The food blog Pen & Fork greets readers with a fortune cookie. The fortune (in a photo) states: “You are a lover of words, someday you should write a book.” Lovely – but since Gwen Ashley Walters is the food writer-chef behind Pen & Fork, it might better read “someday you should write an award-winning cookbook – or two, or three. And maybe write for Phoenix Magazine, and the Arizona Republic, and Edible Phoenix.“ Gwen is a professionally trained chef who, when not writing about food, spends time “thinking about food, eating food or planning her next meal.” I read Gwen’s blog not just for helpful, no-nonsense recipes, but also for her practiced ear and elegant writer’s voice. She’s at home roasting chicken, teaching basil basics or writing up restaurants – giving readers the true benefits of both pen and fork.
How often do you think about eating?
The question is, when do I not think about eating? I really should say tasting because I’m always thinking about the flavor of food, more than the act of actual eating. I want to taste everything.
Somewhere along the way, I became a coffee snob. I adore fresh roasted beans and bought my husband a Capresso Jura Impressa J5 for his birthday last year, but it secretly was for me.
Favorite hometown food?
I grew up in West Texas, not necessarily a bastion of local cuisine, or any cuisine for that matter. We did get amazing cantaloupes from Pecos Valley in the summer. We also had some killer BBQ joints. BBQ in Texas means smoky, dry-rubbed brisket slathered in an equally smoky barbecue sauce.
Ever been served breakfast in bed?
Does serving myself count? Otherwise, no. My husband is not a breakfast cook, or any other kind of cook for that matter, but he does wash a mean dish.
Food that makes you gag?
Sea urchin. I think some things are best left in the sea.
Worst kitchen disaster:
How much time do you have? I’ve tested close to 1,000 recipes across my three cookbooks, and there were plenty of kitchen misshaps along the way. The ones I remember the most involve some sort of pain, like the time I pureed a hot soup and the top blew off splattering me with boiling liquid. I learned quickly not to fill a blender more than half full with hot liquid and to apply heavy pressure to the lid, with gentle bursts of speed.
Leftovers in your fridge?
I have a dozen opened jars of salsas, jams, pickles and chutneys. I write a “local” product column for our city’s magazine, and I’m always testing new products. At any given time, I also have several homemade vinaigrettes. Right now I have a golden raisin vinaigrette and a jalapeno-lime vinaigrette.
Your idea of a romantic meal:
Any meal eaten by candlelight, with copious amounts of Champagne and of course, my husband.
Secret snack of shame?
Peanut butter — on a spoon, straight from the jar.
Best restaurant if you’re not paying:
I’ve yet to eat at The French Laundry, but it is on my bucket list. The best restaurant I have tried is Binkley’s Restaurant in Cave Creek, AZ. Chef Kevin Binkley trained under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, and his chef tasting menus always amaze and astonish me — and set us back a few hundred dollars.
If you were a cocktail, what would you be?
I’m much more of a beer and wine gal. So I’m either a hoppy, hand-crafted brew, or a chilled glass of bone-dry rose.
Favorite pizza place?
We’re so fortunate to have Chris Bianco’s (James Beard winner) Pizzeria Bianco in town. He is in his tiny restaurant every night, personally making each thin-crusted pizza with farm fresh, often organic ingredients. My favorite is the wiseguy: fennel sausage, wood roasted red onions and smoked, housemade mozzarella.
Extra credit } a great recipe with less than five ingredients:
Pecan & Brie Quesadillas
Serves 2 – 4
2 tablespoons mango chutney
3 ounces of Brie, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 (8-inch) flour tortillas
3 tablespoons chopped toasted pecans
Spread a tablespoon of mango chutney over each tortilla. Sprinkle cheese over one half of each tortilla. Sprinkle nuts over the cheese. Fold tortillas in half, pressing gently. Cook quesadillas on a preheated griddle (or in a skillet) until tortilla browns and cheese starts to melt, about 2 to 3 minutes, flip and brown the other side. Cut each tortilla into four wedges before serving.
If you were to be so kind as to let me include a 5th ingredient, I’d probably sprinkle a little fresh chopped parsley or even cilantro over the cheese, too. And of course, a 6th ingredient would be butter to grease the griddle first, but it does work on a dry griddle.