An easy red onion tart with goat cheese.

I’ll never forget the first time I learned to properly chop an onion. I lived in Washington, DC, at the time and had recently caught the cooking bug. I decided to sign up for a knife skills class, designed for absolute beginners. The teacher showed us how to chop off the stem end off the onion to create a flat surface and then halve the onion from the root end to the stem end. She then laid it flat on the board, explaining we should avoid chopping wobbly round vegetables whenever possible. It seems so obvious now, but at the time, this little tidbit was a revelation. It’s when I realized cooking did not have to be a heroic act that risked your fingers and eyebrows, but you could learn a series of techniques that would help you put dinner on the table more easily.

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This easy salad requires little more than pantry ingredients.

I have a little game I play with myself called “How Long Can I Wait Before I Go to the Supermarket?” Sure, I pop into the little local health food store every few days and hit the farmers’ market once a week. But the sprawling grocery store? I try to go as little as possible, which unfortunately, is still way too often.

You see, when I lived in New York City, there weren’t many massive suburban-style supermarkets. A year after leaving the city, I’m still adjusting to the doublewide aisles and the overwhelming selection of junk food.

Earlier this week, I scanned my crisper drawers, empty except for apples reserved for my daughter’s lunches and a few leftover stalks of celery. (Why, oh why, is there always left over celery?)

Since I had used up the last of the bread that morning, I thought, this is it. I’ll be heading to the Giant before dinner. But first, I did a quick inventory of the cabinets and found a lazy cook’s treasure: A can of chickpeas and a can of tuna.

Heidi Swanson once wrote a post about being nice to your future self and this was an example of my past self helping me out. She knew this moment would soon come.

At lunch time, I quickly popped open the chickpeas and tuna and drained them, then transferred to a mixing bowl. I added three stalks of sliced celery and (another score!) five sliced radishes. I tossed that together with equal parts lemon juice and olive oil along with generous pinches of salt and pepper. I also added a little caraway seed in honor of Heidi, because it felt like something she might do.

Finally, I tore a few salvageable leaves off an otherwise rotting bunch of cilantro.

If I had had a shallot or a scallion lying about, I would have diced it and tossed it in, too. Oh well. Who knew I’d ever be so grateful for leftover celery?

Chickpea-Tuna-Celery Salad
 
Prep time
Total time
 
This protein-rich salad is great for make ahead lunches or casual office potlucks because it holds up in the refrigerator for a day after it's made. The dish is also the perfect excuse to use up some of that orange-flavored olive oil, grape leaf pesto, or other curious condiment you might have received once in a gift basket or bought on a whim. Take this combo and make it yours.
Author:
Recipe type: Easy
Serves: 2 to 3
Ingredients
  • 1 small shallot (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • One 25-ounce can of chickpeas
  • One 5-ounce can of tuna
  • 3 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
  • 5 red radishes, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch of caraway seeds (optional)
  • Torn cilantro or parsley leaves (optional)
Instructions
  1. If you're using a shallot, combine it with the lemon juice and let stand 5 minutes. Add the chickpeas, tuna, celery, radishes, and olive oil and toss. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the caraway and herbs, if using. Serve.

 

This creamy mushroom lasagna uses a cashew cream for richness.

Thanks to Jessica Murnane, I now believe in the power of cashew cream.

But let me back up a second. I hadn’t heard of Jessica Murnane and her One Part Plant movement until she very kindly shared a Modern Potluck recipe on her blog and Instagram feed. As soon as I checked out her site, I knew she was a budding star. And now she has a new cookbook!

In a world in which plant-based (aka, mostly vegan) eating often feels elitist and precious, Jessica’s approach is fun, welcoming, and positive. Up until a few years ago, she didn’t know how to cook and basically subsisted on junk food and frozen dinners. When faced with the possibility of getting a hysterectomy because of her endometriosis, she learned that a plant-based diet might help manage the symptoms. Her diet overhaul worked, and now she’s trying to encourage others to eat more plants.

One of the things I appreciate about Jessica’s work is that she does not spread pseudoscience. She shares when studies support her style of eating and when they are inconclusive. Essentially, she acknowledges she eats this way because it makes feel better. She thinks it might make others feel good, too.

Now back to that cashew cream. I recently launched a project called Potluck Nation, in which I’m hoping to inspire people to use potlucks as a force for good. I’ve noticed many communities host vegan potlucks, so I thought I’d share Jessica’s lasagna, a crowd-pleasing dish to take to a party.

While her lasagna doesn’t have a stretchy cheesy factor, it is creamy like lasagnas made with béchamel (a milky white sauce). The secret to its satisfying richness is an easy-to-make cashew cream. Jessica then boosts the veggie quotient of the dish by adding mushrooms and greens in addition to a tomato sauce.

Clearly, this is a meat-free lasagna, but if you’re potlucking with carnivores, just don’t mention the ‘v’ word, and I promise they’ll love it.

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Roast Chicken with Basil, Scallion, Lemon Butter, and Potatoes

Once upon a time, before the days of factory farming and $5 rotisserie birds from Costco, chicken was considered a special meal. After years of treating this ubiquitous meat as a boring, must-offer dish, chefs now exalt the whole roasted chicken—buying special breeds and bathing the birds with luxe ingredients, like foie gras. Even without the expensive embellishments, a lovingly raised, thoughtfully cooked chicken is truly one of the best tasting things you can ever eat.

This Valentine’s Day (or any time you want to celebrate something), I’d like to propose you roast one of these birds. It’s true: To buy a best-quality pastured bird that was free to roam and scratch and eat a natural diet of bugs and more is expensive. But the $20 you’ll spend on one of these birds will seem like a deal compared to the price of other Valentine’s Day favorites, including rack of lamb, steak, and lobster. Not only will you likely have leftovers (handy when Valentine’s Day is mid-week), but there’s something so cozy about sharing a single bird and eating it partially with your hands. And did I mention? Roast chicken pairs beautifully with Champagne. And it’s one of the more sustainable meats you can eat.

One of my favorite ways to roast a bird involves salting it at least 24 hours in advance to season the meat down to the bone and to create golden, potato-chip-crisp skin. I rarely think far enough ahead to do this, and well, now that it’s Valentine’s Day, we don’t have enough time.

If I don’t salt the bird ahead, I’ve now discovered my second favorite method, and really, it rivals the first. While paging through Mindy Fox’s excellent book, The Perfectly Roasted Chicken, I found her Roast Chicken with Basil, Scallion, Lemon Butter, and Potatoes. In this recipe, she employs a few simple techniques to take a classic butter-roasted bird with potatoes to the next level. First, she adds lots of herbs, garlic, and scallions to the butter; it’s more than you think you should add. Second, she preheats the pan, so the potatoes and chicken start cooking right away. Third, she flips the chicken twice during roasting to help the bird cook evenly and to keep the breast juicy. Finally, she squeezes lemons over the chicken during the last 20 minutes of roasting, which helps brown the skin and add a fresh, lemony tang to the juices. The result is the roast chicken of my fantasies, complete with a luscious pan sauce and potatoes that make me feel bad for vegetarians. (Forget bacon. Potatoes coated in chicken drippings would be my “cheat” if I ever decided to give up meat.)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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