Author and journalist Holly Peterson talks to us about her new book, Smoke and Fire: Recipes and Menus for Entertaining Outdoors, from Assouline.
Why did you write this book?
Summer is here and nothing makes me happier than gathering friends and family in settings that create intimacy and memorable conversations. Cooking outdoors in front of a fire is all about wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, just-showered hair, a colorful cocktail in one hand and a gooey, cheesy, just fired-appetizer in the other… all as you watch the sun set. The conversations pop louder than the embers before you. I wanted to create 12 chapters about how to enjoy this season with the sparks of fire, delicious food and refreshing drinks.
Why all fire-cooked food?
My book is filled with ideas and menus for entertaining outdoors from the axises of this country: in the East, an Atlantic Ocean lobster bake covered with white wine soaked burlap, in the West, a Montana Big Sky hearth-roast lamb and berry cobbler meal. In the South, a New Orleans courtyard shrimp boil, and then up North a New England Harvard/Yale tailgate in the fall.
Nothing brings people together more than the mesmerizing effects of fire. The entire book is about events, menus and recipes based around different situations with fire. It’s very affordable and approachable for people to cook and entertain this way and I have tons of tips and ideas in the book… all not meant to intimidate but to inspire. Just throw clam shells on your lobster-bake table, or certain fruits into your tequila, or pomegranate seeds into your kid’s bright yellow lemonade, or grilled purple onions on your pizza.
You can cook anything over a flame with a cast-iron skillet, from chocolate chip cookies to berry cobblers. You can throw a pizza stone on your Weber grill and make perfect Neapolitan thin-crust pizzas right in your backyard. None of it is complicated, all of it is affordable and fun.
One important tip: you can’t use heavy Le Creuset or other cookware suitable for an indoor stove that one might think works on a flame.
Be very careful to get inexpensive cast-iron pans (like pioneers used) or the products mentioned in my book so they don’t crack or explode on the fire or grill. Those super inexpensive aluminum lasagna pans you find in grocery-store aisles are actually the most versatile for outdoor cooking: they are light, they don’t get too hot and they come in various sizes from muffin tins to roaster size.
You are a journalist by trade. Is this book timely?
Absolutely, I think the book is journalistically sound. There’s a distinctive shift away from the go-go 1990s with poufy shoulders on blouses and pomp-and-fancy place settings five knives and forks deep. Anything reeking of showiness is actually kind of tacky and passé. Showing off one’s goods, homes, clothes, cars or even having lavish events is just not what anyone’s after or anyone appreciates.
Now it’s all about casual chic, the kind of style that the Tory brand represents, where one feels elegant but comfortable: nothing unnatural or forced, all flowing and easy. That’s what chic, casual entertaining is all about.
How do you define casual-chic in entertaining or style?
There’s a relaxed attitude in the air that people are after. Our lives are so harried with emails and the Internet that all of us just want to slow down. Creating events with fire allows us to turn off the phones, sit around the flames and enjoy each other. I’ve created an entire book with recipes for Parmesan-dusted corn, the best pizzas made on a stone outside, gooey grilled cheeses for tailgates, and orange and garlic chicken that matches the sunset. The cocktails are brightly colors and packed with fruit, mint, lavender sprigs, various alcohols, and are refreshing and light.
There’s more chic in the casual, more awareness of the fast pace with which we live and the need to just hunker down with what’s important: families and friends and good home-cooked food.
When you bring family together, we see that’s an opportunity to think of others…
All the proceeds from Smoke and Fire: will go to Feeding America, the largest network of food pantries in the country. Food banks are the most democratic and economically diverse way to help people; you can do it in churches and schools with canned good drives; you can go to a pantry in your area with your kids and serve meals on holidays or weekends as a family activity. You can, of course, donate money but with food pantries, your effort and time is equally valuable as the money. That’s why I picked this organization — everyone loves helping food pantries.
Feeding America is an organization that started with one food bank in Arizona in 1967 and distributes over 250,000 pounds of food. Feeding America has evolved into a nationwide distribution network of 60,000 food banks that feeds more than 46 million people more than 3 billion meals each year, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. This amazing feat is accomplished through the use of mobile food pantries, pantries on school campuses, pantries for seniors, and pantries set up in areas affected by disaster. There are additional programs that teach recipients about nutrition, advocate for legislation to protect people from going hungry and educate the public about the problem of hunger in America. Much of the donated food, a total value of $2 billion last year, comes via donations from partners like Costco, Cargill, Walmart and HSBC, but restaurants and grocery stores participate as well.
In 2014, one in seven people utilized a food bank in the network because more than 48 million Americans are unable to buy the food they need. The work done by Feeding America to fight the problem of hunger is important and it will never be complete.
You can visit http://www.feedingamerica.org/take-action/ to learn more about these and other ways to get involved and be a part of the solution.