The seed for this book was planted by an indirect compliment from my husband, Hugh, about my cooking. Knowing I was an enthusiastic home cook, someone had asked him what my "specialty" was. He and I both know I don't necessarily have a favorite cuisine. Through trial, error, and money wasted, I'm mediocre at cooking meat. I am too unconventional for perfect baking and err on the side of health nut for classical dishes. What I do well is what I care most about, which is produce.
I have an affinity for seasonal vegetables and whole foods with bold dressings or sauces. I crave healthful, colorful foods that taste good.
My specialty, per se, is food in a bowl—combinations of vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, big salads—texture and flavor that go together to make a simple, nutritious meal that makes sense composed in one vessel. "Bowl foods" was Hugh's answer to the question. First I took offense, then I laughed about it, and after telling the story, I came to realize that this is the way a lot of whole foods–focused eaters cook: a dish colorful enough to serve when friends are over for dinner, the kind of meal you can bring to the couch with nothing but a spoon or fork, or where leftovers can be packed up easily for the following day. One could argue that food in a bowl has an aesthetic gentleness to it that feels stark on a plate—ingredients nestled within each other, tangled to make most sense as a sum of their parts. I am using the bowl as a point of inspiration for the recipes shared here.
I grew up in a home where eating together—but not necessarily cooking—was emphasized. We laugh about it now, especially given the style of food I lean toward, but most things were frozen, canned, or mixed from a packet. One of my mom's standbys was frozen taquitos sticking out of a bowl of microwaved Ranch Beans (they came in a can, sweet and barbeque-ish), or my dad made us blue box mac n cheese with hot dogs in it ... and I am not referring to the organic, grass-fed kind.
My childhood is reflected upon fondly—I have great parents who made life fun and gave my sister and me every opportunity to succeed, but my career now is an ironic juxtaposition to the eating habits we had growing up.
I went to college in San Luis Obispo and, out of curiousity, started working at the organic farm on campus. I was paid in vegetables, and in my best effort to live on a budget, I taught myself how to cook given what I was sent home with. I watched shows, scoured magazines and cookbooks, and learned by trial and error. It was then that I fell in love with knowing where my food came from and how it was treated and tended to. I witnessed the full farm-to-table circle, firsthand, and cooking and eating became a lot more personal. Working on that farm, be it a small chapter of my life, is largely responsible for how passionate I am about seasonal produce today. I learned the stark difference between a fresh summer tomato and the kind you get from a conventional market in December—simple, nutritious food made sense when you paid brief attention to what was in season and timed it right.
After school, I took an internship in Tuscany, Italy, at an olive oil farm and cooking school called Villa Lucia. There, as seen in most of Italy, I learned more of the emphasis on using excellent ingredients and well-executed preparations to make uncomplicated, delicious food. I worked hard and woke up early to prepare breakfast for the guests. I watched and listened—that is how I have become a better cook, by watching and listening to what people like, how food makes them feel, what aesthetically makes them respond. To feed people is an act of service and generosity—there is more to it than just filling your belly. I dated and married my sweet husband among all this—a man who prefers cheeseburgers but loves to be fed regardless. He is a talented photographer and we started Sprouted Kitchen, a food journal, as a place to document thoughts on life, recipes, and his dynamic photos. We figured out how to work together as a team, amicably as possible, and in time, acquired opportunities for freelance work, teaching classes and workshops, and publishing two cookbooks.
Writers and entrepeneurs use the word journey loosely and often when referring to their careers, as this path proves surprising and unpredictable, but I really feel that is the best word to describe the ride Hugh and I are on with food writing and photography. It has led us to meet some incredible people and provide a lifestyle of doing work we enjoy. I aspire to always share pieces of a life being figured out alongside my delight in making food with those who share a similar enthusiasm for both. Having an online space to do so has been incredibly rewarding. We have a little boy who will be sharing a seat at our table as well. He's mini. I don't know if he'll prefer cheeseburgers or salad, but I'm excited to feed him.
Through feedback from journaling on Sprouted Kitchen, teaching classes, and consulting friends on dinner plans, I've found that the recipes people want are the ones I make as part of our everyday life. People are busy, time is limited, and while there are Sunday afternoons for a meal with a longer list of steps and more dishes to clean, the resounding request is practical—delicious, healthful, and practical. I am not classically trained nor do I have a culinary school degree on my resume. My experience and authority comes from feeding people and paying attention. My style is quite simple. It is colorful and thoughtful in its combination of textures, colors, and hints of flavor with cheese, nuts, or an herb-packed dressing—but it's simple to prepare. The advanced cook may find it overly so, but my goal is to speak to the everyday home cooks who desire to prepare wholesome, vibrant foods at their tables. I depend on using fresh, seasonal produce at its peak for the food to taste great in its natural state. Most instruction you will find here is straightforward and the ingredients easily found at a farmers' market, health food store, or wellstocked grocery store. There are phenomenal books that teach skills like braising, roasting, or grilling; you can even find ones on entertaining and crafting a lovely tablescape. While cooking as a hobby continues to grow in popularity, you will be able to find a cookbook on just about any facet of the process. But this book is a collection of recipes inspired by the marriage of flavor, color, texture, and wholesomeness that compose a dish—nestled in a bowl, in particular. The naysayer could argue a number of these recipes may also be served on a plate and I wouldn't disagree. The title is bowl+spoon, yet many are better eaten with a fork. In the name of cooking and pleasure, let's leave the literal and pragmatic aside. Much like painting or writing, the process of writing a cookbook is deciding on a thesis, and food in bowls, whether served family style or individually, is essentially the thesis of this cookbook.
We'll start with breakfast, of course, and continue with small bowls of sides and dips, then big bowls, which stand alone as an entrée, and seal the deal with a few sweet bites. I've included a number of my favorite dressings and sauces as well—something to have on hand when you're throwing a quick meal together. Whether you're looking for a crisp green salad for a dinner on the porch with friends or a hearty tortilla soup for a cold night in, there is something satisfying and healthful for everyone in here.
I am often asked about altering recipes to accommodate allergies or specific diets. If you cannot eat cheese, don't scratch a recipe for that reason. Adjust these recipes to accommodate how you cook and eat. If you can't do nuts and they're used as a topping or garnish, leave them off! I don't often follow recipes to a tee, and I expect the reader to take some authority here as well.
In a generation of busyness and schedules and desperate convenience, I hope to encourage people to eat at home with people they care about, to compose produce-focused meals, and to value their health, through the food choices they make. My contribution to that is accessible recipes that take more time to prepare than eating out or microwaving, but reward you with the joy there is in feeding people well. I'm honored you're reading this book and allowing me to share a piece of my life via the foods I cook for my family. We have to eat; it is a basic need. Inviting people to your table, be it online, through a book, or in a literal sense, is where the point of need and community get blurred into something quite beautiful. Wishing you many great meals in good company.
Golden Quinoa and Butternut Breakfast Bowl
My favorite breakfast spot in Los Angeles is Huckleberry Bakery. They have a glistening pastry case filled with rustic baked goods and treats of all kinds and a big chalkboard that lists a very fresh, yet somehow decadent, menu. I will never forget the first breakfast I enjoyed there and how impressed I was with their savory breakfast bowl. This is how I recreate it at home, simplified from theirs, but still a beautiful bowl for chilly fall mornings. I use quinoa, but any cooked grain will work—try bulgur, spelt, millet, barley, and the like. The style of eggs on top is up to you. I love the nuttiness of Manchego, but Parmesan works too, either way be generous with the cheese.
Herb oil 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest Sea salt and pepper
1 small butternut squash (1½ pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into ½inch cubes 2 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil ¼ teaspoon cinnamon ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 2 cloves garlic, minced ¼ of a yellow onion, finely diced 3 cups coarsely chopped baby kale 2 cups cooked quinoa 1 tablespoon maple syrup Pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste Juice of ½ lemon 8 eggs 1 cup shaved Manchego cheese
For the herb oil, in a food processor or high-powered blender, blitz the parsley, chives, olive oil, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt until mostly smooth. Set aside.
Position rack to the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425°F. Spread the squash cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Toss to coat and spread in a single layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the edges are browned and caramelized. Remove to cool slightly.
In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat the remaining 1½ tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the garlic, onion, and a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Add the kale, quinoa, maple syrup, and cayenne and sauté until the quinoa starts to get crispy, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the quinoa mixture to a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the herb oil, the squash, and lemon juice.
Serve each bowl with a scoop of quinoa, eggs of your choice, a drizzle of herb oil, and shaved cheese.