New Orleans-based Reed’s But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry is rife with enticing recipes and equally appetizing anecdotes.

Where did your enthusiasm for food and entertaining originate?

I was lucky enough to grow up in the Mississippi Delta where everyone had to be a good cook. There were few restaurants in town and if you wanted to eat well you did it at home. The parties that my mother and her friends threw were all about generosity and fun—and, of course, great tasting food. Which is why for me, food is about memories. I’m happy to say that the tradition continues. In so many places in the South, we’re having lunch and planning dinner!

How did you get started writing about food?

Long before I started to write about food, I wrote for Newsweek and Vogue, where I mostly covered politics. In the late 1990s, I became an accidental food writer after I had a party in New York. I served deviled eggs and ham biscuits. These guests had never seen a ham biscuit or most of what else they ate. Literally, the following morning I was asked to do a food column for The New York Times Magazine, which became the basis for my last book, Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns and Other Southern Specialties.

How do you explore new ideas in food?

I take cookbooks to bed! My older heroes include MFK Fisher and Lee Bailey. Today I admire people like the great Jeremiah Tower or New Orleans chef Donald Link. I love Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Supper at Lucques, based on the more relaxed Sunday menu she creates for her L.A. restaurant.

Your wonderful section on drinks highlights some great punches.

Punches are useful during the holidays when families gather and good cheer can sometimes be in short supply!

Do you freeze a lot of food?

I don’t freeze much. Right now I have a freezer full of stock, which is always great to have on hand. But my cooking is more of the moment—I like to visit a great farmers’ market in the morning and get inspired.

Do you have advice on using caterers?

The trick with a caterer is to make sure the menu reflects your own style and personality. I hate food that looks catered—weird things like foam in a shot glass, something else on a china spoon. Pretentious food is rarely ever good food. One of my favorite canapes is a watermelon rind pickle wrapped in bacon—people chase the trays down when I serve it.

You confess to carrying Tabasco Sauce in your purse. True?

It’s my best weapon! I mention it in the chapter Kill That Taste. When you are served a plate of bland, or even bad food, hot sauce can really save you. And the great thing about Tabasco is that it has a little subtlety.

What’s your best advice to new cooks?

Taste! I read a pompous quote by a famous chef who said he never tastes while he cooks. When I asked my friend Eric Ripert, the chef at Le Bernardin in New York, about that, he was not yet wearing his chef’s whites but he reached into a shirt pocket and pulled out a spoon.