Tuesday, July 20, 2010

happy birthday, crystal!

say it with ice cream

Today is the birthday of my good friend and co-blogger, Crystal! To celebrate, I made three kinds of ice cream and assembled the funnest ice cream cake I could dream up (Mom: I know that "funnest" is not a real word).

The ice cream recipes were created by Hannah Kaminsky, cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire.  Check back soon for Crystal's and my review of her e-book, A La Mode. If you just can't wait to try one of her decadent delights, click on over to Bittersweet blog to find the chocolate ice cream recipe that I used (sans chocolate chips, and it was still awesome).

And what was the foundation of all this deliciousness?  It was the Simply Wonderful White Cake from Alisa Fleming's excellent resource and cookbook, Go Dairy Free. We have more to say about that book, too, so stay tuned!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

tasty ways to cook cauliflower

appreciating a versatile vegetable

Last week, I took several dishes to work to celebrate that underrated, sometimes-maligned, but potentially delicious vegetable: cauliflower.  Like other brassicas (I'm thinking of cabbage and Brussels sprouts specifically), cauliflower, when carelessly under- or over- cooked and thoughtlessly seasoned, can become bland, soggy, and odoriferous.  However, when cooked properly, cauliflower can acquire a deep, rich flavor or exquisitely creamy texture, depending on the preparation used.  This versatile veggie would be more popular if people tasted a few delicious cauliflower dishes, and learned how simple they are to prepare.  With this goal, I offer the following recipes:

  • roasted cauliflower, with savory, caramelized flavor and lovely crispy bits.
  • cauliflower soup, which has a creamy mouthfeel, but is dairy-free.
  • basil hummus with cauliflower, a smooth dip in which the vegetable replaces most of the olive oil.

The simplest method to showcase the glory of cauliflower is roasting, and I've found the following steps from Cook's Illustrated to produce the best results.
Roasted Cauliflower
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

One head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 475 F.
  2. Wash and trim one head of cauliflower and cut the stem flush to the bottom.  Place the cauliflower on the cutting board, stem side down, and gently cut it, through the stem, into eighths.  This will result in eight, wedge-shaped pieces.  Spray or gently coat all sides of each wedge with a thin coat of olive oil, and season with salt.
  3. Place all wedges onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover tightly with foil and place in the preheated oven for ten minutes.
  4. After ten minutes, remove foil and return pan to oven for 8-12 minutes.  When cauliflower starts to brown, remove pan from oven.  Gently flip all wedges and return pan to oven for 8-12 minutes more.  Remove cauliflower from oven when all wedges are golden brown (total cooking time: 30-40 minutes).
If that recipe proves how tasty cauliflower can be, the next one shows how creamy. It's a soup that, if served to me under the name of vichyssoise, I would swear contained potatoes and cream. This recipe is also adapted (and veganized) from Cook's. I have to tell you, the texture that the cauliflower achieves after being in the blender for a minute is jaw-droppingly smooth and creamy. Typically, I try to get away with "pureéing" soups with my immersion blender to avoid cleaning the jar blender.  However, if ever there were a reason to wash an extra tool, the pudding-like consistency of this soup is it!  Use your favorite combination of aromatic veggies to make your broth, or use a good brand of low-sodium vegetable broth (I like Trader Joe's brand, which tastes like the vegetables have been roasted).

I've included some ideas for variations that came to mind as I taste-tested the soup after blending.  I haven't tried these combinations, but I'm not worried about it.  After all, this is soup we're talking about, not rocket science baking.

Creamy Vegan Cauliflower Soup
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
makes two quarts

1 head cauliflower, about 2 lbs.
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dry white wine or vermouth, optional
6 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning (or other coriander- or cumin- based spice blend)

  1. Trim leaves from cauliflower and cut in half. Chop florets into walnut-sized chunks, and stem pieces about half that size. Set aside in a bowl.
  2. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion to the pot with a pinch of salt. Sweat the onion, turning the pieces and not allowing them to brown, until it is translucent.
  3. Add the wine, if using, and stir until it has evaporated.
  4. Add the chopped cauliflower to the pot, turning to coat with oil.
  5. Add 4 cups of vegetable broth to the pot, cover, and simmer until cauliflower is tender, about 12 minutes.
  6. Purée the soup in several batches by carefully ladling the cauliflower and broth into a blender, filling the blender only half-full. Blend to purée, then set aside puréed soup and complete the remaining batches.
  7. Return puréed soup to soup pot and add vegetable broth to achieve desired consistency. Add seasoning blend to taste.
  8. Warm over low heat to desired serving temperature and enjoy!

Variations: substitute two leeks, chopped and cleaned, for yellow onion; use 2 T of yellow curry powder as seasoning; or, add one handful of cleaned and chopped watercress, arugula, or spinach to cauliflower during final two minutes of simmering.

The final recipe is my version of the Cauliflower Hummus from Veganomicon. Instead of adding half a bottle of olive oil to your hummus to achieve a smooth texture, why not use cauliflower? It's lower in fat and higher in vitamins, minerals, and fiber!  Veggies for the win!

According to Cook's Illustrated (again), the secret to smooth hummus is breaking down the chickpea hulls as much as possible, and then adding the fats gradually in the final step.  Love those test kitchen gurus (even if they are un-veg-friendly).

Basil Hummus with Cauliflower
makes 3 cups

2 cups chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, cooked and drained  
1 cup cauliflower, chopped
2 cloves garlic (roasted if you've got it!)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
salt and pepper
  1. Steam cauliflower florets until tender, about 8 minutes.
  2. In a blender or food processor, add chickpeas, cauliflower, garlic, lemon juice, and basil. Blend until smooth, adding a tablespoon of water if needed to get things moving.  
  3. In a small bowl, combine EVOO and tahini by whisking with a fork.  
  4. With the blender running, add the combined fats gradually by pouring in a slow stream through the top of the blender.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with basil leaves, sesame seeds, EVOO, etc. Will stay fresh and green for several days, tightly covered in the refrigerator.