine while it simmers. It may be a complete meal so you don’t have to prepare a ton of other dishes. While the dish looks impressive enough that you would be proud to serve it to company, you learn in the sell line that it only takes a half hour or you can make it ahead or that the ingredients, despite the drop dead looks, are inexpensive.
Photos are critical to the recipe. When most people are deciding if they will buy a magazine, the first thing they do is leaf through the magazine. If there is a yummy looking dish, they may take the time to glance at the story and that can seal the sale.
This web site certainly understands the power of an appealing photo. Unlike some websites, when you google a recipe you are craving on this Chicken Farmer’s site - say chicken pot pie, for example - the picture of the recipe instantly pops up. (Many websites do not have pictures.) Then you instantly know what it is going to look like.
Another smart thing they do on this web site is to not feature chef’s recipes because most chefs present food in a way that can turn off the average cook – stacking food in little towers, piling a cool salad overtop a braised piece of hot chicken, topping the food with hard to find sprouts, etc. That is not the way you do food at home. When you entertain you want your offerings to have a “wow” factor but you do not have a brigade of sous chefs to help cut and stack food and a team is essential to get these mini art creations out to your guests while the food is still hot.
So another challenge in creating a recipe is that it has to look good without requiring a lot of effort. Take chicken livers, for example. We all know, they are not the world’s prettiest food but you can make them look good with a generous sprinkling of any kind of fresh herb, sliced green onion or colorful veggies.
3. What is the biggest challenge when it comes to creating a new recipe?
There are many many challenges. But the bottom line is that you want to create a recipe that will taste so good that one will want to make it again and again. Ideally it should be easy to make, not take very much time and be super healthy - low in fat, yaddy yaddy. Then if it is a weekday recipe it should call for ingredients you usually have in the house or if it is an entertaining recipe it should be ingredients you don’t have to travel across town to buy.
4. What do you enjoy the most about creating recipes?
The total intrigue of what will it taste like. As you are planning any recipe, you constantly imagine what the taste will be. You taste it in your mind. The final result, however, doesn’t always match what your mind told you it would taste like. This is one of the reasons I do recipes multi times before they meet all my criteria for publishing. I still get excited about doing a recipe, especially if I have never done a similar recipe before.
5. What are some of the best chicken recipes you ever have created?
The first recipe that jumps to mind is chicken breasts stuffed with goat’s cheese, sun dried tomatoes and fresh basil. So easy and so good. Then there is piri- piri chicken ( I love fiery), modern chicken pot pie, lime leaf chicken from my fav Thai restaurant that I have been able to duplicate and any curry dish that includes coconut milk. Need I add more?
6. Which do you prefer, white meat or dark meat and why?
Oh boy. Growing up I only ate white meat – even with the world’s best roast chicken that my grandmother used to make. Now I covet chicken thighs for their super bonus taste. But ask me what I want from a roast chicken and the answer will be white.