Expert Interview Series: Katie Zeller of Thyme for Cooking About European Cuisine, Ingredients, and Food Packaging

    Katie Zeller is an American expat eating, drinking, and enjoying the good life in France. We recently chatted with Katie to learn more about the cuisines of Europe and Asia, as well as how they are packaged and sold to consumers.

    Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to start a cooking blog?

    I've been writing my blog, Thyme for Cooking, for over 10 years. I like to cook and I like to tell stories. The blog was the logical result. I originally started with a recipe and menu planning site, and the blog was a great way of introducing individual recipes as well as telling stories about fitting in to French life.

    Could you tell us what it's like to live in Andorra?

    I loved living in Andorra - except for the traffic during August and December when the world came for shopping holidays. I walked in the mountains with a local group and played golf several times a week. The skiing is also fabulous.

    Andorra is unique in that it does most things in twos or threes. There are three languages: French, Spanish, and Catalan (the official language). There are two postal systems (French and Spanish), three school systems, two co-princes, etc. Before the euro, there were two official currencies: the French franc and Spanish peseta. It's a small country with a vibrant, active social calendar.

    We left Andorra and moved to France mainly because we wanted to live on flat land. The mountains are beautiful, but not conducive to large gardens.

    What ingredient, spice, or other food did you discover and fall in love with while living in Europe?

    Two, actually - and they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is the Catalan "pa amb tomaquet" or tomato bread: country bread, toasted, rubbed with fresh garlic, then rubbed with a fresh tomato half and drizzled with olive oil.

    The second is pan-seared foie gras: fresh foie gras, sliced about 1/3 of an inch thick, seared in a hot skillet for about 30 seconds per side.

    Since your blog focuses on "simple" recipes, could you tell us what makes a recipe no longer be simple?

    For me, a simple recipe is one with a minimum of equipment and/or easy steps. I very rarely use a food processor. A sharp knife, good skillet, and heavy casserole should allow anyone to be a great cook. And if there are too many ingredients, one can start to lose the individual flavors. Fresh ingredients simply prepared are best.

    Since you grew up in the American Midwest, could you name a European dish that would be thoroughly enjoyed by your former "neighbors" in Minnesota or Wisconsin?

    The dish that I am always asked to make when we have visitors from the U.S. is Cassoulet. Duck, sausages, and white beans, cooked slowly for hours... what's not to love? Cassoulet does not fall into the "simple" food category, but I only make it once a year.

    Living in Europe, what types of foods or grocery items are often found in packaging that is different from that seen in the U.S.?

    When we lived in Andorra, there were very few things in cans. Most things were in glass jars, like kidney beans, roasted peppers, asparagus, etc. In general, there are fewer canned items on the supermarket shelves here, and "boxed" food (i.e., Hamburger Helper-type foods) are unheard of.

    In addition to looking for fresh foods, is it also smart to seek out products with eco-friendly packaging?

    When we first moved here, there were no ready-made salad dressings, but that has changed in recent years. Fruits and vegetables are rarely packaged; everyone bags their own in biodegradable bags. And we provide our own shopping bags. I haven't seen a plastic or paper bag at a checkout in a supermarket in over 10 years.

    How do you want to expand your culinary horizons in the future?

    I've been really enjoying learning about the foods from northern Africa, in particular Morocco and Tunisia. I love the spices and the cooking methods. We recently spent a week in Marrakesh and attended a cooking class. I was inspired!

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