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Louisa Shafia

Go Ahead, Eat Cheese, But Make Sure You Exercise. An interview with Sarah Copeland, author of The Newlywed Cookbook

My friend Sarah Copeland (edibleliving.com) just published The Newlywed Cookbook (Chronicle Books, January 2012), a scrumptious guide to cooking for the first years of marriage. Although it’s written for couples, and contains all kinds of tips for feeding your “better half,” the book is a collection of classic recipes that anyone would want to make – newly married or not. Sarah is a veteran of the Food Network Kitchens, where she honed her cooking skills preparing the food that looks so perfect on television and in Food Network Magazine. She filled me in on how this demanding job prepared her to write a cookbook, why it’s okay to eat rich food, and why you should always set your timer for a few minutes earlier than the recipe calls for.

Sarah: Having worked in so many places, from Café Boulud to The Food Network Kitchens, where the standard for consistency and quality was such an important foundation, I understand that what matters most in the follow-through. Starting a cookbook is tremendous fun, finishing it is hard work. Sometimes you don’t want to make that batch of brownies again, but you have to so that the reader only has to make it once, successfully.

Louisa: Cookbooks often contain faulty recipes that don’t come out looking like the photograph in the book. How did you make your recipes foolproof?

I tested and retested the recipes, sent them out to be tested by trained cooks and then again by newlyweds in their own kitchens. But still I know that it’s impossible to catch every detail every time. I’ve tried to give the reader tools and built-in measures for success, like visual clues as the recipe goes along, and smarts about how to trust their instincts, taste as they go, and set a timer for a few minutes earlier (since all ovens and ranges bake differently). I think many cookbooks fall short here because resources are so limited. A book of 130 recipes, like mine, could be done by a team of five in a test kitchen in a heartbeat; you’d have many eyes and opinions making it better. But most authors are a team of one, and that’s a challenge.

Your book has a retro feel, like a hip Gourmet magazine from the 50′s, before everyone became diet-obsessed. Are you a fan of bygone America?

Yes, I was probably born in the wrong era. Much of my grandmothers’ spirits as resourceful farm wives has resurfaced in me, despite my utter suburban upbringing. I cherish good manners, sitting down to dinner with my beloved, wholesome foods that feel nourishing and full of love. I’ve always believed in these values, though it took me a long time to realize that my rural, heartland heritage deserves to be celebrated. I was once very drawn to the exotic, but I can think of nothing that interests me more now than being a part of a generation that leads a nation back to a time and place when these values were the norm. Food is a great place to start.

You’re not shy with using cheese and red meat and other ingredients that aren’t diet-approved. No question these ingredients are tasty, but can you eat them every day?

I believe in whole foods, real foods, and satisfying foods. If you’re asking people to eat more whole grains and vegetables, you can’t also take away their bread and butter. But, there’s a good reason the Little Meals chapter is in the front of the book. Those are the foods we eat from every night. When you fill up on fruits and vegetables and grains, you don’t desire or require as much cheese and meat or bread. The Comfort Foods and Indulgences, as I say in those chapters, are to be enjoyed on occasion in the context of an overall healthy lifestyle, a lifestyle that includes lots of movement and play as well as healthful foods.

What’s a simple, romantic meal that someone could make from your book right now, in the dead of winter?

Baked Risotto with Roasted Vegetables. It’s so warming, satisfying, just as good piping hot as room temperature for lunch the next day. And that’s one bargain dish that you can turn into a sexy supper any night of the week.

Baked Risotto with Roasted Vegetables

From The Newlywed Cookbook. Reprinted with permission from Sarah Copeland and Chronicle Books

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • Roasted Winter Vegetables {please see separate recipe}
  • 1 tbsp  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup/150 g Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup/60 ml dry white wine
  • 2 to 2 1/4 cups/480 to 540 ml hot water, homemade or packaged organic chicken broth, or a mix
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup/30 g freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200°C/gas 6. Roast the vegetables on a single baking sheet/tray on the top rack of the oven {the risotto will bake on the bottom rack}.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in an ovenproof saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil. Stir in the wine and cook until the wine has evaporated, 1 minute more. Stir in 2 cups/480 ml of the hot water, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake on the bottom rack during the last 25 minutes of roasting time for the vegetables. After 25 minutes, check the risotto. Most of the liquid should be absorbed and the rice just cooked.

Remove the risotto from the oven and stir in another 1/2 cup/120 ml hot cups of water, and the butter and cheese.

Serve topped with roasted vegetables with thin shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Roasted Winter Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 2 lb/910 kg winter squash or pumpkin, parsnips, carrots, beets//beetroots, or a mix
  • 2 medium red or yellow onions, quartered
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped, for garnish

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200°C/gas 6. Peel and cut the vegetables into equal sized pieces, about 1-in/2.5-cm chunks. Toss vegetables and onions in olive oil in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper.

Spread the pieces out in a single layer on one or two roasting pans/trays so that the vegetables don’t touch. Roast until the veggies are lightly browned and just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the vegetable. Remove and toss with additional olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with parsley before serving.

Louisa Shafia is a cook with a passion for healthy eating. She recently penned Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of seasonal recipes and eco-friendly advice on food. To watch her cooking videos, see her recipes, and find out about her cooking classes, go to lucidfood.com.


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