cauliflower soup

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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.

tip for moving #5

SONY DSC

If you’re a closet food hoarder like I am, you should probably start paying attention to what’s in your pantry right about now. If you’re moving in less that three weeks, you should probably start cleaning out your pantry. Starting yesterday.

I grew up in the country, several miles outside of the town in which I went to school and at least half an hour any direction from the nearest large grocery store. We had to drive 30 minutes one way to get to Walmart, 40 minutes another way to reach Hart’s or Price Cutter or Harter Haus, and if we needed bulk or specialty items — well, that was an hour and a half, at least.

Understandably, I learned to hoard pantry items. When it’s a Saturday afternoon and you need homemade chocolate chip cookies but have no butter or chocolate chips, there is no change-out-of-sweatpants-and-drive-to-the-store spontaneity because that would take at least an hour, and then where are those cookies? So, we stockpiled. (Interestingly enough, this is also how I learned to experiment and substitute so freely in the kitchen. My creative mother was judicious in her cooking experiments — I learned from the best.)

Fast-forward ten years and I’m within walking distance of the farmers market and just a short drive from the commissary or my favorite grocery store. I don’t have to stockpile because I can easily pick up some canned tomatoes or a rasher of bacon any afternoon I might need it, no long-term planning required. And yet.

I hoard canned tomatoes in my pantry and rashers of bacon in my freezer. I have little tins of hatch peppers and bulk jars of jasmine rice and gluten-free oats and a couple bags of seaweed and canned tuna and olives and coconut milk and all sorts of things stored away, like a little chipmunk saving up for winter hibernation. Which is all well and good was I living with said stocked pantry for another couple of months, which I am not. Take it from me, friends — it is better to start cleaning out early and buy what you need later in the proper amount than to be saddled with too many jars and cans.

To begin, make a list of all of the dry goods and frozen items you have. Take stock of the perishables in the refrigerator and, with list in hand, start brainstorming meal-planning ideas. You’ll save money, get creative in the kitchen, and prevent wastefulness.

Got a half a bag of frozen peas just hanging out? Throw those bad boys into a pot of soup. What do two boxes of crushed tomatoes, a can of pumpkin puree and a jar of broth have in common? They are an excellent base for chili. Coconut milk added to ground meat and veggies and a dash of curry powder makes for an easy ethnic meal. Green tomato relish add pizzaz to daily scrambled eggs, and don’t forget those olives! You should probably just eat those as a snack, plucked from the jar with your fingers.

My pantry/freezer inventory includes:

bulk gluten-free oats, steel-cut oats, buckwheat groats

jasmine rice

sugar

tapioca starch

dried shiitake mushrooms

onion jam

balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar

green tomato salsa

dried seaweed

carob powder, cacao powder

flaxseeds

frozen Ezekiel bread, coconut granola

tahini, Siracha, homemade mayo and all the condiments ever

aged parmesan

frozen vegetables + fruit

canned crushed tomatoes

coconut milk

2 tins hatch peppers

Castelvetrano olives

salmon filets, ground lamb, ground turkey

1 rasher of bacon

frozen homemade waffles

And I know this sounds like an absolute mess of items — one of these things is not like the other — but it is actually quite easy to meal-plan from my kitchen. Some ideas include:

turkey chili with canned tomatoes, hatch peppers, frozen green peppers

lamb coconut curry with frozen bell peppers, peas, broccoli

seared salmon with garlicky aioli (homemade mayo)

fruit smoothies with frozen mango, blueberries, coconut milk

chicken thighs with shiitake mushrooms + fish sauce

brinner: eggs, bacon, waffles

Thankfully, we have neighbors on either side who will gladly profit from any incomplete meal-planning. Those random jars of oatmeal and the half-open jars of hot sauce and the uneaten chocolate ice cream and the orphan frozen pizza will all get new homes. They won’t be wasted, and at least I can say I tried.

SONY DSCBraised “Everything-In-The-Pantry” Turkey Chili

1.5 lbs. ground turkey

two 4 oz. tins of Hatch peppers

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 c. broth

28 oz. can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder

2 tsp. sea salt

fresh black pepper

dash of cayenne

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 tsp. fish sauce

1 c. chopped green bell pepper

2 pints Sungold tomatoes

In a large, oven-proof, heavy bottomed pot with a lid, brown the turkey. While the meat is cooking, smash and peel garlic and set aside. Season the turkey with salt, pepper and spice, and continue to brown until cooked through. Stir in the canned peppers, fish sauce and tomatoes, and bring to a vigorous simmer. Mince the garlic and add to the chili, along with the broth, bell peppers and whole Sungold tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. After the chili has reached a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot and transfer the chili to the oven to braise for an hour and a half. Stir occasionally. After the time has elapsed, increase the heat to 350 degrees and allow the chili to reduce uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes.