A few weeks ago we had our parent’s group over to the house for a barbecue and potluck in the backyard. We all have babies around the same age and they all go to bed around 7 pm which, frankly, makes for a very early barbecue, so we met in the late afternoon; Sam and I picked up sausages, beer and all the fixings and asked everyone else to bring a dish to share. The following day I started cooking from Kristin Donnelly’s new book, The Modern Potluck, and wished I’d started sooner as this corn salad would’ve been perfect to share: it’s got late summer, sweet August corn, effortless cooking written all over it. It’s smoky and a little bit creamy with a splash of lime and nice pops of color from the radishes and cilantro. Apparently Kristin was inspired here by the Mexican street snack elote, corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise and cheese. And while I have to admit that I’ve never tried elote, if it’s anything like this salad, I’m 100% on board.
I met Kristin for the first time last week when she was in town promoting her book, but I feel like I’ve known her forever. You may be familiar with her name from her long stint at Food and Wine — or perhaps you know her luscious lip balms. I think we first started chatting when she mentioned my granola in Food and Wine, and then we talked periodically about small business things and cookbook writing. When we met for pizza last week, conversation meandered over to motherhood as it tends to these days with my mama friends, and in many ways it was fitting as the impetus behind Kristin’s book really came to her after she had her daughter. In her introduction, she talks about it, and about lamenting the loss of big dinner parties: “After I had my daughter, Elsa, those types of dinner parties seemed not just daunting but also impossible. Because I couldn’t eat at restaurants as much as I used to, I felt that my social life was starting to fall apart. That’s when I remembered potlucks. What a brilliant idea! I could focus my energy on one dish and get a full meal in return, all the while hanging out with my friends or meeting my neighbors.”
But that of course makes it sound so simple, right? Later Kristin recognizes this, noting how we live in tough times of diet restrictions and hashtagged food — there’s even that pressure to make a memorable dish maybe you’ll become known for. Something seasonal, something beautiful. And that’s where her book comes in: with some reassurance that simple potluck food can be inspiring, too. And in typical potluck fashion, she asked some friends and writers to contribute recipes to the book (my Chocolate Cherry Millet cookies are representing in the Sweets section!) I have to say that many of the recipes are also great new parent meals or simple ‘stock the fridge’ dinners that you can easily freeze and thaw when things get hectic, as they’re bound to do. In fact, there’s a whole chapter devoted to the 9×13 pan: pure genius.
Giveaway: Clarkson Potter/Random House & Corningware have teamed up to do a giveaway on the site today. One A Sweet Spoonful reader will win a copy of Modern Potluck plus a special delivery from Corningware. To enter: Leave a comment below telling me your go-to potluck or picnic dish. Giveaway ends August 30, 2016 at 9 am PST and is open to US readers only.
Grilling corn for this salad is really easy, but if you don’t have a grill (or grill pan), it’s not a problem: simply boil the ears of corn. Kristin advises not to use frozen kernels though, which tend to be less milky than corn freshly cut from the cob. I ended up halving this recipe as it makes quite a lot, and it worked beautifully, so if you have a smaller family or crowd you could go that route. And we found that while it’s certainly best eaten the day it’s made, the salad keeps just fine in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Recipe from: The Modern Potluck
Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Pull back the corn husks but leave them attached; remove and discard all of the silks. Fold the husks back up over the corn. Grill the corn over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until the husks are well browned and black in spots and the corn is very hot, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let cool.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the shallot with the lime juice and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in the mayonnaise and paprika.
Using a serrated knife, cut the corn from the cobs (you should have about 8 cups of kernels). Add the corn and the cheese to the dressing and toss. Within 1 hour of serving, add the radishes and cilantro, season with salt, and serve.
POTLUCK PREP. The salad without the radishes and cilantro can be made earlier in the day and refrigerated. It can stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.