Years ago, someone anonymously posted a funny, slightly inappropriate comment on my blog, jokingly asking what one might do with wilted lettuce, among other things. I deleted the comment (which I kinda regret), and while wilted lettuce and grilled lettuce aren’t really the same thing, I’ve always associated them, perhaps because grilling lettuce wilts it? Anyhow, anonymous commenter, here’s what you can do with wilted lettuce. You can put it on a grill and make it into the most amazing Caesar Salad ever. Seriously.
Summer’s almost upon us. As in years past, I’m making a to-do list of very important summer activities: lots of stargazing, campfires, hikes, tents, rivers, swimming holes, watermelon, popsicles, road trips, warm evenings, cold drinks, etc. On top of those important activities, I’ll also be meandering up and down the west coast doing this book tour thing. (!!!) I’m feeling pretty darn enthused about all of this: about summer, about having a real, tangible cookbook out in the world, about celebrating all of this with friends in a bunch of my favorite cities, about long road trips and lots of good music and podcasts, about the bigness of it all. When life feels big and wacky and crazy like this, I tend to listen to a lot of really cheesy music. Katy Perry’s on heavy repeat right now. Don’t judge. She’s perfect in her larger-than-life musical proportions, uninhibited earnestness and righteous lady power.
I’m not often one for giveaways, but I grew up with Sunset magazine. It used to be my mother’s magazine, and now it’s my magazine. How did that happen? They’ve just released The Great Outdoors Cookbook, and it captures everything I love about summer eating. I have one copy of that book for one of you fine folks! Since this is a giveaway, here’s what I’d love to hear from you: those of you anywhere along the great west coast corridor that is I-5, share your favorite swimming hole, hike, local farm, or any awesome outdoor place to get your summer on. OR, share your biggest, cheesiest, most wonderful summer anthem with me. Perhaps it’ll make its way onto a summer road trip playlist as I meander up and down I-5 this summer. I can’t wait!
GRILLED CAESAR SALAD
adapted from The Great Outdoors Cookbook
6 anchovy fillets, rinsed and drained
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 hearts of romaine
Manchego cheese, shaved
Heat a grill to medium-high.
Using the flat side of a knife, mash the anchovies into a paste. In a small bowl, combine the anchovies with the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper, and whisk thoroughly.
Slice the hearts of romain in half lengthwise, keeping the core intact. Brush each cut half generously with the dressing, reserving a little dressing for serving.
Grill the hearts of romaine, cut sides down, until soft and golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Remove from heat and plate immediately. Drizzle remaining dressing, and finish with the manchego. Best served immediately.
Let’s talk the fun/exciting/scary stuff first! BOOK TOUR! I can’t believe that I am on the cusp of this moment. I can’t believe that all of a sudden, a handful of dates are booked on the west coast, with more to come, and a later round in fall on the east coast. WHOA! I’m equally thrilled and terrified. I’m really excited to meet some of you fine folks who share my passion for vegetables and color and being inspired by those things. I’m so proud of the little book that I made.
Speaking of, you can pre-order Vibrant Food now at any of these spots online:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound, iBooks, Google Books, or Powell’s.
HEY Portland and Los Angeles!!! I would love to schedule a class, event, or party in your city. Let’s talk if you want to host or have a suggestion!
SUMMER BOOK TOUR, West Coast!
June 25th, San Francisco, CA: Omnivore Books!, 6:30 PM.
June TBA, San Diego, CA.
July 2nd, Pasadena, CA: Vroman’s Bookstore, 7 PM.
July 12th, Larkspur (Marin), CA: Diesel, A Bookstore, 1 PM.
July 29th, Seattle, WA: Book Larder, 6:30 PM.
July 30th, Seattle, WA: The Pantry at Delancey, teaching a class! 6-9 PM.
July 31st, Seattle, WA: The Pantry at Delancey, teaching a class! 6-9 PM.
September 13th, Corte Madera (Marin), CA: Book Passage, 4 PM.
There are certain colors, tones, and qualities of light that just get me. Like the color of the ocean, above, on the way to Big Sur. It’s startling in the most profoundly calm way. And the bright grey of these long foggy evenings that we’ve been having lately in San Francisco. I feel like I’m bathed in soft, diffuse light when I’m outside gardening in the evening and it’s kind of magical. I’m holding on to these little things right now, when life feels so big and busy and demanding and will only become more so in the next months.
And since I’m obsessed with/terrified of public speaking right now, I’ve been absorbing all that I can from friends, family, and the internet. There’s some gold out there.
1. Like The Confidence Gap, which makes me wonder if my trepidation around public speaking is more to do with a lack of confidence than it is my introverted tendencies. It’s a powerful article. Take it to heart, ladies.
2. What to Talk About. While this book is geared more towards navigating and enlivening the random conversations that arise in day to day situations, I’m finding their advice and humor equally relevant in thinking about my book tour. They’re funny! And funny is what we all need.
3. Austin Kleon! This guy cracks me up! More smart advice, wisdom and humor relevant for anyone going after a creative life or passion, or pursuing a freelance career.
4. I’ll Finish the Dishes When I’m Dead. There are so many great pieces out there on figuring out how to slow down, do less, be more here. And yet, we keep on being too busy, doing too much, and not really being present. I’m in favor of being reminded as often as possible, especially when it’s as awesome as this piece is. Read it.
5. Four Months Alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. When I was younger, I really wanted to hike the PCT, and then I let that dream go dormant. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild reinvigorated that desire in a major way. Myla’s story is badass and so inspiring.
6. “And we should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.” Live Fruitfully and Honestly.
7. This one felt like a gift times two. Megan gives us sage words on life, and a mind-blowing granola bark recipe.
Somewhere in junior high I took a class, something like Home Ec, where we learned how to cook. I don’t recall much except that the teacher was stern but kind, and imposed exacting rules around things like sifting flour (which I still don’t usually do), scraping the bowls clean with a spatula (which I now sometimes do), and room temperature versus chilled ingredients. This kind of precision and specificity I associate with those who love to bake. I have learned that I am not really great at that kind of precision in the kitchen. I like to be a little loose when I cook.
In the class, we learned how to make Dutch babies, something for which I have a lifelong fondness because it’s my first memory of a really successful cooking project. There’s a straightforward alchemy to it: you toss together a few ingredients and slide them into a warmed skillet. It goes into the oven and transforms into this wonderful, puffed up thing that deflates a little as it cools, but is warm and comforting and just delightful. And best of all, it’s so simple. It doesn’t demand the precision of other kinds of baked goods. What better way to turn a bunch of pre-teens on to the magic of cooking? She was a smart one, that stern but kind lady. Of course we would be wowed by Dutch babies.
Dutch babies have been on my to-make list for years, but when I stopped eating wheat, I figured that it was another baked good that was no longer an option. (I have wrongly abandoned so much, thinking that without wheat it was pointless. It’s been awesome to rediscover so many foods.) This recipe is from Green Kitchen Stories; I’ve been wanting to make it since they posted it last year. They call it a fat almond pancake, and I love that name. And while it’s not exactly a Dutch baby, that’s the memory it evokes, and the two are similar in spirit. It’s reminiscent of a soufflé or bread pudding. As long as you don’t expect a conventional pancake when you tuck into this soft, melting dish, you’ll be pleased as punch.
Today is the last day to vote in Saveur’s Best Food Blog awards, where the Year in Food is a finalist in the Best Cooking Blog Category! I’d be so thrilled to have your vote. Thank you!!
BAKED ALMOND PANCAKE WITH STRAWBERRIES + CITRUS
adapted from Green Kitchen Stories
Serves 6 to 8
5 eggs, whisked
2.5 cups almond, soy, dairy or other milk of choice
1 cup almond flour
2 tablespoons brown rice flour
2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 blood oranges
2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
1 lemon, sliced into wedges
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place a 10×12-inch baking pan in the oven to preheat.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs. Combine with the almond milk and set aside. In another large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, brown rice flour, sugar, baking powder, and sea salt. Slowly whisk the wet mix in with the dry, mixing vigorously to incorporate. Melt the butter in the heated baking pan. When melted, swirl it around the pan, then mix the rest into the pancake batter. Give the batter one last thorough mix, and pour into the hot baking pan.
Bake at 425 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until the pancake is puffed and golden and firm at the center. It will still be rather wet when ready.
While the pancake bakes, place the strawberries in a bowl and set aside. Using a sharp knife, supreme the citrus. Slice away the top and bottom end. Stand the citrus upright, and slice away the outer peel and pith, working in a circle around the citrus. Slice each fruit about 1/4-inch thick lengthwise, and then quarter each slice. Add to the bowl with the strawberries. Toss the fruit with the cane sugar and set aside to macerate, stirring occasionally.
(First, some great good news: I’m a finalist in Saveur’s Best Food Blog Awards! If you wouldn’t mind taking a moment to vote, I’d be so honored. Voting closes next Wednesday, April 9th. Thank you!)
When I was in school, I had a really hard time with critiques. It’s kind of a cornerstone of the art school experience and it loomed large in my mental landscape. There’s a lot of mythology around the value of critiques: how they prepare you to be able to speak about your work, how they throw you in at the deep end so that you learn to survive later, in that less kind real world, how you learn to grow a thick skin and receive criticism with a modicum of grace. None of that was true for me. I was way, way too sensitive, and it took me three years to learn how to speak about my work, and I did not learn how to effectively field criticism. Nor did I find that feedback outside of school was less kind. Instead it has been more kind.
This isn’t to say that I don’t see the value in a thoughtful critique or in receiving challenging feedback. It was just the context of the program I was in: often there wasn’t a lot of thought about the delivery and the remarks were guided by the first person to offer feedback; it would set a negative or a positive tone. What I have learned since is that we can choose to see the good in something, or we can choose to see the bad. There’s no accounting for taste, as they say. To see the good or the bad in any kind of creative work is a choice.
My last semester there, I decided to kind of own my critique. I loved the work that I had made so much, and I really fucking believed in it. So I went into that final critique and just made it a positive experience. My own enthusiasm was reflected in the feedback – I could see how that confidence quietly persuaded people out of a knee-jerk default towards negativity to one of curiosity and positivity and interest. It was a really powerful experience.
I’m thinking about all of this lately because I’m starting to ramp up the planning for my book tour. (!!!) And those critiques are really my only point of reference for standing in front of people and talking about my work. I had a period of panic – the shy, introverted part of me nearly convinced me to just not do a tour, not step outside of my comfort zone, not stand in front of a group of strangers stricken with panic and forgetting how to speak.
But I realized that there’s a striking difference: these events in support of my book aren’t about finding the faults in the work. They’re about celebrating a shared passion for cooking, and vegetables, and color, and farmers markets, and seasonality. They’re about community; this is where I get to emerge from the intensely private place where that book was made, and connect with y’all, face to face. And I’m really excited about that. It feels like the reward for the work that has been done. I’ll probably still be nervous, and I still have no idea what to talk about, but I’m figuring that out.
SPRING VEG TABBOULEH WITH GREEN HARISSA
adapted from Food and Wine by way of Sprouted Kitchen
For a long time I was trying to work out a creative take on tabbouleh, one that used quinoa instead of bulgur and was flexible with the veggies and the herbs. But what I kept making fell flat. When I pulled this together last week, I had envisioned it as more of a grain salad than anything else. But tasting it, I realized that this was the tabbouleh that I was after. It stretches the definition of tabbouleh, sure, but it hangs on to its core elements: the generous parsley, the bright lemon tang, the grain that holds it together, the brightness. I love what both Sara and Ashley have done with the harissa; it’s a testament to the versatility of this bright, vivid sauce.
For the tabbouleh:
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1.5 cups water
2 cups asparagus, sliced diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups carrots, sliced diagonally into 1/4-inch pieces
2 cups quartered radishes
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the harissa:
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1/2 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 or 2 jalapeños, coarsely chopped, and seeded if desired
Juice of one lemon
1 large clove garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Combine the quinoa and 1.5 cups water with a little sea salt in a small pot. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook until water is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
While the quinoa cooks, roast the veggies. Toss them with the tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until browned and just cooked, about 20 minutes. Toss once or twice to cook evenly.
Prepare the harissa. In a food processor, combine the parsley, cilantro, mint, jalapeño, lemon juice, cumin, fennel and sea salt. Pulse once or twice to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil. Combine until a coarse paste has formed.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the quinoa and veggies with the harissa. I used all of it. You may want to start with 3/4 of the sauce and taste to see. Serve at room temp.
Flying into New Orleans on a Friday afternoon, what struck me from the window of the airplane was how pervasive and dramatic the serpentine waterways were. It was a landscape of water upon water, broken just barely by clumps of small brownish dots – the water-loving plants of the bayou. It was, of course, the fluid, overlapping topography of the Missisissippi river, the gulf coast, and the bayou. Louisiana, it seems, is defined by water.
And Louisiana has an unbelievably powerful sense of place. It was intense, triggering all the senses (the colors! the smell of the bayou and the river and the humid air, the foods, the music and the birdsong and the straggly kitties and everyone, everywhere saying hi), and it was present everywhere: in the gorgeous, slightly dilapidated, colorful shotgun houses that characterize the neighborhoods of New Orleans, in the cooking, in the regional accent, in the music. It’s a vibrant, wonderfully warm, amazing place, and I’ve never been anywhere like it.
Here’s my experience on Avery Island, the homeplace of the McIlhenny family and Tabasco sauce, mostly in photos:
In the greenhouse learning about Tabasco peppers!
Talking about the Tabasco mash in its early and later stages. We tasted the mash – the concentrated pepper and salt blend before vinegar is added. It’s as intense as you would imagine!
The mash is aged for 3 years in old whiskey barrels that are re-used for decades!
I am so inspired by the unique topography and color palette of the swampy bayous. It’s gorgeous, and rich, and fecund, and a little spooky. And yeah, there are totally critters hiding out in there.
Chef Brian Landry did an awesome demo on his Spanish and Creole-inspired cooking, before executing the MOST EPIC MEAL ever for us that evening.
Before our epic feast, I snuck out for a stroll along the empty roads of Avery Island. I wanted to get deep in that landscape and have a moment with the bayou. I made my way down a dusty dirt road to a small dock. Stepping onto the dock I heard a loud commotion – I had surprised a giant water snake who slithered in a hurry back into the murky creek! Yikes. Sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me.
Also, I am completely obsessed with Spanish moss. I learned that it’s an air plant – does that mean I can grow it at home? (Somebody send me some?)
The next day was equally epic. After an intense morning in the capsaicin-heavy air of the rooms where the mash is produced, we sped through the surrounding waterways to an old shack in the middle of nowhere.
We were greeted by these awesome guys, who were totally busting out the zydeco jams.
We went on an air boat ride through the marshy bayou. It was gorgeous and grey and empty out there – and the boat was so fast and loud and awesome. I felt like I had been on a roller coaster after. Look at our badass captain!
Then we feasted on the best crawfish boil ever, and some of us got down with the band. What an amazing trip. So much great food, an awesome group of bloggers, a really rare opportunity to understand the story of an impressive family-run business, and a whole heck of a lot of inspiration. I’m still processing it. I feel so lucky to have been invited to join!
CAJUN-SPICED SWEET POTATO BURGERS
Yield: 4 large or 6 medium patties
I knew that if I wanted to draw on the cornerstones of Cajun flavors for these guys that I had to step outside of my comfort zone a little bit. (Red bell peppers out of season, heaven forbid!) But the Cajun holy trinity – celery, bell pepper, and onion – felt like a necessary component to bring these to life. And it did. I very loosely adapted a basic Cajun seasoning to give these the big flavors that I was looking for, and rounded it out with Tabasco’s smoky Chipotle Pepper Sauce, because I love a smoky element with the flavors of sweet potato. I am so stoked on how they turned out. Since these patties are a little bit delicate, I don’t think they’d work too well on a grill, unfortunately. Get that skillet super hot to give them a nice, blackened crust. It’ll help them hold together. Smother them with all of your favorite condiments, squish em inside a bun, and have at it.
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for cooking
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
1.5 cups cooked and mashed sweet potato (from one large sweet potato)
1/2 cup cooked and cooled short grain brown rice
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried garlic
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 or 2 teaspoons Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg, whisked
Micro greens or lettuce
Condiments of choice
Warm a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the tablespoon of olive oil, along with the diced bell pepper, celery, and onion. Saute, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except for the second teaspoon of Tabasco sauce, the cayenne pepper, the breadcrumbs and the egg. Taste the mix and add the second teaspoon of Tabasco and the cayenne pepper if you’re fond of a little spice. (This is why I add the egg last – I don’t mind a smidge of raw egg, but it’s great to be able to safely taste this and adjust the season to your preference.) Add the egg and the breadcrumbs and mix until just incorporated.
Shape into 4 large or 6 medium patties about 3/4 inch thick, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
Heat a large cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and let it sit for a few minutes to get nice and hot. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
Remove the patties from the fridge. Using a spatula, carefully place two at a time in the hot pan, reshaping a little if necessary. They’re delicate – be patient and forgiving with them, and know that they’ll still taste good! Cook, completely undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, until a nice, dark crust forms. Flip and repeat, again being careful not to disturb them, for another 4 to 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining patties, adding more olive oil as needed.
While the patties cook, toast the buns.
To serve, place the patties on a bun with lots of mustard, mayo, ketchup, relish or whatever you prefer. Top with micro greens or lettuce and the bun. EAT and be happy.