Side Dish Archive

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

the best baked spinach

the best baked spinach

On a beach vacation that already feels like it was too long ago, I tucked into the collection of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto and realized I’d inadvertently brought on vacation with me the very best book ever for my current brand of mental unevenness. Apparently, even the great Julia Child went a little insane writing her cookbook. She fretted over if varied and uneven ingredients would keep her recipes from working as she wanted them to in others’ kitchens and even had occasional bouts of frustration with her tiny, ill-equipped kitchens. And Julia is like my superhero! I was no less than 10 pages in when I already felt better about my choices, the work I had left, life itself, the universe at large… or perhaps it was just those no-good piña coladas and that blue-meets-blue horizon working their magic on me. Nevertheless, I thanked Julia.

overflowing spinach
wilting the spinach

In one of my favorite early letters, Julia gushes about the produce in France: “Strawberries, for instance, are dreamberries, but extremely fragile.* Beans are so deliciously beany…” and goes on to explain that the French hadn’t really gotten onto the system of growing hardier produce that would keep longer in the markets. Amusingly, however, she found U.S. packages of spinach at the grocery store and it from there that she went on a tangent about a French “system” for spinach which she found “terribly good” and went on to describe a gentle cooking of spinach, stewing it in a very small amount of roux for a little binding and broth before stirring in a small amount of cheese and baking it in a dish topped with breadcrumbs.

all that spinach because only this

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

garlic butter roasted mushrooms

mushrooms in garlic caper butter

A repeat offender in the lede-burier category, let me begin with what matters: this is absolutely my new favorite quick and obsessively delicious way to prepare mushrooms.

little browns

And now, a story. Once upon a time, I was a vegetarian who loved going to steakhouses. A friends birthday would approach and out of kindness to me, they’d start talking about gathering friends at a restaurant that had vegetarian options and I’d beg them to go to a steakhouse instead. “It’s your birthday! I know you want a steak! You deserve a big fat juicy slab of steak,” I’d try to coerce. Why was I such a weirdo? Because good steakhouses have even better sides, and no matter how much the waiter sneered when I ordered them without a $50 centerpiece, I knew I’d be getting some flawlessly poached asparagus hollandaise and roasted potatoes like you wouldn’t believe. And mushrooms; I had broiled, buttery and garlicky mushroom caps at Sparks over a decade ago that I haven’t forgotten about since.

garlicked and buttered, ready to roast

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

sweet corn spoonbread

sweet corn spoonbread

What an awkward time for me to admit this, as no doubt these will grace some tables this week I’ve been gracefully invited to, but I’m not really into, well, mashed things: potatoes, yams, parsnips, root vegetables and other purees that serve as the piles to sop up everything awesome that runs off our main courses before our forks can catch it. I mean, I won’t pushed mashed potatoes away; it’s not that they actually taste bad. It’s just that I’ve never been convinced that they taste better than the sum of their copious amounts of various combinations of butter, cream, buttermilk, sour cream, crème fraîche, cream and goat cheeses. No, really, I mean copious. Jeffrey Steingarten, a man whose essay collections you should read if you have not already, found that the magic formula that elevated mashed potatoes to, well, the kind you’ll probably gush about on Thursday night fell somewhere between one and four sticks (a pound) of butter for every two pounds (two to three) of potatoes. I know, I know: “Deb, you are such a party pooper.”

some stuff you need

But I delight in cornbread. And this, corn bread meets pudding meets soufflé under the alias of spoonbread, is something that I would happily heap on my plate and eat it without fear that my heart might give out before I can get to the pie. A Thanksgiving without pie would be unacceptable, afterall. I’m not saying this is health food — guys, I hope you know I would never do that to you so close to the eatingest holiday of the year — it is, afterall, whole milk, eggs and butter, but it has a richness that suggests so much more.

splashy but worthwhile

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

creamed onions with bacon and chives

creamed pearl onions

Could anything be simpler than creamed onions? I mean, it’s cream, and then it is onions. And you cook them together. The end. Or perhaps the beginning of another piece of evidence that I can take the simplest thing and make it, er, long-winded. First, I involved Thomas Keller, or rather, he beckoned me. I was getting a pedicure a couple weekends ago (figuring I’d put my family and also those other moms at the gym class I took the baby to out of their misery) and on the armrest was that week’s New York Magazine, boasting Thanksgiving recipes from some great New York chefs within. Obviously, I turned there first and though, again, creamed onions are really just cream and onions therefore not inherently interesting, the recipe was from Thomas Keller and he is a master of taking the seemingly simple and making it amazing. I was in.

tiny onions

Next up, finding pearl onions. Look, I did not go to every stand in Union Square on every day that the Greenmarket was open, but I looked once or twice and didn’t find them. I finally ordered them from Fresh Direct, cringing anticipating that they’d be shipped from Timbuktu or someplace halfway around the globe, only to learn that they’d been grown in New Jersey. Just like me! Win.

browning up the bacon

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Monday, November 15, 2010

sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese

this fall thing I made

This is the kind of thing you come up with when you have a one year-old who, like many one year-olds, wishes to eat sweet potatoes with every meal. Sure, the goal is for the kid to eat exactly what the rest of the family is eating for dinner, but there are only so many days in a row we can feign excitement over a side of sweet potatoes and I have only so much heart to deny the kid something he delights in. And so I spent a good part of September and October roasting sweet potatoes, repeating the task enough times that I made two great discoveries.

roasted and downright marshmallow-y
goat cheese

The first discovery came about through laziness. Tired of slicing thin pieces and laying them out over two trays, one day I cut very thick rounds that would fit on one tray and discovered that like steak, if you want three layers of texture (two satisfyingly firm exteriors and a soft center), you want a thick piece, high temperatures and to flip your “steaks” halfway through for even cooking.

terrible photo of a good salad

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