Ashley speaks on what she learned from Spago, her favorite places to find recipes, and her favorite weeknight dinner.
Flash back to Spago in Beverly Hills, California. Ashley was in the dinner service rush, plating hundreds of desserts, and up to her elbows in large scale batches of luxurious recipes.
And now? Ashley is the owner of Not Without Salt, a veritable wealth of recipes you’d expect to find in a restaurant. (Coconut Sorbet with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce anyone? Dig in!) Anyone that takes the time to produce a well developed and researched dish is a winner in my books (i.e. not just kale salad recipes).
To top that, as the successful author of Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship, she also made it her mission to show how cooking with your significant other can be just as good, if not better, than going to a restaurant.
Needless to say, we have mad respect for her recipes and for her message in Date Night In. Cooking can be a great way to spend time with the people you care about. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming or require hours of prep.
Ashley’s story struck a chord with me. Transitioning from a professional kitchen to a home one is a unique journey that not many people talk about. It can be novel in some respects, as Ashley talks about below, but it can be really frustrating. For example, I am one recipe away from throwing my flour jar away and getting a jumbo easy to access flour bin. (Uh oh, there’s one on Amazon…)
I wanted to get ahold of Ashley and have her tell her story and see how she adjusted (and arguably flourished) in her never-ending culinary adventure. Luckily, she was happy to share!
I used to work in a pastry kitchen too. I’m often frustrated by recipes intended for home cooks. How have you dealt with these types of changes?
Ashley: At first I was just so relieved to be dealing with cups of flour instead of pounds. It all felt so novel. But then yes, it was frustrating. I started to see how the home kitchen could use some of the basic concepts from restaurant kitchens to make them run more effectively. For example, I’ll often double a recipe for basics like stock, pie dough, dressing, etc. That way I’m set up for a later date. Our restaurant wasn’t afraid to use the freezer and the quality never suffered as a result so I too keep a steady stock of basics in the freezer which make for a quick dinner or dessert when I need it most.
What does your experience provide for others that are learning how to cook or looking to expand their recipe repertoire?
Ashley: When you work in professional kitchens technique and efficiency reign supreme so because of that I’m always approaching recipes with these questions in mind: What are the techniques I can use here that would maximize flavor? For example, why not use dark brown sugar in place of white. Or how about I brown the butter here for an extra layer of flavor? And why not roast the vegetables first before they become a hearty stew?
The other question is; how can I reach the desired flavors while maximizing my time in the kitchen? My pan is warming while I’m quickly dicing the onions for a saute and while that’s happening the oven is roasting the vegetables, for example. I always have about five tasks happening at one time.
What do you use as resources? Textbooks, cookbooks, culinary magazines or journals, or even other food blogs?
Ashley: I’ve passionately collected cookbooks for ten years now. I have quite the collection. I love pouring through the pages of all of them, gathering inspiration from many people, places and types of cuisines. I subscribe to Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Saveur currently.
Ironically I don’t read a lot of blogs. Perhaps that is self-preservation as I often end up comparing myself to others and often feel that I fall dreadfully short. I tend to read a small handful of blogs of which the writers are dear friends (Sprouted Kitchen, Seven Spoons, A Sweet Spoonful, Orangette, Tea & Cookies) because I love to live in their words. We also have similar food cravings so I really get excited about their recipes.
What’s your goal with your website Not Without Salt? Is it a hobby or a profession, or maybe a bit of both?
Ashley: My goal is always evolving. Right now I want to share food that people find useful. I’m very intrigued by simplicity right now. Amazed at how good food really can be so simple. A few days ago I made a stew from some leftover Tomatillo salsa (recipe from my book) black beans, canned tomatoes, and ground beef. It was amazing. So hearty and rich in flavor and so ridiculously easy. I want to inspire the beauty and the good in our everyday rather than creating an online world that makes others long for a life that is not their own.
It once was just a hobby, something that kept me sane while raising three young children. It is now my profession (not just the blog but jobs that come from the blog) and that is amazing and hard. Because with any professions there comes stress and parts that are just not fun. Now, I need a new hobby. 🙂
How has your goal that changed over the years that you’ve been writing especially now with kids?
Ashley: I used to desire to simply impress people; making elaborate dishes that seemed unapproachable to others but made me look good. Now I just want to feed. It doesn’t mean I don’t tackle some lofty projects every now and again – I love a good challenge (hello, croissants, porchetta, homemade snickers) but I do it because I am inspired by it and perhaps think that others might be as well. My motivation is not so much myself but rather to give and inspire others.
I’ve always had children while writing the blog. It has taken me through many seasons – from a very young mom struggling to transition into that role to a mom with now school age children. They’ve always been a part of it even though I may not post photos of them or talk about them too much.
Do you make a profit with your website? Is it possible or even realistic to make a living off of a website on food?
Ashley: I do make a profit from the site but it gets confusing. I run a few ads but receive very little money from them. The money comes more from sponsored posts and recipe writing and photography work that has come through the blog.
Did you ever expect that you would have been a food writer of sorts? Or that you would write a cookbook? How has that experience been for you?
Ashley: I really didn’t. I thought my career in food would continue on the path of me becoming a pastry chef and then maybe someday opening up my own place but kids have a way of redirecting your path and I am so glad they did. Writing the cookbook was definitely a life highlight. I really loved every minute of it. Even the hard ones because difficult things make us better people
What’s your favorite place to find ingredients for your recipes?
Ashley: I’d love to say that I shop exclusively at farmers markets but the truth is I don’t . In fact I often get overwhelmed shopping there especially when I’m with the kids. Most often when I go with them it’s more about just letting them experience it and see a closer connection to the food. My parent’s live in a place surrounded by farms so I love to go there and buy directly but our growing season isn’t too long and life tends to overwhelm the ability to drive an hour to a farm but in the summer we pick berries, go to market stands, etc.
I have a grocery store by our house that carries as much local produce as possibly and when not local it’s just beautiful produce. I trust them.
What’s the hardest thing about what you do?
Ashley: My inbox. I just can’t keep up!
What’s your most likely (and maybe embarrassingly simple) go-to dinner? (For example, mine is a Chipotle-style chicken bowl.)
Ashley: I’m not embarrassed by it but I do love nachos. As kids we had nachos every Sunday and I’m thinking about making it a weekly tradition in our family too. I love them so much. I load mine with cheese, of course, and then beans, meat – if it’s around, cilantro, pickled jalapenos, radishes, onions, cotija, sour cream, etc. It’s a great meal to clean out the fridge.
Last, but not least, what’s for dinner?
Ashley: Now that I just spent so much time thinking about nachos I’m thinking that sounds pretty good. But we’ll see, I don’t start making dinner plans until about 4:30 or 5:00.
Lead photo: Not Without Salt