Monday, March 3, 2008

Shop Friend: Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks

I am so happy to introduce friend and author Heidi Swanson. Her amazing cookbook, “Super Natural Cooking” is beautifully photographed by Heidi herself (yes, she is both cook AND photographer AND has hands down one of the most popular food blogs (101 Cookbooks) around). Her cookbook features recipes that are so relevant to today’s taste and desires to eat wholefully that I had a hard time picking out which recipes to try first. I picked up my copy at Anthropologie, but her book is available at any of these locations.

Heidi was gracious enough to allow me to ask her a few questions about her work and book and I am delighted to share them with you:

Has writing an enormously popular blog and being an author of two cookbooks been something you had always envisioned?

Not at all. But I should qualify that by saying that as a young person, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do or be - that question always sent a jolt of panic through me. But somehow over the past ten years I've been able to carve my own path, and work on interesting projects. Related to what I'm doing now on the culinary front, I have a pretty unconventional background. I grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley - so technology has always been a part of my vocabulary and what I'm interested in. My neighbors worked for companies like Atari, Apple, HP, and IBM. On top of that I was a visual arts major in college, I worked for a magazine and website publisher straight out of school. I cook. A lot. I've always been around good, enthusiastic cooks, who eventually rubbed off on me. I also worked in a family-run Italian restaurant when I was in college. All the skills I've learned by being curious and by pursuing the things I like have come together into the projects I work on now. I'm very fortunate.

I love the section in your book "Cook by Color" as well as the photojournalistic quality of the photographs that go along with each recipe--does your visual/creative background influence the way you create your recipes?

In addition to flavor, I'm always considering how color and texture can come into play in a recipe. Living in San Francisco is great because I'm always coming across stunningly beautiful, fresh, colorful ingredients to use. Using color and texture is a great way to add flair to your cooking without getting overly fussy - which is something I'm always trying to avoid.

This cookbook is one of those rare gems because it is both stylish and practical.
It moves so freely from how to stock your pantry to utilizing those ingredients to make such to-die-for recipes like naturally sweetened thin mint cookies. How do you experiment with new ingredients and could there possibly be any left that you haven't tried yet?

I'm always stumbling on new ingredients, it is part of what keeps the culinary realm interesting to me - being introduced to a new ingredient and then really getting to know it. Alot of people are stuck in a rut of tiresome ingredients and recipes. I try to encourage people to try a new ingredient a couple times a month - there are hundreds of grains, and sweeteners, vegetable and fruit varietals that are delcious and totally underutilized.
Do you have any crowd pleaser suggestions/recipes for the amateur cook?

I included two of my all-time favorite crowd pleasers in Super Natural Cooking, and I'll tell you about them here. On the dip front, you've got to try muhammara (or mouhamara), it is a Middle Eastern spread/slather/dip that quickly became a favorite of mine - toasted walnuts round out the flavor of a beautiful red pepper base, and a rich splash of sweet pomegranate molasses lends a subtly sweet backnote to the red chiles. The other is the beluga lentil crostini. I make this countless times a year - garlic-rubbed crostini are slathered with a chive-flecked goat cheese and topped with a crown of black beluga lentils. With both of these recipes you can do the bulk of the prep ahead of time. I'm also a big fan of platters (aka family-style), and feature those types of recipes on my 101 Cookbooks regularly.

Muhammara recipe (served w/ kabobs here):

Beluga Lentil Crostini:

And lastly, where are your favorite places to eat/shop in the city?

Let's see....I love Piccino, Boulette's Larder, Burma Superstar, Rainbow Grocery, Bi-Rite, Kermit Lynch, Greens for take-out lunch, SF Ferry Building and Marin farmers' markets, croissants at Tartine Bakery, Aziza.

Heidi, thank you so much for dropping in and answering questions for us! Be sure to check out her Muhammara recipe (it's amazing) and her new book.

**PS: Heidi used the most adorable tea plate to showcase one of her recipes in the book and I'll be featuring Sue's one of a kind work in an upcoming post!


cw said...

awesome--i could always use tips on natural sweeteners, which we could maybe try out at our next cupcake day! it's also inspiring to hear how visual elements like color and texture mentioned so often with clothing and food translate as easily with food!

alyson said...

I love her blog and the book sounds fabulous for parties!!