“Eating dinner together was always a big part of my childhood.” – Larissa
For Kitchen Hero Larissa, cooking and family are inextricably intertwined. She learned how to cook by helping her mother and father in the kitchen, getting special recipes from her grandma, and finding Cooks Smarts once she started a new family of her own. Through using our weekly meal plan service, she has expanded her repertoire to many cuisines and is now more comfortable with recipe creativity and making big dinners for extended family. Preparing healthy homemade meals will always be a deep tradition for Larissa – one that goes back to her parents and grandparents and reaches forward to her sons and every future Christmas dinner.
Name: Larissa Pschenica
City, State: Great Neck, NY (moved from SF 3.5 years ago)
I cook for: me, my husband, and my two boys (and for fun!).
Outside of the kitchen I: work in strategy at the Gap and enjoy time with my family.
The strangest food I have ever eaten is: duck tongue (on a business trip to Beijing).
I cook because: I love making healthy meals for my family, and I enjoy cooking (it’s a creative outlet for me).
Favorite CS meal so far: Some of my favorites are the Miso Butter Salmon, the Teriyaki Turkey Meatballs, and Gnocchi with “Sausage” and Kale.
How did you learn to cook?
My mother (and sometimes father) always cooked for our family growing up and I helped a bit. Eating dinner together was always a big part of my childhood. But I really started cooking once I finished college and moved to San Francisco. Food is such a part of the culture in the Bay Area – going to farmers markets and getting the freshest veggies, fruit, and meat, and of course having the best wine to pair it with helps. I learned to cook by following recipes and also lots of phone calls with my grandmother (for her special recipes).
What’s been your biggest cooking challenge?
I have taken over cooking for our extended family for Christmas and / or Christmas Eve. I plan everything out on a spreadsheet ahead of time to make sure I have everything I need and time the cooking perfectly. I was really proud last year when I made a standing rib roast, a delicious mashed potato recipe, roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, and somehow pulled off some delicious popovers to serve with the meat. I even baked a pie and cheesecake for dessert (which is not my forté).
What strategies have you used to raise healthy eaters?
We always try to eat dinner as a family. I have always offered the boys the same food that we are eating (and make sure that there are healthy options that they like). For a while they each stopped eating any veggies that were not hidden in blended soups or sauces, so I snuck them in that way. I always had avocados on hand to serve alongside their meat. Now, at almost 6 and 8, they will try most veggies and really enjoy broccoli and sweet potatoes – a huge win! And they are always invited to help with the cooking or help set the table.
“Before Cook Smarts my comfort zone was more classic American or Italian dishes and now I am comfortable with Asian, Indian, and Mexican dishes and feel more comfortable going off recipe.”
What’s been the biggest change in your family’s cooking / eating routine since starting Cook Smarts?
I think I began using Cook Smarts when my oldest was just a year or two old (right when I needed the structure and organization), so it’s been years. But I love how easy it makes planning my week. I try to prep ahead on weekends or the night before. It makes my evenings so much more enjoyable (and yummy). My mom watches my boys three days a week and I will leave her the recipes to make or finish (she loves Cook Smarts too).
What have you learned since starting Cook Smarts’ meal plans?
I have expanded my cooking repertoire! Before Cook Smarts my comfort zone was more classic American or Italian dishes and now I am comfortable with Asian, Indian, and Mexican dishes and feel more comfortable going off recipe. I will also never buy salad dressing again – I know I can make something much more delicious without a recipe!
Tell us about your proudest kitchen moment.
Cooking Christmas Eve dinner for my family 3 years ago – when I got to cook for my whole family including grandmother and her sister. I was proud to feel confident enough to pull off a big meal like that with them there.
What are your tips for health and success in the kitchen?
Plan, prep, practice, and when you’re comfortable, experiment . . . and of course, Cook Smarts!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Larissa. We are glad that our meal plan service makes cooking new cuisines easier for you (and your mother!) and have helped you build skills to go off-recipe. We are truly happy that our weekly menus can be a part of keeping your family tradition alive!