Jenni L. Walsh Loves Ancient Rome & Crockpots

This week, in honor of Crystal’s soon-to-be-published novel FEAST OF SORROW, which gave me such a vivid and enticing glimpse into Ancient Rome, we are attempting to recreate meals inspired by the Apicius Cookbook (aka the man who created the first ever book of recipes). So far this week, Amy and Lynn have done a stellar job. And me……
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Deb Dana and Hannah Sugarman’s Favorite Cookbooks

So…I like to cook. You know this.

And I own far too many cookbooks. You know this, too.

And Hannah? The protagonist in THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS? She REALLY likes to cook. I hope you’ve all bought a copy of the book and therefore know this as well.

So given that cooking is near and dear to my heart — and Hannah’s — I thought I’d give you a list of my favorite cookbooks, and Hannah’s, in the hopes that you, too, will turn on your oven and bust out your inner cook!

Dana’s Favorites (or, “a very small sampling of cookbooks Dana uses again and again”)

1. The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. Ina Garten gives impeccable instructions, and her recipes are well-tested. Every recipe I’ve made out of this cookbook has come out perfectly. Favorite dishes include: French potato salad, grilled salmon salad, perfect roast chicken, coconut cupcakes.

2. Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy by Lidia Bastianich. I love Italian food, and the recipes in this cookbook are delicious and well-tested. I have made tons of recipes in the book, including rice with fresh sage, vegetable soup (amazing), strangozzi with chard and almond sauce (photo below), and farro pasta with arugula and ricotta (also below).












3. 150 Best American Recipes. The editors of this book did the legwork for all of us and found some of the best recipes out there. I’ve loved pretty much every recipe I’ve made from this book, and my favorites include the savory fig tart, Italian pumpkin soup (made with amaretti!), slow-roasted chipotle pork, braised green beans with tomato and fennel, and double chocolate layer cake (best. chocolate. cake. ever.).

4. Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. The recipe for Dorie’s sweet tart crust is worth the price of the book. I also love the “Tribute to Katherine Hepburn Brownies,” applesauce spice bars, and Alsatian apple tart (photo below).

Alsatian Apple Tart cropped

5. Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan edited this cookbook, which features all of the recipes from Julia Child’s PBS series Baking with Julia. Some of the more intricate recipes take days to make (like some of the country breads), but there are simpler recipes, too, and those are some of my favorites: challah (photo below), Finnish pulla, popovers, blueberry-nectarine pie.


Other favorites include baking books by Kate Zuckerman, Sherry Yard, Claudia Fleming, and Nick Malgieri.

Hannah’s Favorites

1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. A classic. Some of Hannah’s favorite recipes include bouillabaisse, Boeuf Bourguignon, roast squab chickens with chicken liver canapés, Grand Marnier soufflé.

2. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. What Julia Child was to French cuisine, Marcella Hazan is to Italian. Hannah loves making porcini risotto, classic polenta, pork roasted in milk (yes, her Jewish bubbe is rolling in her grave), and tomato, butter, and onion sauce.

3. The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Hannah loves shopping at the farmers’ market, and Alice Waters was one of the pioneers of the movement to eat seasonally and locally. Hannah loves making the marinated beet salad, polenta torta, potato gratin, and nectarine crisp.

4. The Commissary Cookbook by Steve Poses, Anne Clark, and Becky Miller. This is the cookbook from the famous Philadelphia establishment, The Commissary, which was like an upscale/gourmet cafeteria. Hannah’s favorite Commissary recipes include the carrot cake (DUH), mocha fudge cake, chicken salad with horseradish-juniper berry mayonnaise, and pumpkin waffles with hot cider syrup.

5. The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. When Hannah feels like being super fancy, she busts out this tome by famed chef Thomas Keller and whips up mouth-watering dishes like soft-poached quail eggs with applewood-smoked bacon, braised prime beef short ribs with root vegetables and sautéed bone marrow, cappuccino semifreddo with cinnamon-sugar doughnuts, and poached banana ice cream with white chocolate-banana crepes and chocolate sauce.


Now it’s your turn! Tell me: what are YOUR favorite cookbooks?





Deb Tawna swaps kitchen coaching with her critique partner

Like most writers, I have critique partners. One is Cynthia Reese, a multi-published romance author in rural South Georgia.

Since I’m in Oregon, we’re separated not only by a bunch of miles, but by vast differences in culture and lifestyle. It’s what I value most in the critiquing process, and it’s also produced some comedic moments in the culinary realm.

The first Southern meal I prepared with coaching from Cynthia. It included fried chicken, grits, biscuits, and greens!

We both love cooking, so it seemed natural to swap recipes. I wanted to make something distinctly Southern, so I requested a list of ingredients and then called Cynthia to walk me through making greens.

“OK,” she said once I was standing in my kitchen. “First you take a little bit of bacon grease and—”

“Wait, bacon grease?”

“Yes, just a little bit.”

I frowned into the phone. “You didn’t tell me I needed bacon grease. Where am I supposed to get that?”

There was a long pause during which Cynthia was probably pondering just how dense I am.

“Well,” she said slowly, “bacon grease comes from bacon, and bacon comes from—”

“I know that,” I said, though truthfully, I’d kinda forgotten.

“Don’t you just have a can of bacon grease handy?” she asked.

“No. Do you mean I have to go buy bacon to get grease?”

Tawna (left) and Cynthia. I'm pretty short myself, just shy of 5'4", so you can guess Cynthia is a wee one!

The idea that I had neither bacon nor bacon grease in my home was almost too much for Cynthia to process, but we eventually sorted through it and the greens turned out fine.

Our next culinary disconnect occurred when I offered to coach her through a Pacific Northwest specialty, my famous poached salmon steaks with green onions and horseradish cream. I emailed the recipe, then checked to see if she had questions.

“How many cans of salmon does it call for?” she asked.

Fortunately, we’ve gotten better at this over the years. Though we swap manuscripts via email, we now use snail mail to send each other cookbooks and ingredients that simply can’t be found on the other side of the country.

I’m a big believer in working with someone from a different background, whether you’re writing or cooking or learning clog dancing. There are so many benefits to buddying up with someone who brings new perspectives and life experiences to the table.

Hey, that was an accidental culinary pun. Nice!

Oh, and want to know the best part? After 6+ years of exchanging manuscripts and cooking tips, Cynthia and I finally, finally got to meet in person last week when I traveled to Savannah for a visit. How cool is that?


Cooking… When I have to by Deb Meredith

posedformurderThis deb married a man who could cook for a reason. Cooking is a chore I’d like to avoid most of the time. Unless, of course, I have a deadline. Then I become quite excited by the idea of making six different kinds of Christmas cookies. I think of all kinds of complicated recipes I could make, and spend lots of time reading recipes on-line.

But cooking can sometimes be like writing a book. There are the interesting parts and then there are the parts that are pure drudgery. But you have to do everything if you want a gourmet meal or a great book.

I enjoy shopping, and list making—it’s kind of like outlining. Your mind flows free. You’re open to possibilities, and ingredients. The eggplant looks good, so you start thinking about curries, Italian dishes, what else you have in the house. You consider spices and what else you need to collect. Or, if it’s your book, what the ramifications of making one of your characters a man or a woman might be.

Writing the novel itself is more stressful. Now the decisions you made in your outline start to take on a life of their own. You make some good and bad discoveries. (Oh, no—my onions are all rotten! Can I still make the dish without onions? Can I use lots of garlic instead?) Deadlines loom. Dinner guests are arriving in 15 minutes, and you still haven’t gotten dressed.

And then after you write the end, or take your casserole out the oven, it’s still not done. You need to arrange it on the plates in a way that looks good and appetizing. Or check for spelling and consistency. And hope your critics/dinner guests think it’s wonderful. And then you have a glass of wine and try to enjoy the fruits of your labor, too.

So I enjoy cooking… but I also like to eat a dish that someone else has prepared. Just like I have to sometimes tell myself to put down a book I’m enjoying and get back to work on my manuscript!


I can take the heat, but I’ll leave anyway, by Deb Katie

Our topic this week is “in the kitchen,” but to be honest, my best relationship with the kitchen is one where I wander through to get the portable phone to place a delivery order for Chinese food. Or I dash in, pour myself a glass of wine, and dash out before the kitchen knows I’m there.

For someone with such a healthy interest in eating, I have an underdeveloped interest in the culinary arts. I’ve heard that, traditionally, chefs were men, and when you think of all the chopping, mashing, and setting things on fire that are involved, it kind of makes sense. It’s certainly how things work in my house, anyway. The husb is the cooker, and I am the cleaner.

(Of course, on those rare occasions I do cook something—which only happens when a specific recipe catches my fancy—I somehow also find myself being the cleaner.)

It’s not that I don’t have a fairly solid foundation. As a child, I had to cook dinner for my family once a week. My mother and stepmother are both talented cooks (and my father can barbecue like a champ). When my friends and I moved to California, we had weekly “family dinners,” and it wasn’t unusual to spend a whole Sunday in the kitchen, preparing your dish—often basically from scratch. And, like I said, I am a big proponent of good cooking when I’m on the consuming side of things.

So why has cookery become a lost art in my life?

If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I’ve found so many other arts to occupy my time. If I’m not writing, I’m quilting. If I’m not quilting, I’m reading a book, or blogging, or working on my website. If I’m not doing that, it’s laundry, or working out, or tidying up, or spending quality time with TiVo.

At some point, you start to feel like one of those kids whose parents force them to take piano lessons, ballet, soccer, basketball, pottery, karate, and ballroom dance. And something’s gotta give.

So in my life, my relationship with the pots and pans and sea salt and extra virgin olive oil was the first thing to go.

If I weren’t married to a man with significant skills in the culinary realm, I might have had to make time for cooking. But as it is, I read debut novels, not cookbooks, and I slice and dice and chop and mash words instead of vegetables.

I think one of the hardest things about writing is finding that you have to juggle your priorities a little. And often, giving themselves permission to underperform in one area makes people uncomfortable. But for me (and a lot of us, I suspect), balance is a crucial ingredient of the writing life.

Speaking of that, I’m smack in the middle of cooking up a work in progress, so I’d better get going before it reduces to nothing!

~ Katie Alender

PS – Have you seen the Bad Girls Don’t Die book trailer yet?