Recipe testing for Modern Potluck.

Cranberry jam bars from Modern Potluck tested by one of my volunteers.

 

I love a loose recipe, one that’s written more to inspire you to try a certain flavor combination or method for cooking cauliflower than give you an exact road map for making a perfect dish. For my forthcoming cookbook, however, I wrote very specific recipes, often detailing exactly how root vegetables should be cut and how to plate the dish.

When crafting a recipe, there are a zillion factors to consider. For example, calling for 1 garlic clove might suffice if you’re cooking it until it mellows, releasing its flavors into the oil. But if you’re grating it raw for a salad, a volume measurement will likely serve you better, as garlic cloves can range from the size of a large shelled peanut to that of an in-the-shell walnut.

After I developed my recipes, taking copious handwritten notes, and then wrote them up as well as I could, I dispatched them to a bunch of volunteer recipe testers. I learned a ton, A TON from this process, including that it’s basically impossible to write a recipe that’s perfect for every person. Here are a few tips to consider if you want to enlist volunteer recipe testers:  continue reading

My recipe organization spreadsheet

There are few things I like better than taking a massive, overwhelming project and breaking it down into small, bite-sized pieces. This is probably why I found a great groove while writing my cookbook, which I just handed in this week. Phew! I still have tons of work to do–plenty of editing and recipe re-testing and re-testing, but it feels great to have a first draft off my desk and on someone else’s.

Here is how I approached the project, and yes, Microsoft Excel played a huge role.

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Writing a cookbook is something I’ve always wanted to do. But for years, I just didn’t feel ready. Sure, I had zillions of ideas but I still felt like I had tons to learn. About food. About recipe development. About marketing. (Because, hey, it turns out, writing cookbooks, like any craft, is also business!)

I’ve been lucky enough to have a literary agent for years, which I know, sounds fancy. In truth, he’s my friend who just happens to be a literary agent and we happened to meet as he was transitioning from selling fiction to selling food books. As an editor at Food & Wine, I sounded fancy, too, so he added me to his client list even though we had no projects in the work. Every once in a while, I’d float a book idea by him, and his response was often akin to meh. 
Last fall, I told him about how, ever since my daughter had been born 18 months prior, it was hard to throw dinner parties. I said, I need to have more potlucks. And man, there’s a genre of food that needs updating. *bing* The Modern Potluck, he said. Write the proposal. 

Oh, ok. I’ll do that, in the middle of trying to create a freelance career, build a business and raise a kid. No problem.

In February, he checked in. How’s the proposal.

Ummmmmm…

I’m a big to-do list maker. If it goes on the list, it has to get done. So I put it on the list for March. Every day, I worked on it for an hour or so. By the end of the month, I had a draft of a proper proposal, with sample recipes as well. We polished it for a couple of weeks and then my agent sent it to publishers. And then we waited. Several bites came. He set up meetings. I got my hair blown out and put on make-up. I brought some food and some lip balm, because who doesn’t love snacks and swag?

In the end, we decided to work with Clarkson Potter and I’m thrilled. So now I’m in the midst of writing my first cookbook. It’s a bird-by-bird process and I’m loving every second of it but more on that later because now, I’ve got to get back to it!

KedgereeOverhead

Long before we were saddled with a mortgage and, um, a child (sorry, Elsa), my husband and I have rented a mountain house with a fun group of friends for Labor Day. Our first year or two (or even three? it’s all a bit fuzzy now) was more or less all about drinking. We started with mimosas for breakfast, moved onto mango or watermelon margaritas for lunch (all made with fresh fruit) and sat down all civilized-like with wine at dinner. There were also beer snacks in between.

While I could never really keep up with my husband or friends, I definitely maintained a happy, relaxed buzz all day, something that’s impossible to do now that I’m in my mid-thirties with a 2-year-old. Even during the years when we drank our faces off, meal-times were always important and we each took turns cooking for the group. I’ve made everything from chicken tinga tacos (thanks, Jenn Louis!) to Korean bulgogi before settling into David Chang’s bo ssaam for a few years in a row.

This year, I decided to switch it up. I wanted something healthier but just as crowd-pleasing so I opted for a grilled side of salmon–the sheer size of it making the meal feel special. I then realized that by preparing fish, I’d naturally be the first to cook and get my duty out of the way. So I bought a second side of salmon to grill and use for breakfast the next day. (Done and done.)

I rubbed the two sides of salmon (about 6 pounds total) with Grace Parisi’s tandoori marinade, which is just awesome because the spiced yogurt marinade complements rather than covers up the flavor of the fish. After dinner, we had about 2 pounds of cooked fish left along with a little bit of the unused marinade.

The next morning, I made a version of kedgeree, a British-Indian breakfast rice dish designed for using up leftovers. After steaming 2 cups of basmati rice and making 8-minute hard-boiled eggs, I sauteed plenty of onion, garlic and ginger in butter in a huge skillet. I then added the rice, the fish and the leftover yogurt marinade and let them all heat through together. I seasoned it well with salt, topped it with the quartered eggs and garnished with the cilantro. Served right from the skillet, it paired perfectly with our lake view and sustained us all morning. Plus, it was so delicious that even my daughter ate some. If only I could have drunk a mimosa with it. KedgereeatTheLake