Mason Dixon Bakery and Bistro's Dr. Ashley Ramirez spent over a year working on the design for their family kitchen. Making adjustments and carefully selecting the layout, Ashley knew this would be a room where the family would spend most of their time. With 3 growing boys, and a few different food allergies, the emphasis was on functionality. "My three priorities were plenty of counter space (I am a pull everything out kind of cook), functional storage, and an open concept to the living room to be present with family," says Ashley. "The kitchen was also designed around a VLine 6 burner range, which was a must for me. I also opted for drawers instead of cabinets for the lowers, and have absolutely loved the storage solution that drawers provide."
Dr. Ashley Ramirez's own health journey inspired her to start Mason Dixon. Ashley discovered she had Celiac Disease while attending Elon University. She had to learn to cook and bake gluten free, not simply on a budget, but with limited resources.
After receiving her doctorate from Duke University, Ashley relocated to Huntsville, Alabama to accept a position on Redstone Arsenal. Her job offer was postponed due to sequestration. This delay gave her an idea - a gluten free bakery. Mason Dixon, Alabama’s first gluten free bakery, was born. The bakery began in farmers markets, where a loyal following of customers emerged. Within months, Ashley opened a storefront and the bakery soon became a destination to find local made-from-scratch baked goods.
We sat down with Ashley in her newly designed home kitchen to find out her favorite things about this most loved room in the house.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 MOST USED UTENSILS?
Littledeer Long handled Wooden spatula from Williams & Sonoma
Silicone Multi-function spoon from Staub
Sponge (this counts as a utensil!)
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 MOST USED APPLIANCES?
Kitchen Aid Mixer
Electric Griddle - My youngest eats blueberry pancakes every morning for breakfast. The electric griddle is quick, easy and mess free!
Vitamix Blender - We make smoothies and homemade popsicles all summer and then soups in the winter. The Vitamix is worth the cost.
FAVORITE POTS AND PANS:
Staub Enamel Cast Iron for lower temp cooking
DeBuyer Mineral B Pro Carbon Steel Fry Pan for high temp cooking
ANY OTHER KITCHEN MUST HAVES?
Wusthof and Global Knives
Pampered Chef Microplane Zester (the perfect handheld zester!)
Wooden Rolling Pin (I have a rolling pin that was made by my great-grandfather that is still in perfect working condition!)
3 HACKS YOU HAVE LEARNED AND USE ALL OF THE TIME:
Add a pinch of baking soda to canned tomato products. This helps to neutralize the acidity and makes the sauce taste sweeter without adding sugar. Don't overdo it, a good pinch is all you need!
Cooking temperature is specific to the pans. Make sure you purchase the right style pan for your cooking style. I tend to cook with high heat to create a sear. The DeBuyer Carbon Steel pan is perfect after proper seasoning.
Kitchen towels double as hot mitts, just be sure they are not damp! A wet towel equals a burnt hand, but a dry towel folded over is perfect for grabbing pans from the oven.
FAVORITE RECIPES TO COOK:
I love the chance to be creative. So often at this stage of life I feel like I am cooking just to feed. Every now and then there is the chance to cook for pleasure, and this is my favorite! I love cooking with fresh, colorful ingredients and trying out new flavor combinations.
I enjoy making homemade pasta. There is something therapeutic about rolling and hand cutting pasta just before it goes into the boiling water.
FAVORITE DISHES TO COOK FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS:
Anything that everyone in the family will eat! We have a standard rotation of quick, easy and nutritious meals. Some of our family favorites are homemade spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf, pan-seared salmon, turkey chili, sautéed shrimp, and enchilada casserole. We also almost always have a loaf of homemade banana bread on hand, too.
TIPS TO TAKING THE STRESS OUT OF COOKING:
Plan ahead. During the week, I tend to plan the menu around kids activities. Several meals can be prepped in advance. I make batches of meatballs and freeze them so that they are ready whenever needed. Anytime I can make a larger batch of something to have leftovers for dinner the next night, I do.
WHAT DOES COOKING MEAN TO YOU?
Cooking for people is one of my love languages. I love preparing fresh, nutritious food that brings people joy. I love sitting around the dinner table as a family. Growing up, this is something we did every night and is a tradition that I have continued with my family. With 3 boys, the conversation topics can be quite funny, but it is still my favorite time. Some nights we play telephone around the dinner table, other nights we bring up a topic to get them thinking. One of my favorite questions to ask is if I was guaranteed to say yes, what one question would you ask right now? This gives us an idea of what their biggest dreams and wishes at different moments.
Cooking brings people together. Cooking creates memories. Just remember, it doesn’t have to be fancy, or elaborate to for people to enjoy.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE SOUTHERN FOODS?
Growing up in the North, there are several dishes I have come to love in the South. My absolute favorites are buttermilk biscuits, shrimp and grits, and pretty much anything pickled!
WHY ARE FRESH INGREDIENTS IMPORTANT?
Fresh ingredients lead to healthy eating. The pace of life has pushed society towards more convenience foods, but unfortunately these tend to be filled with preservatives, sodium and sugar. Our health and nutrition is directly related to what we fuel our body with. Whenever you can, lean into fresh ingredients for cooking. You will feel the difference.