JUST MARRIED AND COOKING is the foodie soundtrack of our lives.
It’s as if we made a mixed tape—filling it with ingredients, flavors, textures, and memories—and dedicated it to each other and to new beginnings. If a moment in our life together merits a song, then it also deserves a really wonderful recipe. Because cheesy popovers, sizzling skirt steak, and strawberry layer cake say as much about us as does our favorite Jack Johnson tune.
We knew we had to get down the flavors of our elopement and marriage in South Carolina, along the banks of the May River. We wanted to record salty afternoons at the Gulf when our skin tasted like a margarita glass (and our bodies were warm as hotcakes from the noontime sun). We needed to remind ourselves of the sweetness, the light, the reckless happiness of welcoming a baby girl into this world. Could anything replicate those newborn days? Jamie came close with his Nilla-laden, creamy New Baby Banana Pudding—one of the stars of our “Everyday Desserts.”
But, of course, we didn’t just write this book for each other. We wrote it for you—the newlyweds, the kitchen-shy, the would-be and budding cooks who need a little push. After you rinse and put away all the gorgeous new gear that friends and family have given you from your kitchen registry, you’re suddenly going to realize that you’ll be sharing meals with someone for the next sixty years (at least!).
Budgeting, grocery shopping, cooking dinner for each other seven nights a week until old age… what to do?!
We experienced the same mini-crisis, so we designed a cookbook that jazzes things up, making your kitchen and its bar stools the hottest place in town (or at least in your cul-de-sac). This is more than just a collection of recipes, it’s an instruction manual and tip sheet on how to make easy, elegant food at home. These chapters are our glam-on-a-budget plan for eating and entertaining well 365 days a year.
This book is organized into two sections. “Life As We Know It” is the workhorse, focusing on everyday dinners like Jamie’s rustic Eggplant and Tomato Gratin, an earthy platter of Pork Chops with Bourbon and Prunes, and big bowls of Whole-Wheat Pappardelle with Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese. We want you to mix and match our greatest hits, pulling a vegetable recipe from “Fixin’s, or Second Thoughts,” a protein from “The Lighter Side,” and a bake-on-the-run bite of something sweet from “Everyday Desserts.”
But every once in a while, we know that you need to slip into a pair of heels and a little knit dress and sip a champagne cocktail. So we created complete menus in the “New Traditions” section of the book to help you turn out showstopping plates and drinks for special occasions. Sicilian Lobster Salad, Crispy Skate with Spinach, Brown Butter, and Lemon, and our potent Blood Orange Old-Fashioned transform an evening with friends and family into an event. Our food is simple, but it might just inspire a new celebration.
At this point, you might be wondering, Who are these people? And why should I make their food?
Jamie is an alumnus of Daniel Boulud’s 4-star kitchen and he’s worked with some of the best chefs in New York City and the Southeast. He considers Frank Stitt, the James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef of Highlands Bar & Grill and Bottega, in Birmingham, Alabama, to be his culinary mentor. While Jamie was the chef de cuisine at Highlands, Stitt instilled in him a deep appreciation for the growing seasons as well as for the local, farm-fresh produce. Jamie’s take-aways as a young chef: nothing that’s been unloaded from a plane can taste as good as what you’ve dug up in your backyard; what grows together, goes together; a little French finesse makes everything taste better. He’s one Southern boy who’s just as comfortable stirring a pot of grits as he is searing a lobe of foie gras. And maybe it’s this combination of cosmopolitan and country that gives him a leg up on the culinary competition: when Jamie appeared on Food Network’s competition series Chopped, he walked away the grand champion.
Brooke, for her part, grew up on the Gulf Coast surrounded by amazing Southern lady cooks. Her mother and her aunts cooked what they knew and cooked it well, always with style and love for big, bold flavors. Almost every dish that came from their kitchens featured the fruits of local waters—sweet Gulf shrimp, briny Apalachicola oysters, line-caught flounder, deep-sea grouper—or, simply, fruit that grew on the family’s farm fence, like tiny, tart summer blackberries and sweet cherry tomatoes. Good, honest cooking was the focus of everyday life. So when Brooke moved to New York City after college, with the intent of pursuing journalism, it’s no surprise that she fell in love with the city’s culinary scene… and a handsome Alabama chef. Eventually, Brooke found a way to combine her two loves, writing and cooking, by publishing her novel with recipes, Belle in the Big Apple, and by writing a daily online food column, Full Plate, for the New York Daily News.
But it’s been Jamie’s latest gig, as a chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, that’s afforded us a glimpse into the culinary lives and kitchens of our peers, engaged and newlywed couples. While Jamie works with the professional students during the week, Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for the Date Night Couples Cooking series that we teach together. The weekend gig is our research lab, our playground, our time to figure out just what makes your kitchens tick. We’ve learned the dishes you can’t live without (bacon-studded mac-n-cheese, juicy roasts, interesting salads), the techniques you’re dying to learn (roasting, sauce-making, fish cookery), and how you really cook during your hectic workweek. Our students keep us, and the food in this book, real.
Think of as our life together in recipes. This is the book we wrote during the craziest time in our lives, when a church ceremony made us husband and wife, two lines on a pregnancy test made us a family of three, and a shared set of pots and pans made everything official. We hope you find as much joy in these dishes as we did creating them. Put down those takeout menus and get cooking!
© 2011 brooke Parkhurst