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In the Kitchen with Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs of Food52

Produced by Julianne Hilmes

Photo: James Ransom/Food52

I couldn’t live without this kitchen appliance/accessory:
Amanda Hesser: GIR silicone spatula. This is relatively new to my kitchen, but has become a trusty companion for baking. It's more rigid than most spatulas, which is actually what you need with most doughs and mixes. Also, because it's one piece of silicone there are no grooves or seams to get icky.
Merrill Stubbs: Microplane. In fact, I'm packing it to take on a trip next week! I used it for cheese, citrus, nutmeg—you name it.

The best recipe of all time is…
MS: James Beard's Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. It's one of those recipes where you think, "How could this possibly yield anything good?" and then it rocks your world. It's great with lots of crusty bread.

Are you more of a follow-the-recipe kind of cook or do you throw caution to the wind?
AH: While I can definitely go off-recipe, when I do choose to cook from a recipe, I like following it to see how the cook who wrote it thinks. 
MS: Amanda and I aren't at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but it's close. As she knows, baking can sometimes be a struggle for me because I don't like measuring things or having to be precise. I cook like my mother—a pinch of this, a handful of that, a quick rummage around the pantry...

Would you rather cook or do the cleanup?
MS: Cook 100%. Occasionally I find dishwashing meditative, but usually I just want to get it over with.

My go-to dish for entertaining is...
MS: In the winter, baked pasta with sausage ragu (like this one) and in the summer, grilled steak with arugula, parmesan, and lemon.

My dream kitchen would definitely include...
AH: A butler's pantry for lots of dishes and platters and pretty things.
MS: An AGA range.

My earliest kitchen memory is…
AH: Unfortunately, crawling around on the kitchen floor and eating our dog's food.
MS: Making a gingerbread house and meringue mushroom cookies for Christmas with my mother and my sister.

My biggest kitchen disaster was…
AH: Trying to get two pots that had suctioned together to separate. Let's just say I did something really stupid and ended up in the emergency room with 2nd degree burns. 
MS: Setting fire to an entire pot of oil while attempting to deep fry eggs (without the shells) for a dinner party. The fire fighters came within five minutes but the damage was done: The microwave above my stove melted into a puddle of plastic, creating a thin film of black soot that blanketed my entire apartment—even the inside shelf of the medicine cabinet.

My greatest kitchen/culinary success was…
MS: Deboning a quail and still keeping it intact while I was in cooking school.

My favorite/most-used cookbook is…
MS: A plastic spiral-bound community cookbook from the '70s/80s called Forum Feasts. It's equal parts horrifying and magical.

White kitchen or colorful kitchen?
AH: Not white but fairly neutral with natural materials. Let the food shine!

The best dinner parties always include…
AH: A well thought out seating chart with at least one funny guest sitting in the middle of the table.

Big kitchen island or breakfast nook table?
MS: I grew up with a breakfast nook and prefer it for seating, but I love a big island for prep.

My best kitchen advice is…
AH: Don't be afraid of salt.
MS: Remember: It's just dinner.

My biggest talent when it comes to cooking is…
MS: Fine-tuning sauces (for meats, stews, braises, etc.)

Kitchen pet peeve:
AH: Sticky spots.
MS: Utensils or equipment put back in the wrong place—there's a system, people!

Everyone who comes into my kitchen comments on…
MS: The new geometric vinyl mat on my floor.

The one thing in my kitchen I’ll never get rid of is…
AH: The bowls and platters piled with fruit and vegetables. 
MS: Silly fridge magnets.

The one thing in my kitchen I should get rid of is…
MS: Silly fridge magnets.

Every kitchen needs…
AH: To be used. An unused kitchen feels so soulless and sad, like the house isn't alive. 
MS: Natural light. I've lived in apartments with galley kitchens that back right up against a brick wall, and it's just less fun to spend time in those.