Meagan Micozzi of Scarletta Bakes on Her First Cookbook, The New Southwest

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Meagan Micozzi Food blogger, scarlettabakes.com Author, The New Southwest

When Meagan Micozzi started writing her blog, Scarletta Bakes, two and a half years ago, she had no idea that a few short months later she'd be a recognizable face at a national conference of food bloggers. When she set out on the adventure that would change her life she had no intention of establishing herself as an expert on modern southwestern cuisine. And she definitely had no idea she'd ever author her own cookbook.

Read part two of this interview here.

See also: Meagan Micozzi of Scarletta Bakes on the Evolution of Southwest Cuisine

Yet here she is today at a coffee shop near her home in North Scottsdale with a brand new copy of The New Southwest in hand.

"This is, like, a total accident," Micozzi says. "Like, this shouldn't have happened to me."

But it did, and whether due to fate, luck, talent or a combination of all three, Micozzi's cookbook hit shelves about a month ago. Like her blog, it includes original recipes that she describes as "Southwestern cuisine with an Americana twist." Dishes like her picadillo meatloaf with habanero ketchup take traditional southwestern foods and turn them into "what you'd find on the dinner table every night in suburban America," she says.

The fact that she's penned hundred of recipes might lead you to believe Micozzi has always been obsessed with food. But, on the contrary, she says, she was always a "proficient eater" but didn't discover her passion for cooking until relatively recently.

The New Jersey-born Micozzi attended University of Virginia, where she graduated with a degree in urban environmental planning. After bouncing around the East Coast for several years due to her husband's job, she finally landed in Phoenix in 2009. It's difficult to jump into urban environmental planning when you're in an urban environment you know nothing about, Micozzi says, which is why she took a part-time job at the library to give herself time to figure out what to do next.

And that's when she started playing in the kitchen. She immersed herself in efforts to re-create traditional southwestern foods, researching each ingredient and recipe to try to find its original source. The idea to start a blog was a secondary one, she says, more of a way for her to keep in touch with her friends and family back home than anything else.

"To be honest with you, before I started my blog . . . I always thought blogging was sort of narcissistic," Micozzi says. "Like who would want to read what I'm writing? It was a very personal thing."

Why "Scarletta": I have a tendency to blush (a lot) when I get really excited or anxious about something. My husband started calling me Scarletta after we moved to Arizona because it seemed to him like I was blushing all the time: I was totally homesick and felt like a stranger in a strange land. I found comfort in exploring the food and flavors of my new home, which is why whenever I would start to blush, he would send me into the kitchen. Ultimately, this pattern inspired the name of my blog, Scarletta Bakes.

Your favorite childhood food memory: Going to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania when I was 8 years old and being allowed to have a hot fudge brownie sundae for breakfast. It was a singular moment of life-altering indulgence and, while I haven't had a sundae for breakfast since, whenever I think about that trip and that meal, I smile.

One dish that describes your style of cooking the most: Chicken Tinga Pot Pie, recipe below, excerpted from The New Southwest: It's the perfect combination of classic southwestern flavors wrapped up in traditional Americana in the form of a simple but succulent savory pot pie.

The biggest misconception about Southwest cuisine: That it's unsophisticated! That it's flavorless! That it is unworthy of appreciation and attention! Honestly, I have found that there are a lot of misconceptions about the food of the Southwest, most centering around the idea that it is generally inferior, especially when compared to other schools of American regional cuisine. Realizing this was one of the major inspirations behind my blog, my book, and my daily cooking, it has never seemed possible to me that an area of this country that is so geographically blessed could be so devoid of culinary value. I mean, the Southwest is literally located at the intersection of the bold, bombastic flavors of Texas, the fresh nouvelle cuisine of California, the rustic, earthier flavors of the high country, Colorado and Utah, and, of course, that doesn't even include the cuisine of Mexico to the south and the rich history of the local Native American tribes that have been developing their own extensive culinary traditions for centuries. The truth is that I haven't ever experienced a region that is more inspiring when it comes to food, and I view it as my job to make sure people understand that.

How do you define the new Southwest cuisine?: As simplistic as it sounds, it is a blend. The perfect blend. A blend of old and new, traditional and innovative . . . the Southwest has not been immune to the trend of globalization, which means that the flavors that people typically associate with the food found here have recently been energized by new ingredients and techniques. Whether it's Baja seafood and wines, new varieties of chiles from New Mexico, fresh produce from California, or Mexican cheeses that southwestern cooks would never have had access to just five years ago, the southwestern pantry has been dramatically expanded. New raw materials means new flavor profiles, especially when combined with traditional techniques and ingredients. The result? Now is an extremely exciting time to try the food of the southwest.

One thing you'll always find in your fridge: Homemade condiments. Whether it's salsa, hot sauce, cajeta, dulce de leche, or crema, I am totally obsessed with preparing and bottling my own condiments. We use a lot of them in my household, and by making them at home I have so much more control over the flavor of the finished product.

Chicken Tinga Pot Pie

Chicken Tinga is a fresh, flavorful poultry dish that, in my mind, is perfectly suited to serve as the filling in a luscious savory potpie. Think tender, saucy chicken paired with herbs, spices, and chunky vegetables, then tucked inside a rich, flaky butter crust. Even better, the filling and the pie crust dough can both be prepared in advance, then quickly assembled and baked for a hungry weeknight crowd.

For the crust: 1½ cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon salt ¾ cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed 3 tablespoons cold water 1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the filling: 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts 2 cups chicken stock 2 bay leaves 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1½ cups diced yellow onion 1 cup diced green bell pepper 2 cups chopped tomatillos 3 cups chopped plum (Roma) tomatoes 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic 2 teaspoons fresh thyme 2 teaspoons fresh marjoram 1½ teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning to taste if necessary 1½ teaspoons black pepper, plus more for seasoning to taste if necessary

To prepare the crust, place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse-process just to blend. Add the butter and process to a coarse meal. With the motor still running, add the water through the feed tube and continue to process just until the dough comes together into a solid mass. Remove dough, form into a large disk, and set aside to rest. If preparing the dough in advance, wrap tightly in wax or parchment paper and store in the refrigerator for up to one day. Be sure to allow the dough to come to room temperature and soften slightly before rolling out.

To prepare the chicken, place chicken, stock, bay leaves, and 2 cups water in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil (be sure to select a vessel that allows the liquid to cover the chicken completely). Reduce to a simmer and cook for approximately 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and fork-tender. Drain and cube the chicken into 2-inch pieces once cool enough to handle.

To prepare the sauce, heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, add onions and bell pepper and sauté for 10 minutes. Add tomatillo and tomato pieces and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Lower heat to a simmer. Add the garlic, thyme, marjoram, salt, and black pepper and simmer for 10 final minutes.

Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay

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