By Sarah McColl
Daphne Oz, bestselling cookbook author and cohost of The Chew, wants us to be as happy in the kitchen as she is, or more to the point, she wants us to be as happy in the kitchen as her most important culinary role models: Her own mother and grandmother.
“Both [my mom] and my grandmother are wild cooks, throwing a splash of this and a dash of that into pots and pans, turning out delicious dishes full of heart and flavor,” Oz writes in her newest cookbook, The Happy Cook. “Yes, they had to feed a crowd, but they made cooking exciting and personal, a liberty rather than a chore.” This philosophy is key to Oz’s dual passions of eating well and eating healthfully.
The Happy Cook, a “compendium of the real-life balancing act that goes on in my home,” is about re-envisioning cooking as a method for finding power and happiness, for women especially. So why are so many of us, so often, so unhappy in the kitchen?
“I think our problem is all in the framing,” she writes. “We see cooking as a duty to be mastered rather than seeing it as something to be enjoyed along the way, with deliciousness served at the end. The kitchen should be the place we feel most empowered to make the choices we want, experiment, and live on the edge—what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
Oz is as uncompromising in her pursuit of culinary joy as she is in her expectation of its outcome: The food she eats must be really, really delicious. These twin impulses—hedonism plus sky-high expectations—help her balance pure pleasure with still fitting into her clothes.
So what are her secrets to achieving this seemingly insurmountable task? “The compromise for me has always been to take the healthy essentials—fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, a selection of grains and beans and seeds—and flavor them with just enough of the decadent indulgences.”
Another secret? Removing any extraneous ingredients that get in the way of that healthy decadence. So when Oz makes cacio e pepe with spaghetti squash instead of actual spaghetti, wraps her her extra-crisp Korean fried chicken in a lettuce leaf instead of sandwiching it between bread, or cooks up Shredded Root Vegetable Pancakes (recipe below) with vitamin-and-fiber rich rutabagas and parsnips instead of potatoes, I’m in wholehearted agreement. Perhaps her biggest secret? Regularly baking up a batch of her decadent yet healthy Chewy Coconut Chocolate-Chip Cookies, made with whole-wheat flour, oats and shredded coconut: “The better to taste it all, my dear!” she says.
- 2 cups of shredded rutabaga, parsnips, or sweet potato (from about 2 medium vegetables), shredded on the medium holes of a box grater
- 1 medium yellow onion, grated on the medium holes of a box grater
- 3 large egg whites, beaten
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more if needed so mixture just holds together
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 cup coconut or grapeseed oil
- Flaky sea salt
- 1/4 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- Place the grated root veggies and onion in a large kitchen towel and wring out any liquid, then add them to a medium bowl.
- Stir in the egg whites. Stir in the flour, salt, and pepper to taste.
- In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium-high heat. Use a scant 1/4 cup measure to scoop pancakes into the skillet, using the bottom of the measuring cup to spread the mixture into 1/2-inch-thick patties. Cook until the first side is deeply golden brown and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the pancakes over and brown the other side, 3 to 4 minutes more.
- Transfer the pancakes to a wire rack to cool slightly. Work in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan, adding more oil to the pan as needed.
- Serve the pancakes topped with a few pinches of flaky sea salt, a dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkle of scallions.