Cookbooks, and the advice industry as a whole, can sometimes have the opposite of their desired effect on their target audience. Instead of feeling inspired, the reader just feels defeated. It's too hard and I'm too tired, thinks the busy mom (a marketing cliche in itself) as she leafs through the latest food magazine while waiting for the pizza to arrive.
Lucinda Scala Quinn has spent her career doling out home-cooking advice — and raising three sons. As the executive director of food and entertaining (what a title, no?) for Martha Stewart's many Omnimedia projects, she hosted "Everyday Food" on PBS, oversaw recipe testing at Martha Stewart Living, and wrote four cookbooks. The latest is "Mad Hungry Cravings," a follow-up to her popular "Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys."
She worked on that book, and the "Mad Hungry" television show that followed, through her three sons' teen years (Luca is now 18, Miles, 22 and Calder, 26) .
"The the studio was near the high school, and the boys would stop by on their way home. It's real, it's just what has been happening to me for the past 25 years," says Quinn from a Salt Lake City hotel room on her book tour.
In the epilogue to the new book, Calder Quinn offers some insight into what it was like to grow up in a food-centric New York City home. "If I managed to slip out of the house before oatmeal was forced on me, I had a bacon, egg, and cheese waiting for me on Broadway."
Now grown, Calder is "the most frugal cook" says his mom. "He loves to conserve on his resources and he loves to have people around him. I was so proud — the kid just posted a gorgeous flat-roasted chicken on Instagram."
That's what she's hoping to promote as she travels the country promoting "Mad Hungry Cravings" — not guilt, but the pride and pleasure that comes from cooking.
"I'm really wanting people to get in the kitchen and reclaim cooking for themselves," says Quinn.
So how does she manage a two-month book tour?
"I geared up for this schedule. I swim and get good sleep. It's my job to stay as functional as possible. You can't just wing it any more, girl. Forget fat, I just want to feel good," says Quinn. "I don't have throwaway meals. If I can't find something interesting to eat, I'll have fruit and nuts and nourish myself."
"Nourish" is a word that comes up often in conversation with Quinn. She found comfort in the kitchen after her family moved when she was in 10th grade.
"My own mother helped me stay connected to the person I am. she always said 'Make the best of what you have.' I decided when those kids came out, I was going to do the best I could to nourish them physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally."
But she realizes that not every mother can fulfill that kind of commitment. She hears from lots of women who tell her they never wanted to cook. Some feel guilty, some just preferred to focus on other things.
But she says it's never too late, whether you want to eat better for health, or inspire the next generation to cook.
"I'm seeing people who aren't just saying 'I have to cook because I have kids,' they are saying 'I want to cook,' " she says.
She tells how a 20-something woman came with her mother to a cooking class and the mom confessed she had never cooked. She told her daughter, "I didn't do this, and I hope you don't miss this opportunity. It brought them together," Quinn says. "I hope our legacy is that the next generation has learned you don't really have to have guilt — it's still a teachable opportunity. This next generation — they see being able to cook as empowering as having a Ph.D. in mathematics."
In Philadelphia, this sandwich is personalized. Add the whiz? Provolone? Onions? Peppers? Giardiniera? You better know what you want before you step up to the counter. From "Mad Hungry Cravings," makes 2 sandwiches.
One 1-pound boneless beef top round steak
½ medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 tablespoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Two 8-inch-long hero rolls
4 slices provolone cheese
1 cup Creamy Cheese Sauce (recipe follows)
Giardiniera for garnish (optional)
To make slicing it easier, freeze the beef for 30 minutes to firm up.
Preheat a double-burner griddle or two large skillets over medium-high heat. Thinly slice the meat against the grain.
Toss the onions in a bowl with the oil and put them on the griddle. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions become translucent. Push the onions to the back of the griddle.
Place the beef on the griddle and season with salt and pepper. Cook, turning occasionally, until no pink remains. Stir the onions into the beef and chop the beef mixture into bite-size pieces with the side of a metal spatula.
Divide the beef and onions between the hoagie rolls. Top with the provolone and cheese sauce. Serve immediately, topped with giardiniera, if desired.
Creamy Cheese Sauce
This sauce can be made ahead of time, cooled, and stored in a container with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator for up to a week. Reheat it, stirring occasionally, in a saucepan over low heat when ready to use. From "Mad Hungry Cravings," makes 2 cups.
One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 scant teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 pound mild yellow cheddar cheese, shredded
Bring the evaporated milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce the heat, add the mustard, gradually add the cheese, and stir gently until the cheese is melted. Keep warm on the stovetop, stirring occasionally, until ready to serve.
This is a great pickled "vegetable" to keep in the fridge for sandwiches and salads. The recipe can be halved if desired. From "Mad Hungry Cravings," makes 2 quarts.
2½ cups white wine vinegar
1½ cups water
2 tablespoons coarse salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 bay leaf
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon celery seeds
2 celery stalks, peeled and sliced on the bias into 1-inch pieces
½ head cauliflower, core removed and separated into florets
1 small yellow onion, quartered lengthwise and halved crosswise
2 serrano chiles sliced on the bias into ½-inch-wide pieces
Combine the vinegar, water, salt, sugar, bay leaf, cloves and celery seeds in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients and return to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid. The giardiniera can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Shrimp Summer Rolls
Summer rolls are a healthful way to satisfy an Asian food craving. They are fresh room-temperature rolls, not deep-fried. Here, julienned veggies, blanched shrimp, herbs, and thin noodles are wrapped in rice papers and served with a flavorful dipping sauce. Set up an assembly line to make them—it's a great family activity. From "Mad Hungry Cravings," makes 12 rolls.
24 medium shrimp (about 1 pound)
4 ounces rice vermicelli noodles
12 spring roll skins
1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves or Italian basil leaves
1 packed cup finely shredded Napa cabbage
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
¼ cup chopped palm sugar or packed light brown sugar
Juice of 2 limes (¼ cup)
1/3 cup fish sauce
2 scallions, white and pale green parts minced, dark green tops thinly sliced
Put a large pot of water over high heat. Meanwhile, peel and devein the shrimp. When the water comes to a boil, add a generous pinch of salt, then add the shrimp, and cook until opaque, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the shrimp to a bowl of ice water. This will stop the cooking and ensure the shrimp remain tender and moist.
Put the noodles in a baking dish, cover with hot water, and soak until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water.
Cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. Pour ½ inch of cool water into a pie plate. Submerge a spring roll skin in the water for 10 seconds, then remove and transfer to a clean work surface. Place 4 shrimp halves cut side up in a straight row across the lower third of the skin. Top the shrimp with a few basil leaves, a few tablespoons of the shredded cabbage, a pinch of the carrots, and 1/3 cup of the rice noodles. Carefully lift the edge of the spring roll skin nearest you up and over the filling. Fold the sides over, and continue to roll up. Transfer to a platter, seam side down, and cover with a damp paper towel. Continue building the remaining rolls.
For the dipping sauce, whisk the garlic, jalapeño, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and minced scallions in a medium bowl. Transfer to individual dipping bowls and garnish with the sliced scallion tops.
Serve the summer rolls with the dipping sauce.
Note: To cut the vegetables into julienne (thin matchstick-shaped pieces), first cut into 1/8-inch slices, then stack the slices, and cut into 1/8 inch-thick strips. Trim pieces to desired length, usually about ½ inch.
This is a riff on laksa, a coconut curry soup with Chinese-Malay elements. At home, mussels take literally minutes to prepare and need only a crispy baguette to sop up all the delicious juices. From "Mad Hungry Cravings," serves 4.
2 tablespoons safflower oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
One ½-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed clean and beards removed
12 cilantro sprigs
1 lime, cut into wedges
Heat a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil. When it shimmers, add the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the curry paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil.
Add the mussels to the skillet, cover, and cook just until they open, 2 to 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a serving bowl. (Discard any unopened mussels.) Pour the sauce over the mussels, garnish with the cilantro and lime, and serve immediately. Put out a bowl for the shells.
Note on cleaning mussels and other bivalves: Most of the work for a dish like this is getting the shellfish cleaned, devoid of any grit or seaweed. I scrub each shell under cold running water, then soak them in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes. (Invest in a small kitchen scrub brush and reserve it for this task.) Lift them out, scrub again, and soak in fresh water; repeat the process until they are clean. Mussels have a "beard" that needs to be pulled out from the edge of the shell. Rope mussels — i.e., farmed — are one of the few cultivated seafood products I like. They are uniform in size and come clean, requiring much less work than their wild cousins to be ready for the pot.
Caramelized Onion and Bacon Dip
If you love yet hate that packaged onion soup mix dip, this is the version for you. It is a richer, deeper-flavored, cleaner-ingredient excuse for a potato-chip-dipping marathon. Or smear it over flatbreads for a classier affair. The dip can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. From "Mad Hungry Cravings," makes 2 cups.
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 pounds yellow onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/3 pound bacon, chopped
1½ cups mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup safflower oil
3 shallots, thinly sliced into rings
Heat a large skillet. Add the olive oil. When it shimmers, add the onions and salt and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deep golden in color, 45 minutes to I hour; add a little water if needed to prevent sticking. Add the vinegar during the last minute of cooking. Let cool.
Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a small skillet until it has rendered its fat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate; reserve the fat in the pan if you will be frying the shallots.
Let the bacon cool.
Stir together the mayonnaise, sour cream, onions, and bacon in a large bowl.
For the optional garnish, add the vegetable oil to the skillet with the bacon fat and heat over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the shallots, lower the heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Drain the shallots on a paper-towel-lined plate.
Garnish the dip with the fried shallots, if using, and serve.
Cold Soba Noodles with Dipping Sauce
Buckwheat is an entirely different grain from wheat, and it is full of protein. Because buckwheat is gluten-free, this dish is easily adaptable for those with gluten intolerances—simply substitute wheat-free tamari for the soy sauce. From "Mad Hungry Cravings," serves 6.
3 tablespoons safflower or peanut oil
1 large shallot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise , one-third cup)
3½ ounces buna shimeji (beech mushrooms) or button mushrooms, sliced
9 ounces soba noodles
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Sriracha
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
½ English cucumber, cut into 1½-inch-long matchsticks
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When it shimmers, add the shallots and mushrooms and sauté until the shallots are golden and the mushrooms brown in places, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain. Toss the noodles with the shallots, mushrooms, and the remaining tablespoon of oil. Let cool to room temperature.
Whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, hot sauce, sesame oil, and scallions in a medium bowl. Divide the dipping sauce among individual serving bowls.
Toss the cucumber and sesame seeds with the noodles and serve with the dipping sauce.