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.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.