Side Dishes


Suzanne Goin made me eat salad dressing straight out of the bowl, with a spoon.  Sort of.

As I have mentioned before, I’m sitting on a handsome crop of Meyer lemons these days and continue to look for interesting ways to use them.  I eagerly turned to Goin’s beautiful cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, for inspiration.  The salad that follows caught my eye immediately.  Beautiful and seasonal, it earned extra points with me for using up two lemons at a time. I didn’t expect to fall so madly in love with the Meyer lemon cream that dresses the Belgian endive spears.

But how could I not?  Like many of Goin’s recipes, it strikes a lovely balance between simple and innovative.  It begins with a basic lemon vinaigrette, enhanced with the oniony, garlicky hum of a diced shallot, and then evolves into tangy, silken bliss with a few tablespoons of cream.  In a pinch, I found it also works to substitute a mixture of 2 tablespoons sour cream and 2 tablespoons water for the cream if, like me, you usually try to keep heavy cream off your property lest you end up eating it for second breakfast.


Though I don’t typically include restaurant reviews here in The Salty Spoon, I must mention that I recently enjoyed one of the Sunday Supper menus at Lucques and was blown away.  If you find yourself hungry in LA on a Sunday evening, go.  I was most impressed with the entire operation - lovely ambiance, attentive staff, and exceptional food.  I’m aching to go back again, both for the regular menu and for another Sunday Supper.  There is something incredibly appealing to me about a set menu from a chef I admire.  It’s much more intimate than a full menu, a closer conversation between you and the chef where you listen for insights about the chef’s likes and dislikes with respect to the available ingredients.  Goin is steadfastly committed to using seasonal offerings in the best way, and her Sunday menus showcase that approach with aplomb.

But if it is Tuesday and you are hungry for something elegant, you can join me in turning to this beautiful cookbook and finding something marvelous to do with a lemon or two.  I’ve made a few adjustments.  The original recipe calls for fava beans, which I have been sadly unable to find over the past few weeks.  I have reduced the yield of the salad from four servings to two, but the proportions for the dressing are intact.  Here’s why: in order to reach the proper consistency with your vinaigrette, it helps to really give it a hearty run with the whisk.  It’s a bit difficult to get the everything moving in the bowl the way you want with a half-quantity of lemon juice and olive oil.  However, you will have no trouble coming up with alternative uses for the leftover dressing.  It’s stupendous on fish, pasta, etc., if you have the discipline to put it away in the refrigerator.  If you are like me and find yourself gulping it down with a spoon instead of doing the dishes, well, I won’t tell.

(Keep reading Endive Salad with Meyer Lemon Cream…)


There are two reasons why Farmer Boy is my favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, and both of them have to do with the descriptions of the food Almanzo Wilder enjoyed as a boy growing up on the farm.  The Wilders spared no expense in describing the food in this novel – and I suppose it should come as no surprise to me today that I loved these descriptions so dearly as a child.

The first reason has to do with the doughnuts Almanzo’s mother made on a regular basis.  I’m a lifelong doughnut fan, having grown up around the corner from Wally’s Donuts, a true mom and pop shop that I will tell you more about another time.  To me, doughnuts were (okay, still are) food nirvana.  Sweet, soft rings of dough topped with frosting and wrapped in fragile squares of waxed paper for me by Wally’s wife; bliss.  Still, I knew nothing about how they were made until I read Farmer Boy.  I have only recently begun making my own, and I can’t help but picture Almanzo and his mother whenever I slide a doughy ring into the hot oil.  What they shared by the stove is timeless, and it is part of why I cook so much today.

The second reason has to do with the pumpkin Almanzo raised for the fair.  To ensure maximum size, he devises a way to feed the pumpkin milk as it grows by slitting the stalk just above the chosen pumpkin and inserting a candle wick, the other end of which he places in a small dish of milk.  For years, I swore I would attempt the same.  One spring followed another and another, and each year my mom and I would plant pumpkins in the garden in our front yard.  Somehow, I never got around to tracking down a wick to test the milk-feeding method.  Instead, I watched in wonder as the blossoms became little secret orbs hiding beneath the vine’s broad, dusty leaves.  It was captivating, a daily treasure every day upon my return from school.


Ever since, I have come to love pumpkins and their related squash brethren as fall’s delivery on a tiny promise that begins in late spring with a hint of a something buried under a leaf.  Slowly, so slowly, they burgeon and ripen, developing tough rinds to ward off the elemental torment of months on the ground.  They are, to me, a sweet surprise to enjoy as night begins earlier and earlier; the subtle reminder the good things really do come to those who wait.

This recipe comes to me by way of my stepbrother, Brian.  He and his lovely wife, Sarah, dazzled the family with it last year in Salt Lake at Thanksgiving. It’s a genuine beauty, both visually and in terms of the delicate layers of flavors.  As you know, orange foods occupy a special place in my heart, and this dish is no exception. The spunky little orange cubes are silky and inviting, especially when stippled with a shot of fresh mint.  Sweet, tangy, garlicky, and salty, there is something in this dish for every palate.

(Keep reading Honeyed Butternut Squash…)


October was a powerful month. It managed to pull the perpetually sunny southern California into semi-submission to its wiles. During our 12-day visit to the east coast in the middle of the month, something here changed. Upon our return, it was as though a switch had been flipped. Suddenly it was dark for the first four snooze cycles of my alarm clock. My drive home was cloaked in navy velveteen, the sky betraying its last few gasps of mauve behind inky silhouettes of palm trees that keep watch over Sunset Boulevard.  Though warm and golden during the day, dawn and dusk decidedly fell prey to the seductive, autumnal call of October.

I can’t blame them. Even in temperate zones, fall is cotton-clad warmth. Fall is cozy. Fall is a gilded, tender embrace before the year tumbles swiftly and rambunctiously into oblivion. However fleeting it may be, fall is a lovely time of year.


As I bid adieu to summer’s berry-laden bounty each year, I am quickly comforted by the sweet, earthy delights of squash and wintry greens. Enter kale, and its acerbic wit. Growing up, I enjoyed heaps of kale in a delicate beef stew, speckled at the last minute with a beaten egg. Its stiffly leafed fortitude is no match for heat; no matter how many leaves you add to the stew, it always seems to accommodate them.

Though I had planned to braise a bunch of kale with cauliflower and beans last week, I couldn’t resist tossing a few leaves into a blistering hot pan with garlic and the last ears of the summer’s sweet corn. I made this for myself one night when I was home alone, fully intending it to complement some leftover chicken but never making it that far. The back-arching tang of the lemon joins with a bit of sea salt to goad the vegetables into asskicking mode. Pay attention, they seem to say, this is going to knock your socks off. Hang on tight and keep another pair of socks handy; November is here, and it isn’t messing around, either.

(Keep reading Kale and Sweet Corn…)


I learned to arm wrestle really, really well working at the Olive Garden.  It had almost nothing to do with being a hostess there, but the arm wrestling champion of Butte, Montana taught me herself.  Her name was Mary, and she was a great teacher.

The key to winning at arm wrestling, according to Mary, is two-fold.  Getting the knot of forearms, hands, and elbows into a configuration that allows you to pull with your bicep is of paramount importance.  Getting there quickly, to the abject shock of your opponent, is equally critical.  Done correctly, you’ll leave them painfully mumbling in your dust as you swagger away, heady with the pride of your win.  Though the expression is woefully time-worn, it really is all in the wrist.

For two summers and a winter break in college, I was part of the front of the house “A team” at the Olive Garden in Billings.  I had applied for work at several restaurants in town, and the Olive Garden was one of my last stops because it was the furthest strip mall from my house.  It shared a parking lot with Red Lobster, where I failed the 300-question personality test prior to my interview.  By the time I received a Dear Bria letter informing me that my immediate future did not include reciting pithy witticisms about a menu filled with shellfish, it was the OG or nothing.


My arm wrestling lesson came around the same time gnocchi were added to the menu, during my second summer. New additions to the menu meant team meetings at the restaurant on Saturday mornings, where we put the “know your food” OG principal into practice (the other four principals being hot food hot, cold food cold, money to the bank, and clean restrooms).  I don’t remember anything else from the tasting that day, nor do I really remember whether or not the gnocchi were any good.  I can only recall the moment that marked what would prove to be a weeks-long process in fighting about the pronunciation of “gnocchi.”  It was not, as I emphatically argued, acceptable to refer to it as “nookie.”

It’s a good thing none of us are 19 for more than, say, a year.  It’s just so difficult to know Everything and struggle to communicate it to the rest of the world given a paltry allotment of only 24 hours per day.  I believe Mary was neutral on the pronunciation debate, but favored some sort of object lesson that would shut me up for the sake of keeping the peace.   Somewhere between hearing her credentials and that first, brutal loss, I managed to forget about the pedantry of the matter.

Today, I don’t care if you call them gnocchi, nookie, or Wondrous Pillows of Carbtastic Splendor.  Just make them, and soon.

The ricotta quantity is stated in ounces, rather than cups.  If you buy your ricotta, it should make a difference to you as 15 to 16 oz is a standard size.  If you made whole-milk ricotta with me and are staring at a giant wad of cheese, wondering how much to use, get thee to the store and pick up a food scale.  It’s an excellent way to maintain consistency and accuracy in the kitchen.  Fundamental recipes are ratios based on weight, not volume, and you will open many doors for yourself with the ability to scale recipes up or down based on weight.  Get one.

Regarding the bread crumbs: I cheat.  If you happen to have a few slices of white sandwich bread laying around, remove the crusts and blitz them in a food processor.  Toast the resulting crumbs in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes until they are golden and use them here.  Despite my bread-making proclivities, honey-oat whole wheat bread is the only kind we (almost) always have readily on hand.  It doesn’t make for very good bread crumbs, so I cheat with the kind in the little cardboard can.

(Keep reading Ricotta Gnocchi…)


Oh lovelies. It feels like it’s been a while, probably because it has.  I was out of town for several days this past week, working like a madwoman on a case.  Though the work was kind of exciting and allowed me to keep the most delightful company all week, I was very glad to come home – to my own bed, my house, my sweet husband, my cats, and my kitchen.

I wrote up this recipe before I left but didn’t have time to post while I was on the road.  This is a perfect dinner for a night when you come home late, weary from the day but with a ravenous belly.  It’s quick, satisfying, and falls squarely in that tiny space in my mind where I turn when I say “it’s either this or chips and salsa.”  Bear with me, friends, and more regular posts will resume soon.  In the meantime, go bake some bread!

(Keep reading Skillet Potatoes with Chickpeas and Salsa Verde…)


When was the last time you gave more than a fleeting thought to carrots?  They seem so rooted in the province of lunchbag snackery that I sometimes forget the many ways they can be gussied up for dinner.  That’s the danger of being a perfectly delicious raw vegetable.  Who wants to bother dressing you in a cocktail dress with you when you can carry the show in your street clothes?

I also don’t care keenly for making carrots sweeter, though that seems to be a common tendency.  Glazed carrots can be very lovely, but I want to eat them about as often as I want to watch Sleepless in Seattle (and for the same reason: too cloying for regular consumption).  Carrots are, in fact, the Meg Ryan of the vegetable world – spunky, pretty, predictably sweet, and generally inoffensive – and while I might not want to partake on a daily basis, it’s silly to shut them out completely over a single role I find difficult to swallow.


Here are two variations on the same theme – carrots flavored gently with citrus and herbs by boiling them until slightly squishy.  Do not be alarmed if the second variation smells like old socks while it is cooking.  I promise, it only tastes of carrots.

Once the carrots are done cooking, you can play around with how you serve them.  I enjoyed the first batch both hot (chopped coarsely and splashed with balsamic vinegar) and cold (no frills, just a little additional salt).  For variation 2, I used the early harvest Spanish Arbequina, an artisan-crafted extra virgin olive oil from Olio Nuevo.  Made in Paso Robles, it has a piercingly bright taste that almost seems to vibrate on the tongue.  When tucked among the billowy folds of the smoothly blended carrots, it sings out with effervescent harmony.


(Keep reading Herbed Carrots, Two Ways…)