Lucinda Scala Quinn uses her day-to-day family life as inspiration for her cookbooks. Her 2009 project, “Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys,” was sparked by raising three boys who are now young adults. “I only write from my own experience,” says the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia food editor. “I had all these young men around, and it wasn’t like I was excluding females, it was just this heavy duty immediacy for all those younger years. I was trying to [cook] healthfully and frugally and here in New York City, by the time they’re in the fifth grade, they hit the road with their MetroCard and they’re out the door. You can have the best intentions in the world but a bacon, egg, and cheese at the corner deli, a slice of pizza, the famous golden arches, you name it, suddenly you’re competing against this other whole world of temptations.” Her latest book, “Mad Hungry Cravings: 173 Recipes for the Food You Want to Eat Right Now,” out last month, embraces those temptations, teaching home cooks how to prepare better versions of fast food indulgences.
Q. What was the first craving you wanted to address in this book?
A. Back when I had five mouths to feed and I was so dedicated to home cooking and on a really tight budget, the one thing we did at home is order Chinese takeout. And increasingly, I became frustrated with the fact that it had a weird aftertaste and it would cost a lot of money. So I started looking at stuff like sesame chicken and my husband’s favorite pork fried rice and I just thought, “Everything can kind of be in the pantry.” So that was one of my first ways in.
Q. You have eggplant parm stacks, bahn mi, teriyaki wings, pad Thai. Are your recipes really healthier than fast food at a restaurant?
A. Well, the minute you cook with fresh ingredients, you’re about 100 times healthier than you would be if you just drove through and got fast food. Half the time you don’t know what’s in that food, you don’t know who cooked it, you have no clue about the story behind it. So I maintain that the minute you’re cooking, you’re a heck of a lot better off. And that’s just for the eating part, not to mention that aspect of gathering around the table to share in the pleasure of nourishing yourself on all levels.
Q. For novice cooks, how does this book alleviate worries in the kitchen?
A. Step one is making the decision that it’s important for you to cook at home. So there’s a section at the front of the book that’s called “Mad Hungry Maxims,” which goes through how and why you would want to cook at home and how you would establish that intention, kind of holding somebody’s hand and saying, you want to do it? Here’s the ins and outs and the whys. Then I get into what our behaviors are. I walk them through exactly how to do it, which would be pick one thing you like. Don’t pick four recipes for one meal and overwhelm yourself. Just try one new thing. On every page are all these bursts and little notes that are like the information that goes through a cook’s head when they’re standing at the stove and they know what’s happening but they don’t say it out loud, which contributes to the success of a recipe. I tried to get all those nuances out of my head and on the page. So from the front matter through walking them through to headnotes and bursts on every page, there’s kind of a friend sitting there saying, you want to try this? Here’s how you do it. Give it a try and give yourself a small success and once you have that, try something more.