Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Julie Tanous mix new cookbook with heaping helping of friendship

“Modern Family,” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson and food writer Julie Tanous have teamed up for “Food Between Friends,” which blends dishes inspired by her native South and his New Mexico influences.

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Actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and food writer Julie Tanous have co-authored their first cookbook.

Actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and food writer Julie Tanous have co-authored their first cookbook.

Eva Kolenko

NEW YORK — A chance meeting at a dinner party by two people reluctant to be at that dinner party has resulted in a cookbook perfect for your next dinner party.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, star of “Modern Family,” and food writer Julie Tanous have teamed up for “Food Between Friends,” which blends dishes inspired by her native South and his New Mexico influences.

“We just started collecting recipes and ideas based on our history and the people that we care about,” said Ferguson. “I think the flavor profiles naturally go beautifully together.”

It’s a breezy celebration of both cuisines in sections on brunch, fish, chicken, beef, desserts, starters, drinks and vegetarian dishes. Both regions come through beautifully in their green chili chicken enchilada pot pie, which takes the spirit of the South and brings it into the Southwest.

This cover image shows “Food Between Friends” by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Julie Tanous. (Clarkson Potter via AP)

This cover image shows “Food Between Friends” by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Julie Tanous.

Clarkson Potter via AP

Tanous, who has written food stories, developed recipes for magazines and worked in catering, said most of the recipes are riffs off what both authors grew up eating, the restaurant dishes they adore and the foods their husbands love. She traveled to New Mexico with Ferguson and would bring an extra suitcase to take home things like blue cornmeal and chilies.

There’s a lightness and a winking humor throughout, as when Ferguson writes about how his family would likely razz him if he called patties by the more upscale name croquette. The authors also peel back the formula to writing introductions to recipes, and argue that crispy-skin salmon — approachable, adaptable, easy to work with and liked by all — is the “Tom Hanks of protein.”

“We looked for funny, humorous ways to sort of not take ourselves too seriously,” said Ferguson. “We’re first-time cookbook authors and we didn’t want to enter the room being like, ‘Well, we know a lot about all of this.’ We really were trying to be very respectful of where we sat as first-time authors.”

While both writers were well versed on items common to the South and Southwest — like beans, corn and chilies — each introduced different ingredients to the other.

He educated her about Hatch chilies and sopaipillas (he calls them “naughty little bread pillows”), while she informed him about things like sorghum syrup and spoonbread from her childhood in Alabama.

Each wrote essays on favorite ingredients, love letters of sorts. Ferguson describes his lifelong adoration of chilies, despite suffering from heartburn. And Tanous tackles sorghum, fondly remembering her dad spooning the syrup on a biscuit as he told stories.

“I love when food can transport you and bring you back. And when food is a placeholder for something special in your history,” Ferguson said.

The hardest section to write turned out to be the meatless one. Neither author is a vegetarian, and Tanous had to stop herself from adding bacon to corn chowder or chicken stock to sauces. One photo had to be redone when she noticed bacon lurking in the pinto beans.

Both authors had to quiet their inner doubting critics and push back against so-called imposter syndrome. There may be a million chicken and dumpling recipes but the book contains one more, their special take on it.

“It’s about your interpretation of it and the story behind it and why it means something to you. Really, that’s all it needs to be for people to be interested,” said Ferguson. “I think when people cook from the heart and they cook things that mean something to them, that’s enough.”

The two met about seven years ago at a friend’s pop-up dinner party in Los Angeles. It was on a weeknight and Ferguson wasn’t in the mood; Tanous had a newborn at home and also was reluctant to go.

Preparing to flee, Ferguson sat next to the exit. “Right before the dinner started, Julie walks in and there were no other chairs to sit in except for the one across from me,” he recalled. She cracked a joke and also admitted she wasn’t in the mood.

“I felt like I at least found someone who was on my same wavelength. And we ended up just becoming fast friends that night and ended up exchanging numbers,” said Ferguson. “We started hanging out and cooking together shortly after that.” A blog and now a book are the results.

The pandemic complicated the recipe development process and forced more ingredient substitutions. Tanous might test something out, drive it to Ferguson’s house and hand over the dish in the driveway.

“There were times we really would have liked to have been in the same kitchen and we couldn’t, so a lot of stuff had to be done remotely,” he said.

To prepare, Tanous dug out her old notes from culinary school and shared them with Ferguson, who shared his own experience working at Sadie’s Cocina in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Some things just worked out: Her knife skills are good after working at a butcher shop, and he doesn’t like handling raw meat.

“It was very collaborative,” said Tanous. Ferguson agreed, but perhaps had one minor gripe he wanted to share with his friend: “I feel like I did more dishes, Julie.”

Here’s one recipe from “Food Between Friends”:

BISCOCHITO COOKIE BARS

BISCOCHITO COOKIE BARS

Biscochito Cookie Bars from “Food Between Friends”

Photographs copyright © 2021 by Eva Kolenko

“I didn’t even know this was a thing, but apparently in 1989 the biscochito became the official cookie of the state of New Mexico. As someone who is obsessed with cookies, I am disappointed that I missed this landmark occasion. I was 14, and what else was I doing with my time? I should have known about this!

“Well, I am thrilled to right my wrong by offering a fresh spin on this New Mexican holiday cookie classic. I love the subtle licorice flavor that the anise brings to these sweet-salty-buttery blondie/shortbread-like cookies. The classic version of this recipe calls for lard. I know, lard! Using butter instead makes for the chewiest cookie bars with crunchy golden edges. A finishing pinch of flaky salt, and you have the perfectly balanced treat. Even the most traditional sweets deserve a makeover! “— Jesse Tyler Ferguson

INGREDIENTS

  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more as needed
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon anise seeds, plus
  • more for topping
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons anise extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Flaky sea salt

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish with a little butter, then line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang (this will make it easy to lift the bars from the pan).

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, anise seeds, and cinnamon.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the 11 tablespoons butter and the sugars on medium speed until creamy and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the egg, anise extract, and vanilla.

5. Beat until fluffy, scraping down the bowl once or twice, another 3 minutes. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating on low speed until just combined. The dough will be crumbly.

6. Scrape the dough into the baking dish and use a rubber spatula to press it down in an even layer. Sprinkle more anise seeds and some flaky sea salt evenly over the dough.

7. Bake until golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes.

8. Use the parchment as a sling to lift the cake from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely, then slice into 16 bars.

Recipe reprinted from “Food Between Friends” by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Julie Tanous. Copyright © 2021 by Julie & Jesse Cook, LLC. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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