When it comes to homemaking, I am at a loss. I never threaded a needle or sewed a button; never turned on an iron or kicked open an ironing board; never did my own laundry or folded a shirt. When I got married I was just too embarrassed to suggest to my husband that we send our socks and towels to the dry cleaners. SO I learned my way around the washer and dryer and Tide became my new best friend.

My mother is now officially flabbergasted. She saw me in the kitchen, cooking up a storm while recipe testing for my new cookbook. She’s completely astounded, because I never lifted a finger growing up—not for a towel, not for a dish, not for a thing.

My mother was born in Transylvania and moved here with her family when she was 13. Coming from the eastern European culture, she hit America with a twinkle of hope and a kick in her step, embracing all the wonderfully American opportunities offered to women here. It must have been alluring to see that women could have jobs outside of the kitchen. So she avoided cooking while growing up—even though she could have studied under the wings of my grandparents, two gourmet chefs who actually owned a few restaurants in the suburbs of Philly.

I don’t think my grandparents crafted any five-minute recipes. My cookbook might be irreverent, compared to their traditions; back in Romania, my grandmother obm, likely went fishing for the carp - or whatever fish it is that you use - for her divine gefilte. My grandparents were also famous for a 12-layer Hungarian “dobos” torte they used to make for all of our birthdays—each layer baked separately in the oven, smothered in homemade chocolate cream and covered with a deliciously thick layer of caramelized sugar on top!

So I missed out—not on the most delicious food on the face of the earth (don’t worry, we all ate well—too well—growing up), but on learning how to cook and. My grandfather, who is now 85, still throws on his white chef’s apron and cooks up a storm. I think he talks to his soup—virtually coaxing the herbs to bring out their flavors—everything emulsifying under his watchful eye into the most piquant dish. With an aroma I can almost smell here in New York.

Now, you might think that my mom and I missed out on Old-World kitchen secrets and experiences, and that the two of us, with our lack of interest, have nothing to say about prepping food (just eating it).

But actually, my mom did teach me a thing or two that I am using in my book. And before I get to those oh-so-important lessons, I have to officially thank my mother. Without her and her unique style of doing things—or not doing things, for that matter—I would have no book, no occasion to write one, and no material about which to write. If I spent the long days, nights, and years in the kitchen with my grandparents, this might have been an entirely different story.

Following are a few of my dear Mommy’s tricks that really bought me some time until I could figure out where the stove was and how to turn it on.

Tricks No. 1, 2, and 3: Presentation, Presentation, Presentation

I can’t say it enough. We never grew up with containers on the table or, for that matter, take-out straight from the cartons. To this day, my best friend of 14 years remembers the first time she came to my house for dinner. She thought my mother was the most superb cook on the planet. It wasn’t until almost a year later that she discovered the entire meal was take-out, plated on our dishes.

Presentation is a fabulous way to “psych out” the palate. If you’re a chef in training, it will buy you some time; and if you’re about to write your own cookbook, it’s the icing on the cake—or the table. What I mean is any great hostess or seasoned entertainer knows that a beautiful layout and display is almost as impressive as a delicious dish. It always tastes better from a serving platter than from the disposable tin.

Trick No. 4: Out-Of-The-Ordinary Produce

My mother was a champion shopper and she always came home from the local supermarket with fruits and vegetables you could only find if you were hiking in the Israeli desert for four days straight, following the path of the sun and hopping on one foot. But let me tell you, we loved every juicy, delicious minute of it. Some of her everyday conquests were cute minis, novelty eats or out-of-season produce. Much to the dismay of my father, she’d come home with donut (no pit, mind you) peaches, white flesh nectarines, and organic blueberries—when they were a dollar a berry.

Now, I try to watch my wallet a bit, but I still have a penchant for Persian cucumbers, multicolored tomatoes and peppers, fingerling potatoes, baby zucchinis and persimmons, papayas, and blood-red oranges. Fruits and veggies like these take a simple dish to the next level. You don’t have to go overboard, either. Kirby cucumbers have a crunchier, more tangy taste than big ’ol regular cukes, and paired with a yellow pepper add a bit of pizzazz to my colorful garden salad. A mango and some powdered sugar give a boring fruit salad a touch of that Caribbean feel. (I only learned that an exotic fruit salad and yogurt do not a delicious dinner make when my husband looked appalled at the thought of it.)

Trick No. 5: Gourmet Salads

My mother became a sheer genius when it came to salads. Exotic fruit salads and glamorous greens always adorned our table. She swore it was in the bowl—a big wooden bowl that seemed to bring the flavor out of a simple blend of mixed field greens, fresh garlic, salt, and olive oil like nothing I’ve ever tasted. Following is one of my favorite salads. She must have passed on a greens gene or maybe she was just a carrier. But I think I caught something. Well, why don’t you be the judge?

Warm Pepper and Craisin Salad
Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 8-1

1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded
½ cup Craisins
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) package mixed field greens

¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon sugar

1: Cut peppers into bite size pieces. Place in skillet.
2: Add cranberries, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt. Mix well.
3: Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or until peppers are slightly tender.
4: While peppers are cooking, prepare dressing: Place ingredients in blender or food processor. Process until smooth and creamy, 8-10 seconds in blender or 3-4 pulses in food processor.
5: Place mixed field greens in a salad bowl. Pour dressing over and toss gently.
6: Top with warm pepper mixture. Serve at room temperature.