Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Call of the Cauliflower, Part 1: Roasted Florets

Ok all you haters out there - prepare to open your minds. I want no pre-conceived notions, no "I don't like it" click-throughs, no stink-face, simply because we're talking about cauliflower here. Ima make a believer out of you. If you just trust me as the cauliflower champion that I am, you will walk away from reading these next couple of blog posts not only wanting to give cauliflower a chance, but actually learning to LOVE it. Yes, I said love. (You - the group over there in the corner? The cauliflower nerds who love it just as much as I? Chime in any time.... let's form an advocacy group!)

Ah, cauliflower. Such a maligned vegetable, for absolutely no good reason. I happen to love it raw and crunchy, plain as the day is long. Or steamed, with a little pat of butter and a sprinkling of salt. But since those are both the primary ways people are accustomed to seeing cauliflower served, they are also the preparations folks have learned to hate. So I'll just pass them right on by and not even try and persuade you.

The next logical option would be to espouse the virtues of baked cauliflower drenched in cream and cheese, such as a decadent gratin. But I won't go there either, because even though I love a cheesy dish probably more than anyone, I'm avoiding the calorie-laden, heavy, hearty, artery-clogging dishes that decimate all health benefits of eating cauliflower in the first place.

The fact is, there are so many more exciting and innovative ways to use cauliflower that are fresh, flavorful and healthy, that it's criminal to dismiss it just out of hand. So let's dive in and explore a couple of options, shall we?

First up: Roasting. This couldn't be any simpler to prepare, and the result of roasting cauliflower under high heat is transformative. Utterly delicious. The way I make it, the little cauliflower kernels come out bursting with flavor, and tasting like those great crunchy bits that we all like to fight over on any baked dish.

Again, no recipe, just a method:
  • Break up the cauliflower head into tiny florets - like popcorn size
  • Toss with a glug of olive oil - enough for a light coating
  • Add the juice of one fresh-squeezed lemon
  • Season with garlic salt and chili powder
  • Spread on a baking sheet in one even layer
  • Roast in a 400-degree oven, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is nicely browned and crispy on the edges
Nothing else to it, and it's fabulous. I swear.

The Call of the Cauliflower, Part 2: Counterfeit Carbs

Ok - not won over yet? The roasted cauliflower - was that still a tough sell? Well what if I told you that you could use cauliflower as a stand-in for your favorite starch? Imagine - replace your carb-loaded mashed potatoes or rice with easily-disguised cauliflower.... and not even notice the difference. It's true. And do you know how I know it's true? I snuck the roasted garlic cauliflower puree past my husband (who - quote - "loathes" cauliflower), letting him assume it was whipped taters.... and he asked for seconds. And thirds. Ha!

Tis simple:
  • Steam 1/2 a head of cauliflower florets until fork tender (this will make enough for two adequate portions... or if you're like me, just eat it all and call it dinner)
  • Throw the cooked florets into your food processor with 2-4 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt (start with less and add as you go - since cauliflower contains so much water, it's easy for the puree to get too thin); puree
  • Season with kosher salt
  • If you want to add roasted garlic to the food processor for the puree, all the better (I use about two whole heads of roasted garlic per 1/2 head of cauliflower)
  • Serve as you would mashed potatoes (I like it with a little bit of butter, chives and salt)
Now faking rice - also easy. The trick is to grate the cauliflower. Grating is an awesome ploy. It renders the cauliflower into completely unrecognizable nibs, which you can then use in dozens of ways (a couple more are coming up... like here and here!). But this fake rice is just that - grated cauliflower that has simply been nuked in the microwave for 2 minutes. You don't even add anything to it before nuking - there's enough water in the cauliflower that it basically steams itself.

So let me repeat the very complicated steps:
  • Grate
  • Nuke
  • Eat
Or get fancy like I did in the pictures - toss in some herbs (in this case, parsley). Voila - herbed rice. No matter the case, it's a five-minute side dish, and it really is amazing. The next time I make this, I'm going to try an Asian-style fried rice version, and I predict great things. But for now, I'm grooving on this plain Jane variety.

So if you're watching your carb intake, or are simply looking for innovative ways to get more veggies in your diet (or to sneak them in your S.O.'s diet - or your kids' diets) - you can't beat these sneaky cauliflower maneuvers. Just try it out for kicks and giggles - it's fun to fool the ones you love.

The Call of the Cauliflower, Part 3: Cauliflower and Kale Tabouli

Remember how I promised just a minute ago that I'd get you a nice little recipe for grated cauliflower? This one, my dear friends, is the bomb. The shizzle. The whatever-the-kids-are-saying today to indicate vast goodness. Allow me to introduce you to a salad that has, quite possibly, changed my life: Cauliflower and Kale Tabouli.

You know tabouli, right? That freaking awesome Mediterranean salad of parsley, mint, tomatoes, bulgar and maybe some chickpeas if it's fancy? Well this version turns convention on its head and uses only a handful of the traditional ingredients, but comes out tasting just the same, if not better. I saw the idea on one of the many blogs I read, Steamy Kitchen, and tweaked it just a bit more to be even closer to the traditional recipe.

The thing about this salad is that no matter how you choose - or need - to eat, it fits the bill. Pick your diet: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, low-carb, low fat, raw.... it's all of the above and more. It's jam packed with powerful antioxidants, loads of vitamins, calcium... and lo and behold.... FLAVOR. I made a big batch, thinking it would last me several days (it stands up beautifully in the fridge) - but ate it all in about 48 hours. Once I started in on it, this salad is all I wanted to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is that good and addictive.

So without any further ado, here's the best salad that you've never made. Yet.

Cauliflower and Kale Tabouli
(This will make enough for a big party-sized bowl for your next potluck; adjust as you see fit)
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, grated
  • 1 head of kale, center stems removed and chopped fine (I used flowering kale for the batch in the photos here - I couldn't pass up on the colors!)
  • 1/2 of a good-sized bunch of parsley, stems removed and chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup +/- of mint, chopped fine
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 4 scallions, chopped
For the dressing
  • The juice of two fresh-squeezed lemons
  • Equal amount of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, pressed
To assemble, throw all of the chopped ingredients in a big bowl. Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over the salad and toss. Season to taste with kosher salt. Serve.

The Call of the Cauliflower, Part 4: Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Now this here, this is the piece de resistance. I've saved the best for last: cauliflower pizza crust. Words simply cannot describe the awesomeness of it - you really do have to make it and taste it and marvel at it to believe it. It's a stellar stand-in for pizza dough - as improbable as it may sounds. But I swear on all that is holy, this crust will knock your socks off.

Again - I have proof. We had out-of-town guests visiting for the weekend, and we celebrated with a homemade pizza party. Since my diet is on double-secret probation, and refined sugars are out (especially if they come in the form of pizza crust), I pulled this recipe out of my back pocket so that I could partake in the festivities as well. Lo and behold, of the four pizzas I made (two with this cauliflower crust, two with a cornmeal crust) - which do you think were the first to go? That's right - the cauliflower crusted pizzas vanished quicker than their traditional counterparts. Everyone loved them. Love love loved them. With a capital L. And that goes for Randall as well, my aforementioned cauliflower-loathing DH.

Now, I'm a pretty imaginative cook, but there's no way I can take credit for this idea. I'd actually seen this recipe online months ago (I tweaked mine slightly), and have been dying to try it ever since. The opportunity just had never presented itself. But after today, I can tell you that this dish will be in permanent rotation at my house. It takes a couple of steps, but baby, when it's pizza that you want, this totally fills the bill. It's worth every single step.

Cauliflower Pizza Crust
  • 1/4 of a head of cauliflower, steamed until fork-tender, then chopped fine (you can also use the fake rice method); you'll need a yield of 1 cup of loosely packed, finely chopped/grated cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup egg whites
  • Salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Spread onto a baking sheet that has been generously sprayed with cooking spray (you could also grease the pan with olive oil or butter if you're averse to cooking spray). Use a spatula to form the mixture into a circle. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are nice and crispy (and I mean nice and crispy - they'll be very brown, almost burned). Remove from the oven and top with your favorite toppings*; change the oven from bake to broil. Broil the toppings until cooked through and the cheese is melted.

*The toppings for our cauliflower pizzas were: Pizza #1 - tomato sauce, fresh heirloom tomato slices, spinach, mushrooms, low-fat mozzarella cheese; Pizza #2 - tomato sauce, mushrooms, red bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, low-fat mozzarella cheese.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

There's an App For That!

Well, I'm down with the sniffles, so I might as well catch up on some blogging. Nothing too in-depth here - I will likely fall asleep before I fini....


Oh! See? This nodding off business is getting old. Another 45 minutes vanished in to the vortex. Let's see if I can stay awake long enough to write about bacon (bacon fixes everything, right?).

A couple of weeks back, I was charged with bringing appetizers to a gathering with friends. My tendency would be to throw together a veggie platter with some hummus and call it good since that's what I like to nibble on, but this particular dinner party called for goodies that I had actually put some thought into. I made two different hors d'oeuvres: mini onion tarts with gorgonzola and cherries, and bacon-wrapped shrimp skewers with a sorrel pesto dip. The tarts turned out to be amazing; the skewers, on the other hand, were good - great flavors - but not as perfectly executed as I had hoped (I'll ask y'all for pointers later).

So the onion tarts. I was the grateful recipient of some gorgeous red torpedo onions from my friend Kristin's garden - they were the inspiration for this dish. As in my typical fashion, there's not so much a recipe for these tasty tarts as some guidelines. Here's what I did:

  • Sliced the onions into thin slivers, then caramelized them on the stove.
  • Added a few shots of balsamic vinegar and some chopped rosemary to the caramelized onions; let the vinegar reduce until the onions were sticky and sweet
  • Added a heaping teaspoon of the onions to pre-made filo pastry tart shells
  • Added a few crumbles of gorgonzola
  • Baked until golden and the cheese was melted
That was the first pass. The tarts were good... but seemed a bit too savory. Like they were missing just a little something something. I decided they needed a kick of sweetness, and the plump, juicy cherries sitting on the counter right in front of me proved to be the answer. I plopped a pitted cherry half in each tart for all the subsequent rounds, and they were perfect. So, if you're looking for a simple little appetizer in the few scant weeks that are left of cherry season, this is the one!

My other app, the shrimp and bacon skewers, left me slightly disappointed. Why? What's not to like about prawns? Wrapped in BACON? Well.... my problem was that the two ingredients have vastly different cooking times. Shrimp cooks in an instant, while bacon takes quite a bit longer. So I was stuck with the dilemma of overcooked shrimp/undercooked bacon, no matter what cooking method I attempted. I wound up going with grilling - it seemed to have the best results - but my question for you, dear readers: how do I make this work?! Help me!

Despite this little mishap, the skewers were still very well received at the dinner party. The flavors were awesome. (I served the skewers with a sorrel pesto dip, but failed to get a picture. You can find the sorrel pesto recipe here.) So if I can just get a little advice, I'm certain I'll make these again.

And that's it for this time. I'm due for a nap.....

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Living It Up, Loft Style... with Crab!

Ok - generally, I think I'm pretty cool. Fairly hip to the world. Not entirely primitive in the scheme of things or clueless to what is au courant. I wouldn't exactly say that I'm on the cutting edge, but I didn't think I was wading in the backwaters either. And I'm talking in generalities about everything - technology, fashion, hot spots, friends, hobbies.... whatever. I felt like I had a finger kind of on the pulse.

Um.... turns out, no so much.

I got a bit of a wake up call this week. It hit me - hard up side of the head - that I'm actually quite the country bumpkin. Completely out of my league when it comes to all things trendy, chic and happening. I am, officially, a nerd. Ouch. It stung for a moment as I saw all of my urban fantasies fizzle into reality. But then I looked around and realized I'm ok - more than ok - with my quiet little life and went back to reading my novel. I also realized that I just need to continue living vicariously, and glom onto my friends that have a much more glamourous life than I do.

So that's just what I did this weekend. Ran and I have a friend, Jennifer, who lives in one of those super cool lofts in Oakland - you know the kind: a huge industrial warehouse that has been converted into an amazing living space. That, in and of itself, makes her WAY cooler than I'll ever be. Her loft is particularly spectacular: penthouse level, wrap-around terrace, with sweeping views of the Bay, San Francisco and the East Bay hills. It's got soaring ceilings with 12-foot glass doors and windows providing the same unobstructed view as from the terrace.

It's located near Jack London Square, buffered by the low drone of the 880 on one side and the haunting wails of the train whistles on the other. You can walk to Oakland's Chinatown or the Alameda estuary waterfront, and in between the scrappy, dark, shipyard bars, you can wander into any number of micro wineries or groovy wine bars that are taking up residence in that part of town as well.

It was a great place to convene for a dinner party.

Earlier in the day, Jennifer had procured fresh Dungeness crab from the Asian fishmonger's warehouse a block up the street, and a crab feed was born. She boiled them briefly (just to... you know.... kill them), then they were finished off by roasting them in a bath of olive oil, butter, garlic and shallots. Pair that with a salad, bread and good wine - perfection.

Now I love me some crab, but I shy away from cleaning them. Not that I wouldn't do it, but luckily for me, I have a husband who is really really good at it. Here's a video where he shows you how to clean crab, if you're interested in making them fresh yourself. Invaluable information folks, take a look:

So anyhow, my hipster coolness was restored (in my mind) for a night. I should be good to go for another 30,000 miles. Now where's my jammies?

Impluse Buy

This little guy made me take pause. I had to buy him, just because its shape was so darn cute. I'm a sucker for a cute veggie. Cute veggie, meet my grill....

Tiny Slices of Heaven: My Burrata Splurge

I had a pretty darn good week. Had a few successes, felt good about a couple of milestones, got some great feedback on a couple of personal projects. So, I decided to celebrate. What does that mean? Cheese, of course! I got myself some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, my favorite multigrain crackers, fresh-cut basil from the garden, coursely-ground sea salt.... and the piece de resistance: Burrata!

If you're not familiar with burrata, first - I'm so sorry. Second, a primer thanks to wikipedia: "Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. It is usually served fresh, at room temperature. The name burrata means 'buttered' in Italian."
I know, huh? Needless to say, it was one decadent treat. But I only had enough to really make it feel like a treat - a couple ounces of the cheese at most. But man - it was heaven.

What do you like to treat yourself with when you feel very accomplished?

Shameless Plug: Irresistibly Gluten Free

Ahhh... high school. Wouldn't go back even if someone said there was a million bucks in it for me. Not a chance. And I had a pretty darn good high school experience, all told... but go back? No. As in Hell No.

Fortunately, I made it through grades 10, 11 and 12 relatively unscathed and came out the other side with some amazing memories and some even more amazing friends. But when I left the rolling hills of Hillcrest High School in Midvale, Utah.... that was it. Sayonara suckahs... on to bigger and better. Pretty much never looked back.

And then along came this thing called Facebook. If you're of my generation or older, you know the phenomenon... suddenly people from the wayback machine start popping up with friend requests, and (at least in my case), you find that you're delighted to reconnect with them. Or at least most of them. Enter my long-lost friend Rob. Rob, our hilariously funny senior class president, one of the cool kids, has been my friend on Facebook for years now. We even caught up in person briefly a year ago at a class reunion - so fun. He's good people, and has grown up to be a really great guy. He's the father of six kids (yep - six!), and wouldn't you know it - three of those six kids have Celiac's disease. That means running a household full of young children on a gluten free diet. Tough. So what's a family to do? Well, Rob's wife, Christina, took matters of health into her own hands. Over the years, she developed tasty, kid-friendly gluten free recipes that kept their family healthy, while still being able to indulge in graham cracker and pizza cravings. After 15 years of gluten free cooking, she decided to take the plunge and share her wealth of knowledge by writing a cookbook. And her perfect partner in crime: husband Rob, who just so happens to be a talented graphic designer.

So I present to you "Irresistibly Gluten Free" - their labor of love. If gluten free cooking is part of your lifestyle, I suggest you pick up a copy. Like right now. You can get it on Amazon, right here: Irresistibly Gluten Free. And of course, you can visit the website to learn more: