Why I Cook, with Diane Morrisey
The Instagram star and Taste of Home reader shares how her passion for art and love of food transformed her kitchen into a culinary canvas.
A word to the wise: Don’t look at Diane Morrisey’s Instagram gallery on an empty stomach. The self-taught cook and mother of six turned a background in the arts and a passion for food into a cooking obsession, and the result is photo after breathtaking photo of her best home-cooked recipes that practically tempt you to take a bite out of your phone. Here, Diane shares more about what cooking means to her.
(Diane is in good company with 19 more of our favorite foodie Instagrammers.)
Taste of Home: Where are you from, and how did you first get excited about cooking?
Diane Morrisey: I’ve been a Nutmegger all my life. I’ve lived in Trumbull, Connecticut, for the past 20 years, but was born in Monroe, Connecticut, one of six children in our Irish-Italian family. When I was young, I loved reading cookbooks, but never really tried to cook. I remember the first dinner party I threw when I was a newlywed. I had two other couples over on a Friday night and I had to take the entire day off from work because it literally took me all day to cook a menu for only six people—something that would probably take me 30 minutes to do today! (Hey, Diane, here are some more quick dinners that take 30 minutes or less.)
It wasn’t until I began to have a family that I really got passionate about cooking. I used to watch cooking TV shows everyday while home with my babies. When they napped, I would read cooking magazines (like Taste of Home!) and clip recipes. That—along with my favorite pastime of reading cookbooks—gave me a good sense of food and ingredients and cooking. Soon I began a career in catering and used my creativity to design food platters. (Here’s how to build a beautiful antipasto platter yourself). My creativity started to come out in my culinary passions, and soon that was my biggest artistic outlet. It’s remained that way ever since. I have always considered food to be art—the most beautiful form of art to me!
TOH: How did you become interested in food photography?
DM: Again, this is the frustrated artist coming out! I see the beauty in gorgeous produce or a beautifully composed dish. I enjoy and appreciate the beautiful aesthetic of food, so about 10 years ago I naturally just started taking pictures of the food I created. The joke in my house has always been that my family hasn’t eaten a hot meal in years because by the time I photograph it and give them the green light to eat it, it’s already cold!
TOH: When did you begin sharing your food photos on Instagram?
DM: I started by accident last year. I shared a photo of a cake I made for one of the kid’s birthdays and I noticed that it got a lot of response. I put a couple of other recipe photos up and got the same response. It just sort of grew from there!
(Follow in Diane’s footsteps and try your hand at baking up any of these beautiful birthday cake recipes).
TOH: What’s your favorite thing to cook or bake at home?
DM: My kids all have their favorite foods, as well as my husband, John, so I love to cook what they love! I also love cooking dishes I remember my mom cooking for us. She had a tradition that whenever we came home from college, she would have our favorite meal waiting for us. Mine was aways fried fish fillets with mashed potatoes and peas. I have a few college-aged kids now, and taking a page out of my mom’s book, I love to surprise them with their favorite meals and treats when they come home!
(It’s true—Mom really does know best. Try these mom-approved Sunday supper ideas.)
TOH: Do you have a favorite secret weapon in the kitchen?
DM: I would be lost without my zester! I love using fresh citrus in my cooking, but if anyone squeezes a lemon or a lime for a recipe without taking that zest off and using that too, it is such a waste! Don’t ever waste that zest! There is so much beautiful flavor imparted from the oils—I couldn’t even imagine just throwing that away! (Feeling inspired? Here’s how to zest a lemon three easy ways.)
Also, I have an ongoing jar of vanilla sugar and homemade vanilla extract in my kitchen. I often use vanilla beans in my baking, so once I scrape the seeds out of the pod, rather than throwing them away, I either add them to the jar of vanilla sugar or jar of vanilla extract. These vanilla pods are the gift that keep on giving! (Here’s the easiest way to make your own homemade vanilla extract.)
TOH: What’s your favorite local food?
DM: Being on the Long Island Sound, we get a lot of great seafood in Connecticut. I am a pescatarian and haven’t eaten meat or chicken in over 20 years, but I adore seafood. The one place that I always take visitors to is Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven to eat the best pizza in the country. New Haven is known for its pizza and Pepe’s white clam pizza is positively to die for. I craved it with all six of my pregnancies and still crave it all these years later.
TOH: What is one cooking- or food-related moment that you’ll never forget?
DM: My father is first-generation Italian, and my mother is first-generation Irish. Because my dad was the only child of Italian-immigrant parents, it was really, really, really important that my mom learn to cook Italian food…and very well! (It sort of wasn’t optional—my Italian grandmother insisted on it!) My mom became a fabulous cook of Italian food.
(Hmm, wonder if she tried any of these pasta recipes that would make an Italian grandmother proud?)
So I invited my husband over for Thanksgiving dinner the first year we were dating. We sat down to dinner and he was completely shocked when we started the meal with an Italian wedding soup, a big tray of lasagna, stuffed shells, a big bowl of meatballs and braciole and large tray of cured meats, olives and cheeses. Growing up in an Irish household, he had never seen this before, and didn’t know that people actually eat anything other than turkey on Thanksgiving. Of course, his real surprise came later, when after we had finished all the Italian delicacies, the actual traditional turkey dinner came out. He was completely flabbergasted that this is what our traditional Thanksgiving meal was like! To this day, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the sauce, meatballs and lasagna!
TOH: What is your absolute favorite thing about cooking?
DM: This is easy! Other than it being the artistic outlet for my creativity, I cook to show my love and to make people happy. It’s that simple. I love that my cookbooks are worn and tattered and filled with splatters of food. That means they are used, and that means that my family and friends are loved.
Taste of Home