We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
Today: We talk Piglet, porridge, and forthcoming titles with JJ Goode of A Girl and Her Pig.
People talked a lot about A Girl and Her Pig when it came out: first because of the slack pig draped over April Bloomfield's shoulders like a scarf, then because of the genius recipes. And then, in a way that might make you believe in fate, because it won the Piglet. If you never made it past that polarizing cover -- and there were too many of you -- you should. If you've never cooked from this book, you're doing yourself a disservice.
A Girl and Her Pig is what happens when the woman behind heralded restaurants -- like The Spotted Pig and The Breslin -- teams up with the best in the food-writing business. The recipes are genius; the techniques inspired; the words are natural, clear, clever. Make it through the first chapter, and you're a better writer. Make it through the second, and you're a better cook.
We caught up with JJ Goode recently to chat about the book, its porridge that has a cult following, and -- spoiler alert! -- when we can expect to see another title.
Before April embarked on her career toward a multiple restaurant-owning, Piglet-winning chef, she thought she might be in the police force. Was your path always headed toward writing cookbooks?
Definitely not! In high school I wanted to be an engineer, because I heard engineers made $80,000 right after college. I don’t know where I got that figure, and to this day, I don’t think I could tell you what an engineer does. By the end of college, I knew I liked food, but I had no idea how to get involved in the industry. I figured no one would hire me to cook, because I was born without my right arm. I spent a fruitless summer applying to be a waiter. I wound up at the prepared foods counter at Whole Foods.
Even after I’d started writing about food, writing cookbooks never crossed my mind, because I was never a very good cook. I figured that no one would want to hire me. But a good seven or eight years ago, a friend recommended me for a cookbook project that he didn’t have the time to do. I felt I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. That project lead to another and then to more, and I realized that all my ignorance about cooking and fretting while I do it actually helped the process. Chefs know so much that they forget how much help home cooks need. So I embraced my lack of knowledge. I ask all the questions any home cook would, and make sure the chef’s recipes reflect the answers.
Is there a specific technique you took away from A Girl and Her Pig that you still use regularly? How did the book make you a better cook?
Oh, there are so many! I still cook from the book sometimes, but even more often I incorporate the little things April does into my everyday cooking. Whenever I roast vegetables, for instance, I brown them first on the stovetop instead of starting them in the oven. I peel tomatoes, which is something I thought she was nuts for doing when she insisted on it for certain recipes. I love how it accentuates the meaty texture of cooked tomatoes. I purée some -- but not all -- of a sauce, so it’s airy and smooth but still has texture.
The technique I use most often is when I’m using onion and carrots to make a base for a dish. I used to cook the onions and carrots in an uncovered pan, but I watched April add them to the oil, season them with salt, and cover the pan. She cooked them at a fairly low heat and they sort of steam. The onions get creamy and the carrots get really sweet. Sometimes she lets them get brown afterwards by removing the cover and increasing the heat. But not always. Sometimes things shouldn’t get color. I use that concept at home, too.
Be honest: Are you on this bandwagon as vehemently as the whole Food52 team is?
Yes! I thought porridge and oatmeal -- the whole genre, really -- were the worst. And at first I thought, really, porridge in a cookbook? Isn’t that like giving a recipe for orange juice? Then she made it for me. Hers is a magical thing. It’s all about the salt. Usually oatmeal is either too sweet or bland. Hers isn’t a middle ground so much as it is another dish entirely -- the recipe is just the kind you want from a cookbook. I’d never have gotten there myself; I would’ve been too scared to over-salt it. You need someone like April to get you there.
In Stanley Tucci's Piglet judgment from last year, he wrote that he could not "wait for Ms. Bloomfield to write about a girl and lots of other animals." Can we expect to see another title from you both?
First of all, I would have been excited if Stanley Tucci sneezed on the book. To hear that he liked it is just unreal. The answer to your question is: Yes! But I hope Mr. Tucci will forgive us for snubbing animals. The book is tentatively titled A Girl and Her Greens, and it’ll be out in the spring of 2015. It’ll have about 75 vegetable (but not strictly vegetarian) recipes. She knows that she definitely isn’t the first to write a vegetable-focused cookbook. But she has such a unique perspective on familiar dishes that I know people will love this one as much as they did her first!
It's Sunday evening, you're hungry, and you're getting ready to catch up on this year's Piglet judgments. What do you cook from A Girl and Her Pig?
Well, first I'd make myself a cocktail (is bourbon on ice a cocktail?), because the judgments make me nervous! As someone who helps write these books, I know how devastating it can be to read that a reviewer didn't like a recipe. Or even worse, if he or she finds a mistake! But eating is relaxing, too, so I'd probably make the chicken liver toasts, which are dead simple and amazing, or because it's so cold right now, her seven-vegetable soup.
Top photo by Melissa Hom, bottom photos by James Ransom