Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cooking, Writing, & Romance and a Good Beef Stew


My books, even the ones that are obviously about food and romance, like Dinner at Home and my latest, Dinner at Fiorello’s, pay homage to the kitchen as well as the bedroom. I see a real link between the heart and the stomach.

Below is an interview I originally did at Prism Book Alliance during the blog tour for
Dinner at Fiorello’s. I thought it was worth repeating here, since it really reveals both my cooking and writing philosophies.

There’s a lot about food in your writing. Was cooking a big thing in your family growing up?

Oh yeah. I grew up with a Sicilian mom and, for Italians, food is at the heart of not only every celebration, but also daily life. Not only did my mother’s simple southern-Italian cooking she learned at the apron strings of her aunts and grandmother (her mom died at a very young age, so my mom was raised by other relatives) help inspire me and guide me on my journey toward loving and respecting food, but it also showed me how you could show your caring for someone by ensuring they ate…and ate well.

Whenever I visited Italian relatives as a kid, we rarely sat in their living rooms. It was always around a big kitchen table. And there was always plenty of food—especially around the holidays—which you better dare not refuse. An Italian woman who wants you to eat cannot be refused!

So, yeah, food was and continues to be a big deal for me.

What are some of your favorite dishes?
I am pretty much indiscriminate when it comes to loving different cuisines (some might say a food slut, but I prefer the term foodie). I mean, there’s very little I won’t eat, unless it’s processed or fast-food crap, and I love all different nationalities’ cooking. My favorites, though, I think would have to be Vietnamese and Korean (easy to find here in Seattle, where the Asian population is huge). And when it comes to my own cooking, it’s simple, nourishing, and comforting. I love to make my mom’s spaghetti sauce and meatballs on a Sunday, letting it simmer all day and fill the house with memories of other Sundays. I make really good soups and stews, often from scratch and assembled from what’s on hand in the fridge and pantry.

Who cooks more, you or your husband? And who is the better cook?
I would say I do about 98.9% of the cooking at our house. Bruce does the cleanup and we are both very happy with this arrangement (well, at least until I use three saucepans, two skillets, a baking sheet, and four mixing bowls to make dinner). But I enjoy doing all the cooking. I read somewhere someone had three rules in the kitchen: shoes off, music on, and a glass of wine at hand. I ascribe to that philosophy. It just makes me happy to feed my loved ones.

And I don’t think Bruce would mind a bit if I admitted that I am the better cook. Yet, when he puts his mind to it and gets in the mood to cook, it’s always wonderful. His roast chicken is a thing of beauty that not even I can rival.

Who taught you how to cook?
My parents. Both my mother and father were excellent cooks. So I never had the sense that cooking wasn’t something for boys. My mom, who was Sicilian, showed my how to cook with love and that the simplest and freshest things were often the best. She taught me how to make the good, hearty peasant-type food the Sicilian aunts and grandmother who raised her made. My dad was more of the chef. Like me, he loved reading recipes and getting ideas, getting inspired.

Do you follow recipes or do you prefer to make up your own dishes?
Ah, definitely the latter. Even when I follow a recipe, I seldom stick to it—I have a need to add my own touches. Since you asked, here’s one of my own recipes and a personal favorite (we eat low-carb these days, so this recipe accounts for that and omits white potatoes—I guarantee you will not miss them!):

Rick R. Reed’s Beef Stew

Ingredients
2.5 lbs. beef stew meat
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large sweet potato
1 cup baby carrots
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 turnip, peeled and diced
1 cup red wine
1 can beef consommé
2 T Better than Bouillon (Beef)
3 T Worcestershire Sauce
2 T tomato paste
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T dried thyme
2 T Herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1.     Sear beef in a little oil in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven; do not crowd—do in batches if necessary.
2.     Remove beef to platter or plate. Deglaze pan with red wine and a little Worcestershire. Reduce down to a syrupy consistency.
3.     Add vegetables, wine, consommé, tomato paste, bouillon, and seasonings to slow cooker.
4.     Add meat, pour reduction over all.
5.     Cook on low 8-9 hours.

Thanks for having me. Hope people will consider taking a bite out of Dinner at Fiorello’s!

DINNER AT FIORELLO'S
Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.

Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

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