Friday, July 29, 2011

Gretchen Stelter's Wasabi Steak and Rice

Welcome back! This is the perfect way to start off your weekend. I love posting on Fridays, because as my friends know about me, I LOVE Friday. Plus, I’m totally excited to be presenting you with the amazing and very beautiful Gretchen Stelter.

She is a former agent/editorial director for Baker’s Mark Literary Agency (the literary agency behind Boilerplate History’s Mechanical Marvel, Never After, and Comics 101) and current ghost writer and editor at Cogitate Studios. I “met” Gretchen online two…maybe two and a half…years ago when I queried her. Long story short, she didn’t become my agent, but we clicked, became friends, and kept in touch ever since.

Hi Gretchen, welcome to Pots 'N Pens.

Gretchen: *waves to everyone*

Let’s say a couple of your characters are raiding your fridge right now, what are they most likely to eat? Are they disappointed or excited about what they find?
My current solo (non-editing or ghostwriting) project is historical, so my characters would be confused—and probably very excited—to be in my fridge. I currently have quite a few nice cuts of meat and fresh veggies, not to mention cutting board turkey and puddings and honey yogurt, so I imagine it would be a heck of an experience for someone used to crusty bread with cheese as an entire meal.

Is there a food you’d love to learn how to cook or a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write?
I’d love to know how to cook Sichuan Chinese food. I’m a huge fan of this wonderful restaurant in Portland called Lucky Strike that serves Sichuan with prickly ash and massive amounts of dried red peppers. It’s amazing. I can cook pretty good Americanized Chinese, but I would love to know how to cook something more authentic like Sichuan.

Ghostwriting and editing, as well as writing my own stuff, has given me the opportunity to work in a lot of different genres—at least to some degree—but one I devour and would love to write is thriller. I am completely infatuated with the Pendergast novels right now (by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child), and while I’ve edited mystery, I’ve never attempted to write any, let alone thriller, and I think it would be so much fun. I’ve always loved old-school suspense, such as Ian Fleming and John D. MacDonald, so I suppose it’s no surprise I’ve found a new special agent to love and would want to write those types of books.

What are three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen?
Hot sauce—I like to have about ten around to choose from. My favorites are: Nando’s Peri Peri Sauce (they have Nando’s restaurants all over Australia, where I lived for a few years, and I became addicted), Huy Fong Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce, and Kruger’s Farm Mean Jean’s 3-Pepper Hot Sauce (a local farm’s homemade hot sauce that I can get locally but cannot get enough of—it’s amazing). I believe each meal deserves a different flavor; I’m irked when people throw Cholula (Mexican hot sauce) on something that should have Sriracha (Chinese hot sauce).

Garlic—both fresh garlic and garlic salt are used a lot in my house.

Milk—I love milk and would drink it most of the time anyway, but it also cleanses the palate, so it’s good to sip while cooking, as it gives you a fresh taste every time you check your flavors.

I didn’t know that about milk. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind. What’s your favorite kitchen accessory or appliance? How about a favorite writing accessory or reference?
I bought my partner, Henry, a professional-grade Santuko (a Japanese chef’s knife) that is the best cooking implement ever; you really don’t realize how much a properly sharpened and weighted knife makes all types of preparation faster and better.

However, as far as writing goes, there’s no way I could live without my laptop. I’m attached to my MacBook Pro in an unhealthy way, and my favorite references are Chicago Manual of Style online, which is immensely helpful when editing, and I’m currently loving What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew for the historical stuff I work on.

That’s awesome. The only kind of knife I have in my kitchen is a steak knife. Yes, I do need to upgrade. Anyway back to you….What is your A+, number 1 writing/editing/query-reading snack?
Cheese curds. I know that sounds weird but I’m obsessed with them. They make a lot of cheese in Oregon, and the Rogue Creamery sells jalapeno cheese curds that are spicy and salty and I can eat an entire package in an hour, easy. Plus, they’re already bite-size, so I just open up a package and they’re ready.

Cheese curds, YUMMO! Girl after my own heart! *Ahem* If you could borrow one person’s zest for writing and/or life, whose and why?
I’ve worked with some really amazing writers whose spirit I truly admire, so to be as diplomatic as possible and not name one of my clients over the others, I would have to say that Kurt Vonnegut had a playful spirit, both in his writing and in life that I will forever be in awe of. I love his irreverence, eccentricity, and orneriness.

I'm still thinking about the cheese curds so will you please share one cheesy “writing is like cooking” thought?
Writing is like cooking because even with the perfect ingredients, execution, and presentation, it’s always more fulfilling when it’s shared, and enjoyed, with others.

What’s your go-to meal when you need to serve something quick and easy?
This may sound counter-intuitive, but bear with me. I tend to be the takeout-girl if I’m feeling dinner needs to be quick and easy, unless I have a bit of warning. My favorite, completely simple meal that takes no time at all is something that still needs planned a day ahead but the prep itself is ridiculously fast. I serve it a lot for guests because I can entertain without being stuck in the kitchen and still serve a great a meal.

Basically, the easiest meal I know is pot roast with potatoes, carrots, and onions. I’m originally from the Midwest and we know how to use a crock-pot to its utmost advantage. You do have to prepare in advance, but if you have ten minutes the morning you need a super easy meal to be ready whenever you are, you’re set. Throw all those things in a crock-pot with some smashed garlic cloves, a little broth, and some Worcestershire, and that’s all you have to do. It’s awesome with no chance of overcooking.

Sweet! That's my go to meal as well. If your book were a menu item, describe the restaurant that would serve it (e.g., type of food, atmosphere, music).
I think a traditional British pub would serve my book—a place that serves pints, where you seat yourself in wooden chairs and have to go up to the bar for service, where people talk over each other and everyone is having a good time, and where you can order bangers and mash but they don’t have the ingredients for cosmo.

Tell us about your edible specialty, and rate your skill in the kitchen: novice, not bad, or nominate me for a Michelin star.
I make chicken enchiladas that friends request sometimes, so I have to assume that must be one of the better things I make.

I like to consider myself ready for Master Chef but I know I’m not there; I’m more of an apprentice. I know how to make a lot of things pretty well, but there are some things I’d completely flounder when trying to attempt. In general, I can handle cooking when I know what ingredients I can use. My partner is the MacGyver of the kitchen, who can toss things together and make something awesome; I, on the other hand, need a plan. I pretend that this makes me a perfectionist and not a control freak.

Describe the best cook you know and something wonderful he or she has served you.
Oh, that one’s kind of hard, as I have a few friends whose husbands are chefs, and I’ve had some truly amazing meals made by them. If forced to pick, I’d say Henry, as I see him going MacGyver in the kitchen all the time and he’s created some seriously amazing food. He made six different kinds of quesadillas for my parents once with some leftovers and some farmer’s market purchases. It sounds simple, but he used some exotic and absolutely wonderful ingredients that took it to a whole new level; my parents still talk about whenever cooking comes up. It was amazing.

Fill in the blanks: Writing/Editing/Agenting books is like cooking for a group of strangers. You never know if what you’ve done is going to appeal to the masses—they’re both too subjective to accurately predict the results of.

Leftovers can be great, especially when the same ingredients are retasked into another magical meal. Name a book that you wish had a sequel (or another sequel) and what kind of story you think that literary remix would tell.
What comes immediately to mind is Dean Koontz’s Fear Nothing and Seize the Night which have this character Christopher Snow in it that I love (they’re called the Moonlight Bay series). The first book came out in 1998 and I was still in high school and my dad and I both read it and thought the sarcasm of Snow was great. We loved him. I think we were both disappointed to find out that Koontz was only going to do two books in the Moonlight Bay series.

There were a lot of apocalyptic storylines in it that I’d love to see wrapped up or at least fleshed out a bit more, plus I’d love to see Snow more. I love Koontz’s ability to combine the smart aleck observations of main characters with crazy horror and sci-fi elements.

Half-baked ideas: Not every idea is a winner. Written or not, what’s the most ill-conceived story idea you’ve ever had?
Oh dear. That’s why I decided to abandon it. It should never see the light of day.

Too much salt can ruin an exquisite meal, and the perfect dessert tempers earlier mistakes. What ingredients can destroy a book through overuse or salvage a book despite its flaws?
Too much description can slow a book down and feel a bit too much like the author is holding your hand, instead of letting you see, discover, and envision things on your own. In particular, the “and then he went here, and turned right, and went down a hall” becomes a bit too play-by-play and I lose interest. It’s important that a writer can see everything in his/her mind’s eye, but it can get to be way too much and leave the reader asking why it’s necessary to the story.

Tell about a time when food inspired your writing or a book inspired your cooking.
I have a group of grad-school friends who I’m in a book club with, and every time I host, I try and let the book inspire the food. Last time I hosted it, we had read Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, and because part of it took place in the Gers region of France, I wanted to do a French-inspired meal, so we had baguette with Brie, two kinds of quiches, herbed salad, coq au vin, and macaroons. As much as I want to claim I made it all, the first and last courses were provided by my local market.

If you could retell a book as a meal which book would you choose and how would you tell it?
I just keep thinking of food-oriented books, which makes me want to say The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. The girl in the story can taste the emotions of the person that cooked the meal, which is wonderfully magical and poignant, especially when she figures out what her parents actually feel through their food. I would simply recreate the meals in it, though hopefully not with the sadness.

If you could invite a character to dinner who would it be and what would you serve?
I can only pick one? While I want to say Jay Gatz, that may be depressing, so I think I’d probably pick Thursday Next from Jasper Fforde’s novels. She’s a literary detective who actually goes into novels to regulate what’s going on and to solve literary crises, like when characters go rogue—she also has a pet dodo named Pickwick, which tickles me for some reason.

I’d serve her toast, which totally makes sense if you read the books (otherwise I just sound lazy). Just to spice things up, I’d do Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for mushrooms on toast, instead of just plain toast.

If you could only live with this only one book and only one food, what would it be?
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges......Burritos.

If you were stuck on an island with either bland food and a great library or mouthwatering food and boring books, which would you choose? Why?
The library. There are so many things the human spirit can endure when it has wonderful other worlds to visit in books, and bland food is such a small thing to have to deal with in exchange for having wonderful places to travel to.

What favorite recipe do you have for us today?
Wasabi Steak and Rice

I’m a huge fan of Chinese food, and I love this stir-fry recipe, because it uses a slightly better cut of meat and is just a bit fancier than a regular stir-fry.

Serves 2
2 filet steaks (you can easily do this with different cuts of meat, like pre-cut meat for stewing or sliced steak, both of which I’ve used for a cheaper and quicker version of this meal; full steaks should marinate longer and, as I like my steak medium rare, they are better for flavor, as it’s easier to get a nice medium rare on a full steak than it is on smaller pieces)
1.5 cup rice of choice (I use brown basmati)

For marinade:

2 teaspoons wasabi paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I actually use Liquid Aminos, which is a super healthy replacement for regular soy sauce and I personally like the flavor of better)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chili or garlic oil
(I also threw in a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce and one of Sriracha because, as I mentioned, I love spicy food)
garlic cloves to taste—I do at least two, normally more, and I like to smash some and mince some. I find the smashed help with marinades better, but it’s nice to have some already minced when I used it to cook the vegetables in.
* note: I actually measured for the first time ever for this post, so just know that I taste a lot and probably even adjusted a bit from what I wrote down. It’s more about how you like your Chinese (a little more vinegary, a little spicier, with a more traditional soy flavor, or even with a Hoisin sauce, which I use for other dishes but not this particular one)

For the stir-fry:
1 small yellow onion
green onions (reserve some for serving, as they retain flavor better when not cooked)
whatever other stir-fry veggies you have on hand (mushrooms, canned bamboo or water chestnuts, carrots, bell peppers, etc.)
2 garlic cloves (or more if you prefer a stronger garlic flavor)

Place steaks and marinade ingredients in a plastic freezer bag. Massage a little to be sure wasabi is dissolving nicely in the liquid and put in fridge to marinate for a few hours or overnight. Flip steaks every now and then to be sure both sides are well coated.

Pull steaks from the fridge to let them reach room temperature before cooking. I put the rice in about then, but that’s because brown rice takes longer. If you’re using white rice, starting it when you begin cooking is fine.

After getting rice on, chop whatever veggies you want in the rest of the stir-fry—this time I also threw in broccoli with the two different onions (if using green onions, use thicker green parts, where it starts to turn white, and reserve the upper parts to sprinkle on top when serving). While doing this, heat a grill pan over high heat and give steaks 2–4 minutes each side (depending on how cooked you want it; I prefer medium rare so I only give them 2). Remove steaks to foil and wrap fully before placing them on a wooden board or a stack of newspapers to rest (a saw this trick in a Nigella Lawson cookbook I have, where the recipe that inspired this one came from; it keeps the steak heated and even gently cooks it a bit more). In the foil, the juices will also redistribute, keeping them warm and juicy.

Heat a tablespoon of oil, a dash of Worcestershire, and a dash of fish sauce over high heat in a wok or other sauté pan and toss in veggies (honestly, I use the leftover marinade with a tablespoon of black bean garlic sauce as well). You want enough sauce to coat the vegetables, but not make a thick sauce.

After vegetables are cooked (this should only take 4–5 minutes if you like yours crispy), dish up rice and spoon veggies over. Slice steaks right before serving, and place either over veggies and rice or next to them. If you used green onion, sprinkle the remaining pieces over the dish before serving.

Thank you, Gretchen. This sounds to die for and looks so good. I want to lick my computer screen. If you want to catch up with Gretchen, check out Cogitate Studios.

Until next time bloggers. 


  1. oh yum, this sounds dee-lish! I haven't tried cooking with wasabi IN anything before. Looking forward to trying this one out!

  2. Steak and Wasabi, YUM... Time to go shopping!

  3. THIS. Omigosh. This is right up my alley!

  4. What a fun interview! I also agree that having a good knife (whether you're cutting words or cutting up veggies) makes all the difference in the world. And, yes, I am making this for dinner tonight!

  5. Thanks for reading and commenting, all! I had such a fun time doing this post, so it's so nice to get feedback!

  6. Some people are just blessed with mad skills. Gretchen, you are one of them. I am truly lucky to know you and work with you. Now... if I can just find a way to get you to make me what in those pictures. Damn... that food looks good. :) Great work. You rock!

  7. Oh my goodness, that sounds so good. I wonder if I could get my wife to help me make it. Until then, I'll have to cry over my stash of wasabi peas.