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Update! Merguez Burgers and A Giveaway from Caroline Wright

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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 to Caroline Wright, who is about to save dinnertime with a book full of Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute meals you'll actually want to make -- including Merguez Burgers that we'll be grilling all summer. We're also giving away five copies of her book!

Caroline Book

Caroline Wright is an idealist and a realist all at once: she fell in love with cooking in France, loves to eat, and dreams of merry dinner parties full of friends, stories, and wine. She's also busy. So she began developing flavorful, satisfying recipes that could be made cheaply, in a short amount of time. In her new book, Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals, Caroline shares meals that take little effort but will still excite the people around your table, and keep them coming back for more.

You've already seen some of these meals in Caroline's column, but today she's sharing a little more, talking to us about what she loves to cook for her family and for a crowd. She's even sharing a recipe for Merguez Burgers with Cucumber Dressing, which we can't wait to grill this summer. And we're giving away five copies of her book so that you can start cooking more -- in less time.

You studied at La Varenne in Paris and recall hosting many a dinner party while living there. Is there one meal in particular that stands out as a formative one in your relationship with food and cooking?
My awareness of cooking and technique really materialized during culinary school in Burgundy. My time in Paris during college, however, was most important in becoming aware of markets and food as a part of a full and joyful way of life, which perhaps was more informative for my philosophy now than any one particular meal. We ate well, surrounded by friends, and our meals were delicious and simple. This provided the tone for my relationship with food.

What do you like to cook when you have a little more than 20 minutes?
I love to cook simple, daily meals in an interesting way, but I also love to roll up my sleeves and cook long and slow and really dig into my own world for a while. I also love to cook for a ton of people, things like braised goat piled on paper plates, as long as I can sit at the table with everyone and enjoy the conversation and wine. Braised meats are my jam.

More: Choose the right wine to pair with your braised meat -- be it goat, beef, or lamb.

You now have a young son. How do you manage feeding him too while you cook meals for you and your husband?
My son, while seemingly in the process of developing a gusto for food, is still quite young and toothless at eight months, so he’s mostly eating purées. Truthfully, his introduction to food has been simple and fairly effortless so far -- I just blend a bit of whatever vegetables my husband and I are eating with some water and freeze them in ice cube trays. When I’ve felt a bit more ambitious, I’ve dressed some purées with different mild flavors, like butternut squash with cinnamon and orange, or parsnips with sage, just to feel like I’m doing something. 

If you could throw a dinner party for six, whom would you invite, and what would you talk about?
This feels like a fun game for clever dinner party conversation, where I’m meant to ask “Living or dead?” and come up with a cast of characters that include Gertrude Stein. Truthfully, though, the happiest dinners that fill me as a person and cook are those spent with my best friends in Brooklyn. They are the most generous and loving people to have at my table -- we talk, joke, and eat all at the same time. Dinners are loud; the food is good. In a dream scenario, I would spend days making a delicious porky broth for ramen. I’d have everyone put together their own bowls just before we sit down and pass around homemade pickles and seasonal veggies to dunk in our noodles. We’d probably talk about how we’d spent our weeks since we last saw each other, nothing special, mixed with what we’re learning from our days in New York. It would be cold outside and warm inside and just the best night we could remember in weeks.

What's your favorite recipe in the new book?
That’s a hard one to answer, but I love the Merguez Burgers in the cookbook. They are a recipe I make at the first cookout of every year, and are requested by my husband and friends frequently. They are mixed up with ground lamb and all of my favorite spices, including a big dollop of harissa paste, and then they’re topped with a simple cucumber dressing and served on chewy rolls. Basically, they’re what I want to be eating this very minute.

Merguez Burgers with Cucumber Dressing

Serves 4

2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 pound ground lamb
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon harissa paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3 sliced Kirby cucumbers
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

We're giving away five copies of Caroline's new book! To enter, tell us in the comments: What are your favorite weeknight dinners that come together in a flash? We'll pick our winners on Friday, May 17 at 3 PM EST.

Recipe excerpted from Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals
Copyright 2013 by Caroline Wright
Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. New York
All Rights Reserved

Tags: Books, Cookbooks, 5 Questions