Mandy McGovern is a food blogger, photographer and cookbook author. She’s also a chef/baker extraordinaire and a Michigander to boot. Most importantly, she is the author of a Peninsulas perennial favorite cookbook, My Little Michigan Kitchen, as well as the blog Kitchen Joy. Mandy’s cookbook includes Michigan classics like “secret ingredient” Tart Cherry Pie, UP North Pasties, Detroit Coney Dogs, Mackinac Island Fudge, Detroit Deep-Dish Pizza, Smoked Whitefish Chowder, Hot Fudge Cream Puffs and much, much more.
“My Little Michigan Kitchen cookbook is my love letter to family meals and life in Michigan,” Mandy shares. “It's full of straightforward, family-friendly meals that make me feel like home.”
I spoke with Mandy to learn about her inspirations and hear her story. Read on for the full interview:
Did you grow up in Michigan?
Yes! I was born and raised in Grand Rapids and I still live in the area.
Do you have any favorite Michigan memories?
Camping! Most of the vacations we took when I was growing up were camping trips around Michigan. Swimming in the “big lake” and running down the dunes were always highlights. Ice cream at Temptations and visiting the Musical Fountain in Grand Haven was something I loved as a young girl as well.
My husband and I bought a log cabin when we were both 26 years old. We enjoyed several years going up there nearly every weekend to relax, go fishing, hiking, sitting on the porch swing. We spent holidays up there and it was such a blessing to our life. We are currently in the process of building a new cabin for our family and are very excited to create many more cabin memories again soon.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
My favorite hobbies are generally related to food and reading about food, trying new recipes and ingredients, collecting cookbooks, and visiting local restaurants and bakeries. I love researching things!
We also go camping as a family a lot! We are fortunate that our two little girls also enjoy all of those same adventures that my husband and I did while growing up here in Michigan.
Lately we have been going to Food Truck Fridays at Riverside Park in Grand Rapids. It’s such a fun, laid back way to go out to eat with the whole family, while supporting local businesses, and play outside!
What kind of music do you like most?
I’m pretty random in my music choices. I like a little bit of most genres. My go-to is Piano Guys though. It instantly lifts my mood to listen to them.
Bettermade Potato Chips, Faygo, or Mackinac Island fudge?
Bettermade Potato Chips. But Vernors would have been my vote if I could pick anything Michigan though… (laughter)
What inspires you?
People. Everyone has such a great story if you get to know them. Food is often a great way to do that. Bonding over a meal or learning about someone’s favorite dish or their family’s holiday meal traditions are some of my favorite ways to learn about others.
Have you always enjoyed cooking?
I grew up appreciating home cooking very much. My mom was (and still is) a fantastic cook. However, it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school, and then more and more when I started college did I start taking the initiative to grow my skills in the kitchen. That’s when I started collecting cookbooks, to teach myself how to cook, and make homemade meals for my high school sweetheart.
I published my blog Kitchen Joy in 2013 as a way to chronicle my adventures while cooking my way through my cookbook collection. It has evolved since then into a place where I share my own tried-and-true recipes that my family loves. We strive to live by the motto that “Homemade is better than store-bought”, and it rarely lets us down. I love learning more about food every day and sharing my excitement with anyone who will listen.
What gave you the idea to write a Michigan cookbook?
Well, since I’d collected cookbooks for many years, and part of that hobby has included gathering cookbooks from the places we have traveled. It’s so fun to find a cookbook about the area we are visiting.
For several years I felt like Michigan was lacking a great option for the souvenir cookbook shelf. I had been blogging for several years by then, and it wasn’t until we had lived in Italy for a good part of a year for my husband’s job that I started to seriously consider creating my love letter to home in cookbook form.
Do you enjoy making anything in particular with your children? Do they enjoy it too?
My youngest just turned 3, and isn’t super involved in actual recipe prep just yet. She loves adding ingredients into the mixer and watching it spin.
My oldest just turned 5, and she is a huge fan of getting her hands on dough. She is actually really good at shaping dumplings, so that’s one of her favorite things to make. She also loves making pita bread because she can roll out the dough herself and then watch it puff up in the oven. We’ve had lots of fun times making homemade sushi as well.
What is your favorite holiday? What makes it special?
Thanksgiving. I love the ritual of the cooking and preparation of the meal. It’s such a comfort to enjoy a big meal with friends and family without all the fuss and hooplah that sometimes overwhelms gift-giving holidays. I love the weather at that time of year too...there’s just nothing like Fall in Michigan!
My friend is coming into town, visiting Michigan for the first time, where do you recommend they visit?
That’s a tough one! I feel like Michigan offers such a great variety of places to visit, so if I could encourage visitors to take a bit of a road trip to see a sampling of our amazing state.
A few ideas would be: to visit a “big” city (Detroit or Grand Rapids), a small town (Berkley, Brighton, Petoskey, etc), a great beach town (Grand Haven, Holland, Ludington), a forest hike (Manistee River Trail), an island visit (Mackinac Island or South Manitou), a farmer’s market (Holland Farmers Market, Fulton street Farmers Market in GR). If time permits, visiting the U.P. is such an incredible opportunity- it always reminds me of our visit to Alaska. It’s such a beautiful area that deserves to be explored.
Who are you thankful for?
My husband. We’ve known each other since we were babies, so we’ve been through a lot together. He is 100% the biggest supporter of my dreams and ideas and plays a huge role in everything I do.
And my mom. She’s definitely the person in my life who taught me by example about achieving goals and working hard showing her love through food.
Do you have any advice to share?
I think my favorite piece of advice would be to not be too intimidated by things so as to allow them to stop you from doing what it is you’re hoping to do. Learning and researching things helps remove the mystery, so if there’s something you want to do that seems far-fetched, look into it. Chances are it won’t seem so unattainable for long.
What are you looking forward to?
Right now, I’m really enjoying summer with my girls. After all we’ve been through the past year and a half, I’m trying to protect our time together by not racing back to the over-packed schedules that once was our normal. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to run my business and embrace our time together.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Not that I can think of, other than a huge thank you to Peninsulas for their support from the very beginning! My very first in-person book event was at Peninsulas Berkley and it was and is a dream come true to have my book sold in a shop that I love.
Mandy's Strawberry Shortcake Recipe
For the Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
For the Filling:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
½ cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
Additional berries, if desired
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Butter an 8-inch round (3 inches deep) baking pan. If you do not have a deep 8-inch round cake pan, use two 8 inch pans.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Gradually add eggs and vanilla, mixing until combined.
With mixer on lowest speed, add half the flour mixture followed by the whipping cream then the remaining flour mixture, mixing just until combined.
Spread batter into prepared pan.
Bake on center rack until toothpick comes out clean, about 70 minutes.
Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then gently remove from pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Prepare whipped cream filling- Using an electric mixer, beat heavy whipping cream, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla together on high speed until stiff peaks form. (For best results use a chilled metal bowl.)
Assemble the layers-
Slice the cooled cake into 2 or 3 thin layers. Arrange sliced strawberries on the bottom layer, top with whipped cream, then repeat with remaining layers. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.