Focus on Flavor: For Recipe Books, Get Up Close and Personal

This week Amy McCoy, of “Poor Girl Gourmet” shares her story about how she created a cookbook focused on the beauty of seasonal food, not measuring cups!

Growing up, food was of central importance to my Italian-American family. My mother cooked and baked from scratch throughout the convenience-food crazy 1970’s and 80’s – doing so as much out of the necessity of saving money as to satisfy her love of cooking, and my Nana’s Italian restaurant was the gathering place for big Sunday dinners with a gaggle of aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Coming from a line of fabulous cooks, it was no surprise that good food was important to me from a young age. I started creating recipes in my mother’s kitchen during high school. My first attempt? Replicating my Nana’s red sauce. Ahhhhh, success (thank goodness! With no recipe and no measurements, it wasn’t guaranteed).

As I became more interested in cooking, I became more interested in where my ingredients came from, and when they tasted best.

Once I moved out on my own, I made my first, quite feeble – laughable, even – attempts at growing my own food. For instance, planting tomato seed outside in the middle of June in my New England climate (if you’re a non-gardener, tomatoes need to be started in the early spring if you want to actually eat tomatoes from your garden). Over time, though, and with a bit of research, vegetable gardening became more and more a part of my food-loving repertoire.

Meanwhile, when not working at my day job, I started licensing photography for home décor, shooting primarily landscapes – a wide view, as it were.

When the economy tanked in 2008, it was time to put the recipe creation, food growing, and photography skills into motion.

Out of work, and with no foreseeable income for months to come, I began creating the most inexpensive meals I possibly could with fresh, local ingredients. Some of those ingredients came from my husband and my garden, some came from local farm stands or the farmers market. I took pictures of those meals, and started a food blog. A few months later, a literary agent approached me to ask if I thought I could write a cookbook. Heck, yeah was the answer, of course, and Poor Girl Gourmet: Eat in Style on a Bare-Bones Budget was published in 2010.

When the book came out, one of the reviews commented on the photography, remarking that it was nice to see food photography that didn’t have to be about tablescapes and props.

For me, the beauty of the food is in the close-up. That’s the thing with top notch, seasonal ingredients – they’re beautiful and flavorful. Focus on those qualities, and you can’t go wrong.


  1. says

    I am also of Italian American decent and our life revolves around food. Luckily my husband is the cook in the family…and a very good one too. I never learned, my mother the rebel of the family never learned how to make her own sauce. I have made up by work side by side with my husband in the kitchen and as a result my kids are pretty handy in the kitchen too. Food is life, food is family I say.

  2. mypetia says

    Same here…I’m from Europe & food is such integral part in the social aspect of daily life there. I learned from a young age that food, and nurture, and family all go together.

    Great article! Love the close-up of the muffin cake – beautifully informal.

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