The author of the hit debut cookbook “Art of the Pie” is coming to Eagle Harbor Book Company at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6 with a host of satisfying, mainly one-dish meals in her latest tasty tome: “Home Cooking with Kate McDermott.”
Though mostly known for dessert, when she isn’t making pie, McDermott has people to feed.
From roasted chicken and veggies for Sunday supper to batches of hearty soup to reheat when there’s no time to cook, “Home Cooking with Kate McDermott” focuses on staple recipes for people who aren’t looking for a part-time job in the kitchen.
Using ingredients that can be found in any supermarket and techniques that every home cook needs, McDermott shares tasty and repeatable meals for friends and family and, like those in “Art of the Pie,” these recipes are accompanied by moving stories, from anecdotes of single motherhood to building a home in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains.
Visit www.eagleharborbooks.com to learn more.
McDermott, a self-described “cookbook geek” and James Beard Award nominee, took time to chat with the Review recently about her new book, the importance of cooking at home and why budding culinarians should make the time to fail.
* This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
BIR: The new book is about different kinds of food than your first, which was well received. Was there some pressure on you to do something very different than dessert?
KM: I’m so lucky that ‘The Art of the Pie’ has been so well received and continues to do exceptionally well. So of course my publisher was like, ‘What else can we do?’
We came up with a book on home cooking, what I’ve made for my family for years, and that’s what I wrote.
BIR: I understand a lot of the recipes are based on things you saw your mother and grandmother prepare, is that right?
KM: I lived in a multi-generational home, and my grandmother was there and I certainly learned a lot of cooking from her. I would say she was a strong influence. The recipes in the book, some of them are ones I learned from her. Definitely, all of [them] are recipes that I’ve made for family and friends for decades.
BIR: Do you think people today have it easier or not when it comes to cooking at home? On the one hand, stores tend to stock a greater variety of ingredients, some produce is almost always available, which was not always the case. However, there are also more entertainment options, and pre-prepared food options, than ever.
KM: I think that home cooking is something that most all of us aspire to, sitting around the table and enjoying something that’s been made as locally as possible — ideally in your own kitchen. But sometimes in our busy world that’s not possible. Then there are thoughts like, ‘Why have we gotten so busy that we’ve forgotten that just the simple joy of joining at the table over something as simple as a bowl of soup can be one of the most meaningful parts of your day and nourish us in such a wonderful way?’
Driving around in cars from this appointment or that appointment, we’re so busy that just slowing down and taking that little bit of extra time is nourishment beyond anything else that we can have.
BIR: Knowing the limited time most of your readers will probably have to cook, I understand you made it a point to keep these recipes as simple as possible, is that right?
KM: Yes, and also because that’s just how I cook. I’m not a fancy cook, I’m a home cook. I’m not a chef. I’m not a professional baker. I’m a home cook and a home baker.
BIR: Is it a matter of having no time, or is it maybe fear of failing that keeps most people from trying new recipes at home?
KM: I think that simply written recipes can be attractive to busy lifestyles.
When we look at recipe books, or online [at] photos of things that look so perfect, I think that can be a little daunting. And also if we look at a recipe … and there’s a list of ingredients that requires a trip to five different stores to get the ingredients that you need, sometimes that right there can be like, ‘Well, I don’t think I’ll make this’ or ‘I’ll do it at a different time.’
BIR: Were there any big lessons learned while writing your first book that you applied to this one?
KM: I learned a number of things, first of all that I could write a cook book. I had no idea that I could; I didn’t think that I could write. I went to a very small school when I was in high school, there were 24 [people] in my graduating class, and I had the same English teacher for four years in a row and I would get the same grades and comments on my papers: It would say, ‘B- and needs more development.’ And I couldn’t figure out exactly what that meant.
So I think in the process of writing a book, first going through a kind of training ground of writing a blog … when I got out of my own way and just decided to write like I talk and not try to be somebody else or something that I thought somebody was expecting, I found that was when the writing became more enjoyable to me and probably to other people, that’s when I started getting more comments.
What I’m finding that is quite surprising to me is not only are people saying, ‘I love your recipes and they work,’ but, ‘I love your stories. I love your voice. More stories, please.’
BIR: You were surprised people enjoyed that aspect of the book so much?
KM: Oh yeah! When I saw my editor recently … she shared with me something that I did not know, which was they had not done a book with such personal stories, such personal essays, before. A cook book was a cook book with some notes. And this was a stretch for them and they did not know how it was going to be received. Well, it’s been extremely well received and I’m now working on a third book which will be in the same way, with more stories along with the recipes.
BIR: Does that sort of multi-faceted appreciation of food and cooking shows and cooking contests and where recipes come from say anything about our current culture? Maybe something about a desire for authenticity or connectivity?
KM: Maybe. I haven’t had television for 40 years, so I can’t really speak to the strong impact, on a personal level, of what cooking shows do. I did grow in a time where Julia Child was on [TV] in the afternoon.
I do watch the ‘The Great British Baking Show’ online and I love it and what I love about it is that kind of a format is so positive and supportive to everyone. One the [other shows] that every once in a while I have looked at online … I’m always a little kind of shaking my head like, ‘Why are we making this a competition where there’s only going to be one winner?’ Everyone else fails? I feel that just by stepping into the kitchen and giving it a go that you’re a winner. Each time you experiment you get a little better and with baking and pies the only difference between me and you is that maybe I’ve made a few more.
With any skill or craft, the more you practice it the more it becomes second nature, the more you enjoy it.
BIR: The holidays are coming up and folks are getting together. For someone who picks your book and is less experienced in the kitchen but looking to make something to share what’s the best recipe to start with?
KM: There is a recipe in the book called Easy Cheesy Rice and Beanies … and what I’m hearing from people is that when they make that they can’t stop eating it. One comment from a reader was, ‘I feel like I’m eating a great big warm hug.’ That was one of the nicest compliments I could receive.
I created that recipe for those who could not have macaroni and cheese anymore … and wanted to still enjoy mac and cheese, so I decided to do mac and cheese with rice and then, calling up my days [reading] ‘Diet for a Small Planet’ and protein combinations, thought, ‘Oh right, rice and beans! I’ll put that in too.’ So I added a can of black beans. I love to make it and I get the same reaction at my table when I make it, that they just can’t get enough of it.