Leek & Cauliflower Soup

When Jim and I first started dating, he once told me he didn’t like soup—he just wasn’t a soup-guy. For a split second I thought to myself maybe I need to reconsider getting serious with this mope—in my head sprung images of winters to come, with icy snow tapping on the shivering windowpanes and me, wrapped in layers of scratchy woolen blankets, whimpering in front of a cold piece of fish and salad greens. For a split second I almost turned and ran, leaving forever on a search for an Eskimo boyfriend who would appreciate a good soup. And then I realized how silly I was being. Jim wasn’t not a soup-guy. He was simply wrong. Or a liar. And I would change his mind for sure.

Fortunately for me, it’s almost two years later and I have proven Jim wrong. He’s a soup guy now, man, even requesting soup for dinner quite often. Our winters are warm and cuddly, with fluffy down comforters and rosy candles illuminating the darkness outside.

This leek and cauliflower soup is one of many that has changed Jim’s perspective, as well as mine. It’s really sort of a miracle soup—it tastes so luxurious and creamy, but doesn’t leave you feeling bloated after a bowlful because there is actually no cream in it. Yup, that’s right, no cream. Just cauliflower, leek, onion, broccoli if you want it, and stock. It’s amazingly rich and smooth and the addition of caramelized slices of leek and cauliflower as a garnish adds a delicious brown-butter flavor. I add a few florets of broccoli (about half a crown) for color and a bit more green taste, though it’s definitely not necessary. We’ve also had it poured over a bowl of seared sea scallops, which elevates this simple soup to the heights it deserves.

Since the new year is rolling in, and the holidays have left me with a few new pounds to deal with, I’ll be making this soup a lot. It’s the perfect weight-loss tool, and though I don’t know the actual calorie count of each serving (though I do know it’s only 1 point in weight watchers), it’s got to be low. It’s really quite a little miracle.

Leek & Cauliflower Soup

serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium leeks, sliced into rounds and washed
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • olive oil
  • 1 large head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
  • ½ crown broccoli florets, optional
  • 4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 T butter

Method:

In a large saucepan, saute onion and leeks with a bit of olive oil, until they soften but do not brown. Add cauliflower, broccoli, and stock and cook, covered, until cauliflower is tender, about 15 minutes. Take out 6 rounds of leeks and a few florets of cauliflower, set aside.

Puree the soup in batches in the blender, placing pureed soup in a bowl. When finished pureeing, add soup back to saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm over a low heat.

Slice your reserved cauliflower florets thinly, so you get cute little shapes that look like trees. Add butter to a small frying pan. When melted, add cauliflower slices and brown in the butter on both sides, taking care not to burn. Remove from pan to a small plate. Do the same with the leek rounds.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with the cauliflower trees and leek rounds.

Happy Holidays! Chocolate Chip Cookies Worthy of Angels

I’ve been thinking about angels a lot lately. Jim and I recently finished watching the HBO series of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, and it’s the type of film that stays with you for a while after it ends. The play, set in New York City during the 80’s, focuses around Prior Walter, a gay man with AIDS, and his partner Louis who, fearing the ickyness of the disease, leaves Prior. At the same time, the story also follows a Mormon couple from Salt Lake City who’ve moved to NYC. The wife is addicted to Valium and going crazy, and the husband (a Republican) is a closeted gay man. Oh, and this Republican is friends with Roy Cohn.

Not the typical setting for angels, you say? Well, it turns out that Prior is a prophet; a beautiful (and somewhat ditsy) angel visits him frequently. If you haven’t seen Angels in America, you must, because I just cannot do justice to Kushner’s philosophical ideas about New York City, America, God. Continue reading “Happy Holidays! Chocolate Chip Cookies Worthy of Angels”

Speculaas Muffins

Speculaas cookies (sometimes called Dutch Windmill cookies) evoke warm, farmiliar memories in my mind. I can picture my sisters and I, very young, sitting in the backseat on the way home from a drive to Pennsylvania Dutch County, with a box full of these wonderfully aromatic spiced cookies, our roadtrip bounty. I have no idea whether this is a real memory or one I somehow made up (0lfactory memories have a way of doing that to me!) All I know is that I loved these cookies, and the smell of them brings on a wave of good, warm, fuzzy childhood memories, even if they are rather blurry.

Speculaas cookies are traditionally made for St. Nicholas’ Eve in Belgium and the Netherlands. They are crunchy, thin gingersnap-like (but oh, so much better) shortbread cookies usually cut, using wooden stamps, into shapes that resemble windmills, animals, or relics of St. Nick. I don’t have such cool wooden stamps, and I imagine the cookies really aren’t the same without them, but I am feeling quite sentimental this holiday season. I’ve been jonesing for the aroma of the cookie’s spices, which include cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom or anise, white pepper, and sometimes clove, but I needed to make myself muffins for work—I’m not working from home anymore, so I have to plan my meals!—so Speculaas Muffins it was!

I couldn’t have been more pleased with the memory-triggering results. Turns out, the most memorable thing about the cookies was the spiced aroma—though they are mighty cute as windmills! I was almost contented by simple smelling the muffins, inhaling deeply as I pressed the muffin to my lips; then I realized how great they tasted and I gobbled them right up.

The batter is a simple muffin batter, one I use for plain muffins or traditional blueberry ones, though I used walnut oil instead of canola for a deep, earthy flavor. I used AP flour, though I’m sure a whole wheat pastry flour would work well, complimenting the rich walnut oil and spices. Also, I used half-and-half as the liquid in these muffins simply because that’s what I had on hand. You can sub regular milk, cream, butter, yogurt, or whatever it is you’ve got.

Speculaas Muffins

makes 10-12 muffins
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half
  • 6 T walnut oil
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground anise
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¹/8 tsp ground white pepper

Method

PAM or grease a regular sized muffin pan. Preheat the oven to 375º.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg with the sugar until it begins to get fluffy. Whisk in half-and-half, walnut oil, and spices.

Sift together flour and baking powder. Gradually fold flour into wet mix, taking care not to mix too much to avoid tough muffins—the mixture should be juuust combined when ready.

Spoon mixture into muffin cups and bake until golden brown on top—about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven. Inhale. Take care not to burn your nose when you bend down to take a whiff.

Comfort Food: Fried Chicken

If you’ve never had homemade fried chicken–eaten within minutes of emerging from the oil, glistening and unctous–then I’ve got to tell you, you have no idea what fried chicken is, my friend.

Fried chicken is not chewy. Fried chicken should never be dry. Fried chicken skin should be crispy (unless, of course, it’s covered in gravy) and salty. There should be flavor to the chicken skin (unless, of course, you are a Scot), preferably some cayenne pepper for a tiny bit of kick. And most importantly, fried chicken should taste as delicious, moist, crunchy, and perfect as it looks. Or better.

Fried Chicken has to be the ultimate American comfort food–that’s why it’s so sad that more people don’t cook it at home. Yes, KFC is cheap and right down the street. Yes, it’s not the funnest thing to have a big pot of stinky, used oil in your kitchen the morning after you wake up from a fried chicken hang-over. Yes, once you make homemade fried chicken once you will never, ever be able to go back to the old, ready-made stuff. Even if you’re hungry and desperate and it’s 10PM on a weeknight and you just don’t have time to make dinner and you have to pass KFC on the way home anyway. One bite of the fast-food stuff will just make you remember how good your homemade chicken was, possibly bringing a tear to your eye. Possibly bringing a tantrum. Possibly bringing a restraining order when you try and punch out the guy behind the counter. So, yes, you may regret that you made homemade fried chicken.

But it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

Fried Chicken

adapted from The Summer Shack Cookbook (a GREAT cookbook!)

for New England Style Fry Mix

  • 2 cups corn flour (masa harina)
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine everything in a large bowl or dish. Mix well. (You can also store this in an airtight container for several weeks or more.)

for Seasoned Salt

  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon pepper
  • 1 T powdered garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • 3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 T AP flour

Mix everything together. This recipe makes way more than you need, so store the rest in an airtight container until you have the inclination to fry something again!

for Fried Chicken

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • New England Style Fry Mix
  • One 2 1/2 to 3 pound chicken cut into 10 pieces (or about 10 already drumsticks and thighs)
  • Seasoned Salt
  • about 4 cups peanut, corn, canola, or other vegetable oil for frying

Rub seasoned salt generously into the chicken. Set a large wire rack above a tin foil on the counter. Place the New England Style Fry Mix next to your wire rack set up. Pour buttermilk into a large bowl and place next to that. Working down the line, dip chicken pieces in buttermilk, then dredge in Fry Mix, then place on wire rack ready to be fried.

Heat oil in a large dutch oven, about 1 inch deep. Fry chicken pieces in batches, turning once to make sure they brown evenly. They should take about 10-15 minutes. Internal temp should read about 145º when you take chicken out of the oil. Let rest 5 minutes so that the pieces will cook themselves some more, eventually reaching about 160º. Enjoy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

All in the Family Brassica: Dijon Pork & Kale Stew

Kale is one of those “new” foods for me, which seems strange because I am a huge fan of bitter greens. Most likely I never noticed kale when it was served to me, it’s not usually something one raves about (until right now, that is). I probably just happily ate it, noting the biting, sharp taste for a while, and then forgot about it by dessert.

 

Now that I cook, however, I pay a lot more attention to my food. A lot. For instance, I now know that kale has more nutritional value per calorie than almost any other food, which is probably why it was a staple crop for Ancient Romans, who welcomed it into cultivation after it was brought to Europe by Celtic wanderers around 600 BC. Mustard greens, like kale, were especially good as a sturdy, tasty green for soldiers as the winter months wore on, as kale sweetens with the frost.

The kale I (read: North American) am accustomed too is the curly leaf variety. It’s big and beautiful, with ruffled leaves dancing around a pale green, strong stalk. Curly leaf kale, along with it’s brother variations such as cavolo nero (black cabbage), are part of the larger cabbage family called Brassica. Here we have all sorts of cabbages, mustard greens, roots (turnips, radishes), and flowers (broccoli, cauliflower). It’s also the father to mustard seeds.

Knowing that, I knew I had to pair mustard and kale. And with the first snow of the season this week, all I can think about is stew.

If you think the flavors of kale and mustard are both too independently strong to cook together, think again. The similarities in their sweet-bitter tastes play upon one another, and they are tempered by the vermouth that is added as a portion of the broth. And the pork, cooked to melt in your mouth tender, soaks up all of these great characteristics without smudging them all up. If you pop a piece of the meat in your mouth, you’ll be able to pick up each flavor—the kale, the dijon, the vermouth—tasting them independently as well as understanding why they meld together so well. And the sharpness of both kale and mustard cut through the oompha of this stew—it tastes healthy and hardy.

Dijon Pork & Kale Stew

serves 6
  • 2 large leeks, sliced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 lb pork tenderloin or similar cut (could do boston butt), trimmed of all visible fat and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1½ oz. all-purpose flour (a small handful)
  • 3/4 cup vermouth
  • 3 cups chicken broth, with 1 tsp flour whisked into it *
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 T dijon mustard (try the country mustard with seeds if you want)
  • 1/2+ tsp salt
  • 1/2+ tsp fresh black pepper
  • 6 Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 8 cups curly leaf kale

 

Method:
Heat 1 T oil in a dutch oven over med-high heat. Add leeks and saute for 6 minutes, or until browned. Add garlic and saute another 1 minute. Transfer leek mixture to a large bowl.

Dredge pork cubes in flour, coating all sides. Shake off excess and add pork to the hot dutch oven (do this in two parts if you must.) Brown pork on all sides. Transfer to bowl with leek mixture.

Add vermouth to dutch oven, scraping up the browned bits stuck to the bottom with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil. Add broth, water, dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Add pork and leek mixture, bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to low-medium, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, add the potato. Cover and cook until tender, about another 30 minutes.

Uncover, add kale and cook until wilted, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with some toasted, buttered baguette.

* Even though the stew is made with pork, use chicken broth in order to achieve the lightness that is needed to not cloud the sharp mustard flavors. But then again, I’m sure a homemade ham-hock stock would work just fine.

**I’ve been making some changes to the blog-look lately… please let me know if you can’t see the site properly. I have a widescreen laptop, so even if it looks great to me, it may be futzed up for you!

***And of course let me know if you like anything or if you don’t!!

Holiday Wrapping: Lettuce Wraps

An old English adage says “good things come in small packages.” While the first thought to come to mind might be diamond earrings pillowed in a tiny box, I find this proverb exceptionally true when those “good things” are sesame-laced dollops of ground beef and when the packages are gently sweet, buttery lettuce leaves.

With the cookies, pies, hams, stuffings, cakes, rolls, potatoes, turkeys, sauces, and tarts (I could go on and on!) revving their engines for the holidays, I find it supremely satisfying to eat a dinner wrapped up in lettuce. No matter what goes inside, even if it’s beef (I used extra-lean!), you can’t help feeling healthy—partly because of the verdant brightness on your plate and partly because eating a ground beef lettuce wrap takes some doing! You have to actively eat these things, your elbows pointed out, trying to make steady hand movements from plate to jaw. You won’t make every bite, many bits of beef will fall, but every taste you do manage will be delectable—and if you’ve made some rice for the side, you can sop up all the stray tidbits later. There won’t be much talking at the table with this meal, as your concentration will be focus on this fragile, green pillow, but everyone can talk about how delicious it was later, as you rub your contented bellies.

Continue reading “Holiday Wrapping: Lettuce Wraps”

In with the New: Coconut Fish Stew

I am a self described “lover of all things food.” If you ask, “Hey Robin, is there anything you don’t eat?” I’ll probably reply with some snide food-snob comment like uhh, I don’t know, “chickens that are fed on cow feces,” or “McDonald’s,” but I’d be hard pressed to give you a real answer.

See I’m a very proud person. And when I say proud, I mean bull-headed. I consider myself in love with all kinds of food, I’ll eat anything if you dare me (and even if you don’t), and I’m resistant to let on, even to myself, that I just don’t like something.

Especially when it’s one of those “cool,” “fashionable” food-items like quinoa, acacia, or coconut milk. How could I turn up my nose to all the things the “cool foodies” are into today??

Continue reading “In with the New: Coconut Fish Stew”