It all started with a bowl of pasta and a few too many habaneros for Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence.
"That was the first dish we cooked for each other," Burks says. "We went together to the grocery store. We thought the habaneros were real pretty. It was so hot, but we ate it because we had made it."
They've come a long way since that first dish they cooked together as a couple, creating a blog, chubbyvegetarian.com, that now has more than 3.5 million visits, appearing on the Food Network, lecturing and cooking at the James Beard House, and now coming out with their second cookbook, The Chubby Vegetarian (Susan Schadt Press).
"A lot of really fortunate things have happened," Burks says.
The Chubby Vegetarian is a follow-up to their first cookbook, The Southern Vegetarian (Thomas Nelson), which has been highlighted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Kitchn, and P. Allen Smith's Garden Style.
"The first book looked inward at our Southern culture and tried to fit what we live," Burks says. "The second is a look at other cultures, particularly cultures that already eat a lot of vegetables."
There is the Veggie-Packed Napa Cabbage Wraps with spicy Peanut Sauce, or the Samosas with Raita Dipping Sauce, and the Asian-Inspired Taco Bar, or the Egg Foo Yung with Sriracha Gravy.
There are also some typical American dishes but with a veggie twist.
Like the Charred Carrot Hot Dog — a carrot charred on the grill, then smoked inside aluminum foil, topped with all the fixings, and served in a hot dog bun.
Or the Olive-Bar Puttanesca with Cauliflower Chops — big chunks of cauliflower roasted in the oven and made to look like pork chops topped with a spicy puttanesca sauce using things found at an olive bar.
"We were trying to keep things light. We don't want it to be intimidating or to make it super serious," Lawrence says.
"We're taking vegetables and transforming them with just some simple alchemy," Burks says.
The couple has several events planned for their book launch, including a booksigning at Booksellers at Laurelwood Thursday, October 27th at 6:30 p.m. and a book launch party Sunday, November 6th at the Second Line at 5 p.m.
For Marisa Baggett, it started in a locked bathroom with a
bottle of Jack Daniels.
Eleven Japanese businessmen had shown up at her Starkville restaurant wanting to try her "sushi."
"All of my employees were concerned and knocking on the door saying, You've got to come out of the bathroom," Baggett says. "I said, No, I'm not coming out."
Eventually she came out, made her version of sushi that she had learned from books on Japanese cuisine from the library, and promptly enrolled in sushi school.
"After that, I said, You know what, I want to be able to stand in front of anybody and feel comfortable with what I make for them," Baggett says.
She graduated from the California Sushi Academy with a job lined up at a new sushi restaurant opening in Memphis under the leadership of Karen Carrier — Do.
All the while she was thinking there must be more people like her out there who would like to be able to make their own sushi at home and who may not have access to elaborate Asian markets.
She pitched her idea to several publishers, but no takers, until after she started sharing her knowledge and experience on a blog, and Tuttle Publishing approached her about writing a sushi cookbook for home cooks.
And Sushi Secrets: Easy Recipes for the Home Cook was born.
Baggett recently released her second cookbook, Vegetarian Sushi Secrets: 101 Healthy and Delicious Recipes.
"I knew as soon as I turned in my first book, I was going to do something on vegetarian sushi," Baggett says. "I was a vegetarian from the time I was in seventh grade until about age 25. It doesn't seem fair the things they put in front of people and sell as vegetarian."
Baggett's books can be found at Booksellers at Laurelwood as well as most bookstores and ordered online. For more information, visit marisabaggett.com.