When I first decided to write contemporary romances with culinary themes, I was very excited about the research possibilities. Eating out at fancy, adventurous, and/or exotic restaurants! Reading every kitchen memoir I could get my hands on! Poring over cookbooks! And, of course, experimenting in my own kitchen. I always intended to cook the dishes that appear in my books, just to make sure they tasted as good as they sounded (and also to compensate my sweet, supportive husband for those weeks near deadline when all we eat is frozen pizza and fried eggs.)But then my editor at St. Martin’s called to discuss how excited she was to be publishing Can’t Stand the Heat, and she slipped this into the conversation: “And of course, we’ll put recipes in the back.”
I said, “Of course we will!”
I had no idea what I was agreeing to. Let’s be clear: I love to cook. Cooking can be like meditation when I’m cooking something familiar like my mother’s cornbread or my favorite all-butter pancakes from Gourmet, my all-time favorite of the food mags (you can’t imagine my sorrow at the recent news of its demise). Cooking can also be a thrilling leap off a cliff into the unknown, a chance to try new things and expand my horizons with dishes like baekhoffe, a homey pork and vegetable roast from Alsace, or spicy chicken curry with cashews.
But making up a recipe and testing it out so that it can be written down coherently and reproduced reliably? That’s a whole other thing.
In Can’t Stand the Heat, the sexy chef hero convinces the skeptical food critic heroine that he can cook with a single, perfect bite. I decided that bite should be one of the recipes included in the book, and I wanted to use pork belly, because I’d had it in restaurants and knew it could be sensational. The fact that I had no idea how to cook it occurred to me too late. Luckily, my best friend is a sensational cook. She even has her own food blog, www.QueenieTakesManhattan.blogspot.com! When I called her, crying and up to my eyeballs in pork fat, she came running. We organized a Pork Belly Cook-off, a competition in which she, my husband, and I each created an appetizer-sized dish featuring pork belly.
After much discussion, the dishes we submitted were Braised Pork Belly with Pickled Jalapenos and Watermelon (the bff), Pork Belly Milanese with an arugula salad and lemon compote on the side (the husband), and my two: Barbecued Pork Belly with a bourbon brown-sugar glaze on a bed of crunchy citrus slaw, and the dish that made it into the book by a narrow margin: Cider-braised Pork Belly with Apples and Spiced Candied Walnuts.
It was a great day, delicious, but utterly exhausting. I wound up more drained than I am on D-Day (Deadline Day) and that’s saying something! I have a whole new respect for cookbook authors. Cooking ability isn’t enough—the discipline it takes to make note of everything that goes into the dish, from technique to ingredients, is astounding.So what about you? Do you ever come up with your own recipes? Do you share them with your family and friends?
Leave a favorite recipe in the comments and you’ll be entered to win a signature Can’t Stand the Heat apron, a set of darling red spatulas, and a signed copy of the book! And be sure to drop by my website at www.LouisaEdwards.com.