Ever feel bad about giving into your food cravings? Fear not, says Jessica Seinfeld, whose most recent best-selling cookbook, Food Swings, was created for those who like to toe the line between virtue and vice. Here, the self-taught culinarian and mom to three kids with comedy great Jerry Seinfeld, dishes on dinner rituals, wine intake, and how a good chocolate cake is one of life's not-to-be-missed pleasures.
InStyle: How are you feeling with the reaction that Food Swings has gotten so far? It’s gone straight to the top!
Jessica Seinfeld: I’ve done four cookbooks and all four have ended up as best sellers on the New York Times so that's really nice! I think people feel that they can rely on me and that I'm not a complete hack. I mean I am a hack, but I've also been cooking for over 30 years so it's something I know how to do very well. It's also something that I do out of necessity and not because I absolutely love it. I don't spend inordinate amounts of time studying how to cook, or trying to get the lingo right, or making it a more sophisticated pursuit. I just try to make it doable for busy people with complicated lives.
I think a lot of people can relate to the concept of good versus bad eating habits.
I do think people — including myself — struggle with food and what we want to eat versus what we should eat. I'm active on social media and am constantly seeing wellness images that are juxtaposed with really indulgent foods. One of my best posts was of a simple chocolate cake. It interests me how that spoke to people. We're constantly punishing ourselves with the idea that, 'Well, this makes me happy, but I can't have it.' I’ve had that conversation in my head and it’s really tiring. I wanted a bible that I could basically live between the covers of. So the first half is virtuous and the second half is vice. I felt like if I could just go between the two sides, that's a good enough program for me because it’s a little more moderate and wasn't going to make me feel bad if I failed. And I guess a lot of the clean recipes that I've come across are really complicated and I don't have that kind of time with a full time job (at Good+ Foundation) and three kids and a husband that's been traveling three days a week.
Is dinnertime a bit of a ritual in your house then?
Yes, I am still committed to putting a home cooked meal on the table for my family every single night because that's how I grew up and it's also a nice way for me to end a workday. And if I have the skills why not use them? It's easy to order takeout, but it's more expensive and it doesn't feel as good. I also want to make it easier for other people because ultimately my goal is to be a problem solver for other people.
Does your family help out in the kitchen?
My kids do not. They cook on their own which is cool. My daughter is not into food or cooking at all. She never has been and she never will be unless it's ice cream or candy. One day I know she'll eat like a normal person, but the time is not now. But to be honest, I don't really want the help; I'm such a control freak. I like to do everything from the beginning, so when someone takes a step away from me I'm, like, in a panic.
Do you like indulge with a glass of wine while cooking?
I'm trying to keep it to one glass a night. I used to always fill up like one or two with my husband, and then my kids would be like, 'Can you help me with my essay?' And it's like, 'Oh, am I editing an essay with you? Shoot!' One time I helped my daughter with one and so she got a terrible grade, I think because of me.
Did you ever envision yourself going down this path?
Never! With my first book, I couldn't bear the fact that my kid would not eat anything unless it was made with white flour. So I came up with this idea of blending fruits and vegetables and putting it my kids’ favorite foods. It's an age-old tradition. I followed up that book because people kept asking for more recipes since they had cooked through the first one, so I did another. And then my closest friends started to have their kids and would say, 'I want to cook this way for my kids, but I don't know how.' I created a book for them so they could go from being terrified to feeling successful in the kitchen. What I love is that cooking is a basic life skill that I feel is important and it's been lost. Especially now you can order any food you want, we're really getting away from these basic life skills that mean something. There's something really reassuring about always being able to take care of yourself and other people.
The whole thing feels very organic.
I could go to lunch with fancy women uptown every single day if that was my path in life, but I have been a worker since I was 5 years old, and my kids are growing up in a world that is very unlike the world that I grew up in. My only way towards normalcy with them is what I grew up with. My mother used to wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning to prep dinner for us as she commuted an hour to work and got home at 6 at night. I was the one who helped get dinner on the table, and to me that's normalcy. I have to create an environment like that for my kids and be a role model as a working mom or else I'm just not comfortable with all the privilege that my kids are around. So that just feels right for me. I like to be productive and if that annoys people, which I know it does, well, I'd be more annoying if I was just sitting there spending my husband's money on frivolous things instead of trying to make a contribution to the world for the people who want it.
Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray
3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
How to Make It
For the frosting:
1 1/4 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1. Preheat the oven (with the oven rack in the middle) to 350°F.
2. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
For the cake:
3. In a small saucepan, combine the butter and 1 cup water over medium heat. Heat until the butter is melted.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla.
5. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter mixture. Use an electric mixer on low speed to mix until just combined. On medium speed, mix in the sour cream mixture.
6. Dividing evenly, scrape the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Place the pans on a wire cooling rack and let cool for 25 minutes. Run a paring knife around the edge of each cake to loosen it from the pan. Then invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the parchment, and let cool completely.
For the frosting:
7. Put the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the cream until it is hot. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Now gently whisk until creamy and smooth.
8. Scoop out 3⁄4 cup of the chocolate mixture into another bowl and set aside the remaining frosting for now. Let the 3⁄4 cup of the mixture cool, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, or until it’s spreadable, creamy, and holds its shape.
9. Place one cake on a serving plate, bottom side up. Spread the top with the frosting in an even layer all the way to the edge. Top with the other cake, bottom side up.
10. Gently reheat the remaining frosting by filling a medium saucepan with 2 inches of water and placing over medium heat. Let come to a low simmer. Place the bowl of frosting over the water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water). Stir until it is melted and pourable. Immediately pour the frosting over the top of the cake. With a metal spatula, quickly spread it to evenly cover the top and let the frosting drip down the sides. Once the frosting is set, slice and serve.