Saturday, July 25, 2009

1080: Cauliflower Pie. Oh yeah.


I like funky savory pies -- crawfish pie, tomato pie, shepherd's pie, and the like -- so when I found a recipe for Cauliflower Pie in 1080 I knew what had to happen. When I first saw the recipe I pictured a deep, crusted pie full of whole cauliflower flowerets, a rich creamy sauce, and a few bites of chunky carrots. I suppose I pulled my idea from a chicken pot pie minus the bird, but the actuality is much more satisfying than my imagined dish. It's light, creamy, and full of air. Imagine a savory flan than melts into buttery polenta and you're getting close.

Before we get into the recipe, a little information regarding how to choose fresh cauliflower is in order. When selecting cauliflower, for this dish or any other, look for a head with green leaves still attached. The leaves are not eaten but their presence is a good indicator of the vegetable's freshness. Look for cauliflower that is crisp, very white, and has tightly clustered florets.

Cauliflower Pie

1 cauliflower, about 1 1/2 lbs, separated into florets
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 1/4 cups milk, plus a little to cook the cauliflower
2 1/2 Tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 eggs
scant 1 cup grated gruyere

*NOTE: When cooked, cauliflower releases magnesium and potassium, causing an unpleasant smell. To counteract this add a couple of bay leaves to the water. A tablespoon of milk will also lessen the smell.

Rinse the cauliflower florets in cold water mixed with the juice of 1/2 lemon. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add the florets and a little milk and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until tender.


Drain well, then refresh under cold running water. Pour onto a clean dishtowel to drain once more. Transfer to a bowl and mash with a fork.

(At this point you could just add a little butter, salt, and pepper and serve the mashed cauliflower as a side dish. It has a similar taste to mashed potatoes without all the starchiness. I'm a big fan.)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a tart pan with butter. Melt the remaining butter with the oil in a pan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually stir in the milk, a little at a time. Add the nutmeg, season with salt, and cook, stirring constantly, for 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Beat two of the eggs, then beat them into the bechamel sauce. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Stir in the gruyere and when thoroughly incorporated, add the cauliflower.


Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and place the tin in a roasting pan. (I didn't have a roasting pan that was large enough so I used a cookie sheet with a high lip. Don't skip this step. The water bath ensures even cooking throughout the pie.)


Pour in boiling water to come about halfway up the sides of the roasting pan and bake for about 1 hour, until set. The pie should be firm and golden on top.


To serve, run a round-bladed knife around the edge of the tart pan and turn the pie out onto a round serving dish.


Serve immediately.  (I plopped a little parsley on top just for kicks.)

My pie turned out beautifully. It easily slid out of the pan and held its form with no trouble. It's simplicity and the pale color reminded me of a goat cheese tart that I made earlier in the year. The goat cheese tart held its shape perfectly when sliced and looked lovely on a plate, though it did lack in flavor. I suppose I expected this pie to behave in the same ladylike manner so imagine my surprise when it collapsed upon slicing! I found it impossible to cut a pretty piece from the pie.


By the time a piece made it to a plate it had lost its shape completely and resembled a serving of grits or polenta. The texture followed suit. It's very creamy and rich because of the milk and gruyere, but the texture isn't quite as smooth as I expected, and I'm glad. It's much more interesting with a little grit.


I could not stop eating it. Seriously. I devoured this pie with very little help from anyone else. How can I possibly explain how luxurious this pie was? I had a couple servings the night I made it and enjoyed it tremendously then stuck in the fridge. Over the next few days I somehow managed to forget how sumptuous it truly is. Lucky me! I was blown over again when I reheated a little in a bowl with a sprinkling of sea salt, and after that it was all over. I consumed the remaining pie in ten minutes flat. I know this baby looks plain jane, but it packs a mean, buttery punch.

The recipe suggests pouring homemade tomato sauce on top of the cauliflower pie, but I think that would be overkill. This pie shines on its own. If I poured anything on top I think it would be pesto or something equally fresh, but it's probably best to just leave it as is. I'm still a little surprised by how much I loved this recipe. It spoke to my love of all things salty, starchy, and creamy. If you like cauliflower at all (or butter, or gruyere, or deliciousness...) try this.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

1080: Green Beans in Vinaigrette

One reason I like this month's cookbook club pick is because of the many and varied recipes for vegetables.  A number of vegetables have entire sections devoted to them which include information on the origin and season of the vegetable, selection, nutrition, a basic how-to-cook, and tricks particular to the vegetable.  I love that sort of thing.  I really do want to know how to glaze shallots, tricks for peeling carrots, and why the ancient Egyptians and Greeks loved fennel.  That's good stuff!
So, when I wanted a fresh, vegetable side dish I turned to this book and found Green Beans in Vinaigrette.  This recipe is as simple as the title suggests, and it's just bursting with freshness.  I served the beans as an accompaniment for dinner one night and sandwiches the next day for lunch.  Again, this is very simple but also very satisfying.   This recipe makes a lot so either half it, plan on having a crowd over, or take it along on a picnic to share. 

Green Beans in Vinaigrette

3 1/4 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed
2 Tbsp white-wine vinegar
6 Tbsp sunflower oil (extra virgin olive oil can be substituted)
1 Tbsp chopped shallot
1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
2 large firm tomatoes, sliced

Fresh green beans are so lovely.  

If the beans are large, cut them into smaller pieces.  Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil.  Add the beans, bring back to boil, and cook, uncovered for 10 - 12 minutes, until tender, then refresh in cold water.  


Drain immediately and pat dry.  
Make a vinaigrette by combining the vinegar, oil, and salt and whisking vigorously.  


Put the beans in a serving dish and sprinkle with the chopped shallot and parsley.  Pour the vinaigrette over the beans and toss to mix.  Lightly season the tomato slices and use to garnish the beans.


I made a couple of slight modifications, per usual.  I was out of white-wine vinegar so I substituted champagne vinegar, which was lovely.  I also decided to chop the tomatoes and add them to the green beans so they were more incorporated.  Delicious.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Make Mine A Double Scoop


Summer demands homemade ice cream, and I am happy to oblige. A few weeks ago I made this fabulous double chocolate ice cream for my Dad. My wonderful sister found the recipe on a fellow blogger's site, and it turned out just beautifully.  A ripple of peanut butter revs up the richness of this fantastically decadent treat, but you can leave it out if you'd rather stick with just the chocolate.  

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
courtesy of Joy the Baker

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (all-natural is the best!)


In a sauce pan over medium heat stir together 2 cups whole milk, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.  Heat until the milk starts to steam but before it boils.

In a small bowl stir together the remaining 1/2 cup of whole milk and the cornstarch until no lumps remain.

Add the cornstarch mixture to the heated milk and chocolate mixture and bring to a low boil.  Boil until thickened.  The mixture will have the consistency of chocolate pudding.  (This is a good time to sample the beginnings of your creation!)  Remove from heat.

In a small sauce pan heat 1/2 cup heavy cream.  Once boiling, remove from heat and pour over the chocolate chips.  Let sit for 1 minute then stir the cream and chocolate mixture until incorporated.


Stir the cream and chocolate mixture into the cooling chocolate ice cream base.  (Another perfect moment to pause and try a spoonful.  It's delicious.  In fact, it's so good you could simply chill it and serve as a pudding with a little whipped cream.) Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge until cool.


Once cool, follow the manufacturer's directions on your ice cream maker to churn.  Once the mixture has chilled and thickened in the ice cream maker slowly drizzle 1/4 cup of peanut butter.  (Notice the velvety texture of the all-natural peanut butter.  Also,  there's no pesky high fructose corn syrup.)


Transfer the ice cream into a freezer-safe container and fold in the remaining 1/4 cup of peanut butter.  Cover with plastic wrap and press the plastic wrap so it touches the surface of the ice cream.  This prevents ice crystals from forming in the ice cream.  Freeze for at least two hours before serving.


Get ready for an intense chocolate experience.  This stuff is going to knock your socks off!  


I think the chocolate base of this ice cream would be tasty with other things in it as well.  Ever tried Ben and Jerry's Phish Food?  It has crunchy fish-shaped chocolate bits sprinkled throughout, gooey marshmallow cream, and caramel.  Some day I'm going to add all of those things to this ice cream along with some peanut butter chips and see how that works out.  :)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Banishing HFCS: Margaritas

I think high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the devil, and I'm on a mission to remove it from my diet altogether.  Sometimes this is simple, but it seems that I really run into trouble when I try to find drink mixers sans HFCS.  This was recently the case when I set out to find sweet and sour mix for margaritas so I decided to make my own.

Sweet and Sour Mix

3 cups water
3 cups sugar
2 cups lime juice
2 cups lemon juice

Combine water and sugar in a stock pot and stir to dissolve sugar.  Bring to a boil then remove from heat.  You now have simple syrup.  Allow the simple syrup to cool.  Add lime and lemon juice.  Refrigerate until cold.

I like my margaritas on the rocks with plenty of lime and no salt.  Feel free to modify to fit your particular likes and dislikes.  (Charlie always goes for the salt.)  Here's a loose recipe.


Fill a low-ball glass with ice.  Combine one part tequila and two parts sweet and sour mix.  Top with a splash of orange liqueur (I like Patron Orange) and a slice of lime.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Old-Fashioned Shortcake


Strawberry Shortcake is my absolute favorite cake, so when my mother asked me to make her a birthday shortcake with strawberries, blueberries, and peaches I was thrilled.  This is a towering, fancy-looking cake that is quite simple to make.  It's also quite special to me because the basic cake recipe is my great-grandmother's.  Isn't that neat?

Here is a copy of the recipe in my mother's hand.  As you can see, it has been well-loved through the years.


I love strawberries with cream, and this is a beautiful, fluffy cake version of just that with peaches and blueberries to add a little pop.  To make a shortcake you need three basic things: two 9-inch cakes, whipped cream, and fresh fruit.  Before we look at any of those things, let's take a moment to examine pan preparation.  You'll need two 9-inch cake pans for this recipe.

Many people grease and flour their pans to keep the baked cake from sticking, but I prefer to line my pans  with wax paper.  I don't always do this when I bake, but I always do so when I bake this cake.  Here's my favorite way to create the perfect wax paper liner.

1. Flip the cake pan over so the bottom is facing up.  Place a sheet of wax paper on top of the pan.


2. Run the blunt side of a butter knife around the rim of the pan, creating an impression on the wax paper.

3.  Remove the wax paper and cut out the circle impression left behind.  Place the cut-out in the pan.  Voila!  


You can purchase pre-cut liners at gourmet shops and baking-supply stores, but it's much more cost-efficient to do it yourself.  At this point you can flour the cut-out for extra assurance if you like.  I generally leave them as they are, and it works for me.  Now that the pans are ready, it's cake-baking time.

Mama Holley's Basic Cake

2 1/4 cups self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients thoroughly.  Bake at 325 degrees F until brown.

That's the original recipe in its entirety.  Isn't it beautiful?  I like how simple and old-fashioned the recipe is, but there are a few little tricks that will help when baking this cake.  Most important is the order in which the ingredients are combined.  I begin by mixing the flour and sugar, then working in the shortening with my hands. This will help ensure even distribution of the ingredients.  In a separate bowl mix the milk, vanilla extract and eggs, then add to the dry ingredients.  

Another helpful piece of information that's missing from the recipe is the bake time.  My great-grandmother would probably have recommended baking it "just until it looks about right" if pressed for a time. I'll try to be a little more specific.  :)  At 325 degrees F in 9-inch pans this cake takes approximately 30 minutes to bake.  It may take a little more or less time depending on your oven.  It should be golden on top, and a toothpick should come out clean when inserted in the center.


After the cake has cooled a little, gingerly peel off the wax paper.  Take care not to be too rough or you risk tearing the top of the cake.


Lovely, isn't it?  This cake has a coarse crumb that I adore.


Using a long bread knife, split each cake horizontally so you have two layers per cake.  



Now your cakes are ready, and you'll need some fresh whipped cream.  Whatever you do, don't reach for the Cool Whip!   Try this instead.

Fresh Whipped Cream (a guide, not a recipe)

1 pint (16 oz) heavy whipping cream
approximately 1 Tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer, beat cream until light and fluffy.  Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract.  Beat until fully incorporated.

Spread a covering of whipped cream on the first layer of cake.  Top with sliced fresh fruit of your choice.  Place the second layer on top and repeat.  You should have a total of four layers.  


That's it for a shortcake!  As I mentioned, my favorite shortcake has only strawberries and cream.  I love the simplicity and the intensity of the strawberries in summer.   The addition of peaches and blueberries was nice, and it certainly made a bright, festive birthday cake.  Check out the damage!


The best way to eat this cake is very early in the morning, on a back porch with a cup of black coffee.  It's the best breakfast imaginable.  

Thursday, July 2, 2009

1080, Take One: Salmon Medallions Cooked in Egg and Bread Crumbs

Recipe modification. We all do it, and there's no shame in that. However, it is important to remember that it isn't the recipe's fault when a modified version flops. In this case it didn't flop, not even a little bit. It was actually very good. It just lost a piece of its soul. Rather than following the recipe to the letter and deep-frying the salmon like it said I made the healthier choice.

Boy, if I have a pet peeve about cooking it's when someone modifies a recipe then complains that the food isn't any good because the recipe was bad. I know one person in particular who regularly substitutes skim milk for heavy cream, omits butter, uses fat-free versions of anything she can get her hands on, and leaves out any ingredients that she hasn't heard of. Needless to say, her food isn't very good, and I often bite my tongue when she blames the recipe for the failure. Don't worry, I'm not going to do that. Like I said, it wasn't bad, just lacking in depth.

Here's the deal. Last night I chose a recipe from 1080 Recipes (this month's Cookbook Club pick!) and prepared it for dinner. After some consideration I chose Salmon Medallions Cooked in Egg and Bread Crumbs. Charlie very sweetly offered to run by the grocery store on his way home from work (an offer I took him up on) and brought home a lovely piece of salmon along with the other needed ingredients. Then I read the recipe. Hmm...what's wrong with this story? If this story was drawn out in steps, printed on cards, then placed before a child for sequencing, a smart child would put "Read the recipe" before "Send husband to the store for ingredients". In this story the smart child outsmarts the lady.

After reading the recipe I learned that the salmon medallions should be deep-fried, and I wasn't up for that. I didn't want to smell up the kitchen, and I didn't want to eat deep fried food, so I modified. I pan-fried, and I (probably) killed the thing that makes this dish special. Like I said, it was still very good. Charlie really enjoyed the sauce (creamy and tart -- very nice), and I found the pan-fried salmon paired nicely with the mushrooms. I'd really never considered breading and frying salmon in any way, and it was tasty.

Salmon Medallions Cooked in Egg and Bread Crumbs
*modified from a recipe in 1080 Recipes

8 oz mushrooms (I used baby bella)
2 Tbsp butter
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 egg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb salmon fillets, skinned
3/4 cup light cream

*NOTE: The original recipe serves six. In addition to changing the preparation of the salmon, I also modified the recipe to serve 2.

Put the mushrooms, butter, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt into a pan and cook over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, for 6 minutes.


Remove from the heat and keep warm. Beat the egg in a shallow dish, pour the flour into another shallow dish, and pour the bread crumbs into a third. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers and a cube of day-old bread browns in 30 seconds. (At this point you may choose to heat 4 cups of sunflower oil in place of the olive oil in order to deep-fry the salmon.)
Cut the salmon fillets into medallions and season with salt.


Coat first in the flour, then in the beaten egg, and finally in the bread crumbs.


Add the fish to the hot oil, in batches, and cook until golden brown.


Remove from oil and keep warm in a serving dish while you cook the remaining fish. Return the pan of mushrooms to low heat, gradually stir in the cream, and heat gently but do not let boil.


Pour the mushroom sauce over the salmon and serve immediately.

It was better served over soft basmati rice. The rice absorbed the sauce and tamed its acidic qualities. Steamed broccoli also made a nice accompaniment.


Don't get me wrong! It was good! It's just that I think I removed a tiny piece of its midnight-dinner-before-the-club, deep-fried, tapas-loving soul. So, I have this to say. Make this dish. Make it any way you like. But, if you want it to speak to you, deep fry the damn fish.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cookbook Club - review and new pick

Charlie and I spent last weekend in New York traipsing around the city and joining friends for a wedding celebration.  We had a glorious time and enjoyed delicious food that ran the gamut from French bistro fare at Les Halles to oversized slices of street corner pizza in the village.  In between we also had Asian fusion at Shi in Long Island City, moussaka and octopus salad at Opa Souvlaki, peach and pistachio gelato in Little Italy, and the most decadent tri-chocolate mousse you can imagine at French Roast.  We're talking about going back this fall, and when we do I'm going to eat my way through the whole city.  

Here are a few food-related pictures from the trip.


Opa Souvlaki's outdoor dining area

Greasy New York pizza -- a perfect dinner

Candlelit tri-chocolate mousse

And now for a cookbook review.  Last month's Cookbook Club pick was Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook.  My book club picked this because we believed it would be accessible for everyone in the group and would offer inspiration for weeknight dinners.  That didn't work out quite as planned.  While this is certainly a worthwhile volume for a cookbook collection it did not serve me well as a go-to for inspiration.  Instead it offers a wealth of information on technique, including full-color step-by-step photographs for a number of operations.  So, while I'm glad to own this cookbook, I don't think it's the best cookbook club pick we could have made.  I give the cookbook itself four stars, but as a cookbook club pick it gets only three.  Some of the dishes I cooked from this cookbook include: profiteroles, spatchcocked chicken, and herbed rosti with wild mushrooms.  Charlie also tried out the chocolate cupcakes, buttercream frosting, and french fries.  The profiterole recipe is definitely a keeper, and I'm sure I'll try a few other things from this book in the coming months.
I'm super excited about this month's pick, 1080 Recipes by Simone and Ines Ortega.   It's a collection of Spanish recipes and includes the loveliest hand-drawn illustrations.  Dozens of ingredients are spotlighted and include information regarding seasonality, proper storage, and suggested food pairings.  This book is a monster and, I believe, has a little something for everyone.  I've already enjoyed flipping through and bookmarking a handful of recipes.  Last night I cooked a little something out of the new pick, and it was interesting and tasty with a twist I wouldn't have come up with on my own.  I love it when that happens.  :)  I have a feeling this one's going to really going to be spot-on for a cookbook club pick.