cauliflower soup

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It’s chilly and crisp and autumnal and I love it. I love soup all times of the year, but particularly as the days get shorter and the air gets cooler. There’s a reason why you’re supposed to eat soup when you’re sick, or sad, or grieving. It is comfort food at its finest, literally imparting warmth and nourishment to the body to trickle out into the spirit.

I suppose I’m particularly nostalgic about soup at the moment because just a few days ago I watched a man wrap up my beloved Le Creuset in packing paper and tape and put it in a box to be shipped across the ocean. It was a weird feeling, to watch strangers handle all of my possessions and feel little to no attachment to them. Slowly but surely my house got emptier and emptier until there were only a few things left. The piano. The sofa. My Le Creuset. It was at this point that I started to get a little sad.

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Have I told you the story of the Le Creuset? It’s a good one. I’ve wanted a piece of the classic cookware for years. Years. I can’t even disintangle my thoughts to a time in which I didn’t feel that I would finally be a real cook once I had my own. I read Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, a beautiful memoir by Alexandra Fuller about coming back to her childhood home in Zimbabwe to deal with her aging parents and haunted memory, in which the author’s mother has a full set of Le Creuset cookware that makes its permanent home in their outdoor kitchen, the bright orange enamel glinting in the sun and unmarred by time.

But the price. Oh goodness. The Le Creuset French oven is an investment, a classic piece that will last a lifetime and then some, but STILL. There was no way I was going to get one of my own any time soon, nor would I be callous enough to ask for one as a wedding gift. And yet.

One day my industrious mother called me from a flea market, hardly able to contain her excitement. She had found a vintage Le Creuset oven in classic orange for less than $100 and had managed to talk the dealer down to almost half of that price, and she was bringing it to me that weekend. To give to me. For me to use forever and ever and ever.

And since then it has been my absolute favorite piece of kitchen equipment. It is a versatile workhorse: I’ve used it to make everything from homemade sourdough bread to every kind of soup and braised stew. It adds cheer to my stovetop, the pot’s permanent home, and every time I use it I think about how it came to me. Through patience and love and a whole lot of bargaining power, and it embues everything I cook in it with a little of that magic.

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Savory Cauliflower Soup

1 qt. homemade broth

1 large head of cauliflower

1 medium pattypan squash

1 large onion

2 Tbsp. coconut oil or lard

3-5 cloves garlic

2 tsp. salt

fresh black pepper

1-2 Tbsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. coconut aminos

dash of smoked paprika for garnish

Melt the lard in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Meanwhile, slice the onion and crush the garlic; set aside. Once the fat has melted, add in the sliced onions and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes — this doesn’t caramelize the onions but it does get the process started and, thus, imparts more flavor. To this, add the crushed garlic, salt, pepper, coconut aminos and fish sauce. Cook until fragrant, about a minute.

Dice the pattypan squash and the cauliflower and add to the pot. Turn the heat up to medium-high and pour in homemade broth. Stir everything together and bring to a boil before covering and simmering until the vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Remove the still-chunky soup from the stove to cool a bit before processing in a blender. The soup should be smooth and creamy, free of lumps, and still plenty hot. Return pot to heat if necessary. Serve with a pinch of smoked paprika and a garnish of fresh tarragon, parsley or whatever other herbs are handy.

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around here

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThis weekend we got the first taste of fall in the form of chilly mornings and bright blue September sky. We harvested our final tomato and made pumpkin pancakes in the span of two days — a sure sign that autumn is around the corner. There’s a beauty to seasonal eating, and the overlap that characterizes the switch from summer to fall. It’s not as if the leaves begin to turn and the pumpkins ripen on the exact day of fall equinox, but instead we have this gentle season of transition that is  not quite one thing and also not quite another. We wear long sleeves and scarves in the morning, but by lunchtime we’ve shed our layers, thankful to be wearing sandals instead of boots.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI think it’s a shame to wish away one season in favor of the next. Already Halloween decorations are out in the stores and coffee shops are advertising their version of pumpkin lattes. Why not relish this last stretch of summer here and now, work on our flexibility and adaptability as we traverse varying temperatures and a mixed bag of bounty from our farmers markets?

I like this time of year. It keeps me on my toes. And only recently have I arrived at a place in which I can be content in the present instead of wishing it away for the future. Autumn is my favorite season, but I can say with confidence that the here and now is my favorite place to be.

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Speaking of favorites, Saturday was Andrew’s birthday! We celebrated all weekend long with big brunches, steak dinners, a craft beer tasting with friends and plenty of his favorite brownies. We saw a special showing of Fight Club at our local theater and went on a couple of hikes to stretch our legs and soak up the gorgeous weather. Happy birthday to my love — may we celebrate many more in the years to come!

the clever butternut

Earlier this week I met a friend for lunch at the creperie I worked at all summer — I did in fact say farewell to my crepe-making tools before we embarked on our epic road trip — and I was delighted to see that our creative genius of a chef has broken out the squash recipes for our seasonal specials. There was a decadent sweet pumpkin crepe and a savory butternut crepe with sage that they named the “clever butternut.” I’m a sucker for anything squash or that includes the word “clever,” and so I spent the rest of the day thinking about I had yet to roast a butternut squash this autumn season.

I’ve roasted a slew of sweet potatoes and one lonely acorn squash, plus a volumptuous spaghetti squash that we’re still working on, but it wasn’t until today that I braved the bulk and thick rind of a butternut. I’m so pleased I finally did.

Butternut squash, like most of it’s cool-weather squash cousins, is rich in beta carotene, potassium, vitamins A and C, and fiber. Without being too starchy, butternut squash has plenty of natural sweetness the emerges with slow roasting or pan-frying. Butternut squash puree can offer an alternative to pumpkin puree in fall desserts, and has a lighter, more caramel flavor than Thanksgiving’s gourd of choice. It also provides another platform for my favorite breakfast meal, sweet potato hash. With a bit of browned butter and some sage, cubed butternut squash sings under a fried egg.

With this salad, the flavor of butternut squash rests comfortably in between the intense salt of the bacon and the tart sweetness of the pomegranate arils. The textural contrast between crunchy bacon, the crisp fruit, the tender squash, and the verdant greens. Finally, the Bacon Maple Mustard vinaigrette, with its sweet-salty-bitter-briny glaze, ties everything together.

Roasted Butternut Salad

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced

mixed greens – preferably something spicy like arugula with red leaf lettuce or frisee

1 small pomegranate, seeded

3 slices bacon, fried and crumbled

olive oil

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Dice the butternut and lay cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until tender and sizzling. Allow to cool before combining with crumbled bacon, pomegranate arils, greens and Bacon Maple Mustard Dressing.

Bacon Maple Mustard Vinaigrette

1 tsp. brown mustard (I used Sierra Nevada Stout mustard)

3 Tbsp. liquid bacon grease

1 Tbsp. champagne vinegar (red wine vinegar would also be good)

1 Tbsp. maple syrup

glug of olive oil

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Whisk all ingredients together until combined. Pour over salad and toss to combine.

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And although this isn’t a very spooky recipe, it’s pretty autumnal, and there’s plenty of orange going on. For tonight’s Halloween festivities, Andrew and I are staying in to watch Hitchcock films and eat red wine pot roast and mashed cauliflower, AKA zombie brains. How’s that for Halloween food? What are you up to tonight? Trick or treating? Dressing up in costume? Let me know, I’m always curious!

sweet potato hash and a story

Back when Andrew and I were dating, I was writing a foodie column for a local online publication. Twice per month I composed recipes with seasonal, usually local ingredients, photographed my steps and ate the end result. Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil Cake, Moroccan Spaghetti Squash, New Year’s Resolution Soup and Oven-Roasted Pork Tenderloin were just a few of the recipes I made. Some were huge successes, while others, like my homemade Browned Butter Sage Butternut Squash ravioli, fell a little flat and were, um…chewy.

One meal stands out in my memory as being one of Andrew’s favorites and one of my most original ideas. Fried Pork Chops with Sweet Potato Hash Cakes and Apple Gravy. Doesn’t that just sound like fall to you? And to my knowledge, no one has since or ever before made apple gravy. You heard it here first, folks. I AM THE CREATOR OF APPLE GRAVY!

Andrew shared this enormous dinner with me and thought it all was pretty good, but he absolutely LOVED the sweet potato hash cakes. If I recall correctly, they had shredded sweet potato, apple, onions or shallots, plus an egg and maybe some breadcrumbs to keep it all together. I pan-fried those little guys in olive oil and they came out crispy, crunchy, and savory-sweet. (Perfect with apple gravy, if I do say so myself.)

Since that dinner, he’s pestered me for sweet potato cakes or hash or anything else that resembled that infamous side dish. And only until recently have I granted his request – selfishly I admit that I had to first fall in love with sweet potatoes myself to make them for him.

Sweet potatoes are in season now, and you can head to your local farmers market or grocery store to pick up these fat ruby-fleshed tubers. Full of fiber and beta-carotene, sweet potatoes provide a satisfying source of sweetness and starch for anyone looking to cut down on the carbs and still gain plenty of vitamins and nutrients along the way.

My revised and modern rendition of sweet potato hash begins with alliums. I love a good caramelized onion, but a recent trial with shallots came out nicely too. Whatever you choose, chop it up finely and gently soften it in a pan until the onion/shallot begins to brown.

Your fat of choice makes a big difference in what tastes you highlight in this meal. A generous dollop of butter makes caramelized onions sing, while a scoop of coconut oil brings out the toasty, sweet note to the already sweet potatoes. I recently used browned butter and was thrilled with the depth of flavor and aroma, and I suggest adding sage to your hash if you go this route.

Speaking of sage, sweet potato hash is a great platform for a number of spices. I usually season my with a simple sprinkling of coarse sea salt, but as I mentioned sage complements the earthy flavors, especially when paired with browned butter. Additionally, curry powder and cayenne would be zingy in this dish – I haven’t tried this yet, but I have designs to use some recently acquired curry coconut oil (Ziggy Marley’s brand, no less!) to fry up my next batch of sweet potato hash.

Sweet potato hash can be a comforting meal on its own, but I suggest adding some protein to make it a more complete dish. Some rustic sausages, roast chicken, or of course a pork chop with apple gravy all compliment the sweetness of the hash and look so very provincial served with a tankard of dark beer.

For breakfast, sweet potato hash demands a fried egg. Simply put, the two were made for each other. And remember a while back when I documented my search for the perfect breakfast I think I’ve found it, and if consistency suggests anything than you can deduce that eating sweet potato hash with a fried egg on top for a week straight highlights a clear winner for me “best breakfast” award.

Sweet Potato Hash 

2 large sweet potatoes, diced

1 large yellow onion or a handful of shallots, diced

1 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil, plus more for the pan

1 Tbsp. dried sage

sea salt and ground pepper, to taste

splash of chicken stock

Heat a large skillet until your fat is liquid and sizzling. Add in alliums and stir to coat in fat, allowing onions/shallots to caramelize. Once they are beginning to brown, throw in chopping sweet potatoes and stir to combine. Sprinkle in a bit of sea salt and dried sage and cover with a lid and let the sweet potatoes alternately steam and caramelize, stirring occasionally. After about five minutes of uninterrupted steaming, splash in a bit of chicken stock (or water) to deglaze the pan and help with the steaming process. Cover again, stirring occasionally, until potatoes reach desired tenderness.

While sweet potato hash is cooking, prepare protein – fry your egg in the same fat used for the hash, roast some pork chops or grill some sausages. For this meal, I used Applegate Andouille sausages that I “grilled” on a cookie rack on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees in the oven.

10 things :: fall bucket list

We only have a few weeks left in our hometown before we move to our new home in Texas, and we’re trying to soak up as much of the beautiful Ozarks autumn as we can until we leave the land of the hills for the tumbleweeds. I’m opening my eyes extra wide on drives and runs to soak up the gorgeous colors — russet, tangerine, glossy gold — and I’m hoping it all sticks around just a tiny bit longer than usual. I’m eating as much pumpkin as possible and trying to get a lot of mileage out of my boots and sweaters before we change our climate and pack our warm things up for a few more weeks.

So I’ve made a little “bucket list” to help remind me that time is short. Here are a few of my favorite fall things that I’m most looking forward to this month, some new things and some old traditions. But all steeped in pumpkin spice and shades of of orange!

1. visit a pumpkin patch and/or go through a corn maze

2. moisturize like there’s no tomorrow

3. drink an octoberfest ale

4. paint some foraged branches gold for easy, DIY fall decor

5. make some yummy stew in my orange Le Creuset Dutch oven

6. go on a hike through the changing leaves

7. soak up the farmers market and all the new varieties of squash

8. save up for a nice leather jacket

9. perfect the healthy pumpkin pie custard recipe that’s been floating around in my head

10. quit sugar (yep, just in time for halloween!)

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What are you hoping to experience this fall? Let me know, I’m always curious!

Bumper Kale

My parents’ garden is overflowing with their second planting of kale this fall — the curly, ribbed leaves are everywhere, and look like gushing water rapids of vegetation. It’s stunning. And so is the quality and taste of the kale. There is absolutely nothing like farm-fresh produce, especially when the produce already is full of iron, vitamin K, fiber and antioxidants. Plus, it’s so very green. Deliciously green, in fact. It may be my favorite vegetable.

My mama came for a visit this week, and with her brought a grocery bag packed with fresh chard, red peppers, a few little tomatoes and armfuls of kale. Although I still have a huge bag of julienned kale from my last visit home, I’m slowly chipping away at my supply. Here are a few of my favorite ways to prepare and eat kale:

I love to cook it quickly and simply to keep all of the nutrients and flavors intact: warm a bit of butter and/or olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and add a heaping pile of kale. Toss the leaves in the butter/oil, add a bit of salt and a few shakes of red pepper flakes, and cover with a lid. Turn the heat down low or completely off, and let “steam” for a few minutes until the leaves are soft but still vibrantly green. A pile of kale cooked this way makes a great side dish, but I find it most satisfying to eat a big plate of it for breakfast with my morning eggs and toast. Yum.

Some other delicious recipes? Kale gratin is warm and savory and, although certainly not as healthy as simply steaming the greens, it is so good, so cheesy and grainy and chewy and salty. Perfect for a cool day with a plate of roasted sweet potatoes or pork chops.

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I’m eager to try this Roasted Acorn Squash and Kale Salad — I have a couple of pretty acorn squashes sitting on my counter (next to a cute little owl from my mama,  no less) for fall decoration, but I’m eager to try this super healthy, warming salad, complete with cranberry beans and perhaps a sprinkle of Parmesan. This recipe from Sprouted Kitchen provides another tasty alternative for roasting squash. And with homemade breadcrumbs!

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And this really doesn’t get any better: my two favorite super foods in one, Kale and Quinoa pilaf, and in a single pot, no less! The addition of a warm walnut oil and some creamy goat cheese will play nicely off the nuttiness of the quinoa, while the lemon zest brightens up the hearty bitterness of the kale. What a great dish to curl up with while the leaves fall.

These recipes should be plenty to keep me nourished and happy, and will hopefully inspire my parents — with their borderline-obscene abundance of kale — to get creative with the vegetable. And you too! Do you like kale? Do you like any other greens? What are your favorite ways to cook/eat them?

Let me know, I’m always curious! xoxo

Summer Breeze, Autumn Sunrise

September 23rd marked the official first day of autumn. This is a nice thought, but I can’t let myself get my hopes up for sweaters and hot tea-drinking next to a bonfire just yet — we’re notorious for Indian summers around here, and with the unseasonably hot summer I don’t imagine it will be going anywhere soon. October, let’s get a move on.

But, instead of lamenting the slow pace of fall, let’s think about how great the summer was. It was great! It sped by, and it was so full of wonderful, rich, lovely things. This has been my summer of:

Antiquing

Navy keds

Craft projects

Thrift store cutoffs

Gardening

Simple entertainment with pups and chickens

Mad Men and gin & tonics

Learning

Michael Pollan

Farm-fresh eggs

Evening walks

Early morning Skype dates

Julienned kale and chard salads, fresh from the ground

Simplification and organization

Homebrewing, and the consequential imbibing of the homebrew

Eddie Vedder’s album Ukelele Songs

Scandinavian design and 60s blonde wood

Family and friends, and the natural overlap of the two

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Real food and raw food

Thankfulness

Fresh herbs on everything

Planning for and dreaming of the future, and trusting that all good things will be provided.

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What words or things or pictures or lovely things summed up your summer?