“Keep calm and follow the recipe.” That was the motto behind the new book, Unforgettable, featuring the life story and best recipes of legendary cookbook author Paula Wolfert.

Still, while in the kitchen preparing her egg salad, I wasn’t so sure. It calls for a whopping 1 to 2 cups of mint and 1 cup sliced green onions for only 4 hard-boiled eggs. I thought to myself, “Really, Paula?” But I did as instructed and discovered that the fattiness of the eggs, which are grated so they look like confetti, mellows the assertiveness of the mint and scallion. The result is a salad that tastes light and bright but is ultimately very filling.

With the abundance of herbs and the sprinkle of fruity Marash pepper, it also feels quite modern. That’s the story of Paula’s work: She was always ahead of her time.

My friend and former coworker, Emily Thelin, edited Paula’s stories while we worked together at Food & Wine. For years, she hoped to write a biography about Paula, and she eventually pulled together a proposal. Paula’s work is lesser known than some of the other grandes dames of cookery writing, including Julia Child and Marcella Hazan. This is perhaps because Paula’s recipes seem intimidating, and she called for many obscure mail-order ingredients in the days before Amazon Prime. (Or the Internet, for that matter.) Now that these ingredients are more accessible, and in many cases, easy to find, Emily thought it was time to introduce a generation of cooks to Paula’s work and showcase the influence she’s had on what we cook today.

Twelve publishers rejected Emily’s proposal, feeling Paula’s time had passed. When Emily learned in 2013 that Paula had Alzheimer’s, she felt an extra sense of urgency to tell her story. She pulled together a dream team including cookbook author Andrea Nguyen to project manage, Eric Wolfinger to photograph, and Toni Tajima to design. Together, they raised money for the project on Kickstarter to self publish it.

The resulting book, which took about two years to create, is stunning. Cookbooks as travelogues are common, but gorgeously photographed cookbooks as biographies, less so. I have to say, I love the format. I knew the broad strokes of Paula’s career, but I loved reading the stories in between, the sort of connective tissue that makes up a three dimensional life.

For example, Paula fled her conservative upbringing in Brooklyn to hang with the Beats in Manhattan, and later, in Tangiers. It all sounds so glamorous as a bullet point, but ultimately the sexism in Beat culture started to wear on her after a while.

I also loved reading about how Paula did some of her most intrepid traveling as the mother of school-aged children. As a mother myself, I often feel like these types of projects don’t fit into my life anymore. With her first book, Couscous and Other Good Food From MoroccoPaula proved, when there’s a will, there’s a way. With this book, Emily and team did, too.

Mint and Egg Salad
 
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This salad is wonderful with the onion tart from my last post or a simple green salad. And yes, I'd totally bring this to a potluck. 🙂
Author:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 to 2 cups slivered mint leaves (depending on the intensity of the mint)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 2 teaspoons mild red pepper flakes, preferably Marash
  • 2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Flaky sea salt
Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, combine the eggs with water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium-high and cook for 6 minutes. Drain and place under cool running water to cool. Peel the eggs.
  2. Using the large holes of a box grater, and working over a large bowl, grate the eggs. Add the mint, green onions, and red pepper flakes and mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice to taste, then drizzle over the egg mixture and toss to coat lightly and evenly. Season with salt. Serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.

 

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
 
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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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