It’s never a good idea to start writing about decadent food dishes right before bed, but I am trying to keep delicious mental pictures out of my mind as I share my excitement about the recent release of David Venable‘s second cookbook, Back Around the Table.
Featuring 100 brand new recipes based on traditional comfort food favorites, one can only imagine how my mouth began to water as I listened to QVC‘s resident foodie go on and on about mac ‘n’ cheese bites and French onion soup dumplings.
David dished (pun intended) to skyelyfe all about appetizers perfectly fitting for a fall party, why he thinks vegan cooking would be an “interesting challenge,” and why “comfort food” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “unhealthy.” Read on to see what he had to say…
SL: How does your first book differ from the current?
DV: My first cookbook was a celebration of classic comfort foods. I’ve enjoyed not only growing up in the South, but traveling all over the country. I’m a firm believer that comfort food is not something that is any one region of the country. I began to think about what book two would be about. I realized there were still more comfort food stories to tell. This new collection of recipes is still in the comfort food category, but with a creative spin that I think people will find interesting.
SL: I love fall and I love hosting an annual fall party, but I am no gourmet chef. Any easy recommendations?
DV: Comfort food is so synonymous with fall. We think about the cooler weather moving in and having something bubbling on top of the stove. It makes it lots and lots of fun. I have wonderful mac ‘n’ cheese bites that are easy to make because they require no baking. You make up the mixture and it’s a wonderful blend of three cheeses and ham and you press it into a casserole dish and refrigerate it, and once it sets up, you form it into little balls and you fry it for a couple of minutes in a deep fryer or a skillet or a Dutch oven. Then you’ve got creamy, wonderful, punchy mac ‘n’ cheese bites.
There’s another appetizer I love to do that’s in the book. And these are French onion soup dumplings. We love that on a cold and crisp day outside. I take wontons that you buy in the grocery store and do a mixture of these wonderful kitchen soup spices and combine them with cream cheese, and make little pouches that are then flash-fried and finished in the oven, topped with gruyere cheese.
SL: I’m not vegan, but I do enjoy vegan bites. And going back to mac ‘n’ cheese, I know that’s one of your favorite items. So is there any kind of vegan version you recommend of the dish? Or do you believe it really needs to be eaten like true mac ‘n’ cheese?
DV: I think everyone has an experience with mac ‘n’ cheese and you really need to stay true to what really speaks to you in terms of that dish. I have never personally made a vegan mac ‘n’ cheese dish, but I have researched them and I think it will be an interesting challenge for me because obviously I’m not using any kind of animal products. I’ve looked at some recipes online and have found ingredients that really look and sound creamy and lovely, but it’s going to take some experimenting in the kitchen. I’m anxious to give it a go.
SL: Is that something you’d really be open to trying?
DV: That’s what’s so much fun about being a home cook. I really feel like I can experiment in the kitchen and I’m not afraid to fail. I think some of the best dishes are made when you are experimenting. I think something like [trying to cook vegan] would be a whole lot of fun. It would be interesting to see if I could make it and have the texture be good.
SL: Obviously “comfort food” isn’t synonymous with “healthy eating.” Is there anything in the book that would be for the semi-health conscious?
DV: Absolutely! There are 10 chapters in the book, and I love that one of them is a lighter fare chapter. It’s called “Light and Bright,” and there are lots of different recipes in that chapter that still maintain that wonderful comforting feeling, but at the same time, aren’t as high in fat and calories and salt. There’s a wonderful angel food cake recipe in that chapter. It’s got raspberries and blueberries and a little raspberry-blueberry sauce on the top. It really ends up tasting like a more decadent dessert, but it’s much, much lighter. And then when you infuse it with the natural sweetness of berries, then you’re not adding any additional sugar.
SL: When it comes to dealing with other famous chefs, do you guys share recipes and ideas or do you tend to keep things to yourself?
DV: Everyone kind of has a protective sense of recipes they’ve developed and they love, but when you share them, I think recipes are kind of open game for people to kind of take and interpret as their own. I have the great pleasure of working with a lot of celebrity chefs on QVC, and I find that more than just trading recipes, we tend to trade ideas when we have a chance to chat. We talk about things that we make that are similar or how we might make it an even more interesting dish. I think when you get together with other people who love to cook, you love to talk about these recipes and you encourage each other to really up your game, which is always lots of fun in the kitchen.
SL: What would you say is the biggest misconception about chefs?
DV: I think most of us assume that a chef only makes very fancy food and doesn’t really relate so much to a home cook. The chefs I’ve worked with are very, very home cook-friendly. They have a chance to share their formal training through a common and shared love of food. Chefs I’ve worked with haven’t come in with a very sophisticated or highbrow heir about them. They come in with a true passion for food. When you get together with a group who shares that passion, there’s just a great celebration at the dinner table.