Archived entries for sides

Picnic Grail: Mediterranean white bean salad

Spring has sprung! Or so they tell me; I haven’t had much opportunity to get away from my desk of late. What little I have seen, however, makes me desperate to put on some sandals and get me to the park with a picnic and a paperback. Seriously. It’s an explosion of cherry blossoms and greenery around here! Crocuses and fresh asparagus! Magnolias! Hay fever! All kinds of things that make me want to slap on some sunscreen and abuse some exclamation points! And, as I mentioned above, pack up a picnic and go to the damn park.


Which, of course, begs the eternal question: what to bring on the picnic?

Now, in my mind, there are two major criteria to consider when planning a dish for a picnic: 1. it needs to be able to languish happily in the sun without creeping risk of salmonella poisoning, and 2. it needs to be simple to make–bonus points if 95% of the cooking means throwing everything in a bowl. If you can also achieve bonus criterion number three (it gets better the longer it sits in a bowl marinating, which means you can make it a few days ahead of time), then you have stumbled across Picnic Grail.

And that’s what this dish is. Mediterranean white bean salad=Picnic Grail. It’s mayonnaise-free, ludicrously simple to make, and gets better the longer it sits in your fridge–it’s amazing. It’s also fantastic on toast or tossed in some pasta–but really it’s best when inhaled directly from the bowl. And it really couldn’t be easier–silky white beans tossed with seared asparagus, cubes of fresh mozzarella and grape tomatoes, woken up with a bright rosemary-garlic-lemon dressing. I personally tend to make my dressing kind of lethal–the garlic is raw, and I use lots of it. Those of you with a more delicate palate (and all you vampires out there) might want to dial back the amount you use–and you adventurers may want to add more! Just mess with it until it tastes the way you want it to. It’s light, bright, and perfect for a searing hot Saturday picnic.

Just add sunshine.

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Yam, Poblano, and Corn Salad: A Perfect Barbecue Side

We had a perfect barbecue the other night. It came together the way summer parties should—casually—with invites issued when inspiration struck that morning at breakfast. Sure enough, plenty of our friends had no plans, and we had a bunch of sausages in the fridge that needed grilling, and the afternoon sun was golden and the breeze was soft. We haven’t gotten enough use of our balcony this summer, so we were determined to park ourselves out there for at least a few hours.

We grilled up bratwurst and hot Italian sausage,  garlic scapes, and long skewers of mushrooms. We ate a loaf of bread with the delicious ricotta spread from Andrew Carmellini’s cookbook Urban Italian. (By the way, does anyone want to try his new restaurant with me? I really, really want to go.)

The unexpected star of the meal was this refreshing side dish, a salad of sweet potatoes and smoky poblano peppers inspired by a recipe I saw in Bon Appetit. The combination of poblano and yam the magazine called for sounded delicious, but after I read those two ingredients, I pretty much ignored the rest of the recipe. I’m glad I wrote down the ingredients as I improvised, because this one is definitely a keeper, great for any barbecues or potlucks you have planned. The flavors mingle as time goes on, so feel free to make it a day ahead.

Once I’d latched on to poblano and yam, I decided to throw in a bunch of sweet corn and brighten it up with a lime juice based dressing, smoky with pimenton and a bit of chile powder. Instead of grilling the yams—which I’m not sure I could have managed without a huge mess—I simply cooked them in the microwave. Even though the yams ended up more mashed than chunked, giving the dish a bit of a strange appearance, everyone couldn’t stop eating it. The zing of lime and sweetness of the vegetables was so fresh and tangy, a great foil for the richness of grilled sausages.

We laughed and talked and passed the platters of food around until the sun went down, and stayed outside with a guitar and a giant bowl full of blueberries long past midnight. Sorry for the noise, neighbors.

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Going back to my roots (and tubers): Texas-style sweet potato casserole.



1:42, Thanksgiving day: The (homemade) marshmallows have been applied to the casserole, because I am dumb and kind of forgot that I need to reheat the whole pan before applying the extremely flammable ‘mallows. Clearly, I need more wine.


2:28 The casserole is about to go in the oven; we’ll bake it for 45 minutes or so, then refrigerate till tomorrow, at which point we’ll reheat them for serving. If you’ve got roots in the South, you know what else we’ll be doing–topping them with a few of these. Divoon!

2:22 I have seriously got to get me one of these 10″ Global chef’s knives. Mmmm.


1:54: MASH MASH MASH MASH AAAHAHAHAHAHA! *ahem.* Also, is there a discernible difference between orange and yellow sweet potatoes (besides the obvious, of course)?

1:32: One of the tricks to this dish is to boil the potatoes with their skins on; when they’re done boiling, you can just peel them with your fingers. I should also mention that you should let them cool first. As I probably should have done before I stuck my hands into a steaming colander of cooked potatoes. Ow.

1:25: That last one just refuses to finish cooking. But I am patient. It is only a matter of time before I bend it to my will.

1:18: Oh, ARSE. There are still two potatoes on the stove, aren’t there? I should go check on those.

12:22: Cauldrons located. Not one, but two! It is indeed a beautiful world. The sweet potatoes (unpeeled) are now a-boilin’. Also, my face almost got burnt off, but that’s cool.

: “Biscuit, do you have a cauldron?”
“Excuse me?”
“Do you have a pot that could double as a cauldron. I have to boil something.”
“…I might?”

True story: I have a lot of family in the People’s Republic of Texas, where the wide open spaces are wider and opener, the tacos are unparallelled, and even the vegetables come to the table with sugar and spice. This is a recipe that I didn’t properly experience until I was nudging the tip of adolescence–the kind of dish that causes my Yankee mother to clutch her heart and make exclamations like “That’s not a vegetable! That’s dessert!” She may be right, but since when has that stopped me?

Introducing: Sweet potato casserole, Silk-style!

Sweet potato casserole

6-8 Large sweet potatoes
3/4 stick of butter, melted
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
Ground cinnamon (to taste)
Ground nutmeg (to taste)
Dash of salt
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2c evaporated milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 c chopped pecans

Marshmallows to finish

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Wash sweet potatoes (don’t peel!) and place them in a large pot with enough water to cover (adding water as needed) until just done. Drain and let cool until they can be handled (heed that part of the step!), then gently peel off the skin.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the potatoes. Then, add butter, spices, and salt. As I’ve said before, I use gargantuan quantities of spice–use however much you’re comfortable with.
  4. Add vanilla and milk.
  5. Add eggs. Stir until the concoction is the consistency of thick, creamy mashed potatoes.
  6. Fold in pecans.
  7. Bake in a rectangular casserole dish for 45-60 mins (until it’s just starting to brown.
  8. To serve, place in a 300-degree oven for 15 minutes or so. Once they’re warm, remove from the oven and place marshmallows all over the top. Broil the marshmallowed dish for just as long as it takes the ‘mallows to get brown. Be vigilant! Do not overcook! Marshmallows like to set off the fire alarm, so be careful they don’t burn.

And there you have it! A little taste of the South for your Thanksgiving table.

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