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.

tip for moving #5

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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.

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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.

a how-to on bone broth

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Bone broth is one of my favorite foods. I eat it as breakfast sometimes, or as a snack. I use it as a treasured ingredient in braises, soups and sauces. I use it as a preventative measure against colds and a treatment for sore throats and the flu. It is, in my opinion, liquid gold, and a foundational part of kitchen skill and traditional nutrition wisdom.

I first learned about the magic that is bone broth a couple of summers ago, when I first got into reading about nutrition. I was home from college and staying with my parents on the farm, where our garden was full to bursting and the pastures were ripe with hay for reaping. It was a beautiful setting in which to devour such books as Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Sally Fallon’s cookbook/nutritional manifesto, Nourishing Traditions. The NT cookbook turned my world upside-down. Much of what I’d learned about how to eat and be healthy came from sources of conventional wisdom – women’s magazines, new studies on heart health and cholesterol, and morning television – but I was fortunate enough to come from a long line of good cooks, plus a long line of country people. What Fallon was championing in her tome was familiar, in a sense, because I had grown up tasting fatback and buttermilk and homemade canned sauerkraut at my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ dinner tables. (Read more about traditional nutrition here.)

And thus began the enormous and gradual overhaul of my nutritional understanding.

One of Fallon’s most recommended nutrient-dense foods is bone broth, otherwise known as stock, or bouillon in French cuisine. Made from the slow simmering of marrow- and collagen-rich bones, the result is a savory liquid rich in minerals and fats to build strong bones, healthy joints, and strengthen the immune system.

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Adding vegetables like celery, carrots, onions and garlic improve the flavor and the nutritional profile, as do bay leaves, peppercorns and sea salt. A little acid splashed in with the rest helps to leach the bones of the valuable minerals, and adds a pleasant tang to the broth. This is also a great use for vegetable scraps – kale stems, asparagus ends, lemon rinds, etc – and so instead of throwing them away they go into the soup pot for flavor.

The tricky part about making bone broth is that it should, ideally, simmer for at least 24 hours, or up to a couple of days. The nutritional profile and the flavor will only be improved the longer it cooks, but few of us have the time or resources to watch a bubbling pot for an entire day. Enter the slow-cooker, the kitchen miracle and savior. Put everything in, set it on low, and check back when you remember. If you have a small house like I do, it won’t be easy to forget. The savory, roasty aromas will fill every corridor, and probably every dream you have that night.

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Once you go through the draining and fat-skimming portion of the preparation, you will know you’ve hit the bone broth jackpot when your stuff gels. If it gets thick and gloopy and almost solid, like Jell-O, that’s when you can tangibly see the gelatin from the bones now infused into your magic tonic. Gelatin is an incredible superfood, assisting your body in everything from healthy digestion to radiant skin tone and texture. The gelatin and collagen in bone broth sooth arthritis and other problems of joint inflammation, and can be very beneficial to athletes whose ligaments and tendons need extra protection.

One of my new favorite books, Deep Nutrition by Catharine Shanahan, MD, identifies bone broth or stock as one of the pillars of traditional cuisine and, therefore, a foundational aspect of overall heath and wellness. Shanahan writes of bone broth, collagen, and glucosamine (a glycosaminoglycan molecule): “Veterinarians have been using glucosamine supplements to treat arthritic pets for decades. But physicians dismissed the practice as a waste of time, assuming that, since glucosamine is a protein, the digestive system would break it down into its component amino acids. Nobody can explain how, but studies have shown that glucosamine is somehow able to resist digestion and pass through the intestinal wall intact. Once it gets into your bloodstream, ‘…glucosamine has a special tropism for cartilage.’ (That’s techno-speak for ‘somehow, it knows just where to go.’) Even more amazing, glucosamine can actually stimulate the growth of new, healthy collagen and help repair damaged joints. And collagen isn’t just in your joints; it’s in bone, and skin, and arteries, and hair, and just about everywhere in between. This means that glucosamine-rich broth is a kind of youth serum, capable of rejuvinating your body, no matter what your age.

Plus, it’s delicious. Warmed on the stove, with some greens thrown in to wilt, it is a protein- and mineral-rich snack, just as satisfying or moreso than a boring salad. Added to a skillet after grilling meat, the broth can deglaze the pan and make a flavorful sauce or gravy. Simmered with a poached egg, bone broth is a nourishing and satisfying thing to sip on cold mornings, when it seems like all that stands between you and a cold is one more sneeze.

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For more comprehensive information about bone broth, check out this article by Sally Fallon, archived on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. Various traditional foods bloggers like The Healthy Home Economist and Nourished Kitchen often wax poetic about broth, and now many paleo foodies are getting on the bone broth bandwagon. And you? Do you think you’d brave the nasty bits to get to the end result of bone broth, a delicious nutritional powerhouse?

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Bone Broth

2-3 lbs. beef marrow bones, oxtail, shanks, etc.

OR

1 roast chicken carcass, with necks, chicken backs, feet, etc.

3 large carrots, washed + chopped

4 stalks celery, washed + chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled

2 bay leaves

1 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns

1 Tbsp. real sea salt (rich in minerals!)

1 dash Red Boat Fish Sauce

1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Fresh or dried parsley, if you have it

Additional vegetables, as desired

Enough filtered water to cover

Chop vegetables and place half in the bottom of the slow cooker. Arrange bones over the bottom layer and top with remaining vegetables, spices and seasonings. Cover with water, put the lid on, and let simmer on low for 24-48 hours.

A note on bones: when using beef parts, take 10 minutes or so to roast the meaty bones, like the shanks or marrow bones. If using oxtail, this isn’t necessary, nor is it necessary to cook again when using a chicken carcass.

Once broth has simmered for at least 24 hours and is fragrant and golden, remove from slow-cooker to cool. Pour contents of slow-cooker through a large sieve into a large bowl, letting all of the valuable juices drain from bones and vegetables. Discard. Place bowl-ful of broth in the refrigerator for a couple of hours until the fat solidifies and rises to the top. Using a spoon, skim off the fat and discard. Bottle the broth in airtight containers and keep in the fridge or freezer.

try this

59747568699311e2b28822000a9f1468_7I made Melissa’s Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup last week and I think you should too. It’s simple, nutritious and dee-licious. I made adjustments to the recipe when I subbed garlic powder for garlic cloves, and used a can of full-fat coconut milk in place of the chicken broth, and I daresay the addition of the coconut milk made this soup even silkier than the original. Mel  says she eats this for breakfast. It’s so good, I would too.

What do you think about eating “unconventional” foods at the start of the day?

around here

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1) starting and [already] loving Project Life.

bye bye tree

2) saying goodbye to our first Christmas tree.

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3) welcoming snow in West Texas.

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4) planning to simmer something warm to feed us through the weekend. (this or this)

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5) delivering pies to our sweet neighbors as a belated holiday/thank-you gift.

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