The F Words: Anica Rissi

the f words

Cats and kittens, get ready. After something of a summer hiatus, The F Words is back - and with a super special treat. Joining us today is my dear friend Anica Mrose Rissi, young adult fiction editor extraordinaire. (Fun fact: back when I was a recruiter, I placed Anica in her very first job at Scholastic. Kismet!) In addition to having her finger on the pulse of what the youngins want, Anica is a marvelous cook and my personal ice cream guru, and I'm very excited that she's decided to share her chocolate sorbet recipe with us here today. But first? The interview! Tell us a bit about your day job. I'm an executive editor at Simon Pulse, a YA imprint of Simon & Schuster. I've always been a storyteller and story collector, so this is a dream job for me. I get to work with words, plots, characters, and ideas, and lots of creative people.

How did you learn to cook? When we were kids, my big brother and I each had one night per week when it was our job to cook dinner for the family. My brother always made quiche--because he liked it, but I think also because he knew I didn't--and I made salad and pasta or soup, and usually cake from a box. My mother quickly tired of eating the box cakes and pointed out that brownies from scratch are almost as simple to make and much, much tastier. I was probably in fourth grade then. I've been baking up a storm ever since.

Part two of this is: I learned to cook by playing with my food — adding spices, extracts, and other interesting flavors to my hot cocoa; throwing a little of this and a little of that into the soup, the pasta sauce, or the pancake batter. My mother uses cooking as a creative outlet and is always experimenting, so I learned from her example to view recipes as inspirations and rough starting points, not as strict formulas. My mother's cooking style was inspired by her Italian grandmother, whose instructions were more practical than precise. "Use a cheese that would taste good," Nana might say. "Add enough flour and cook it until it's done." I like this attitude — cooking is fun, eating is fun, and playing with flavors is fun. There's no need to be precious about it.

Do you prefer to cook alone, or with friends and family? Alone. My kitchen is tiny, and I like to put on music, dance around, and get lost in what I'm doing. But there are collaborative cooking situations that I enjoy, such as making muffins with my 5-year-old niece or cooking anything at all with my friend Terra in her not-New-York-sized kitchen. I love my friends, but just as I don't want to live or travel with most of them, I don't really want to cook with most of them either. Eating together is the fun part.

What’s your favorite thing to make? I do more baking than cooking. I like making food to share, and there's something about baked goods (savory or sweet) that seems more treat-like to me. At this time of year, I make a lot of ice creams and mix a lot of beverages (once you have a basic comfort level with custards and cocktails, there's room for infinite experimentation and tasty surprises/mistakes). I have a lot of fun getting creative with pizza toppings.

If you had to choose one cuisine to eat for the rest of your life, which would it be? I probably could live on raw seasonal vegetables, tea, cheese, and ice cream (and, I guess, vitamin supplements) for a year. I realize this is not a cuisine and that my projected life span is much longer than that. Does "local cuisine" count as an answer? Or "ginger cuisine"? (Ginger is the best ingredient ever.) Yeah, sorry, I am going to fail this question.

What recipe, cuisine or technique scares the crap out of you? I'm not afraid of cooking meat, but I have zero meat skills. I was a vegetarian for eleven years and the only meat I cook at home is duck bacon, which is a good pizza topping. (Try apple-gruyere-shallot-thyme-duck bacon-black pepper-chive pizza, or potato-rosemary-parmesan-gruyere-shallot-mustard-duck bacon pizza.)

How do you think your relationships with your family have affected your relationship to food and cooking? Huh. Suddenly this feels like a therapy session. I was raised to eat whatever I was served, eat all of it, and say nice things about it. When I am invited to someone's home, my instinct is still to take seconds and thirds as a way to show appreciation for the food being served and the person serving it, just as I felt encouraged to do at my grandparents' table. This affects what kind of guest and host I am in multiple ways that we really don't need to get into on the internet. More interesting to me is how food is a story passed to and changed by each generation, how in the repetition and retelling, basic elements of a specific dish or tradition may stay the same, but the details and side plots are continuously reshaped and rewoven, adjusted according to tastes and logistics and to incorporate new narrative threads.

Even today, home cooking is strongly associated with women’s traditional place in the family and society. How do you reconcile your own love of the kitchen with your outlook on gender roles? Honestly, I don't sweat it. I know a lot of men who spend more time in the kitchen than I do (or than their wives do) and I don't think of or experience cooking or baking as gendered activities within my friend group. Cooking is pure pleasure for me, and when I don't want to do it, I don't do it.

What riles me up are the gender role expectations and inequalities I see in kitchen cleanup. Most of my female guests are much more likely than the males to offer to help clear or wash the dishes, and I see more women than men doing those chores in the homes that I visit.

Tell us a bit about the recipe you’re sharing. When did you first make it, and why? What do you love about it? Since it's summer, let's make chocolate sorbet. It's cold, rich, and intensely chocolatey. This sorbet is delicious on its own or paired with vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream or, say, toasted almond cake.

I've been making chocolate sorbet for years and I've probably never made it the same way twice. I suggest adding bourbon below but you can leave that out completely or substitute rum, Pernod, Frangelico, Ginger Snap, or another liquor. And feel free to adjust the cocoa-to-sugar proportions. I like this sorbet more bitter than sweet, but you might want to use up to 1 cup of sugar...or of vanilla sugar.... You could also stir in up to 6 oz. of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate after you remove the mixture from the heat. (If you do that, you'll want to whisk super vigorously or run the liquid through a blender for a few seconds before you chill it.) Play with it!

Chocolate Sorbet

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Anica recommends Valhrona) 1/3 cup sugar Pinch of salt 2 cups water, boiling 1/4 tsp. vanilla 1 to 2 tbs. good Bourbon

Combine the cocoa powder, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in the boiling water. Place the pan over medium heat and stir in the vanilla and Bourbon. (Of you're forgoing the booze, up the vanilla to 1/2 tsp.)

Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover it, and chill it thoroughly (likely about 4 hours of fridge time). Freeze in an ice cream maker just before serving.

Makes one quart.