By Dawn Watson
Packed with home-style charm, with a taste of Hamptons ease, Katie Lee’s “Endless Summer Cookbook” not only speaks volumes about its author, it’s also a dynamite addition to any East End cook’s recipe repertoire.
In her colorful 200-plus-page cookbook, the Hamptons transplant, who arrived on our shores from her home state of West Virginia over a decade ago, has not only captured the feeling of simple entertaining, she’s told the story of her life in pictures and words. The culinary personality’s essence shines through in the recipes and stories that accompany them as she shares tales from her childhood—from learning to cook in the farm kitchen with her grandmother, Dora, in her native state, to her beachy life today at home in Water Mill or hitting the farm stand after surfing the waves at Sagg Main beach.
With sections devoted to Morning Fuel; Light Meals; Burgers, Tacos & Pizza; Cocktail Hour; Dinner; Sides; and Dessert, the book covers the gamut of “the ultimate summer fantasy of lazy, luxurious days at the beach,” says Lee. Most of the recipes are light-style Hamptons-type fare but some are definitely more comfort food based. Included are diverse favorites, such as West Virginia-Style Hot Dogs, her mother’s Light Lemony Berry Cheesecake, Lobster Reubens, and Fish Tacos with Creamy Chipotle Sauce and Pico de Gallo.
Lee grew up eating locally, with fruits, vegetables and meats coming straight from her family’s and neighbor’s farms. Eating in season wasn’t a trend, it was an economical way of living, she says. And though her lifestyle today isn’t constrained by the same financial considerations (she’s a co-host on the Food Network’s “The Kitchen” and the author of “The Comfort Table” and “The Comfort Table: Recipes for Everyday Occasions,” as well as the ex-wife of music legend Billy Joel) as it was during her childhood, her approach to food has mainly stayed the same.
“Many of the recipes come from my family traditions,” she explained during a telephone interview last week. “And the rest are from the farms and the sea surrounding the Hamptons and a few other places I’ve been fortunate enough to experience.”
In “Endless Summer,” the author’s philosophy of cooking, as well as some of her warm-weather favorites for intimate dining and effortless entertaining, shine through. In a nutshell: when it comes to living and eating well, ease rules.
“I like to keep it really simple. Really relaxed, and nothing fancy,” she says. “I really just love those days when I get to spend the whole day on the beach, then hit the farm stand on the way home. Maybe have a juicy ripe peach as a snack, and then have some friends over for a pizza party or cookout.”
Preparing everything in advance is key, says Lee. As is putting together fresh ingredients and then adding a touch of decadence. For example, she likes to dress fresh vegetables with her own home-made green goddess dressing, whip up a simple compound butter for fish and vegetables, or mix together a flavorful cherry tomato relish as a topper for a variety of simple options. A casual approach, coupled with early prep work and a soupcon of extravagance, goes a long way, she says.
“Doing it advance means that I can spend all day in my sweatpants and then change into something great before everyone comes over,” she laughs. “It all works perfectly, and, you look like you really have it together.”
In “Endless Summer,” Lee says that she hopes to help readers not only come up with new ideas for seasonal local food, but also to encourage them to explore.
“Go to the farm stand and just see what’s there,” she says. “And don’t be afraid to experiment. Be the hero of your backyard barbecue.”
Katie Lee will talk about and sign copies of her “Endless Summer Cookbook” at Marder’s in Bridgehampton on Sunday, May 24, at 11 a.m. For additional information, visit www.marders.com.