17 July 2010

Creamy Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Pan-fried Shallots

I've been posting a lot about cauliflower lately.  The produce stands are just full of them, with big, happy, creamy white florets, and they are just huge.  I can't help but get in on the action.  It doesn't hurt that I end up getting at least 3 meals out of one large head, since the leaves and stems can be used to make a soup of their own.

I get a little over-zealous at the produce stands with all the fresh, local vegetables.  I spent many months this winter just anxiously waiting for veg to come in-season in Britain, so I buy too much.  The items I can't get to in time for other meals end up all getting turned into a soup and stored away in the freezer for a time when I'm too busy to cook (or just can't be bothered).  This soup won't make it that far - it's too damn good for that!

I just love the colour of this soup... the creamy, soft yellow-y white soup and crispy browned shallots look so elegant in a simple white bowl.  The flavour of the cauliflower comes right through, too, and the accompanying flavours don't overpower.  I'm very happy about this one, definitely a keeper!

If you can't find these ingredients, not to worry - substitute away!  I used Double Gloucester cheese, but any cheddar-y cheese will do (or even Stilton...).  I'd love to hear about what you come up with!

Creamy Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Pan-fried Shallots

1 head cauliflower
1 clove garlic
light vegetable stock
Double Gloucester cheese
2 teaspoons mustard
single cream (I used about 50ml)
salted butter - about 30g
cracked black pepper, to taste
1 medium shallot, for garnish

Melt butter in saucepan over medium-high heat.  When it starts to foam and sputter, add chopped cauliflower and stir to cover it in the butter.  Cook until it just starts to brown, and add garlic.  Cook for a few minutes more, then add vegetable stock to cover the cauliflower.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until cauliflower is completely soft, adding more water if you need to.

Meanwhile, slice shallot and saute over medium-high heat until crispy and well-browned.  Remove from pan and allow to cool on a paper towel.

Remove soup from heat and add mustard, cream and pepper.  Blend until smooth with a stick blender, then add grated cheese - as much as you like, but be careful you don't add too much, since some cheeses get very oily when melted.  Stir to incorporate cheese and serve with a little pile of shallots for garnish.

13 July 2010

Chocolate Coma Cookies

This is a recipe of memories.

When I started this foodie life, it began as a baking thing.

I started baking in high school.  My grandmother was an avid baker.  I learned early on that men love cookies.  Hm.  So, I baked cookies.  I couldn't help it.

Fast forward to my post-college life in Atlanta.  I was the ultimate stress machine.  I was stuck in a job I hated (thank you, shitty economy).  Yeah, I was good at it, but I had no passion.  I was overeducated for the position.  They'd fire my friends and make me do their work.  I was a cog in the machinery of business, not really paid to think.  I felt that the way I spent the majority of my waking life had little-to-no valuable impact on the world, when I knew I could do so much more.  I was all sorts of unhappy.

The nice thing, for me, about baking is that it's so *precise*.  You follow an exact set of instructions and have complete control over the outcome of your work.  So, when the rest of my life was a discombobulated, uncontrollable hell... baking became my sanctuary.  I started playing with different ingredients, and before I knew it, I emerged a cooking and baking foodie chick, taking pictures and storing recipes away (long before I grew the balls to make this bliggity-blog).

I still "stress-bake."  My mom says she knows when I am entirely stressed, since the amount of baked goods I produce increases exponentially in comparison to wholesome, healthy things.  Yep, Mom reads the blog.  Hi, Mom!

My thoughts are this: if you're going to be stressed and crave sweet things, why not bake them yourself?  They're not exactly healthy, but they're sure to be healthier than if you buy them in a package that came from a factory, with all those extra, unpronounceable things that were never meant to be inside food in the first place.  Plus, you get the stress-relief of the baking process, and the ultimate satisfaction of tasting something awesome that you made yourself.

Why don't you try these cookies, for a start?  They were the first ones I ever made on my culinary journey - the first pictures in my photo archive entitled "FOOD."  It'll un-stress you.  And if there's a boy you fancy, give him some.  Works every time.

Chocolate Coma Cookies
adapted from this original recipe

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (total) milk choc, bittersweet, white choc, and peanut butter chips

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
-In large bowl, beat butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; stir into the butter mixture until well blended. Mix in the chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
-Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or just until set. Cool slightly on the cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes 2 dozen cookies

10 July 2010

Vegetable Soup from Cauliflower "Scraps"

I live on a shoestring.  I hate it, but I'm a grad student.  Such is the price.

Fortunately, I know how to live cheap.  Before I left my job, it wasn't all gravy.  Money was steady, but still tight.  So I learned how to eat healthy and also keep it cheap.

This soup is a way to stretch out a meal, and it's really good! It tastes just a little like cauliflower but mostly like a really clean, fresh, simple vegetable soup. I had it for lunch with a brie and tomato toasted sandwich, but you might have it as a starter. I can imagine, if you want to bulk this up to a soup you can make a whole meal out of, that orzo or some other tiny pasta would be a good addition, or a grain like bulgur, or chicken for you carnivores out there.  It's made, basically, from scraps.  If you make anything with a cauliflower head (may I suggest this or this), don't throw away the leaves and stems -- make this, instead!

Vegetable Soup from Cauliflower "scraps"
adapted from Lucullian Delights

The leaves and stem/trunk of 1 cauliflower (I left out the really rough-looking, tough, outermost leaves)
2 big tomatoes, peeled
Chopped flatleaf parsley
Extra virgin olive oil

Chop the leaves and the stem/trunk of the cauliflower and sauté them for 3-4 minutes in a pot in some olive oil. Add salt.

To peel tomatoes, cut an "x" in the bottom of each, then carefully add to a pot of boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon after 30 seconds and transfer to a bowl of cold water. Go to where you made the "x" and peel the skin up and off the tomatoes. Quarter the skinned tomatoes, add these to the pot and sauté for another 3-4 minutes.

Add water until the vegetables are well covered and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until all the cauliflower is soft.

Blend until it's on the smooth side, if it's too dense you add some more water and heat it up. Check if more salt is needed.

08 July 2010

Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin, Coriander and Almonds

Back before I left for Portugal, I was dieting HARD.  I promised some healthy recipes, and never posted them.  Oops.  Here's one of them.

When visiting Spain over the winter, I was dazed and happy about falafel.  Yeah, we ate tapas of roasted red peppers in olive oil, sheep's milk cheeses, patatas bravas, garlicky mushrooms (and the guys ate awesome meats, too).  Those were our late and lazy dinners, compounded with sangria and cañas followed by strolling scenic walks -- or tequila shots, or salsa dancing.  But our days were filled-to-bursting with sightseeing at such a near-frantic pace that sometimes we forgot to eat.  We would happen upon a kebab house and delightedly fill up our pitas with food so good that it was hard to believe we were in Iberia, and not closer to Turkey or Lebanon.

One of the treats that I discovered at these places was the roasted cauliflower.  Until then, I had never really enjoyed the white "broccoli-imposter"... I hadn't liked it when I was a child, and never warmed to it in my adult life until I had it, nearing my 30th year, walking along the streets of Barcelona.  I promised myself I would try to knock it off when we got home.

I figured out how to do it, found an absolutely giant head of cauliflower at a produce stand, and finally did it.  It's so good.  It's amazing.  Really.  Seasoned perfectly with cumin and ground coriander, tossed with some olive oil, and roasted in the oven, it makes a perfect side dish veggie (ok, I'll admit -- I ate it as my whole meal -- I was worried about that teeny weeny polka dot bikini I was scheduled to wear).  Or you can tuck them inside a pita with falafel and roasted peppers, or dip in a nice garlic-tahini-yogurt sauce for an appetizer... but it's also exquisite on its own, and doesn't require any additional flavouring due to the browned and faintly-crisped spices adhered to the outside of the florets.  Muy bueno.

Money-saving tip!
Get a nice big head of cauliflower, and don't throw away the leaves and stems.  Use them to make this soup.  You won't regret it, and you'll have a nice and happily-freezable cheapy-cheapo lunch.  Yum!

Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin, Coriander and Almonds
adapted from jamieoliver.com

1 head of cauliflower, outer green leaves removed, broken into florets
sea salt
olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground chilli powder
1/4 cup ground almonds
zest and juice of 1 lemon

Preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. Blanch the cauliflower in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes then drain in a colander, allowing it to steam dry (you don't want any water left in your cauliflower or it won't roast properly). Toss it in a good glug of olive oil.  Mix spices and almonds with salt and put in a hot, dry ovenproof pan to slowly toast them. After a couple of minutes, add the cauliflower. When it gets a nice bit of colour on it, add the lemon zest and juice and mix around well. Fry for about a minute longer, then pop the pan into the preheated oven for about 15 minutes to crisp up.

05 July 2010

Spicy Dal Mash

This food isn't very pretty.  The only thing it has going for it in the looks department is that vibrant yellow-orange... other than that, it kinda looks like baby food.  But I promise, it's sooooo good.  The perfect food for a great day like today.

So, why is today so great?  I spent time in my kitchen.  I've been travelling around, for business and for pleasure, for the greater part of the last three weeks.  The majority of this time was spent on holiday in Portugal, a great place full of history, beauty, and friendly people who like to party.  It's not full, however, of vegetarians, and I spent the last 10 days eating toast with cheese at least once a day, while my friends feasted on sardines, escargot, chorizo, and "baby pig sandwiches"... I just stared at my plate and tried not to look too miserable.  The abundance of attractive (crazy-hot) men at my table helped shift my focus elsewhere.  Lisbon was a dangerous and happy place for a single gal like myself.  But I'm getting off-topic.

Oh yes, the food.  Other than the lovely meals we ate with my friend's family, I mostly survived on a diet of bread and cheese and beer.  So I was VERY happy to get into my kitchen today, and churned out this spicy dal mash inspired by this recipe, and paired it up with some sauteed courgettes and almond slivers.  It was filling, hearty, flavourful... a perfect side for grilled veggies (or even meat, if that's your style) from your summer grill.  Or, pair it with basmati rice and a nice curry like they do at my favourite restaurant in Liverpool.

Spicy Dal Mash

Split red lentils (think I used about 150g, dry)
1 tea coriander paste (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 shallot, minced
2 red chillies, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 tea garlic, minced
1/4 tea ginger powder
1/2 tea turmeric powder
1/2 tea yellow mustard
1 bay leaf
Sea salt, to taste
1 tbsp olive oil, for sauteeing
2 tblsp butter or ghee

Cook the lentils with bay leaf, turmeric, coriander, ginger, and chillies.  Remove bay leaf when lentils are finished.

Saute minced shallot and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until just beginning to brown.  Add to lentil mixture.

Add mustard and butter to the lentils, stir well and transfer in batches to a mortar and pestle to mash.  Add salt to taste.