We're celebrating a Martha alumnus' new cookbook.

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Susan Spungen holding her book, Open Kitchen
Credit: Christina Park

Whenever Susan Spungen, the founding food editor of Martha Stewart Living, publishes a new cookbook, she grabs our attention—and our appetites. Her latest, Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings ($23.49, amazon.com) is packed with creative plays on global flavors. Editorial director of food and entertaining Sarah Carey is fired up to try her slow-roasted lamb shoulder with pomegranate molasses; deputy food editor Greg Lofts has his eye on the root-vegetable tian with chickpea purée, sweet potatoes, beets, and parsnips. When we visited Susan at her studio kitchen in Lower Manhattan to chat about working with Martha and working as a food stylist, Susan made us a glorious, colorful, and delicious salad from Open Kitchen that I'll be making as long as it's citrus season. But first, a little bit about Susan and Martha.

Susan met our founder, Martha Stewart, as Martha was starting her magazine in 1991. At that time, Susan was the pastry chef at renowned New York City restaurant Coco Pazzo. She assisted Martha on some photo shoots (early magazine shoots were at Martha's Turkey Hill home or her house in East Hampton), and went on to become the magazine's food editor, working closely with Martha to bring her vision for food to the page. Susan worked on Living until 2003, "Which is 12 years, as long as kindergarten through 12th grade. But I would say that I learned a lot more with Martha than I did in school," she laughs.

Martha Stewart and Susan Spungen on the beach
Credit: Courtesy of Susan Spungen

What did working with Martha teach her? "Our instincts were kind of similar, like Martha I had a background in catering. And from her I learned food styling. Her way was always very natural. Martha is a really good stylist and had done all of her books, she is always very hands on. And I got to work side by side with her."

Thinking back, Susan says she learned so much from Martha and, "One of the biggest things is that just because it hasn't been done before is no reason not to do it." Susan recalls, "Martha was always forging new paths and did things that people hadn't done before. She gave me a lot of courage to do that."

If you saw the movies Julie and Julia and Eat, Pray, Love, you've seen Susan's work: She styled the food in these films. She also is a top-notch recipe developer, she started developing and writing recipes when on staff at Living and now contributes recipes to the New York Times and other publications. And she entertains a lot, which is how her new book came to be.

open table book cover
Credit: Courtesy of Avery

The title of the book refers both to the style of home that so many people have now where there is "no door to close on the mess in the sink," and to opening your home and sharing food with friends and family. "I love having people over, but I like to be completely done with messy prep work and cleaned up before people ever walk into my house," Susan explains. "I don't want guests to see me frantic in the kitchen. And when I have everything done, I can spend time with my friends." Most of the recipes in Open Kitchen are written so you know what to prep ahead and what needs to be done at the last minute, so you can finish dishes in a seemingly nonchalant fashion in front of your guests without breaking a sweat.

The vegetable-forward recipes are created with a food stylist's eye and a recipe developers palate. They taste as good as they look. Susan also shares menus and includes tips on putting together other menus from the book to help us all entertain with ease.

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