Sometimes you need to cook a budget-friendly, easy, and delicious meal on the fly. Dallas-dweller Caroline Wright has read your mind, and penned Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals to help you out (how sweet of her!). To celebrate her new cookbook, she’s offering one of our lovely readers a copy.
Here’s what you’ve got to do to win: 1. Check out her Q&A below. We like her, she seems like somebody we would like to share a meal with. 2. Like us on Facebook! We like you, and you like us, so naturally you want to “like” us. 3. Enter below! We will let the winner know this Friday.
P.S. Caroline will be hosting an dinner party at Cebolla next week—get the details here.
D Home: What’s your background?
I grew up in Florida with food memories that are fairly standard for the suburban set. My relationship to food really kicked in during college, as I was studying literature in Paris. I had been cooking and baking my whole life and was certainly a passionate and thoughtful eater before college, but Paris really exploded the realm of possibility for having a relationship to cooking, beginning with the careful consideration of ingredients. My life in New York picked up where Paris left off: I began to have people to cook for, my inspiring colleagues and close friends (and husband, of course).
D Home: When did you become interested in cooking?
I honestly have been cooking and baking since I can remember. I only seem to look back and can survey messes, rather than finished dishes, in my head – tinkering with spoonfuls of this and that to see what could come of it. I was probably eight or nine. My interest in cooking as a profession, however, came much later, only because I didn’t know it was an option! I went to the La Varenne cooking school, then in the Burgundy region of France just outside Paris, right after college. I studied under Anne Willan, a truly great cookbook author, who introduced me to the idea of being a food writer, editor and stylist.
D Home: How long did it take for you to create the cookbook?
This book has had many lives, and has been a project of mine for some time now. I started a weekly column of the same name on my blog, The Wright Recipes, in 2009. These were the dishes that my friends—a crew of out-of-work actors with generous palettes—most identified with, so they were the ones I focused on most. I wanted to make a sort of cookbook for these friends, a collection of these recipes that we discussed over dinner over the span of two years, so I set about turning them into a printed booklet. From that booklet, I began teaching classes at the Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg, which is where my editor discovered my work. I actually got the email from my agent detailing my editor’s discovery the moment I turned my phone on when my plane touched down in Dallas. That was the day I moved from Brooklyn to Dallas two summers ago.
D Home: What’s your favorite dish in the cookbook?
It’s a deeply personal book for me, so many of these recipes were the fodder for transformative dinner conversations and making of friends over years in New York. Leaving the nostalgia out of it and thinking only of flavors I crave now in Texas summer, I love the Merguez Burgers with Cucumber Dressing. I was inspired to make them when recalling my time in culinary school; I remembered mixing up the sausage by hand and falling in love with the spicy Moroccan spice paste called harissa. You’ll see harissa paste used a few times throughout the book—I was happy to see it in Central Market, like meeting an old friend.
D Home: What recipe do you think is ideal for entertaining this summer?
There are a ton of grilling recipes in the book, though Grilled Turkey Sausage and Pepper Pizza—as in, the pizza itself is grilled and not just the toppings—makes for a fun, unexpected pizza night. I have a master recipe for Mussels and Sausage, with three flavor variations, which all feel like the perfect al fresco dinner to me with a glass of wine and hunk of crusty bread. I want to eat something with my hands that’s messy and delicious, surrounded by friends.
D Home: Why did you want to do a budget-conscious cookbook?
The twenty-dollar part of the book fell in sort of naturally: it created a boundary that necessarily indicated weeknight cooking, and it gave me enough creative space to cook a variety of meals. It also highlights a truth about cooking as a means to feed a group of four people: that cooking is cheaper, let alone (to my argument) tastier and more valuable, than ordering in. Twenty dollars per meal can seem expensive to some or cheap to others, so I don’t tend to think of this book as being budget fare even though many of the recipes in the book price out at well under the maximum. What is unique about these recipes is that they can be everyday fare or entertaining fare depending on who’s coming to dinner.
D Home: What, besides food, do you think is necessary for a good party?
There are a few things that go into a great party, and I think that the food is only one element. A wine that’s decent enough to enhance and not distract from the food, but cheap enough that no one has to measure the pour is a must, as is good music. Above all, though, I think what defines a stellar party is a relaxed host who is able to hang out with the crowd before dinner, maybe pluck a few mingling friends from the crowd to help bring plates to the table. Those are the characteristics of the parties I’ve loved, and ones I’ve hosted from this book throughout its development. I served the Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe to my friends along with stories after a return from vacation in Rome; the Radish, Watercress and Butter Sandwiches were made so I could take them to a picnic in Prospect Park. With a simple menu that begins with fresh ingredients, a great dinner party is not far behind.