Jeanne Kelley

Jeanne KelleyJeanne Kelley

With kitchen gardens and farmstands in full production, it’s a good time to consider a green meal at any time of day.  But everyone tires, at times, of a bowlful of leaves.  Thankfully, we have salad books to turn to on those days when the whole salad enterprise seems like too much of a tax on our culinary imaginations.  This year, there’s Jeanne Kelley’s Salad for Dinner.  The author recently shared some personal responses to our questions about her cookbook-composing process.


What’s your favorite part of writing a cookbook? and your least favorite part?

It’s hard to choose my favorite part! Especially with my latest book Salad for Dinner, where I had so much creative input. Selecting and working with the photographer (Ryan Robert Miller) and the illustrator (Sonia Romero), and growing salad greens with my husband in our garden-all this was such a joy

With most cookbooks the biggest task is creating the recipes, and developing salads was fun. I mean, my family does eat salad for dinner so making a delicious, beautiful and healthy dinner was a treat-and making salad for lunch, or even breakfast wasn’t too shabby either. The combinations are endless, so you never get bored. This is not to say that I just toss random ingredients into the salad bowl-years of food pairing and ingredient knowledge come into play.

I must admit that sitting for hours at the computer turning notes, amounts, ingredient lists, cooking times and visual clues isn’t a good time, but this process, called recipe styling, comes easily to me. Recipe styling is an acquired skill-it’s similar to conversing in a foreign language, a language I learned working many years at Bon Appetit Magazine. So while this isn’t favorite part of cookbook writing, it’s definitely not the worst.

The sense of relief and accomplishment when the manuscript gets sent in is so great-then it’s completely deflating it’s returned with comments, queries and notes. The chore of reviewing the proofs has to be my least favorite part of cookbook writing.

All the photos for Salad for Dinner were shot in my kitchen and dining room, and this was super pleasant. I would make a salad, Ryan would shoot it, and then we’d eat it. Sometimes my husband or one of my daughters would join us for lunch. These “work” lunches were my favorite part.

What was the first cookbook you ever owned?

I had a children’s cookbook. I remember thinking that it was pretty lame, even as ten-year-old, as there weren’t many “real” recipes-it was mostly raisins making a face on a peanut butter sandwich sort of thing. There was a good pie however-graham cracker crust with lemon custard filling made with sweetened condensed milk. It was so easy, and not too sweet. When I became a teenager, I was totally into the Silver Palate Cookbook, and when I turned 20, my dad gave me his copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking-which I later had signed!

What cookbook do you give to a favorite friend or family member who’s just learning to cook?

Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes is my go-to tome for beginners. I have two twenty-something daughters and they recommend the book to all of their friends too. The recipes are approachable, many of them classics with unique twists, that range from appetizers to soups, main courses to dessert, and breakfast. Because I know the recipes (I wrote the book!), I can and am happy to answer any questions. The book’s coming out in paperback soon, so now it’s an even more affordable way to learn to cook-and garden and keep chickens.

What do you consider to be your all-time best recipe, or one that is always identified as yours?

The Brown Rice Grape Leaf Salad from Salad for Dinner is truly inspired. Chopped, brined grape leaves with currants, pistachios, crumbled feta, mint, dill, cilantro and green onions with olive oil and lemon dressed brown rice on a bed of arugula-with a dollup of Greek yogurt it’s heavenly.

And the Layered Chocolate Birthday Cake from Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes is pretty awesome too. It’s so easy to make. You don’t need a mixer and it’s really moist and chocolaty-there’s 24 ounces of bittersweet chocolate in the cake-but the texture is not dense. So many people have told me that the cake has become their signature dessert, and that makes me so happy.

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