You don’t often think about turning on your oven to make a salad, but that’s exactly what I did after flipping through Suzannne Goin’s AOC Cookbook during the build-up to lunch on Saturday. My usual salads are normally quick affairs of tearing up some lettuce, drizzling on some good olive oil (lately it’s Séka Hills), and my beloved white Balsamic.
Chef Goin has you toast walnuts in the oven for her chopped salad (which this isn’t), but I liked the idea. As I was getting ready to do that, I remembered Nicole Rucker’s trick of cooking bacon on a cookie sheet at 375 (see: my most excellent BLT). So I popped some bacon in there along with the walnuts and suddenly this salad was seeming very promising.
It’s one thing to ask a friend for a recipe, it’s another thing to pilfer their signature dish. For the past few years, my friend Diana has dazzled dinner guests with her take on Suzanne Goin’s Slow-Roasted Salmon with Cucumber Yogurt; a recipe that you won’t find in any of Goin’s cookbooks but, rather weirdly, on the Hollywood Bowl website. It’s such a winning dinner party dish because you get to serve fish to any number of people without having to stress; the slow-cooking in the oven guarantees a moist interior and also ensures that all of the fillets will be done at the same time. Top it with a yogurt sauce amped up with toasted cumin seeds and preserved lemons (more on those in a moment) and you’ve got a dish so good, it’s worth stealing from a friend (sorry Diana).
Talking about the best way to cook farro is a bit like talking about the best place to have a colonoscopy; useful information, perhaps, but not anything to get excited about. Hey, I shared your feelings until I had the privilege of cooking with the great American chef Suzanne Goin at the LA Times Book Festival last April. Right in front of my eyes, she prepared a farro salad with a garlic and parsley dressing that wasn’t punishing in any way; in fact, it was quite the opposite: light and herbal and fluffy and fragrant. The most shocking part? The highlight was the farro itself; each grain stood apart and was both tender and toothsome in a way most farro isn’t. I knew I had to learn the Suzanne Goin method for making it.
Sometimes you make dinner, and everyone nods in approval, eating pleasantly and saying, “This is very good. Nice job.” That’s most of the time. Then, every so often, you make a dinner that has people piping up a bit more enthusiastically. “Ooooh this is delicious,” they say. “Where did you get the recipe?” But only once in a blue moon you make a dinner that has people eating in stunned silence, taking their time to process the glory that is happening in their mouths, only to mutter–after a several minutes have gone by–“This is incredible.”
This past weekend, I emceed the cooking tent at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. It was a pretty exhilarating experience: after the jump you’ll see pictures of me and Jackie Collins, Hugh Acheson and Carla Hall. But the highlight for me, personally, was getting to stand next to one of my food heroes–the author of one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, Sunday Suppers at Lucques–while she made two extraordinary dishes in front of a crowd of adoring fans (myself included). That would be Chef Suzanne Goin and this post is about that experience.
It was so hot here in L.A., last week, I couldn’t bear to go outside. Then, quite abruptly, the heat went away and this morning I found myself turning off the A/C early, chilly under our light summer blanket. A change of season is afoot–especially in places that aren’t L.A.–and mood-wise, that might be kind of depressing, but food-wise? This is my favorite transition, from light summer salads to hearty winter braises. Consider this particular recipe, adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, the perfect transitional tool.
“Who’s Marion Cunningham? Isn’t she the mom from ‘Happy Days’?”
That’s what the guy next to us asked the server upon seeing the menu at last night’s Sunday Supper at Lucques. As Cunningham (who passed away last week) said herself in this 2001 article by Kim Severson, “I’m not trying to be modest, but it doesn’t feel like I have any celebrity. Really, I’m not saying this just to say it, but it doesn’t.” So I suppose it was appropriate that those who were at Lucques last night to celebrate Marion Cunningham were really there to celebrate her and those who weren’t were simply happy beneficiaries of a meal cooked in her honor by one of the country’s best chefs, Suzanne Goin.
This morning I received an e-mail from Brad Parsons (author of an awesome new book about bitters called, appropriately enough, Bitters) that said the following: “I was watching the Suzanne Goin (who I know you adore) special on Food Network (or Cooking Channel?) last night and they had some b-roll of the Hollywood Farmers’ Market in the beginning and I swear there was a shot of you (or your doppelganger) in the beginning browsing the stalls. Same haircut, glasses, plaid shirt, canvas jacket. I’m not sure if you were already in LA when they filmed this or if it’s just an illusion, but wanted to let you know in case you haven’t seen it.”