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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Easy-easier-easiest: Cauliflower

Cauliflower can be a messy vegetable to prep.  I find the least untidy way to deal with it is to break the green leaves off by hand, then cut the whole head in half down the center, then cut the core and stem out in a U-shape.  Break large florets into bite-size pieces. 

I'm not crazy about raw cauli, but my son adores it.  To each their own.  Here are my favorite ways to prepare it.  As always, roasting tops the list because the cauli simply turns into a different creature under the influence of the Maillard reaction.  You really do need fresh cauliflower for this one.

Pureed cauli is very hip among the low-carb crowd, but the addition of horseradish gives it an unexpected depth without wicked heat...my younger veggie-avoidant son loves this dish.  This one can be made with frozen or fresh cauliflower.

The cauli curry is a more complicated recipe with flavors that can become too competitive as a side dish, but is absolutely worth being on the radar.  Serve the curry with plain baked chicken or a simple roast, or throw in some cooked lentils for a complete vegetarian dish.  Make this with fresh or frozen cauli, or leftover roasted cauliflower (plan ahead and roast 2 heads of cauli).

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The BEST vegetarian chili

Pictured with biscuits
I'm no stranger to vegetarian cooking.  I routinely incorporate vegetarian and vegan meals into our dinner rotations...in fact, one of my kids will only reliably eat vegetables when accompanied by tofu (or hidden in a smoothie, in which I have also used tofu).  I have a long-standing history of sneaking vegetarian proteins into meals without telling my soy-phobic audience (bad Daughter-In-Law, bad!)  I have happily tried cooking with nearly every meat substitute and vegetarian protein readily available at my grocery store, everything from tofu and tempeh to Fakin' and Garden Burgers and (oddest of all IMHO) Texturized Vegetable Protein.

But I do not like vegetarian chili.

I have tried many a recipe...the ones that use frozen-then-thawed shredded tofu as a meat substitute, the ones that use TVP, the ones that refuse to even try to sub anything in for the meat and go all-out with beans and vegetables.  They all lack something, well, *meaty*.  The texture, the depth of flavor, the way the tomatoes and spices of the chili play together...it just doesn't quite work as well without meat.

And then I saw the recent Cook's Illustrated issue (December 2012).  I adore Cook's Illustrated.  Geeky and science-y and culinarily outstanding all at once.  They have dedicated most of a 2-page spread to explaining why their newly developed Best Vegetarian Chili Recipe Ever works, but the important part is...it does work.  It makes the thing that meat does to chili happen but without the meat.  It also makes a vat of chili, which naturally makes it an ideal make-ahead sort of affair.

It's a good thing it makes so much (and that you can freeze some for another day) because, like everything Cook's Illustrated does, there are a lot of little steps that lead you to the perfection they offer.  Aggravating, but absolutely necessary.  The one step you could probably skip is toasted and grinding your own dry chile pods.  In fact, they suggest substituting 1/4 cup ancho chile powder for the at-home roasted-ground chiles if you don't want to do that step.  But everything else...grinding dry shiitake mushrooms, toasting and grinding walnuts, cooking a blend of dried beans from scratch...necessary.

They recommend a mixture of earthy beans (pintos, kidney, black beans) and creamy beans (navy, great northern).  I used navy and pintos in equal parts.  I also used 2 pasilla peppers and 2 sandia peppers (instead of ancho and New Mexico) because those are the dry peppers I have in my pantry, but next time I'll just use chile powder.

CI recommends cooking the chili in the oven to avoid having to stir the beans.  I think it just makes it take longer and produces a thinner chili than I like, so I'll be doing it on the stovetop from now on.

The recipe below is rewritten to streamline the steps and make the ingredient list make more sense to me LOL  I *hate* it when the ingredients are listed in a different order than you use them, so I've regrouped them into clusters that get added/handled all at once.  I also think this makes a LOT more than the 6-8 servings CI suggests, hence the range of servings.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Creamed Greens

This recipe works for any type of cooked green...kale, chard, spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens, even collards as long as they're fully cooked first.  This is how I get leftover cooked greens eaten at my house...they go like gangbusters the first night, but tend to linger as leftovers so I recreate them as creamed greens.

The best recipe I've ever had for creamed spinach was a Barefoot Contessa colossus of cream, butter, cheese, more cheese and a lot of salt.  I do love creamy goodness, but not like that every day.  Using milk instead of cream, less cheese, less salt and less butter still produces a yummy dish.  If you want to lighten the sauce further, you could substitute some cooking liquid from the greens for some of the milk.

You can make this ahead up to the point of baking (it will probably take a little longer to brown if the dish is coming out of the fridge) or if you make the sauce and greens at dinnertime, you could skip the parmesan and further baking and just serve it out of the saucepan.

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Friday, November 9, 2012


Have you ever had half a container of something you'll never consume again but hate to just pitch the rest?  I needed a couple cups of sweet red wine for a marinade and had rather a lot left over (and sweet wines tend not to get drunk at my house).  Cue the New Mexico official state cookie, Bizcochitos, to the rescue.

You don't have to use wine...in fact, there are a great many recipes for this cookie out there.  Some use sweet white wine, some sweet red, some a fortified wine like cream sherry or Madeira, some brandy and some just call for orange juice.  The really neat thing here is how to handle a rollout cookie when you don't want or have time to roll out dough.

Ordinarily, you would refrigerate the cookie dough for a few hours, then roll out and cut into 2" circles.  Firstly, this dough is very soft and tender which means it's a you-know-what to roll out.  Secondly, I hate rolling out dough, even easy-to-handle dough.  So I tried this as a slice-and-bake.  One recipe's worth fit perfectly into an 8x8 plastic wrap lined baking dish.  I fridged the dough as a solid square, then cut the square into 4 "logs", then sliced the logs for cookies.  The only issue is that the "logs" are square rather than round, but after fridging, you could roll them a bit to round them out if you really wanted.  Either way, much easier and tidier than rolling out and cutting shapes.

Note too that traditionally these cookies are made with lard.  Not having any on hand, I used a combo of shortening and butter.  Substitute 2 cups lard for the other fats if you want.

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