Valentina is a recipe developer, food writer, food photographer and owner of the popular food blog, Cooking On The Weekends.
Valentina is known for celebrating the beauty of ingredients and working with whole foods to create beautiful, comforting recipes for casual entertaining.
Though she writes recipes of all sorts, with a son with Celiac Disease, Valentina offers a wide variety of gluten-free recipes. Outside the worlds of food and photography, Valentina's other passion is her family (including her two young boys, her husband and her dog, Maple.)
1. How did you discover your love for cooking? Who or what has been your biggest cooking influence?
My mom was an absolutely amazing cook who rarely, if ever, followed a recipe. She created masterpieces from left-overs – and her meals often had many “secret ingredients.”
Quite honestly, I’m not even sure she always knew what they were! Her secret ingredients could’ve been anything from a tablespoon of a dipping sauce from her favorite Thai restaurant, to a mix of odds and ends she’d had in the freezer for a month. One just never knew, but the results were always fabulous.
My mom shared the kitchen with me and was always open to me experimenting with food. Following her lead, I'd try to create my own recipes. I think that's when my interest in cooking really began, but my passion for cooking came when I was in culinary school. The possibilities of working with food seemed endless and I just loved it.
2. You've mentioned in your blog that you have too many favorite foods to list. But what are your three must-have ingredients? Except for sea urchin and okra, what are the three ingredients you would consciously avoid even if they're included in the recipe?
Onions, garlic and olive oil -- these three things are the foundation to the majority of my savory recipes. I can't imagine a day in the kitchen without them!
This might be surprising, but parsley is the number one thing I'd avoid. (GASP!) I know, it's probably a staple for many people – and I certainly have enjoyed recipes that include it — but for my own cooking, I never feel it's going to enhance the dish. Of the approximately 700 recipes on Cooking On The Weekends, not one includes parsley.
It's hard for me to think of any other ingredients, but I'd have to say prunes and Brazil nuts. I know that last one is rare, but I really don't like them!
3. In your opinion, what is your best gluten-free recipe?
There are two categories of gluten-free recipes: those that are inherently gluten-free – like salads and meat dishes – and those are are usually made with gluten, and require substitutions, like cookies and cakes. As a chef, it's in the latter group that I want to hear things like, "you'd never know this was gluten-free," and I hear that the most with my Gluten-Free Chocolate Olive Oil Bundt Cake and my Chai Spiced Pumpkin Caramel Coffee Cake. (Oops, that's two!)
4. What is your dream culinary destination?
Japan! I adore Japanese food and imagine eating in super awesome hole-in-the-wall noodle houses all day -- and then sushi all night long.
5. Have you considered writing your own cookbook? What would be the title? What kinds of recipes would you include in it?
I have considered it and still do. I have two young kids, so maybe when life slows down, and the time is right. It would be full of casual, comfort food recipes -- my favorites. The title would be something like, "Cozy, Comforting Meals for Casual Entertaining."