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.

a book review + watercress pluot salad with lime-nutmeg vinaigrette

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In one of my recent weekly visits to the blog Gluten Free Girl and the Chef I stumbled across an excellent review of a new book, Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. Shauna writes about Robinson’s dedication, research and passion for both wild plants and modern cultivars, and discusses the connection between plants of the past and our diets of the present. That was enough to pique my interest, and as soon as I could get to the library I picked up my own copy.

Early into the first chapter I knew this was going to be a great read. I started keeping a pen and a notebook with me while I read it to jot down interesting tidbits about vegetable varieties and how to make them more nutritious. With recipes, historical anecdotes (with one involving the nuclear bomb tests on Bikini Atoll, no less!), gardening advice and shopping tips, Robinson combines all of her knowledge, in a pleasant way, her gentle voice shining through the academic citations.

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Robinson breaks the book down into two parts – fruits and vegetables – and from there divides the categories into chapters for individual varieties. There is a chapter devoted to lettuces, to berries, to apples, to corn. She describes to history of each plant, tracing the modern lineage back to its ancient ancestor, and details how the varieties have developed through science or by accident.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is how Robinson ensures the reader comes away with an appreciation for a plant’s nutrition – it’s not all about color and flavor, although these usually play a key role in tapping into the nutrients. From this she offers ingenious ideas on ensuring we as consumers can choose the most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, and then learn how to enhance those nutrients through cooking and storage techniques.

The tip I’ve been remembering the most has to do with garlic. Studies crop up like weeds about the anti-cancer properties of garlic nowadays, and traditional remedies recommend choking down pungent concoctions with the stuff to stave off colds and the flu. Robinson reveals, however, that the disease-fighting properties of garlic are not so easily accessed as to swallow a clove whole. There are two enzymes contained in a clove of garlic, and it is only after the whole garlic has been processed somehow – by chopping, pressing, smashing – that the two enzymes can combine to create the cancer-fighting enzyme that is so often lauded in scientific studies. It is important, as Robinson reveals, to process the garlic and let it rest for 10 minutes to activate the production of the helpful and healthful enzyme before cooking. Through this, and only through this, will you extract the most nutrition and the most disease-fighting properties from your common garlic clove.

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This is just one of many amazing kitchen-nutrition tips that Robinson offers, like the fact that cooking beets with the skins on retains more of the nutrients, or cooking and then chilling potatoes overnight before serving reduces the glycemic load of the starchy tuber. Fascinating!

I kept a running list of interesting varieties of fruits and vegetables to plant in my someday garden, thanks to Robinson’s recommendations at the end of each chapter. From Carolina Ruby Sweet Potatoes to Brigadier broccoli, to Tuscan Kale and Hawaiian Currant Tomatoes, to French Gray Shallots and Merlot lettuce, to Spanish Roja Garlic and Detroit Dark Red Beets, I am inspired to reap the benefits of nutrition and flavor in my own plot of land someday.

Eating on the Wild Side also inspired me to try some new produce at the grocery store. Instead of my typical kale and spinach, I purchased two bundles of delicate watercress. Instead of apples or berries, I chose a handful of translucent-skinned pluots. With a homemade vinaigrette and some gently toasted pistachios, all I needed was that new and vibrant produce to create a new salad. I made this twice I liked it so much – something about the bitter greens, the sweet fruit, the crunch of the nuts and the acidic spice of the vinaigrette combined perfectly.

Truly, as Robinson writes, when the fruits and vegetables are fresh and nutritious, they need but a little dressing up to turn them into a good meal.

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Watercress Salad with Pluots, Toasted Pistachios and Lime-Nutmeg Vinaigrette

1 bunch fresh watercress, washed and trimmed

2 pluots

1 c. raw pistachios

1 lime, juiced

1/4 c. olive oil

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. sea salt

Arrange the washed and trimmed watercress in a large salad bowl, Slice and pit the pluots and arrange on the greens. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and toast pistachios with a pinch of sea salt and a splash of olive oil until fragrant, about 5 minutes, before sprinkling over salad.

Meanwhile, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a bowl or in a food processor. Combine the lime juice with the olive oil, salt and nutmeg, and briskly stir in the egg yolk until the dressing emulsifies. Drizzle over salad and serve immediately.

The salad does not keep well dressed — if you are making this ahead of time or in a large batch, dress only what you’ll be eating immediately, and store the greens, fruit, nuts and vinaigrette in separate containers in the refrigerator to keep everything crisp.

goals for october

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// SEPTEMBER //

Get back into running. — I have so enjoyed leisurely jogs in the cool mornings or in the afternoon rain, and I have determined that those runs are more my speed than any kind of race. But I’m so glad I tried out a race — see my post-5K photo here.

Finish out the Whole30. — Read my recap here.

Teach a Pilates class. — Eight classes down and going strong!

Finish those refinishing projects. — I finally finished painting and staining a couple tables and a dresser, and now I’m ready to put away the sander for a while.

Celebrate. — A craft beer-tasting party and lots of brownies were the stuff of celebration for Andrew’s birthday, and I’m looking forward to doing a little belated-birthday celebration when my parents visit.

// OCTOBER //

Keep running. These short, relaxed runs make me feel great.

Soak up fall before heading to the Land of Eternal Summer. This means picking apples, wearing boots and sitting by a fire. And enjoying plenty of autumnal baked goods, like the pumpkin cinnamon-sugar muffins from Health Bent and chocolate zucchini bread from The Paleo Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook pictured above.

Curtail spending. I did well on my last spending hiatus, and after reassessing the month’s budget and re-reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I’m recommitted to purchasing only the essentials (groceries, toiletries, etc). Not to mention the fact that soon our household goods will be in a crate on their way to Hawaii and we’re limited to a what we can carry in a few suitcases, so accumulating more is simply not an option.

Relax. This is the month in which everything comes together, and at the end of it we’ll move. I’m going to do my best to chill out through it all and enjoy the ride!

What’s going on with you this month? I love October, and I’m looking forward to soaking it all in without any pressure to achieve big things.

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!

sweet potato salad

Yet another ode to the sweet potato. I’m a little intense about my love for these tubers. I’ve already shared several recipes in which this little guy is the superstar, but I just can’t seem to curb my enthusiasm. Something about orange just gets me…butternut squash, pumpkin, yams, oh my!

This is another pre-Thanksgiving recipe I meant to post in the week leading up to the big day, but we only just got Internet in our apartment and thus it was delayed. Never you mind, though — this recipe is great for lunch or a side dish any time of the year! With the bright tang of a mustard vinaigrette to compliment the mellow sweetness of the potato, it is hearty and refreshing.

My favorite part of this recipe has to be the pecans. Down here in west Texas, we’re known for our pecans. In fact, as we were looking for houses, most were advertised as having mature pecan trees in the yards, ready to be harvested. We don’t have any trees of our own but there are plenty of locals willing to sell theirs to us at a reasonable price. If you’re able, try to find local pecans for this dish. They are sweeter, more tender, and just downright delicious.

Sweet Potato Salad

2 large sweet potatoes

a handful of chopped green onions

goat cheese

2 strips bacon/proscuitto/canadian bacon

1 c. chopped pecans

Scrub and trim the sweet potatoes. Dice into small cubes and toss onto an oiled tray. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until tender and beginning to brown. Set aside to cool.

Chop green onions and break up the goat cheese in separate bowls. (The onions can be a little strong, so wait until the last minute to combine them with the other ingredients.) Chop pecans and set aside. While potatoes are roasting, fry up the bacon until crisp. Or, if you use proscuitto or canadian bacon, you can finely chop and add into the salad “cold.” Regardless, you’ll want to dice your protein into small bites to spread out the salty goodness.

Once the separate ingredients are finished, toss together in a large bowl with a generous coating of mustard vinaigrette. Serve over salad greens or with some soup for a nice lunch.

Mustard Vinaigrette

1 Tbsp. grainy mustard

2 tsp. champagne vinegar (red wine vinegar is also good)

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and black pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and pour over salad. A sweetener is not needed in this recipe — it should be plenty tangy to balance the sweetness of the potatoes and pecans.

curried coconut pumpkin soup

In my neck of the woods, it’s a little less autumn and a little more spring. The days are still bright and warm, the mornings are chilly, and there’s light all over the place in my house. My new house is empty, mind you, as our furniture and household goods haven’t arrived with the movers yet. But boy, is there a ton of light. In our last apartment we suffered under putrid flourescent bulbs and with minimum windows, but in this place we have thirteen — count ’em THIRTEEN — windows and I am in heaven. Not only does this make for a happy Erin, but for some much improved photography. There’s only so much I can do with poor lighting, and I hope that these newer photos redeem my previous attempts. But in all honesty, I can’t do much to make this soup not taste good, even if I had poor lighting or bad composition skills. This soup, my friends, makes up for the non-fall that’s happening here in west Texas. It’s been bringing September-October-November straight to my taste buds for a few lunches now and I’m totally okay with that.

Today’s Thanksgiving-esque recipe is another starter, but unlike our zesty salad from yesterday is characterized by warmer flavors of pumpkin and spice. This is definitely not a classic recipe for those expecting tried-and-true dishes like stuffing and gravy. This is an exotic, Indian-inspired soup that combines the heat of garam masala and the sweetness of coconut milk for a hearty, warming soup just right for starting off the big day.

I love anything pumpkin, but in my recent foray into sugar-free I’ve had to avoid those delicious pumpkin spice treats in every bakery in favor of something more savory. I’ve taken a few other orange squashes and turned them into salads and breakfast hashes, and I’ve made more than my fair share of unsweetened pumpkin pie smoothies to curb the cravings. I have designs to roast and puree my own pumpkin some day, plus there’s a recipe for a healthy pumpkin panna cotta/souffle dessert in the works. But for now it’s just as enjoyable to stay within the savory realm of pumpkin.

Curried Coconut Pumpkin Soup

1 Tbsp. butter

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

2-4 c. chicken broth

1 small can of pumpkin puree (or about half of one of the larger cans)

½ can full-fat coconut milk

2 Tbsp. curry powder

1 Tbsp. garam masala

a few dashes of coconut aminos

s+p to taste

In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, sauté onions in butter until soft and translucent. Add carrots and cook, adding a spoonful of chicken broth here and there to keep everything soft and warm. Stir in spices. Once the veggies are cooked through, pour the whole lot into a blender (I used my Blendtec) with extra broth if necessary and pulse until liquefied. Pour back into Dutch oven over low heat.

Stir pumpkin puree into the veggie-broth mixture and add more broth until the consistency is right. It should be easy to stir but not too liquidy-soupy, as the coconut milk will add more moisture.

Add in more curry powder and garam masala. I did this by feel and by taste, so my measurements above are simply guesses. More garam masala will make the soup spicier, and more curry will add warmth, but the key is to continue to add a salt medium in relation to your spices – otherwise the soup will taste dusty along with spicy.

This is where the coconut aminos (like soy sauce, but made with fermented coconut) come in. Add a couple of dashes and then adjust to taste.

The coconut milk should be stirred in last, while the soup is warm enough to melt the coconut oil solids but not so hot that it turns into a watery mess. The principle is the same as when cream is stirred into soup at the very end.

Ideally, this soup should be served in tiny, hollowed-out sugar pumpkins for maximum aesthetic appeal. But when in doubt – and when in Texas, where I can’t find pumpkins – a classic orange Le Creuset will work. Garnish with fresh herbs or toasted pumpkin seeds, or serve with sweet cornbread or warm naan. To make a complete meal out of this, serve over rice or cauliflower “rice” seasoned with coconut aminos. Can’t you just imagine little orange dollops of this spicy soup on a pretty table, set with old china and candles and fall foliage and bittersweet berries?

A feast for the eyes and for the belly!

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P.S. Today marks our six month wedding anniversary — happy day to my love, and thanks for putting a ring on it! xo

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

s+p

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

s+p

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!