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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.