Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yet Another Cauliflower Soup Recipe

Is it just me or  bloggers making cauliflower soup a lot these days?  Nothing wrong with that of course.  Cauliflower is available in the farmer's markets this time of year, it's good for you, and while it's not the worst vegetable in the world, it could use some help in the taste department.

I needed something for lunch this week, so I decided to join the cauliflower soup party.  What could I bring to the party that hadn't been brought before?

I started by roasting the cauliflower until it got those brown edges that I love so much.

Next I sauteed an onion in a little olive oil (I was tempted to use butter but my arteries voted no).  I added a mix of spices to the pot: coriander, cinnamon, tumeric, ginger, and cardamon.

Then I tossed in the cauliflower to make sure it took on all of those spices and turned a pretty yellow color. I added a quart of chicken stock.

After 30 minutes of cooking and getting nice and integrated, I added my secret ingredient.

Coconut milk added flavor and a nice rich creaminess that went well with my spice blend.

I pureed with the stick blender and there was my lunch.

I would love to have a photo of a steaming bowl of the finished product, but I made this soup in the evening, put it away, and packed it up for lunch the next day.  Sorry about that.  It's not the prettiest shade of yellow, but it was definitely creamy and flavorful.  This can easily be made vegetarian, but I prefer to use chicken stock because I like the extra flavor it gives and I find it physically more satisfying.

A coworker saw it and said it looked good.  I told him he could have it for five bucks.

Roasted Cauliflower Curry and Coconut Soup (how alliterative!)

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut in small florets
  • Olive oil for tossing
  • Salt
  • 2 Tbl olive oil for sauteeing
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you prefer)
  • 1 can coconut milk
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cauliflower in olive oil and spread out on a cookie sheet.  Roast for about 20 minutes, occasionaly taking them about and giving them a toss so they brown all over.

Heat remaining olive oil in a stock pot.  Add onions and cook until they begin to soften.  Add all of the spices and cook until everything is very fragrant.  Add the roasted cauliflower to the pot and toss with the onions to coat them with the spices.

Add the stock to the pot.  Simmer everything for 30 minutes. 

Pour in the coconut milk and blend the soup either in a blender or food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth.  Season with salt to taste.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

If You Cook with Foods You Think You Don't Like, Will That Make You Like Them?

I think even the most die-hard foodies out there have foods they don't like.  It's hard to love the tastes and textures of everything.  If you truly have a discerning palate, how can it possibly be pleased by everything that crosses it?

Of course I'm way off course from your average foodie since I slide out of "discerning" and veer right into "picky".  I'm not as picky as my husband, or my niece and nephews, or my brother-in-law, or my one particular BFF with the super-sensitive sense of smell, but there is a rather substantial list of foods I actively avoid.  I don't eat seafood, peas, lima beans, olives, blue cheeses, or grapefruit and I doubt I ever will.  I just really can't tolerate the tastes and smells of those foods.

There are plenty of foods I have said I don't like over the years and have learned to acquire a taste for either because my taste buds aren't as sensitive as they were as a kid, or because I learned ways to prepare them that are tolerable, or because certain varieties taste better than others (e.g. Yukon Gold vs. russet potatoes or cremini mushrooms vs. shitakes).  I think that despite being razzed by my family over the years for being a picky eater, I have come a pretty long way.

But what about foods I have never tried before?

I'll admit for much of my life I have been a food skeptic. If I never tried it, I was pretty sure I wouldn't like it.  I could see food that looked good in a photo, but if it didn't smell right on the plate, I wouldn't eat it.  I had definite ideas about how something would taste and most of the time I believed it would taste bad. 

I like to think I have outgrown some of that.  I'm usually open to trying new fruits and vegetables these days since my vegetable preferences are kind of limited and I feel I need to expand.  I try to approach every new food with an open mind. 

So let's talk about game meats.  For most of my life I never ate them.  No one in my family or in my circle of friends hunts, so I grew up sheltered from venison, rabbit, pheasant, quail, and other meats like it.  At first my reaction was purely just disgust.  " SHOT BAMBI."  I wouldn't touch something like that just on principle.  Hunted meat seemed so cruel.

I have softened my stance on that over the years.  Game meat is the ultimate free range meat and is leaner than the grain-fed bloated beasts in the supermarket.  Even though the concept of hunting for sport (versus hunting for the procurement of food - and yes I know the two are not mutually exclusive) still makes me twitchy, I'm far more tolerant of the idea of eating the spoils. 

Just because I'm more tolerant of the idea doesn't mean I'll automatically enjoy the taste though.  Again, it's not easy for a suburban girl with no hunters in her circle to eat stuff like this.  Even though I'm willing to try it now doesn't mean I have many opportunities.  On this blog I have managed to try cooking quail and pheasant with reasonably good results.  On my trip to Wyoming two years ago I tried elk and ate more bison than I have ever eaten in my life and enjoyed them.  The one thing I had never tried was venison.

I did try venison once.  I should correct that.  I was at a very upscale venue on New Year's Eve once and I had a multi-course wine-pairing dinner.  By the time the venison course came around I had drunk a glass of champagne and 3 glasses of wine.  I'm not sure I really noticed how the venison tasted.  I even ate half the fish course that night.

I needed to know once and for all how I really felt about venison.  I don't want to spend my life disliking it out of prejudice.  I really needed to try it.  The best way to try it would be to prepare it in my own kitchen - if I could only get my hands on some.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this at the local Shop Rite earlier this week.

The stuff cost and arm and a leg, so I was reluctant, but I knew the cut was big enough for a few meals.  Of course that would mean nothing if I hated it.

When I brought it home I took it out of the package and examined it.  I was surpised at how smooth it was.  It almost looked like a slab of organ meat.  There was very little grain to it. 

Here goes nothing.  I seared it in the pan.  I liked the way it smelled at first.  There was a naturally spicy scent to it.

I cut it into medallions and served it with what I call Standard TERP Sauce - in other words onions (or shallots), garlic, wine (in this case pinot noir) and in this case, juniper berries.

The end result?  Meh.  The meat was a little mealy . The taste was unexceptional.  I caught hints of different flavors here and there - some good, some not so good.  My sauce came out wonderfully and that helped it quite a bit, but I'm not inclined to eat venison again.  I suppose if I were in a restaurant and the venison was being prepared in a way that sounded really intriguing I would try it, but I won't go out of my way for it again.

I also think I let it overcook.  I had seared it at first, but my medallions sat in the sauce for longer than expected as my dinner ended up delayed.  I wonder if they would have tasted better if they were cooked less.

I wasn't sure whether or not I would post this recipe.  I was debating it all week.  I decided to do it since technically the recipe was fine. 

Venison Medallions in Red Wine Sauce

  • 1 venison tenderloin
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 diced shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup pinot noir
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1 tsp juniper berries
Heat olive oil in a pan and add the shallots.  Cook until soft.  Add the garlic and cook one minute more.

Sprinkle the venison with salt and pepper  and add to the pan.  Brown well on all sides, about 3-4 minutes per side (more if you want it cooked more).  Remove from pan and keep warm. 

Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft.  Add the wine,  stock and juniper berries and bring to a boil and let it reduce down a bit.  Bring to a simmer.  Cut venison into medallions and cook a minute or two more.  Don't let it overcook though.  Adjust for seasoning and serve.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I Can Tell You How to Get to Sesame Street

Well, my version of it anyway.

I'm infamous for not checking the cabinets before I go shopping, which means I end up having to run to the store in the middle of preparing a recipe to procure the neglected ingredient, or else I have multiple containers of the same food.

This happened to me last week after making the mole chicken. I bought sesame seeds before realizing I had nearly a full container of them in the freezer.  What does one do with them?

How about sesame chicken?  Who doesn't love chicken coated in sesame seeds?  If you don't, please don't answer that question. 

I had also bought these cute little satsuma oranges.  I had hoped to find a nice recipe for them.  How about making them into a sauce for the chicken? 

I started my recipe with boneless, skinless thighs and used the sesame seeds in a traditional breading.  I floured them (I used coconut flour, which gave another dimension of flavor - very paleo), dipped them in egg wash, and then coated them in the sesame seeds.  Sesame seeds stick nicely to chicken.  They're a much more cooperative coating than nuts.

I cooked them in the oven because cooking stuff like that in a frying pan makes me worry that I'll burn the nut coating before the insides are cooked, or else the already naturally oily coating will get greasy because it's cooked in more oil.  Ovens are our friend.

I sauteed some shallots in coconut oil and then added the orange sections and just let them soften a bit.  Then I added a little soy sauce, some grated rind, and some five-spice powder.

Serve it on top of the chicken.  The sauce has a bit of a bitter twang to it and I'm not sure how to deal with that, but otherwise it was nice - like a savory Asian marmalade that went well with the chicken, which was a little flat tasting.  I wonder if I should have toasted the sesame seeds first.

Feel free to use whatever flour you want for the dredging and use another oil for the sauteeing.  I just liked experimenting with the coconut.

Sesame-Crusted Chicken with 5 Spice Satsuma Sauce

  • 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts if you prefer)
  • Approximately 1 cup coconut flour for dredging
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 cups sesame seeds
  • 8 satsuma oranges, peeled and sectioned
  • 2 Tbl coconut oil
  • 2 minced shallots
  • 1 tsp grated satsuma zest
  • 1 tsp 5 spice powder
  • 2 Tbl gluten-free soy sauce
Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Set up your breading station.  Toss flour with salt and pepper in one dish.  Beat eggs lightly in the second.  Place your seeds in the third.  Dip your chicken thighs in the flour, then the egg, then the sesame seeds, making sure they are well-coated. 

Lay chicken on a cookie sheet and bake 20 minutes.  Halfway through the cooking, turn them over so they crisp up evenly.

Meanwhile heat the coconut oil in a large pan and add the shallots and cook until softened.  Add the orange slices and cook until they begin to soften, but not lose their shape.  Add the soy sauce, zest, and 5 spice powder.  Stir well to get all of the oranges coated and cook until the oranges begin to fall apart. 

Serve sauce over chicken.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ole` Mole

Wow.  That title was too hokey even by my standards.  I must have had too much to drink on New Year's Eve.

We are now heading into that dreaded time my husband calls "The Dog Days of Winter."  Although the days are lengthening, they're still rather short and all too often they're very cold.  I'm not a winter lover at all.  It's particularly tough on people like me because I have a year-round, outdoor hobby that keeps me out in the cold on weekends for hours at a time.  As much as I love being with my horses, on some cold winter days I just want to stay home with blankets, a good book, and some comforting beverages (they can be of the chocolate or the alcoholic variety).   It's rough being out there with chilled fingers and toes feeling the warmth get sucked out of your every pore every time you breathe!

This time of year is when everyone starts talking about "comfort foods" - foods that are warm, heavy, take a long time to prepare from scratch, and fill us up quickly.  Examples of this might be big pans of homemade macaroni and cheese or lasagne, enormous pots of chili, loaves of butter-soaked homemade bread, soups lovingly prepared with homemade stock, or slow-cooked stews. 

I have said numerous times on this blog that I tend to eat what I eat when I want to eat it.  I'm not always so perfectly attuned to the seasons when I cook.  I think part of my lack of attention to typical cold weather foods is that so many of them are heavy and starchy and I fear of gaining weight.  Then there is the issue that some of them are cheesey or beefy and I can't serve them to my husband.  As much as I like to say it's about being weird or cynical or rebellious, some of it is just being practical.  I don't cook many stereotypical comfort foods because I feel I shouldn't be cooking them for health reasons, or because if I modified them, it would ruin exactly what makes them comfort foods in the first place.

Anyway, this blog has begun to chronicle a kind of change in attitudes in the past year or two.  I have actually begun to experiment more with stews and braises.  I find these types of recipes enormously fun to play with and as warm and satisfying as they are purported to be.

Obviously I braise a lot of chicken, so today's recipe will be a braised chicken.  I learned the secret to making my husband be more receptive to braised chicken recipes.  When I make chicken I prefer to use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (although I like skinless, boneless thighs when I need to cook something quickly).  I like them because they are flavorful and more succulent than boneless, skinless varieties.  Sir Pickypants doesn't like fussing with bones.  He doesn't like having to work too hard for his food.  When he was less than enthused about my coq au vin, his main complaint was that he had this giant, messy chicken breast to contend with.  It was too much work to cut around the bones.  (He's not a pick-it-up-and-stick-your-face-on-it type.)

I solve the problem quite easily now.  I just cut the breast meat, skin and all, off the bone before cooking.  It's easier for him to eat, but the flavor is still there.  It also takes a bit less time to cook.  The bones go into the freezer for future use in stock.  It's a win-win situation.

Even before the attempt at coq au vin I made an attempt at mole verde sauce.  I invented a recipe after cobbling together a few ideas I saw on the internet.  It involved toasting and grinding seeds of all sorts and long slow cooking and more effort than it was worth considering it was another dish Sir Pickypants poo pooed.  I really liked it, but I never saved my recipe for it.  I decided there wasn't much point.

I've been craving something slow-cooked and fragrant with sweet spice lately. Now that I learned the secret to making my husband like whole chicken pieces, I have decided to try a mole sauce again.  This is a more straight-up version than the green one I made previously.  It still a ridiculous amount of effort as well, but it's so perfect on a winter night. 

It was less sweet and a little spicier than I orginally intended, but after I ate the first serving, I realized just how addicitive this sauce is.  Worth the effort after all.

A-Lot-of-Work-But-It's-Worth-It Chicken Mole

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up (breasts removed from bone if desired)
  • 6 large dried chili peppers of your choice, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup pepitas
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbl sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbl cocoa powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbl olive oil for frying
  • 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes
Place chili peppers in a small bowl. Add the boiling water. Allow to soak for about 30 minutes. In a blender or food processor puree the peppers with about a cup of the soaking liquid.

Toss the pumpkin seeds and 1/2 cup sesame seeds with the cumin, cocoa, cinnamon and chili powder.  Place them in a shallow pan over low heat and toast until everything is very fragrant - almost to the brink of burning.  You will have to trust your nose as the spices will keep you from seeing how the seeds are browning.  Place in a food processor or other grinding device and grind into a rough powder.

Meanwhile sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in a pan and brown the chicken well on both sides.  Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add the pureed peppers and the tomatoes to the pan, breaking up the tomatoes with  your hands. Mix well. Allow to simmer for a minute or two.  Season with additional salt to taste.

Place the chicken back in the pan and simmer for about an hour. 

Serve chicken sprinkled with remaining 2 Tbl sesame seeds.