New York Times food columnist and cookbook author Melissa Clark gives us the lowdown on how she got her start, what she likes to cook for her husband and daughter, and what has been her biggest flop in the kitchen.

By Julie Miltenberger

Q: How did you first get interested in food writing?

I’ve always been interested in food and in writing but didn’t think to put them together until I read MFK Fischer back in high school. You see, I come from a heavily foodie family—the kind that starts thinking about what to have for dinner before the breakfast dishes are cleared. We planned every vacation around restaurants. Cooking was how my family communicated and showed love. It was my metaphor, the way I engaged with the world.

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Q. What is your favorite tool in the kitchen?

A microplane! I use mine every single day, for garlic, ginger, cheese, lemon zest. No other tool gets such a fine texture on some of my favorite ingredients. It even works on fresh chiles!

Q. We see that you have a new cookbook out—Dinner in an Instant. What is the best recipe you have created in a multi-cooker?

My favorite recipe is simple—it’s mac and cheese in the Instant Pot—but it works so well! Cream cheese plus a little garlic (grated on the microplane!) make it extra creamy and flavorful.

Also see: Help Yourself! A Holiday Buffet Menu

Q. What’s the biggest flop that you’ve made when cooking?

So many!! The flops started when I was 10 and forgot to put the baking soda in the purple layer cake I was trying to make, and continued steadily since then. The thing is that nowadays I can salvage most flops, expect when I burn something to a crisp—like that pan of eggplant I forgot about under the broiler, or that time I brutally overcooked some fish until it was too dry to ingest. But otherwise most of my flops still end up on the dinner table in one incarnation or another.

Related: Everything You Need to Make the Perfect Sugar Cookies for the Holidays

Q. How do you encourage your daughter to eat a variety of foods?

I bribe her. I’m a terrible mother. Eat one bite of this broccoli fritter/pumpkin soup/fried sardine/tofu steak or whatever, and I’ll let you eat a gummy bear.

Check out Melissa Clark’s newest book: Dinner in an Instant: 75 Modern Recipes for Your Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot®; $22.