My Grandmother will always be my food muse
By Alexandra Burke, special to Edible DC
A dollop of Greek yogurt adds a sumptuous creaminess to a shrimp dish, a sprinkling of chopped walnuts adds a new texture and crunch to a dressing and a freshly sliced open vanilla bean adds a its distinct flavor and aroma to the sweet ending of a meal. Food experimentation is a joy ride. By day I am live the life of a real fashionista, I'm a fashion designer in New York City. By night, I am a gourmet cook.
Having grown up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., this town holds a special place in my heart. it was difficult to leave, but the NYC fashion scene beckons to an up-and-coming fashion designer and it was a move I had to make. Although my work schedule is challenging, a girl’s gotta eat.
Finding time to “design” food and share creative, yet practical dishes with friends and family is my passion. Food brings people together, and many of my fondest memories involve a holiday or special event where we gathered and enjoyed each other’s company while sharing delectable homemade food.
Growing up in a very large Italian family with a little bit of Irish/English sprinkled in, learning how to cook was not only a necessity, it was a way of life. Preparing the meal, and sneaking in a few tastes, made the kitchen the central focus. Two strong, intelligent women, my mother and my late grandmother, shared their affection for cooking and taught me the secrets of creating love and flavor in the kitchen. These exceptional cooks, with a smile on their faces, made it look easy to present hot, delicious and elaborate feasts for a large reunion of family and friends. Some of my favorites dishes include spaghetti and clams, shrimp, stuffed calamari and mushrooms, lasagna, meatballs, zucchini with tomato and onion, and broccoli rabe.
As an intern in NYC for three summers, I lived with my grandmother on Long Island. She loved to cook for me and with me and a vivid story accompanied each recipe. As my family expands, I want to continue this family tradition of cooking and story telling, just like my grandmother inspired me with her passion and the joy she found in cooking.
I launched my own blog, Burke's Bites (burkesbites.com) in March of 2015 to share my enthusiasm for cooking. My goal with the blog was to showcase some recipes that I'd drawn from family favorites, but modified my way and then some new ones that were my creations. Having just lost my beloved grandmother at the age of 91 earlier that year, what I found was that building the blog helped provide comfort from the loss of my grandmother who taught me so much about food, cooking, sewing and life. My tiny NYC apartment in Manhattan, with limited counter space and an old "Easy Bake" sized-oven did not hold me back from diving in and exploring an immensely diverse culinary world before us.
One of the main goals of Burkes Bites, was to help people who identify as "non" and "tentative" cooks. These readers may not have grown up in a cooking household, but my goal was to demonstrate that anyone can easily make wonderful, healthy meals. My recipes are not complicated and don't require a ton of ingredients. While it is important to start with a good recipe, I believe, as “cooks” gain confidence, they can learn the skill of improvisation in the kitchen and Hopefully, over time, be willing to have the courage to tinker with the recipes to satisfy their tastes. Perhaps adding a pinch of a different spice, a splash of wine or some heat with chili peppers may take a dish to the next level. Yes, recipes give us a solid baseline to start, but just like with fashion, it is how you execute or "tailor" the food, and showing your taste that will make you a great cook and have friends and family begging for more.
I'll share with you a family favorite: Linguini with Clams
Alexandra Burke lived in the Big Apple for eight years since college and has been fortunate to work for labels such as Anne Klein and Ralph Lauren. She is now designing for a well-known global brand. The Washington, DC. area remains an important place in her life, as she is often here visiting friends and family, enjoying her mother's home cooking, fresh local ingredients and the thriving restaurant scene.