Interview: Emily Ansara Baines’ Talks About Writing Pop Culture Cookbooks

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Eating like our favorite fictional characters is a concept that is taking the food industry by storm. Cookbooks based off of television shows are not only fun, but undeniably genius. You cannot go wrong combining two of America’s greatest pastimes: eating and watching TV.

It’s no surprise that fans will go to great lengths to feel part of their favorite TV shows and recreating the dishes from their favorite shows or books helps them take that to the next level. Can you say ultimate viewing party?

Emily Ansara Baines–author for the popular Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook–is releasing her second book in her Unofficial Cookbook series. This time fans of the Emmy Award-winning series Downton Abbey can eat just like The Crawley’s with Emily’s book The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook: From Lady Mary’s Crab Canapes to Mrs. Patamore’s Christmas Pudding- More than 150 Recipes from Upstairs and Downstairs.  Crushable got the chance to interview Emily and she revealed the secrets of making an unofficial cookbook, as well as some of her favorite recipes.

Crushable: How did you choose these TV shows and movies for your cookbooks? Are they favorites of yours, or did you just think they’d be great to pair with recipes?

Emily Ansara Baines: I have always been a fan of pop culture. Ever since I was a tiny middle-schooler obsessed with The X-Files, and editing music videos off of my VCR (those still exist?), to show just how in love Mulder and Scully were, I’ve been fascinated by how fandom can shape a person, a culture.

So, when I read The Hunger Games and watched “Downton Abbey”, what immediately caught my eye was not just the source material itself, but the way the material shaped current culture.  I mean, everyone was talking about The Hunger Games!  It was great to have someone (multiple someones) to talk to about a book I liked so much (after all, how many popular YA book’s have such strong female protagonists?)

While The Hunger Games introduced me to a large group of witty fans, they were more often than not on the younger side.  What I like about “Downton Abbey” is that it reaches all ages, from kids watching the show with their parents, to parents; to grandparents (my grandmother is a huge fan).  So not only do I have to be moved by the material I choose to include in the cookbook, but I have to be impressed enough by the reaction so I know I am contributing something to the culture.  Writing my cookbooks is not only a way to pay homage to the source material, but to communicate with fans.

However, yes, they have to be recipe-ready.  You don't see me writing an “X-Files” cookbook, for example, as food is rarely a part of the show.  Food (or the lack thereof) is a huge part of The Hunger Games series, and I can't even begin to count the number of plot points that occur on “Downton Abbey” over the dinner table.  I don't just write cookbooks to “make a buck.”  I'm not a hack.  Food has to be part of it.

Would you rather forage with Gale or bake with Peeta?

I would much rather bake with Peeta.  For one thing, I am a terrible camper.  I need hot water, a toilet, and basic necessities.  And also, I'm just more of a baker in general.  I love kneading bread.  The idea of kneading bread with Peeta while we talk about our feelings … well now I'm all hot and bothered!

How long does it take you to complete one cookbook, as well come up with each recipe? Who gets to be the lucky taste tester?

I went two different routes with these cookbooks.  For The Hunger Games one, I re-read the entire series and highlighted every single mention of food.  Whether it was an apple on a tree, or just a side note about a sandwich, I highlighted it.  Then I typed up all my highlights and started grouping them in categories (such as “breakfast” or “side”).  Only then did I start creating recipes, and then made sure that each mention of food was paired with at least one recipe.  I would test my recipes on my friends and coworkers.  I once fed an entire office squirrel stew without anyone realizing it (though if they read this, the jig is up).

For “Downton Abbey”, my work was a lot more historically-and-research based.  I went to the downtown LA library, along with various other online sites, and did a ton of research on the period, what food was eaten, etc.  I typed up notes.  While I tried to match food to the series, sometimes you can't tell for certain what the family is eating, so I had to make some educated guesses.  “Downton Abbey” fans are highly educated, and I didn't want to disappoint anyone.  So I did a lot of research so if I do something wrong, at least I have backup sources to show I tried my best!  Plus, I'm a huge nerd, I LOVE researching things.  I love making flashcards and lists.

Which recipe, from each book, was the most fun to create?

For The Hunger Games cookbook, I'd say I had a great deal of fun with the wild game recipes, mostly because I entered this ‘illicit' world I knew nothing about, where people sell wild game online.  I didn't realize it was illegal to do so until I tried contacting my “squirrel” guy and found out he was in jail!  There are tons of forums full of hunters who hunt and eat things like tree rat.  I'm lucky they were willing to give me the time of day.  Plus, let me tell you, nothing is more fascinating (yet also horrifying) than being delivered overnight beaver meat soaking with blood, to the point that blood is leaking out of the packaging.  My mailman hated me.

“Downton Abbey” was a lot less bloody.  I liked writing all the scones recipes, mostly because my girlfriends and I love tea, and creating scones and crumpets and whatnot provided us with ample excuses to hang out!  Oh, and anything with chocolate.  Chocolate makes everything better.  I'm a Kathy cartoon.  ACK!

So what do you say, want to have enjoy a lavish six course meal like characters in Downtown Abbey? Even if you've never seen the show, you're still going to love these recipesEmily’s The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook (F+W Media, November 2011) and The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook (F+W Media, September 2012) are on sale for 60% off today at Adams Media Store for Cyber Monday! Click here to purchase a copy!

Click on over to the next page for an exclusive recipe from the cookbook.

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