Interview with Vanessa Seder | Eat Cool
Intro: Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase. She’s just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.
Vanessa Seder: This is Vanessa Seder, and I’m here to chat about my new cookbook, Eat Cool: Good Food for Hot Days.
Suzy Chase: You are a chef, food stylist, recipe developer, teacher, author, and founding member of Relish & Co. a Portland based culinary design collaborative and I’m excited to chat about Eat Cool. Your second cookbook, 100 plus recipes, tips, ideas, and support to help you eat and cook your way through hot weather. So Eat Cool is another one of these cookbooks that will pull us out of the pandemic rut. It’s a fun versatile guidebook. What’s the objective behind Eat Cool.
Vanessa Seder: It just came from this organic place where I just started cooking in a new kind of a way and I found that I was getting good results. My body wasn’t feeling tired or overly heated from the way we were eating. We were eating really delicious food. We didn’t feel depleted. So it kind of encompasses a number of things, it’s to cook in ways that reduce oven, stove top use, or making food items that require no cooking whatsoever. It’s also cutting things in ways that kind of cut down on the cooking time. Eating foods that are naturally cooling, fruits, vegetables, grains, plant-based proteins and proteins that are lower in fat and less meat focused. And I’m not saying omitting all these things, but the food items that are heavier, alcohol-based, fattier to eat those more sparingly when it’s really, really hot.
Suzy Chase: What are some of the different cuisines that you include in this cookbook?
Vanessa Seder: I’m really inspired by cuisines from around the world. In my first cookbook Secret Sauces, it also kind of has an international angle. So in this book, there are recipes that are inspired by, I would say Japanese Thai, Korean, Mediterranean, Indian, Mexican, middle Eastern, and maybe farm local source centric recipes. I grew up in Los Angeles. That’s where I’m originally from, my grandmother was actually born there so I’m a true Los Angeleno and if you look at the history there, there’s a lot of Mexican, South American, Central American and a lot of Asian culture. So I grew up eating a lot of that kind of food. Plus going up North, I have an aunt lives up North a bit. And so, you know, going into olive oil tastings and eating artichokes and all that kind of stuff, that was part of, of my childhood. So that kind of inspires a lot of my cooking style.
Suzy Chase: So this is something that you don’t often get in cookbooks. You have a list of five criteria for this cookbook. What are they?
Vanessa Seder: Is it delicious and enjoyable to eat? Well, obviously that’s very important. You know, I don’t want anybody to go to the supermarket or the farmer’s market and spend all this time and effort cooking food and having it not taste and look delicious. Number two, will it keep you relatively cool? So that’s really important here when you’re eating cool. I had all these recipes tested by friends and neighbors, and I asked them how they felt after cooking the different things or not cooking the different things. Cause there’s a lot of recipes in this book for you don’t even cook. And then I was in the kitchen on stop during the summer and I was developing into the fall winter, but it really did start. I did a majority when it was very, very hot, just seeing how I felt after eating these dishes that I was developing. So that was really important. The third one is, does it avoid the need for lots of labor and cooking? You know, you want to kind of cut down as much as possible, the cooking and chopping and cleaning when you’re just so worn out at the end of the day. I tried to keep things simple so that it’s not too time consuming. The fourth is can the home chef make it successfully? So yes, of course I also work as a teacher every month. I teach cooking at the Stonewall Kitchen headquarters here in Maine and I absolutely love teaching because I think that cooking is a life skill that everyone should have. And so the teacher, part of me comes out when writing a book too, and I want to make sure that everything is really clear and really well explained in the recipes so that people cooking the food, know exactly what to do when making the recipes. And then number five are its ingredients easy to find or can viable substitutions be provided. And for that definitely in a lot of the recipes I include in the head notes suggestions for where to put purchase hard to find items. There’s always the internet these days as we’ve probably all use a lot of within the last year because of the pandemic. And if there’s anything that’s a little bit exotic, I offer suggestions for where to find those items
Suzy Chase: Does eating something hot, actually cool, a person down.
Vanessa Seder: I did a bunch of research on this. I am not a scientist, but I really explored this concept of why do people eat this way in hot climate. And what it is, is there a special protein structures called receptors in our mouth. And the one that kind of detects hot spicy food and drinks is called the TRPV1 receptor. And so when we eat or drink something that’s hot or spicy, it triggers the TRPV1 receptor. And that cues, the nervous system to transmit a signal to the hypothalamus, which is kind of like our brains thermostat. So when you eat the spicy food or drink something hot, it triggers it. And what happens next is our body starts sweating and that’s what cools down our body. So that’s eating hot to cool, in a sense. So on the flip side of that, when you eat really cold rich foods, such as ice cream, or like an alcoholic slushie, which I actually have some of those in the book, but I say in the headnote to eat them sparingly, if it’s really, really hot, it cools the body down a lot quicker, but it’s more temporary because it has to work harder to digest it, which heats up your body.
Suzy Chase: Now moving from hot to cold, let’s talk about your soup chapter. What is the key to good gazpacho? Because I feel like you either get out-of-this-world gazpacho or you get like, so- so good gazpacho.
Vanessa Seder: I, 100% agree with you there. Well, I was kind of on the fence actually, if I should include a good gazpacho recipe, just because there are so many out there in the world, but I think what it comes down to is that because everything is raw and in a gazpacho the end result really depends on the quality and ripeness of the individual ingredients of the soup. So if you’re using tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chilies, herbs that are peak ripeness during the summer and are from a farmer’s market or a garden, obviously it’s going to taste so much better than off season tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, right? And then you have the olive oil. So I think that really matters here. I’m lucky enough. I mentioned it before, but I have an aunt who lives in Atascadero California. That’s near lots of vineyards and olive groves and she sends us bottles of really good olive oil, Pasolivo and Kitehawk farm, are some of my favorite that come out of that area. And so when I am making a gazpacho, I saved my really good olive oil for my gazpacho because it comes through. And then I would say the last part would be to bread or not to add bread. And I like adding bread in my gazpacho because I find that it absorbs some of the acid from the tomatoes and the vinegar, and also adding bread to gazpacho is a great to use an extra bread or bread becoming stale.
Suzy Chase: How did it feel getting written up by Florence Fabricant in the New York Times, she is notoriously hard to impress, take it from me. She has never wanted to write anything about this podcast. Oh wow. She has written, I pitched her and she, she wrote try again. And then I pitched her more. Try again. She wrote that like four times to me, I just kept saying, I’m the only cookbook podcast Florence.
Vanessa Seder: Wow, honestly it was a thrill and a highlight I have to say and I got an email out of the blue and when I saw who it was from, I got a little teary because I’ve been doing this for so long and to get Eat Cool, noticed by someone I respect and admire meant so much to me. And she said that she liked the book and thought it was a very timely subject and had some questions about some of the recipes in the book and it made me a little nervous, but I held my breath and I just did my best to answer them straightforwardly and accurately as best I could. It was just a really great honor that the book caught her notice, the notice of the great Flo Fab. What a great name, huh?
Suzy Chase: Oh my gosh. I mean, you have to frame that.
Vanessa Seder: Oh, I don’t know if I’ll frame it, but I’ll definitely keep it.
Suzy Chase: Definitely. Yeah.
Vanessa Seder: It’s definitely kept in a safe place
Suzy Chase: In the cookbook. You said the cold seafood spread is akin to the charcuterie, meze or cheese platter. Can you tell us about that?
Vanessa Seder: I find that when it’s really, really hot out, I love a good tinned seafood. There’s a whole variety, you know, you can buy really inexpensive tins of seafood and they’re fine for the most part. Or you can move up the ladder and purchase really expensive tins that come from Spain, all sorts of things like razor clams, kippers, herring, oysters, sardines. They’re really all pretty good, I think. And so it’s kind of a play on the charcuterie cheese board where you assemble a beautiful board, but with your tin seafood, but then you balance it with peppery greens, different sauces, crackers, chips, crudité all sorts of things like that. It just makes for a really easy meal when it’s hot, as blazes outside.
Suzy Chase: So normally when I start doing research for a cookbook, I look at every single one of the cookbook authors, Instagram posts, it kind of gives me a feel of their personality. And immediately when I looked at Instagram, I thought we need to be friends. She’s my new friend. Yay. You have such a knack with photography. Your little family is darling. And I got so sad when I saw your beloved cat Birdie passed away, but then you rescued two kittens. So one particular Instagram post that caught my eye was the beautiful cookbook collection at the Lincolnville Motel in Lincolnville Maine.
Vanessa Seder: He stayed there in 2019 feels like a world ago and we were up that way cause I was teaching a class at The Saltwater Farm Cooking School run by Annemarie Ahearn and it’s this cute modern yet classic Maine inn and shout out to Alice who runs it. She’s great. It’s a little bit North of Camden, Maine. There’s a lot of great restaurants up there, like Long Grain. So yeah, if you’re ever in the area, you should make a trip, go up there, kind of a fun place to stay.
Suzy Chase: For desserts on a hot day I have such a hard time thinking outside the fruit box. What sorts of ideas do you have for cooling desserts?
Vanessa Seder: For the non fruit variety, I would suggest either the Chocolate Panna Cotta with salty Praline Peanut Crumble, Summer Corn Ice Cream, White Almond Sorbet, Ginger Cardamom Saffron Ice Cream, The Tropical Crispy Bars or the Malted Chocolate Icebox Cake. When I was creating this book, I purposely stayed away from shortcakes, tarts, pies, layer cakes, things like that because they take longer in the oven to bake and also when you’re making something like a pate brisee which is a butter class of laminated dough, biscuit dough, the butter needs to remain very cold and that’s really difficult to achieve when it’s hot as blazes.
Suzy Chase: Tell me about the Summer Corn Ice Cream. I’ve never heard of corn ice cream.
Vanessa Seder: I think it’s good, but you have to like corn, of course.
Suzy Chase: I’m from Kansas. I love corn.
Vanessa Seder: Well I didn’t grow up with the best corn. When I started dating my husband, we met in college, he’s from Massachusets. We went to go to his dad’s house for kind of a grill outside and he served corn I just kind of blown away by the sweetness and quality of the corn we had, as simple as it was, and so that was my real introduction to New England corn and I have a huge respect for it and I wait all year to eat corn. I don’t want to just have any corn and want that corn. So what I do every summer is I absolutely love making ice cream and so I used that corn and I soaked the cobs in the cream and the milk to get as much flavor out of the corn cob. And then I add the fresh corn to it and then I create a custard base and then run it through the machine. And it has a really intense corn flavor and it’s just really delicious. I love it.
Suzy Chase: That sweet corn is like heaven on earth.
Vanessa Seder: I think so too. I mean, that’s the thing. I don’t think everyone loves corn. I don’t know why, but we all love corn here that sweet summer corn. And if you like things like, like a corn custard or a cream corn, then you’ll love the ice cream.
Suzy Chase: Okay. Here’s a super random question. I would love to hear about your dining room table.
Vanessa Seder: Well we love antiques when we were first in Maine we went in search of a table and we ended up finding the table that it was in Buxton, Maine, and it was in a barn and it was just sitting there. It barely cost us anything and it had been in the same family for over 50 years and the why they were getting rid of it, but we just absolutely love it. And it’s where we gather. And it served our family really well and we just love it and we try to take as best care of it as we can. I love old things. I like new things too, but I think it’s also better for the environment. You know, you’re just repurposing and you’re loving something again and you’re bringing new life into it. So I’m all for that. I.
Suzy Chase: I know you’re endlessly curious about food. So what is some sort of culinary thing you learned this past?
Vanessa Seder: Okay, well this is gonna probably sound boring and a bit cliche at this point.
Suzy Chase: Sourdough?
Vanessa Seder: Wow. How did you guess? I mean, there’s not much to get, I mean, we just really upped our sourdough starter making game and it got to this point where we were making bagels and bread and it became part of our weekly cooking rotation. But between working and remote school this year, our daughter’s been in remote school all year. It just was hard to keep it going. And also it was just getting to this point where we were just eating way too much bread. So I would say that ultimately this year was about figuring out ways to avoid shopping as much as possible and getting really creative with leftovers in our fridge.
Suzy Chase: You have a section called Fun with Rotisserie chicken. There’s six options to make rotisserie chicken more interesting. When it’s a hot hot day to pick up a rotisserie chicken is such a lifesaver. So I made your Quicker Shawarma recipe over the weekend. Can you tell us about this recipe?
Vanessa Seder: Well, what did you think? First of all.
Suzy Chase: I loved it And it was so easy and fun for my family and easy for me to make because it’s a rotisserie chicken. It’s great for moms everywhere, but that sauce was so darned good.
Vanessa Seder: Which sauce did you use?
Suzy Chase: It was the chili sauce. The toasted garlic and chili sauce. And I didn’t have chili’s so I used jalapenos.
Vanessa Seder: Perfect. I love that. You’re improvising. So my point with this page, which is kind of a sidebar was that if you’re so hot and so tired and so burned out, go get a rotisserie chicken. There’s nothing bad about it. And you don’t have to just think of it as chicken leg. You can transform it into so many dishes shawarma is cooked on a vertical spit for hours. And so this is a huge shortcut. And why heat up your kitchen? When you can just go to the store and get a rotisserie chicken, season it up, put it in a slightly warmed pita, add a sauce of your choice. I offer a couple suggestions, top it with some lettuce and tomato, yogurt, but you can improvise too, you could add some avocado. It’s a loose interpretation, obviously, you could add hummus anything you’d like, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Suzy Chase: It’s a full dinner. You don’t have to make a side or anything. You just shove everything into the warm pita. And by the way, what’s better than a warm pita?
Vanessa Seder: I don’t think anything. Nothing, right? Yeah. It’s great. A warm pita is just delicious.
Suzy Chase: Over the weekend. I sort of combined pages 111 and 113 to make grilled shrimp with herb butter, tomatoes and micro greens on sourdough toast. I really, really love the toast idea.
Vanessa Seder: Why have two pieces of bread when you can just have one and still feel like you’re getting a full meal. And I’m glad you combine the recipes actually. I mean, I tell students this, when I’m teaching that you can look at a lot of recipes as just kind of a loose blueprint or a jumping off point to improvise, but I’m really glad that you’re having fun with the book and you’re improvising from it. If you don’t have all the ingredients that I hope people are doing that.
Suzy Chase: Now for my segment called Last Night’s Dinner, where I ask you what you had last night for dinner.
Vanessa Seder: So I started off with some really good olive oil, and then I toasted leftover pasta. I think we had rigatoni so I toasted that up in the pan until it got kind of like crisp chewy tender and it had some more texture to it. And then I added some nice asparagus and fresh garlic to that and just kind of tossed it through and just heated it so that the asparagus was kind of crisp, tender, a little bit of salt and pepper. And then I added eggs to it and I kind of scrambled it all together and then a little bit of spicy chili and a shaving of parm. And then we had it with Cortaterre. It’s an Oregon Pinot Noir. It’s just fabulous. We really are into good Oregon Pinot Noir.
Suzy Chase: I want to give a shout out to your editor, Jono Jarrett.
Vanessa Seder: I think you should. He’s incredible. I can’t say enough good things about him. I love Jono.
Suzy Chase: You know, we are from the same hometown.
Vanessa Seder: Stop. It really?
Suzy Chase: Yes. We’re from Prairie, Kansas. We’re Instagram friends. And I’m like, wait, how did I, how did I not know you? My mom has to know your mom!
Vanessa Seder: What a small world. It is a small world. He was just so great and involved in so much of this book and he would ship props over, you know, cause I did all the propping styling with Stacy and Jennifer, the three of us did the book together and everybody contributed so much to this book. It’s really a huge process to write a cookbook. Yeah. He was just such a wonderful editor to have.
Suzy Chase: So where can we find you on the web and social media?
Vanessa Seder: VanessaSeder.com or RelishandCo.com and then I’m @VSeder on Instagram.
Suzy Chase: Eat Cool is going to be my go-to at the beach house this summer. Thanks Vanessa for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Vanessa Seder: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
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