Archive for January, 2013

A Slice of My Life – A Dinner Party

January 28, 2013

And now for something completely different. Rather than show you the ins and outs of my week, I thought I would take you through one of my dinner parties. Randy and I both really like to entertain and having people over for dinner is a great way to solidify budding friendships. We had another kindergarten family over on Saturday night, one with whom we can see becoming fast friends.  Spencer has informed me, on several occasions, that their daughter is going to marry him, that she chose him over another boy using the “eenie meenie mine-y mo” technique.  So, if we are in for a lifetime of knowing these folks, we had better get started.

The first step for me, always, is deciding on a menu.  I have a food notebook where I write down the menu of each party I do, whether it is just a casual dinner for four at our house, or a big party that I cater, or a class that I teach. I split the menu out into tasks that can be done ahead of time and list those tasks out by day. I don’t always take this step, sometimes thinking that the menu is simple enough that I don’t need to make that kind of list, but things go much smoother in my kitchen when I write things down. If I am catering, I also make a list of things I need to bring, one side of the page is food and the other is equipment.

Now, this might sound awfully organized. I need to assure you that I am not a particularly organized person. Years of working as a personal chef with very young children and very limited time, forced me to find ways to keep on top of what needed to be done. I got to be an expert at picking recipes apart for things that could be done ahead of time, a quality that has served me well as I prepped for classes I was teaching, or just for dinner parties at home. I am not a list maker in other parts of my life but I find the act of sitting down and writing things out, calms the chaos in my cooking mind. Try it.

At any given time, I usually have a dish swirling around in my head that I want to try.  Appetizers, main dishes, desserts, side dishes, and breads have all taken up residence in that part of my brain.  When it comes time to plan a menu, I zero in on that one dish that has been nagging at me, and build the rest of the menu around it.  If I try to start 100% from scratch, building a menu becomes a task with too many choices and no focus.  I have 150+ cookbooks, 20+ years of food magazines, blogs I read, not to mention my own site and inspiration from restaurant dishes I have eaten and produce at the farmers’ markets.  With that incredible abundance, I can get lost easily.  Lately the dish that has been speaking to me to try is the Eggplant Parmesan from Jamie’s Italy (Jamie Oliver, that is).  With that one decision made, the rest of the menu came together easily for me.  I always make buttered orzo when I make Eggplant Parmesan, and blasted broccoli seemed like it would go well. For the salad, I wanted to have arugula with roasted grapes, blue cheese, and fried shallots with a vinegar-y dressing. I made this salad (a Dana Treat original) for a party that I catered recently but didn’t actually taste it myself.  I found dessert inspiration in the Sunday Suppers at Lucques book, a never-ending source of treasures. Lemon Crèpes with Hazelnut Cream sounded like a perfect challenge for me. I had one disastrous experience with crèpes many years ago – a vegan recipe – and have been scared of making them since. So yes, I picked a dinner party for people I don’t know all that well as the time to tackle a cooking fear.

You see, I don’t believe in that adage that you should only make tried and true recipes for company. I think having guests is a great time to make a special recipe you have been wanting to try, even if it is outside your comfort zone. I probably wouldn’t make every single menu item a challenge, but I like having a special occasion as an excuse to try something new. I trust myself, I am a good cook and baker. I can follow a recipe to the letter when need be. I know I’m not going to screw up royally. And when it comes to dessert, there are (almost) always homemade cookies in the cookie jar so even if things go sideways, we will have a treat to enjoy.

So, the menu was:

Arugula with Roasted Grapes, Blue Cheese, and Fried Shallots
Eggplant Parmesan
Buttered Orzo
Blasted Broccoli
No-Knead Bread
Lemon Crèpes with Hazelnut Cream and Prune Armagnac Ice Cream

Here is how I broke it down:

Grapes, salad dressing, (over) fried shallots.

2 days before.  Roasted the grapes and made the salad dressing. Made the base for the ice cream. Set out slices of bread to dry for the breadcrumbs.  Toasted the hazelnuts for the crepes.

Breadcrumbs.

Sauce.

No-Knead Bread dough.  (This was after an 18 hour rise.)

The day before. Made the tomato sauce for the eggplant. Mixed together the dough for bread. Grated the Parmesan cheese for the eggplant. Mixed together the crepe batter and made the hazelnut cream. Cut the broccoli into the size pieces I wanted. Turned the bread slices into breadcrumbs in my food processor.

Baked eggplant.

The morning of.  Fried the shallots. Than I realized that I had taken them too dark and not drained them well enough, so they were a little black and a little soggy.  I threw them out. Toasted some walnuts instead and chopped them up. Sliced up the eggplants and baked them, and then just left them out at room temperature stacked on the baking sheet to cool. Finished making the ice cream. Chopped the garlic for the broccoli.

Assembling the Eggplant Parmesan.

Ready to go in the oven.

Crèpes.  The first five were awful.  Then I got the hang of it.

Filled and topped with hazelnut cream.

A few hours ahead.  Assembled the Eggplant Parmesan. Made the crepes, allowed them to cool, then filled them and topped them with the hazelnut cream. Left them out at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap. Finished making the bread. Set out the broccoli on a baking sheet. Took the grapes and salad dressing out of the refrigerator so they weren’t too cold.

Once everyone was here, there wasn’t a whole lot to do, which is how I like it. The Eggplant Parmesan and the broccoli needed time in the oven, bread needed to be sliced, salad needed to be tossed. Nothing that kept me especially tied to the kitchen.  All in all, the dinner was as lovely as the company.  The star for me was the Eggplant Parmesan.  I have been making a different recipe for years that delighted me for a while then made me mad when it came out of the oven all soupy.  I feel sure that Jamie’s recipe will never make me mad.  The sauce has some zing (thanks to a tiny bit of wine vinegar), the eggplant is not greasy (baked instead of fried), the nutty flavor of the Parmesan really came through, and the crunch on the top was a wonderful texture change from the rest of the dish.  And it was not soupy at all.  I promise to share the recipe if you promise not to mind that the photo is not the best.

Baked and devoured.

The best.

Baked for a bit, topped with hazelnut browned butter and a scoop of Prune Armagnac Ice Cream.  I wanted to be over the moon about these but I wasn’t.  Still, a fun dessert to make and very impressive to serve.  Plus I am over my crèpe fear!

I’ve long thought about teaching a dinner party class.  Where we would cook a menu similar to this and I would share my wisdom about making it do-able.  Assuming I someday find a spot in which to teach, what do you think?  Would you come join me?



Crushing on Salad

January 24, 2013

I have always liked boys.  When I was in first grade, I was head of the “kisser girls”, the club whose duty it was to run after boys on the playground, catch them, and kiss them.  With all the boys to choose from, some of whom slowed down noticeably so we could catch them, it was hard to settle on one for a “boyfriend”.  Once I started second grade, I fell for a sweet boy who was taller than me and lived in a blue house with an eagle over the door.  He was my crush in third grade too and again in sixth grade after I spent fourth and fifth pining over a boy who wouldn’t give me the time of day.  I had my first serious boyfriend in seventh grade and from there things got a little more complicated. But throughout my single life, I always had crushes.  Some of them turned into relationships, others didn’t.

These days, I am happily married and crushes on guys are a thing of the past. So now I crush on salads. Sometimes the crushes turn into full blown love affairs as in the case of this salad (my spring stand-by) and this one (my fall stand-by).

Meet my new crush. Or, seeing as I have made it countless times in the past month, my new love. There are so many things to fall for here. Even though the dressing has vaguely Asian flavors, it goes with any meal you want to serve from soba noodles to linguine. I should know because I’ve served it with just about everything. It is the rare salad that can actually be dressed ahead of time and does not get wilty. The core ingredients are things that keep well in your refrigerator so you could theoretically make it at a moment’s notice. The dressing keeps well too. You can scale it up easily to feed a crowd, it is crunchy and light but satisfying with lots of umami (thank you miso paste) and all in all, it would make a great boyfriend if it was, you know, a person.

As written, this is a terrific recipe. I’ve changed a few things in the way I make it to reflect personal taste. (I’ll give you the recipe the way Deb wrote it.) I prefer to make it with raw snap peas rather than blanched. It saves a step and I like the crunch and intense sweetness of those pods when they are raw. Blanching gives them a bit of a funky flavor in my opinion. Also, I cut back on the amount of scallions because I don’t enjoy the taste of raw onion, especially in salad. For the dressing, I do use the sesame oil but not the vegetable oil. Instead, I use water for the liquid, 2 – 4 tablespoons depending on how it is coming together. I’ve made the dressing in both my mini food processor and my blender and it came out great both ways. I would recommend doubling it.

One Year Ago:  Celery Root Soup, Apple Cheddar Quick Bread
Two Years Ago:  Roasted Tomato Salad with Croutons, Meyer Lemon Risotto Cakes
Three Years Ago:  Peanut Butter Cookies with Milk Chocolate Chunks, Chickpea , Chard, and Couscous Soup, Soba Noodles with Crispy Tofu
Four Years Ago:  Sliced Eggplant Spread with Crostini, Lemon Bars

Snap Pea Salad with Miso Dressing
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Serves 4-6

I made this dressing with peanut butter when I was out of tahini and it tasted great.  Please don’t skip the step of toasting the sesame seeds.  Like most nuts and seeds, their flavor really comes out when they are given some heat.  Just keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn.

Table salt for the pot
½ pound sugar snap peas, untrimmed
½ pound Napa cabbage, in thin ribbons (about 3 cups)
4 ounces radishes (4 medium-large) julienned, or quartered and thinly sliced
3 large scallions (about ½ bundle), white and green parts only, thinly sliced on bias
3 tbsp. sesame seeds, well toasted (300-degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes)

Sesame-Miso Dressing
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. mild yellow or white miso, plus up to 1 tbsp. more
2 tbsp. sesame seed paste or tahini
1 tbsp. honey
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. vegetable or olive oil

Blanch sugar snap peas:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and prepare a small ice-water bath.  Boil the sugar snaps for about 2 minutes, or until just barely cooked but still crisp.  Scoop them out with a large slotted spoon, and drop them in the ice-water bath.  Once they’re cool, drain and pat dry.  Tim ends and cut sugar snaps on bias into thin slices.  Toss in large bowl with cabbage radishes, scallions, and 1 tablespoon sesame seeds.

Make the dressing:
Whirl all ingredients, using the smaller amount of miso, in a blender until smooth.  Taste and adjust the ingredients – use the extra tablespoon of miso if desired.  Don’t fret if it is a tad salty, and try to resist the urge to compensate with extra honey.  The sugar snaps have a mellow sweetness to them that balances well with a saltier-than-normal dressign.

Assemble the salad:
Toss salad with half of dressing, and taste.  Use more if you desire.  Sprinkle with remaining sesame seeds.



A Slice of My Life – Week 3

January 21, 2013

We had another busy week with house guests and LOTS of food.

Flowers from last week’s grateful guests.  (Psst – the Apple Crumb Crostata recipe is in that post for those of you who wanted it.)

Last Tuesday, Julie and I hit the Mission district on our way to take her to the airport.  She actually scheduled her flight so we would have time to visit some bakeries.  I love that about her.  As we were looking for parking she shouted, “Craftsman and Wolves!  I have been dying to try that place!”  So that was our first stop.  In an cool industrial-style place, magical baking is happening.  The top photo is of some of the incredible offerings.  There were twice as many not pictured.  We settled on a gougère with sharp cheddar and spicy peppers.  It was huge, about the size of a softball, and perfect.  Crisp outside, soft interior, not too eggy.  The spice was perfect too.  We loved it and I resolved to perfect my gougère making skills.  We also tasted an olive fougasse, a caramel cake studded with chocolate pearls, and something else that is escaping me at the moment.

Then we headed to Tartine.  A moment of silence, please.  With my love of baking, it seems unconscionable that, until last week, I had never visited this tiny spot.  I should say that, in the time we have been living in Oakland, I haven’t ventured into San Francisco hardly at all.  There is a lot to keep me busy in the Easy Bay, food-wise and life in general, and I am a bit intimidated by the public transportation and also by parking if I chose to drive.  All of that hesitating vanished after this couple of hours with Julie.  Oakland and Berkeley are amazing food centers and I have barely scratched the surface.  But San Francisco – San Francisco! – is just across the Bay and it became clear that I need to make a Tartine pilgrimage on a regular basis.  It is also a good jumping off spot to visit other amazing food places in the area.

The croissant, oh the croissant.  I have a deep love for croissants.  And I never eat them.  To me, there is no point when almost all of them are terrible.  Even during our month in France, I didn’t eat them, preferring to focus my gluten attention on the simple baguette or two that we bought every day.  I could tell just by looking at that gorgeous specimen that this was the place to trust the croissants.  I was completely right.  A shattery exterior and supremely soft and layered interior with amazing butter flavor and no grease.  My friend Cheryl says their recipe in the Tartine book is her go-to and I am going! to! try! it! once! and! for! all!  We also shared a veg version of a Croque Monsieur (bottom photo).  A slab of their perfect bread (only available in loaf form after 5pm Wed-Sat – boo hoo!) coated with béchamel sauce, perfect roasted shiitake mushrooms, and a couple of roasted tomatoes for a hit of acidity.  Some nutty cheese over top and popped in the oven.  Why oh why has it never occurred to me to make this at home?

I catered a party last week that required a birthday cake.  I didn’t have any cake boxes to transport so I had a harrowing drive to the client’s house, up and down hills, while the cake slide up and down and side to side.  Thankfully, it never fully slid off the plate.

Palm trees make me really happy.  We pass this guy every morning on our walk to school.

The ongoing reality of a remodel.

Sunny lunch on the deck and revisiting my copy of Jerusalem.

Two of our beloved Seattle babysitters came to visit us this weekend.  One of them is an extreme cheese lover.  So much so that she and her soon-to-be husband are going to serve cheese instead of cake at their wedding.  I had to bring her to the Cheeseboard Collective and just as we walked in, she showed me her arm.  Full on goosebumps.  We got to taste some terrific cheeses, bought three of them as well as some baguettes and amazing oil-cured olives.  But the highlight of that trip was one of the women who worked there telling me she reads my blog and welcome to the area.  (Hi Stephanie!)

Story time with the BB’s.  (Beloved Babysitters.)

We spent some time in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland.  There are some very famous restaurants there and a couple of little alleys that have tiny and super cool shops.  So many discoveries to be made.

Brunch at Doña Tomás.  A perfect Huevos Rancheros with poached eggs.  I scooped up that extra sauce with a spoon.

We visited a donut shop where they custom fill each donut with your choice of a few fillings.  The boys got the “naughty sauce” which was kind of like a vanilla pastry cream and Randy got the strawberry jam.  If I was a donut person, which I am not, I would have gotten the chocolate pastry cream.

“Hey honey, can you go out and pick me some lemons – I need a bunch of them.”  That will never get old.

Neither will this.

I crush hard on salads.  This is the current obsession.  Recipe coming this week.

Quite a few of the lemons went into this lemon cornmeal cake.  Yes, that is rosemary in the glaze – it’s in the cake too.  This is the only decent photo I got of it and I would say that you kind of need to eat it the day you make it.  Still want the recipe?



Apple Crumb Crostata

January 20, 2013

When I was a kid and then a teenager, I spent the first half of every summer at Camp Nor’wester.   The pain I experienced when it was time to go back home is something I have rarely felt since.  Leaving the intense friendships that were made in that short time felt physically painful.  We would be on the deck of the ferry grasping on to each other and crying, and when the announcement came that we had to board the buses because the ferry was about to dock, people would wail.  We didn’t have email or blogs or Facebook or cell phones or any other way of staying in touch other than letters and long distance phone conversations.  We would say to one another, with hope in our voices, “It’s not goodbye, it is ‘see you later.’”

This past summer, as we were getting ready to leave Seattle, we tried to see as many friends as possible.  I decided against having a big blow out party because, although I am sometimes disguised as an extrovert, I am actually an introvert and big parties – even if I know everyone – can be hard for me.  I decided I would rather make lots of dates with the people we were going to be heartbroken to leave, and spend our remaining weeks that way.  The problem was, we still didn’t have time to see everyone and saying goodbye to the ones we did didn’t make it any easier to leave them.  We do have email and blogs and Facebook and cell phones and all of those things make it easier to stay in touch.  But we knew we would miss our friends and family.  So we made sure to buy a house with a guest bedroom and we encouraged our friends and family to come visit, and we just hoped that they would take us up on the offer.  Not goodbye, just see you later.

We’ve been in place for about four months and already we’ve had quite a few visitors.  Thankfully.  We are learning the places we need to take these visitors.  That list was very short when we had our first guest and it has grown impressively since then.  It will continue to grow, especially once we start making a dent in the endless list of day trips that are a stone’s throw from our great new city.  We’ve fallen into a nice pattern with regards to dinner.  Over a weekend, one night out and one night in.  If we have three nights, one of them in Oakland, one of them in San Francisco, and the last at home.  I love the casualness of a Saturday afternoon spent prepping for a big dinner.  When our house is full of friendly voices and the happy hour starts promptly at 5pm on the deck.  The kids get nachos for dinner, then popcorn and a movie and extra treats and the adults can just stay put enjoying a leisurely dinner and dessert, then have one more glass of wine or two before rolling into bed.

Some of our best friends came to town last weekend.  A man and a woman, a boy and a girl.  I have known John and Lauren since the summer of 1996, just after my first wedding and just before their only wedding.  I wrote about them here.   I visited their boy in the hospital the day after he was born and he was a six month old baby at Randy’s and my wedding.  I met their girl a few months after she was born, after we returned from London and while I was pregnant with Graham.  We love them all.  My boys love them all.   When we made the difficult decision to move, this family was at the top of the list of people we would miss.  They are easy and fun to be with.

One of my favorite Kid Meets Dessert stories involves John and Lauren’s son.  When Randy and I got married, I made our wedding cake.  It was a very impressive feat given that I had an oven that barely worked, about 1 foot of counter space in my kitchen, and was not nearly as good a baker as I am now.  It had three tiers and would probably have topped any “Least Impressive Looking Wedding Cake” lists.  It was towering, listing to one side, a bit greasy because it was warm and there was approximately one ton of butter in the buttercream frosting, but it remains one of the best tasting wedding cakes I’ve ever had.  My brother still talks about it.  I have re-created it twice, in smaller and non-listing form, and one of the times their son, who was around 18 months at the time, took a bit of his mom’s cake and then just stuck his face in the cake.  Like “let’s dispense with this plate and fork crap and just get that cake in my mouth”.  This boy, now 11 years old, remains a big fan of my treats.  So when I see him, I make sure I have something special to share.

Couple this with his father’s love of pie (the only sweet he really likes), and I knew this Apple Crumb Crostata, which has been rolling around in my brain for over a month, was the dessert for Saturday night.  How is a crostada different from a galette?  When John asked me that question, I guessed that crostata is Italian for galette and it turns out I was right.  They are both free form tarts which means they are not made in a tart pan.  The dough is rolled out, the filling is placed in the middle, and the dough is pulled up and crimped around the filling.  I’ve never made a galette that I didn’t like but this one was extra special with a crumb topping.  I am a sucker for a crumb topping.  Galettes/Crostatas are amazing in my opinion because they look kind of sloppy when they are unbaked but come out looking professionally rustic.  And I mean that in the very best way.  I served this beauty with homemade salted caramel ice cream but a good store-bought vanilla would be terrific too.

One Year Ago:  Spinach Salad with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Champagne Vinaigrette
Two Years Ago:  Deluxe Double Chocolate Cookies, Winter Market Soup
Three Years Ago:  Lasagne with Eggplant and Chard
Four Years Ago:  Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese

Apple Crumb Crostata
Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts
Serves 10

This wonderful dessert has three parts to it but don’t let that deter you.  I made both the crust and the topping a day ahead and just kept them in my refrigerator.  You could probably also make the apple filling a day ahead too.  Be sure to follow the directions about rolling out the dough and filling it on the baking sheet.  It is nearly impossible to transfer a filled crostata to a baking sheet – not that I’ve ever tried.  Ahem.  Finally, you will need space in your refrigerator to put the finished crostata before baking and if that is a challenge for your kitchen, embrace winter and put it in the garage.

For the crust:
2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
½ tsp. coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 1 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 large egg yolks, plus 1 large whole egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash
3 tbsp. ice water
Fine sanding sugar, for sprinkling

For the Filling:
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 pounds tart, firm apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1½ tsp. finely grated lemon zest
¼ tsp. coarse salt
½ cup granulated sugar

For the topping:
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. coarse salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground allspice
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Make the crust:
With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat flour, sugar, salt, and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add egg yolks, and beat slightly.  Drizzle ice water over mixture, and beat until just combined.  Form dough into a disk; wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate until firm, 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Make the filling:
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add apples, zests, and salt, stirring until coated.  Sprinkle sugar over mixture, and cook, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, liquid has thickened, and apples are almost golden, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, and let cool to room temperature.

Make the topping:
In a food processor, pulse flour, sugars, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and butter just until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  On a lightly floured piece of parchment, roll out dough to a 14-inch round, ¼-inch thick.  Place dough and parchment on a baking sheet.  Pile cooled apple mixture in center, leaving a 3-inch border.  Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over apples.  Fold edges of dough over apples, overlapping and leaving an opening in the center.

Refrigerate or freeze until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.  Lightly brush dough with beaten egg, and sprinkle dough with fine sanding sugar.  Bake until pastry is golden brown and apples are tender, 40 to 50 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.



Rethinking January

January 17, 2013

As an almost lifelong resident of Seattle, January was always my least favorite month.  I always felt a huge let down after the holidays and facing 31 days of rain and cold always put me in a bad mood.  The fact that the sun set around 4pm didn’t help and it certainly didn’t help that we couldn’t actually see the sun when it did set.  I always have had the perspective that it was so much worse in other parts of the country, places where you could actually freeze if you went outside, or you couldn’t go outside at all.  But usually those frosty places had this thing called spring that you could look forward to.  Thawing, sunshine, warmer temperatures.  Seattle often didn’t have that thing called spring.  Winter would just go on and on and it would get light later but it would still be cold and rainy.  Finally in July, or maybe August, summer would start.  So you can see why January could be particularly cruel.  With no guarantee of spring, 31 days can feel a lot longer.

Things have changed.  We live in Oakland now.  I don’t think it has rained once in January.  I wake up everyday to sunshine.  I’m not quite sure what to do with that.  I find myself worrying that something is wrong, why is the sun shining again??  It has been cool, crisp, and beautiful.  We are going to creep up into the mid-60′s this weekend and that, my friends, is practically like summer to this Seattle girl.  I haven’t been wearing my multiple pairs of boots and I’ve only worn my down jacket, the one I lived in from October to May last year, a handful of times.  It’s weird.  And wonderful.

Why all this talk about the weather?  Well, food is so connected to how you feel.  I’ve always listened to what I crave, beyond french fries and brownies, and tried to cook according to what sounds good.  Salads and light pastas are what I want in summer, green! green! green! in spring, roasted root vegetables and hearty soups sound best in winter.  What do you do when you no longer feel the need to roast everything?  When you don’t turn on your oven to bake but also to warm up your kitchen?  When soup sounds good but isn’t a full-on I-need-something-warm-in-my-belly-this-instant?

Well, you still make soup.  As a card-carrying member of the Soup Lovers Society, soup always sounds good to me.  I even like it in summer, either a cold one or a hot one served barely warm.  This lovely addition to my repertoire is the type that can be served year round.  It is hearty enough to serve as a main course with a delicious salad, and pretty enough to serve in small bowls as the start to an elegant dinner.  I love the smooth texture of perfectly blended soup but if it is going to be dinner, I need to chew.  Here we have a silky smooth spiced cauliflower base with bits of millet and bright green peas to keep it texturally interesting.  It has a wonderful creamy mouth feel without any cream.

Finally, I have become completely obsessed with these super spicy chiles that my friend Allison introduced me to.  Sicilian Pepperoncinis.  Eating dinner at her house, we sprinkled them over a delicious homemade lasagne and as we did so, she warned us, “Those are super spicy!”  Randy and I nodded our heads because we like super spicy and then WHOA! those are super spicy!  I had to have some!  So Allison, Denise, and I make a pilgrimage to Boulette’s Larder in the Ferry Building in the big city and ate really expensive soup (not as good as the one this post is about) and bought chiles.  Which I am grinding in a mortar and pestle and sprinkling on everything.  I think this soup tastes amazing with some spice but you can easily leave it off.

One Year Ago:  Pizza with Leeks, Smoked Mozzarella, and Eggs, Gingerbread-White Chocolate Blondies
Two Years Ago:  Gingerbread with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting, Baked Tofu with Peppers and Olives
Three Years Ago:  Oatmeal Carmelitas, Chunky Vegetable Pot Pie
Four Years Ago:  Milk Chocolate Frosted Layer Cake

Curried Cauliflower Soup
Adapted from Food and Wine
Serves 4

I have puréed this soup in a blender and also with an immersion blender.  The blender will give you that silky smooth texture but the millet breaks that up, so save on mess and use an immersion blender if you have one.  You might find that you don’t want to add all the millet to the soup pot. 

½ cup millet
1 cup water
Kosher or sea salt
Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
One 2-pound head of cauliflower, cut into florets
6 cups vegetable stock
2 cups peas, fresh or frozen
Crushed red pepper flakes, for sprinkling (optional)

In a medium saucepan, combine the millet with the water and a pinch of salt.   Bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over moderately low heat until the millet is tender, about 20 minutes.  Set aside.

Place a large saucepan, or a Dutch oven, over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the onions with a large pinch of salt.  Cook over moderate heat until softened and browning in places,  stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, tumeric, cayenne, and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the cauliflower and the stock.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce the heat to moderately low, and simmer the soup until the cauliflower is very tender, about 15 minutes.

Working in batches, carefully purée the soup in a food processor or a blender.  (Or use an immersion blender directly in the pot.)  Return the soup to the pot and add the cooked millet and the peas.  Rewarm gently over moderate heat.  Season with salt, if needed.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes (if using) and serve.

(This soup, like most, is great the next day.  It gets pretty thick with the millet absorbing the liquid but I didn’t not mind that at all.  If you want a soupier consistency, just add some water or broth when you reheat it.)



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