Feb 02 2014

Cauliflower Bisque

Published by Christine under Lunch,Soups

If anyone asks, tell them cauliflower is officially my favorite year-round vegetable. Truth be told, there are few vegetables I do not care for (green peppers are a nemesis of mine), but of all the ones left to choose from, cauliflower wins. It’s available year-round (unlike tomatoes, for example, which are really sad-looking in the winter), fresh or frozen, and it’s delicious raw or cooked, hot or cold, in both light meals and heartier dishes. I’d be hard-pressed to think of another edible plant that is as versatile as this one.

I had a few people over for dinner yesterday, lured as they were by the promise of a slowly oven-cooked, lusciously rich boeuf bourguignon. As I was staring into the refrigerator, planning the rest of the menu (which included a sinful chocolate and whiskey cake), the head of cauliflower that was sitting on one of the shelves gave me a come-hither look I could not resist. What can I say? I’m easy, apparently.

The beauty of the recipe I’m about to give you is that it really came together as it was being made. There was no planning, no laying out of things, no making sure I had whatever I needed on hand; all I could manage was a creative outburst that dictated what the next move should be only seconds before it happened, using whatever was available in my kitchen. There are no pictures of the process itself because I never paused long enough to even think that it might make a nice blog post. I told you there was no planning involved. All I have is a picture of the finished product:

It's a bisque (not a soup) because it's thick and creamy.

I began by sautéing the cut up and washed cauliflower with a diced onion in a mixture of peanut oil and butter, with a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper, until those vegetables started to turn the kind of caramel color that made me want to just eat the whole thing like that, all by myself standing in the kitchen, dinner with friends be damned. I am, however, a responsible adult (on Thursday afternoons), and so I carried on. Still, I need everyone to know it was an ordeal, as there is little reason in being so well-behaved if no one is there to acknowledge the deed – cf. tree falling in forest + noise.

After I won this hard-fought battle against my own gourmandise, a decision had to be made regarding the future of the golden mixture in the pot: which liquid would go in? which flavoring would be used? would there be light at the end of the tunnel and if so, would that indicate that John Irving has quit messing around already and finally written another novel as worthy of his talent as A Prayer for Owen Meany? These are all important questions. Time being of the essence for the cauliflower, however, I chose to answer the liquid and flavoring questions first, in the following manner: roasted coriander, cayenne pepper, turkey stock (made and frozen at Christmas time), and a little bit of cream. Some rice was added to thicken things up, and my work here was done. [riding off into the sunset]

The results? How’s wow, brown cow?

As far as John Irving goes, you got me there.

 

Cauliflower Bisque

1 head cauliflower, cut up and washed
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp peanut oil
1 Tbsp butter
6 cups stock or broth of any kind
1/2 cup arborio rice (the kind used for risotto)
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large dutch oven, sauté the cauliflower and onion in the oil and butter over medium heat (be careful: the butter might splatter a little in the oil as it heats up). Sprinkle on some sea salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the vegetables turn a lovely golden brown; this could take 10 min. or so. Add the coriander and cook a minute or two more, until fragrant.

Pour stock in the pot and bring to a boil. Add rice, cover, lower the heat and let simmer for 30 min or so, until the cauliflower is very soft and the rice is cooked.

Turn off heat and let cool for a little while. Use an immersion blender to mix until very smooth and creamy. Add cream and cayenne pepper, taste and adjust for salt and spice, reheat if necessary, and serve! A chilled glass of unoaked Sauvignon Blanc would be perfect with this, or a dry Riesling.

 

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Sep 17 2013

Stuffed Pattypan Squash

Published by Christine under Uncategorized,Vegan

The story goes like this:

First, one of your friends says she is going to the Indian spice market in Brooklyn. Then, you ask her to bring back a few things (the kind you don’t typically use very often). Next, you get some spices from her and nearly faint from the sensory overload brought on by the many fragrances. Last, you go home and cook. And cook. And cook some more.

That’s what happened to me over the weekend. My friend Sana brought me some fresh asafoetida, cardamom pods, fenugreek (in three (3!) different forms) and barberries last Saturday, and my head nearly exploded. The smells are enough to make you want to open up your own restaurant, cook from morning to night, and renounce all else. As if I’d ever forgotten it (not a chance), this experience truly reminded me of how much good food depends on flavorings: no spice, no dice. Imagine a musician composing with one note; you might listen politely for ten minutes, then promptly decide to remember that root canal appointment. Conversely, cooking with a variety of spices produces a symphony; now, everybody’s listening.

This is only half of my spice cabinet...

Cooking with vegetables involves some savoir-faire (a few techniques such as roasting, sautéing and braising are useful), and a lot of flavoring. I happen to think vegetables are wonderful on their own, raw and barely seasoned, particularly during the summer months when the crops are plentiful and the sun turns all manner of plants into a delicacy; however, most people still need a little coaxing when it comes to eating their colors, be it the lovely purple eggplant, the green kale, the orange yam, the white turnip, the yellow squash. Spices provide an incentive to add more plants to your plate, in and so doing, to bring healthier life to your years.

And so it was that yesterday evening, as I was looking at (and burying my nose into) some of my new acquisitions and wondering what I should concoct for dinner, I was inspired to try a new blend of spices and some seasonal greens to prepare a stuffing for some lovely pattypan squash I had acquired over the weekend at my favorite local farm stand. The squash are small and thus ideal for a single serving. They are easy to hollow out and quick to prepare, and their firm yet smooth texture and mild taste makes them the perfect foil for a flavorful (and colorful) filling. I balanced the bite of the kale in the filling with some sweet potato and carrot, and added black beans for texture and protein – a must in this vegan meal. I used cumin, fenugreek and cinnamon, which combined to give a savory-bittersweet kick to the mix, with just enough black pepper to provide a little heat.

A festival of colors and tastes

I had an idea it would be good, but I was altogether stunned by how luscious it was; I had to write down the recipe right away in order to ensure I would remember exactly what I did. Having said this, I might never follow my own recipe to the letter anyway, as I tend to walk the wire without a net when I cook; I relish falling prey to my imagination and to the caprice of inspiration, stoked as they are by the sizzling sights and scents of spices.

And the story, one more time, goes like this:

 

Stuffed Pattypan Squash

4 pattypan squash, top removed, and hollowed out
2 Tbsp vegetable or light olive oil (or ghee)
1 medium sweet potato, diced small
1 large carrot, diced small
1 small red onion, diced small
1 small bunch kale, center vein removed, washed, dried, and thinly sliced
1/2 can black beans, lightly mashed
1 tsp cumin seeds (whole)
1.5 tsp crushed fenugreek seeds
1 large stick cinnamon
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground (or more to taste)
salt to taste
olive oil for baking pan and to drizzle on squash

Preheat oven to F350.

Over medium heat, sauté cumin, fenugreek and cinammon in oil until fragrant. Add onion, sweet potato and carrot, and cook for 5 minutes. Add kale and cook for another five minutes, until the onion is soft and the kale is wilted. Add beans, salt and pepper, mix well, and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Place the hollowed out squash in a oiled baking dish. Sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper, and drizzle with oil. Stuff the squash, and place the cutoff top back on to cover. Bake for about an hour. The squash will be done when a sharp knife easily pierces the skin and flesh.

Who ever said vegan had to be tasteless had no clue.

Serve with a side of red quinoa, and a crisp, cold glass of unoaked Chardonnay.

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Aug 22 2013

Cheese Soufflé

Published by Christine under Vegetarian

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the soufflé has the reputation of being the most difficult thing for a home cook to make. Mention making that dish to anyone, and you’ll typically get the kind of look that conveys either admiration for your culinary savoir-faire or deep concern for your mental state. Well, I dare say you need be neither über-skilled nor prescription-ready to take to the kitchen and get started.

A French invention of the late 18th century, the soufflé (literally, “puffed up”) can be made savory or sweet. It is essentially composed of two elements: a custard or thick béchamel base, and stiffly beaten eggs whites. The base provides the flavor while the egg whites provide the lift. Fold the two together carefully, bake for 20 to 30 minutes, and you’re done. The only trick to serving a soufflé is this: make sure your dinner guests are ready to eat, and seated at the table, because as lovely and impressive as this dish looks coming right out of the oven, it will begin to deflate within a minute of being served. In other words, this is not the kind of meal you can bake in advance.

The recipe I’m offering today comes courtesy of my sister Catherine, who sent it to me while on one of her many jaunts through France this summer. The original calls for Bleu d’Auvergne, a pungent and buttery blue cheese from the south-central region of France (and one of my very favorite cheeses). I did not have any Bleu, so I substituted it with the delicious Stilton that was in my fridge. You could use Roquefort, Gorgonzola, an aged goat cheese, or even some shredded hard cheese such as Comté. The trick is to use something flavorful – a bland mozzarella would not do.

Making the soufflé could not be easier: melt butter, add flour, cook for a minute, whisk in milk and spices, and let that thicken for a few minutes. Mix in cheese and egg yolks. When cooled a bit, fold in beaten egg whites, and bake. That’s it. Nothing to be scared of, right?

Good. Now, it’s your turn:

 

Soufflé au Stilton

3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 additional egg white
2 Tbsp butter
3.5 Tbsp flour
1 cup warm milk
2 oz cheese (Stilton or other blue)
a dash of nutmeg
a few grinds of pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to F400. Butter and flour four 4″ ramequins.

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in milk. Let the mixture thicken over medium heat, stirring constantly. When thick, add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add cubed cheese and mix well until melted. Whisk in egg yolks and remove from heat. Let cool about 10-15 minutes.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Carefully fold into cheese mixture. Pour into ramequins, filling to about 80% full.

Leave some room at the top for the soufflé to rise.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately, with a green salad and a glass of cold, crisp white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc. Watch your guests ooh and aah. Didn’t I tell you it was easy?

Puffy and light

Golden brown

Careful, it's hot!

 

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