Foodie Tuesday: Back on my feet

Weeks of colds and flus, along with lots of travel, had left me feeling out of sorts and in need of sustenance in the early days of February. Food just wasn’t very appealing when I was so under the weather. As for eating while on tour (well, with Duchess, anyway), it’s a seemingly never-ending succession of Bugles eaten by the fistful.*

All this to say, I missed the kitchen. I craved the elemental comfort of preparing a dish that was nourishing to both body and soul, but neither my energy level nor my stomach were up to making—or eating—anything too elaborate or adventurous. I needed to ease back into things.

The dish that put me back on my feet couldn’t be simpler or more delicious. I remembered a recipe in a back issue of Bon Appétit for whole roasted cauliflower with whipped goat cheese (!) that called for relatively few ingredients and was easy to prepare. It did not disappoint.

As New Orleans-based chef Alon Shaya instructed, I poached a whole cauliflower in a fragrant broth** of water, white wine, lemon, and bay leaf, then oven-roasted the cauliflower until burnished and tender. While the cauliflower roasted, I blitzed the goat cheese, feta, and cream cheese in the food processor. Ta-da! Dinner was served, and it couldn’t have been simpler.

Ease of preparation is a plus, but a dish worth its salt, so to speak, has to be delicious as well. Happily, the monochrome palette of the pale cauliflower and the white goat cheese was soothing rather than boring. The whipped feta and goat cheese made a tangy counterpoint to the cauliflower’s mellowness, and a baby spinach salad, dressed with a lightly sweet vinaigrette, was the perfect accompaniment.

This recipe is a perfect in-between-seasons dish: it’s hearty and rib-sticking, but not heavy. The prep and cooking involve enough kitchen puttering to feel festive, but poaching and roasting a whole cauliflower is an utterly stress-free cooking experience.

One can easily feel off-kilter and (at the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic) a bit vulnerable as we tiptoe gingerly into this tentative springtime. As the song goes, “spring can really hang you up the most.”  But take heart! Spiritual ballast awaits us in the kitchen.

Alon Shaya’s Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Goat Cheese (from Bon Appétit)

Ingredients

Roasted cauliflower

  • 2 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 head of cauliflower, leaves removed

Whipped goat cheese and assembly

  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 3 ounces feta
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for serving
  • Coarse sea salt (for serving)

Roasted cauliflower:

Preheat oven to 475°. Bring wine, oil, kosher salt, juice, butter, sugar, bay leaf, and 8 cups water to a boil in a large pot. Add cauliflower, reduce heat, and simmer, turning occasionally, until a knife easily inserts into center, 15-20 minutes.

Using 2 slotted spoons or a mesh spider, transfer cauliflower to a rimmed baking sheet, draining well. Roast, rotating sheet halfway through, until brown all over, 30-40 minutes.

Cauliflower-poaching-liquid-turned-soup. Repurposing leftovers is so satisfying. It’s the little things, right?

Whipped goat cheese and assembly:

While cauliflower is roasting, blend goat cheese, cream cheese, feta, cream, and 2 tablespoons oil in a food processor until smooth; season with sea salt. Transfer whipped goat cheese to a serving bowl and drizzle with oil.

Transfer cauliflower to a plate. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with sea salt. Serve with whipped goat cheese.

*Not that there’s anything wrong with Bugles eaten by the fistful. Bugles, if you’re reading, we would LOVE a corporate sponsorship. You are the finest snack around.

**As an added bonus, the leftover poaching liquid makes a lovely base for a soup. I opted for a pear/cauliflower soup with a drizzle of brown butter and almonds, an homage to an East Village restaurant I miss.

Foodie Tuesday: A Balm for the Soul

My day.  It has not been stellar.  First of all, I am exhausted.  Last night, my husband’s chest cold-induced snoring, punctuated by bouts of coughing and sneezing, meant we were both deprived of a restful night’s sleep.  At least he had the velvet embrace of NyQuil to take the edge off.  As for me, I tossed and turned, fitful and fretful, finally relocating to the couch where the crick in my neck finally gave way to a few minutes of sleep that were promptly interrupted by a recurring car alarm.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t feeling particularly rosy this morning, and so I made myself a breakfast that felt a little special: scrambled eggs with smoked trout, sautéed leeks, and cream cheese.  Carrying my plate of eggs in one hand and my favorite oversized mug (filled to the brim with tea) in the other, I approached the dining table where I planned to ease into the day by perusing a few blogs over breakfast.  Just as I set my plate on the table beside my computer, the handle broke off the mug I was holding.  The mug crashed onto my plate, shattering it and covering the table, floor, and my breakfast in hot tea, while I shouted an expletive that even I typically reserve for special occasions.  (Thankfully, my computer was spared—no small mercy, considering how much I rely on the damn thing.)11002580_10205236922376233_2586654663424290461_n

Cursing, I went to retrieve a mop from the hall closet.  As I took the mop out of the closet, it knocked a box of Christmas bows and holiday cards from the shelf, scattering them all over the floor of the closet.  More expletives.

For the rest of the day, I couldn’t quite seem to find a rhythm.  My practice session felt futile, and I didn’t make it to the gym.  My mood vacillated between bored and antsy, with an undercurrent of self-loathing, because—let’s face it—I was just engaged in some self-indulgent moping.  Nothing of any real significance had even gone wrong!  I was just off-kilter and terribly out of sorts.

11026013_10205239130471434_545040918442187652_nThis afternoon, I found myself in the kitchen, as I often do, when I’m in a cranky, at-loose-ends kind of mood.  On autopilot, I began peeling and dicing butternut squash, a few Granny Smith apples, and leeks, as I prepared a soup that has been one of my favorite go-to recipes for nearly fifteen years.  I’ve made this soup for special occasions, for winter solace, and for visiting friends.  I’ve written about this soup on this very blog, and whenever I make it, I’m reminded that our most beloved dishes are more than nutritional sustenance: they’re a balm for the soul.

I mean, sure, fancy-schmancy chefs are forever finding ways to reinvent the familiar, and to push the envelope of what “eating well” means.  But for the rest of us, preparing food that is nourishing to the spirit as well as the body is a way of mending the fabric of a tattered day, of soothing frayed nerves and inviting simple pleasures to join us at the table and remind us that tomorrow is another day.

I’m going to ponder the alchemy of food and mood while I eat my soup—far away from my computer, mind you.  And tomorrow will be a better day, I’m sure of it, because tomorrow there will be leftovers waiting in the fridge.

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A big pot of calm-the-hell down and try again tomorrow.

 

Foodie Tuesday: Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup!

I’ve been a bit stuck on a theme, lately: it’s cold outside, winter’s here, let’s all eat comfort food, blah blah blah.  So it’s probably not a surprise–and goddess knows I hope it’s not a foray into Dullsville–that today’s Foodie Tuesday post is about soup.

Soup is the very embodiment of “making much from little”: water, vegetables, and a gentle flame join forces on the stove to create a meal far greater than the sum of its parts.  Soup will welcome the odds and ends from your produce bin, exalting lowly root vegetables and leafy greens, however wilted they may be. In our home, soup has soothed frayed nerves and mended wounds.  Ladled hot into a bowl after a long, busy winter’s day, soup can seem like a benediction.

One of my favorite things about soup is its adaptability.  Last night, for example, I made a vegetable soup with leeks, potatoes, kale, fennel, and tomatoes.  To the broth, at the direction of the inimitable Diana Henry, I added a generous pinch of saffron, a ribbon of orange zest, and a few sprigs of thyme…et voilà! Niçoise stew.

Homemade rouille, bolstered and brightened by tomato paste and lemon juice, respectively, added body and nuance to the soup.  And the Gruyère at the bottom of my bowl melted into the hot broth and clung to the vegetables in silky strands.  Was I gilding the lily?  Maybe, but then again, when is cheese ever a bad idea?

As I head out into this New York day filled with appointments and obligations, it does my heart good to know that a pot of leftover soup is waiting in the fridge. As Louis Carroll wisely wrote:

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Soo – oop of the e – e – evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Foodie Tuesday: An Awkward Gift & Summer Gazpacho

A number of years ago, I received a present from my boyfriend’s* mother: a cookbook featuring over 200 recipes of one-pot dishes. It was an innocuous enough gift, except for one thing. It was a Weight Watchers cookbook. Can you imagine the mortification of getting a Weight Watchers cookbook from your boyfriend’s mother!? Noting my deer-in-the-headlights expression of confusion and incredulity, my boyfriend’s mother quickly assured me that she owned the very same cookbook, and that it was one of her favorites. She’d gotten the book for me because of its wholesome practicality, not as a passive-aggressive hint about my weight.

I haven’t seen or spoken to that ex-boyfriend (or his mother) in years, but I do frequently turn to The Weight Watchers “In One Pot” cookbook for its healthful, simple recipes. Most recently, I made gazpacho, which proved to be quick, easy, and very adaptable. The chilled soup, chock-full of vegetables and laced with the zing of jalapeño and hot sauce, is the perfect antidote for summer’s heavy humidity and high temperatures.

Gazpacho (loosely adapted from the Weight Watchers “In One Pot” cookbook)

1 beefsteak tomato, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded & diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1/2 seedless cucumber, diced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded & diced
3 cups organic tomato juice
2 cups organic vegetable broth
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Generous handful of cilantro, chopped
Sriracha (to taste)
salt (to taste)

1. Combine the tomato, bell pepper, zucchini, cucumber, red onion, garlic, and jalapeño in a large bowl.

2. Combine the tomato juice, broth, vinegar, cilantro, Sriracha, and salt in another large bowl; pour over the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Variations: Add some cooked chicken or shrimp and a bit of diced avocado for a heartier soup. For a bit of richness, you could top the soup with a dollop of sour cream. I think a sliced hard-boiled egg would be a nice addition, too.

*I know, I know. This is the second consecutive post that has begun with an anecdote involving old boyfriends. What can I say? My love affairs with food have at times been indistinguishable from, well, my love affairs. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I remember many flavors and ingredients with far more clarity than I remember some of the men…

Holy Water, Chicken Stock, Tomato, Tomahto

Saturday night had tumbled ass-over-teakettle into a maelstrom of hasty words and hurt feelings. Apologies finally wrestled their way to the surface at dawn, leaving us wrung out and penitent and asleep until noon. When I woke, the bourbon from the night before had taken up residence behind my eyes, making Sunday hurt.

Forgiveness, especially when summoned on a hung-over morning, can be elusive and coy, like calling a cat from a hiding place: it’ll come out when it’s good and goddamn ready, no matter how sweetly you call or what you promise in return.

CIMG3863There is nothing elusive or coy, however, about soup made from scratch in early Autumn. Soothing, evocative of grandmothers and sweater weather, soup is pretty difficult to mess up. If you add too much salt, you can always add some water. The three lonely celery stalks in your fridge that have been waiting for something to do will be welcomed, as will a stray potato, or basil on the verge of going bad.

You have to just kind of let everything simmer together for a while. Eventually, the flavors begin to commingle and the soup begins to look like more than the sum of its parts. Soup, unlike people, will always forgive rashness, impatience, and too much spice.

And so, contrite and in need of comfort, we decided to make soup for Sunday dinner. While rolling oregano-and-garlic turkey meatballs between our hands, chopping dill, melting onions in oil, and baptizing everything in an ablution of homemade chicken stock, a palpable, if tentative, peace began to settle itself around and throughout us.

CIMG3868Later, we sat on the floor, big ceramic bowls of our soup on the coffee table in front of us. This silence was companionable, open. Then:

“Do you like the soup?”

“Yes, but it’s more that I’m taking refuge in it, you know?”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

I haven’t been to Mass in years, but I know Communion when I see it.

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