So Hot Right Now

Passover is almost here, but before I start sharing my growing stash of Pesach recipes, I need to talk about these spiced cauliflower muffins I became slightly obsessed with last month. I’d been looking for something interesting to bring to the Tot Shabbat potluck, and since Lilli was the cover girl in the article in the local paper about the program, I felt like I needed to bring it.

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This recipe taps into two hot food trends right now: cauliflower and turmeric. It seems 2016 was the year of the cauliflower, with recipes for its meaty “steaks” and cauliflower flatbreads. (More to come on those). But it was also the year of turmeric. I admit to being a little late to this one. My Aunt Bev brought my mom an enormous stash from her recent trip to Israel. She talked all about its healing properties, all of which I was completely unaware of. My only associations with turmeric up to that point had been stained clothes from Indian food. But then I started seeing recipes calling for it all over, and then the inevitable backlash as the wave crested. Sigh.

I made this recipe the very day I clipped it. It’s by the Israeli couple Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, who helped Yotam Ottolenghi grow his empire and now run the bakery Honey & Co. in London. Their second cookbook Golden: Sweet and Savory Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey & Co. reminded me that I have a sweet spot for Israeli-run bakeries, be it the Tatte empire in Boston, or Breads in New York City. The recipes, like the shops, are a mix of savory and sweet, with flavor touches like tahini and cardamom that I love.

This recipe is dead simple; no heavy equipment needed. Although the recipe calls for six enormous “trees” for six muffins, I used small florets and ended up with many more. The first time I baked these I used a mini muffin pan, and the batter was the perfect amount for all 24. I had more steamed cauliflower left after that batch, so I made a second round in regular-sized tins. That made nine perfect regularly-sized muffins.

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I ground the cumin and coriander seeds together in a spice grinder I picked up for $15 at Ocean State Job Lot a decade ago. I have the white pepper in the house specifically for hot and sour soup, so I was happy to finally have another use for it. I have seen turmeric everywhere from “international” stores, Whole Foods, and even Target. I have yet to find my pumpkin seeds since we moved, so I skipped them. The muffins were great without.

The muffin is this wonderful mix of warm spice and sweet, and then there’s the soft bite of cauliflower. I stored these in a plastic container on the counter but I have no idea how long they are good for because they fly pretty quickly when they’re around.

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Spiced Cauliflower Muffins from Golden: Sweet and Savory Baked Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey & Co. by Itamar Srulovich & Sarit Packer.

1 small head of cauliflower
3 cups (700 grams/milliliters) water
1 teaspoon table salt

For the muffin batter
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (40 grams) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon table salt
A pinch of white pepper
4 eggs
5 ounces (150 grams) unsalted butter, melted

For topping (if you like)
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

1) Break the cauliflower into florets, making sure there are at least six large “trees.” (You will most likely have more than six; cook them all and save the unused florets to eat another time or use them for more muffins.) Put the water and salt in a large pan and boil the cauliflower in it until soft (this will take 5–10 minutes). Check to see whether it is done by inserting a knife tip into the stem; it should penetrate without resistance. Drain well and set side.

2) Preheat the oven to 375°F/350°F convection and butter six muffin molds. Mix all the dry ingredients for the batter together. Add the eggs and use a spoon or spatula to mix until combined, then slowly mix in the melted butter and fold until it has all been incorporated.

3) Place a spoonful of batter in the center of each mold and stand a whole floret stem-down in each. Cover with batter to fill the molds to the top. Mix the pumpkin seeds and cheese, if using, sprinkle on the muffins and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the tin and eat while still warm — they are best this way.

 

It Won’t Make it to the Table

Back in the early 90s, in between her gig as the Easter Bunny and selling Madame Alexander dolls at FAO Schwartz, Sylvie worked at a green grocer in Brighton Center. Johnny’s is still around. It’s small, just a touch bigger than a walk-in-closet. It’s cash only, but if you’re a regular they’ll put your name on the wall and you can pay once you get your paycheck.

wiped out

And almost every day that Sylvie worked there, little Italian grandmothers, wearing kerchiefs knotted at their necks, would come in and buy heads of cauliflower. Every. Single. Day. After a while, Sylvie’s curiosity got the best of her – I mean how much cauliflower can one person eat? So she asked them what they were doing with all the cauliflower.

“Ah,” they replied. “We’ll tell you what to do.” First thing was to break the head into florets. Next, toss the florets with olive oil and salt, and put in a roasting pan. And, here’s where it get special: Take a sheet of tin foil, and tent it over the pan. Slide it into a hot oven, and about half way through, remove the tent and keep on roasting for another 25 to 35 minutes. When the white florets turn golden, and then a deep mahogany, remove the pan from the oven. Some of the women liked to sprinkle cheese on top and put the foil back on to help everything melt. Others ate it as is.

Sylvie taught me how to make the cauliflower at some point. Over time I made it my own. Instead of tenting the foil, I take a big sheet and cover the pan (I tend to use a lasagna pan) and pinch it over the sides, so the florets are still steamed for the first step. (I actually now use this trick with most root vegetables I roast.) I forgo the cheese and often eat it plain. And sometimes I toss the browned florets with small, briny capers and sweet gold raisins.

sleeping at mt. auburn

Here’s the thing about roasted cauliflower, and this recipe, in particular: It doesn’t make to the table. I guarantee you’ll remove your pan from the oven, have a floret to test how things turned out, and you will then continue to eat the entire pan while standing at the stovetop. It happens Every. Single. Time. I make this dish. Last week I ate three heads of cauliflower. In the process of writing this blog post, I ate another head. I have one more head in the fridge – there seemed to be a glut of cauliflower recently, so heads have been two for $3 in every market I’ve been to in the past week. I really hope to make the final, and fifth head, for Rich. It will be tricky, but I don’t think he’s ever had this dish — kind of like the eggplant salad he still doesn’t know about.

I doubled the recipe to see how things would turn out, dividing the florets between two pans and alternating racks and rotating them in the oven. Honestly, this recipe works best with just one head and pan on the middle rack. Of course, nowadays you can buy a package of cauliflower florets already broken up. I think I’d be doing that as well if the whole head hasn’t been so reasonably priced. Preparing the cauliflower is much less daunting than it seems. Rip off the green leaves, then take a large knife and cut away the thick stalk. The cauliflower is then easy to break up into florets.

cauliflower

I tried to measure all the ingredients when I roasted the fourth head last week. My suggestion is to use your best judgement. You want to coat the florets with olive oil and give it all a good toss with a pinch of salt. If three tablespoons seems like too little or too much, add or reduce accordingly.

One other small detail: I like to prep my aluminum foil before I start preparing the cauliflower. That way I won’t be digging in the drawer with salty, oily hands.

Roasted Cauliflower

Ingredients

1 head or 1 bag of cauliflower, cut into florets

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 hearty pinch of kosher salt

If you’re using the golden raisins and capers

Up to 1 Tablespoon golden raisins

Up to 3 teaspoons capers, depending on which size you use

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets with the olive oil and kosher salt

Pour the florets into a lasagna pan or something of similar size, with sides

Lay the tin foil on top of the pan, pinching the foil over the sides of the pan, nice and snug

Place on the middle rack of the hot oven

About 35 or so minutes in, carefully remove the foil and slide the pan back into the hot oven

This final roast should take about 35 minutes. Every 15 minutes or so, stir the cauliflower with a wooden spoon. You’ll know it’s done when all the florets are soft and come apart easily when poked with the wooden spoon. The tops of the florets will be deep brown.

Remove from oven. If you are using the capers and the raisins, pour those into the pan and give everything a good stir.

Taste one small piece. Continue to eat the entire pan standing at the stovetop.

Serves one.

Special Delivery

Jason and Lisa were married last October. It was outdoors, in a state park. But before you start to comment about how cold us guests must have been, Lisa nipped that one in the bud by having greeters pass out warm apple cider when we pulled up. Just charming. Jason is a Southern gentleman, so after the ceremony, as we walked into the reception, each guest was handed a mint julep to sip. Loved that. Oh, and Lisa and her mom had gone to the orchard and made pounds of apple sauce that they’d canned and topped with lace. Another perfectly lovely little detail.

apple sauce

And about six weeks ago, Lisa and Jason had baby Emma. Considering that I may have left the wedding with more than one jar of her applesauce, it was time to pay it forward. I know there’s only so much cooking one can do with a newborn (can you believe that baby Miles is now walking?!?!), so last week I spent a little time in the kitchen making a meal for the new parents. Then we packed up the car and headed over to JP for a visit and snuggle with their little peanut.

Baby Emma

Pasta travels well, so I went with a favorite dish of mine from the Zuni Café cookbook. I’m surprised at how many times I’ve made this but hadn’t shared it here. It’s full of things I love, like well-fried broccoli and cauliflower, salty capers, chopped anchovies, and briny olives There’s crushed fennel seeds, though the recipe does suggest using minced fennel bulb if you have it on hand. They also suggest substituting pecorino romano if you don’t feel like bread crumbs, and trading out the black olives for green ones, or even skipping the olives and anchovies. But, they plead, “don’t sacrifice the 8 to 10 minutes of care it takes to cook the vegetables to the delicately frizzled crispiness that gives the dish its great texture and variety. The sautéed vegetables are great by themselves, or a side dish with grilled or roasted poultry or meat.”

Zuni Pasta

I also put together a fennel, orange and beet salad, which Lisa dubbed “the winter salad”, that I packed up in an old yogurt container and snapped a few rubber bands around for the car ride.

winter salad

Notes: My best advice for the pasta dish is to prep everything beforehand. Mise en place, people. Yes, there are some recipes that you can prep as you go, but it is much easier to have everything good to go for this one. I used whole wheat spaghetti as my pasta, and they say that this one works with all sorts of chewy pasta – penne, spaghetti, orecchiette, or shells.

Pasta with Spicy Broccoli & Cauliflower from The Zuni Café Cookbook

For 4 to 5 servings

Ingredients

About 1 cup fresh, soft bread crumbs (about 2 ounces) made from crustless, slightly stale, chewy, white peasant-style bread (optional)

About ¾ cup mild-tasting olive oil

About 12 ounces broccoli, trimmed, with a few inches of stem intact

About 12 ounces cauliflower, leaves removed and stem end trimmed flush

Salt

1 generous Tablespoon capers, rinsed, pressed dry between towels, and slightly chopped

1 pound penne, spaghetti, orecchiette, fusilli, or medium shells

1 Tablespoon chopped salt-packed anchovy fillets (4 to 6 fillets) (optional)

6 small garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

About ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly pounded in a mortar

4 to 8 pinches dried chili flakes

1 Tablespoon tightly packed, coarsely chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

4 to 5 Tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted black olives, such as Nicoise, Gaeta, or Nyons (rinsed first to rid them of excess brine)

Directions

If using bread crumbs, preheat the oven to 425.

Toss the bread crumbs with 2 teaspoons of the oil, spread on a baking sheet, and bake for about 5 minutes, until golden. Keep the crumbs on the stove top until needed.

Slice the broccoli and cauliflower about 1/8 inch thick, and generally length-wise. Most of the slices will break apart as you produce them, yielding a pile of smooth stem pieces, tiny green broccoli buds, loose cauliflower crumbs, and few delicate slabs with stem and flower both. Don’t worry if the slices are of uneven thickness; that will make for more textural variety.

Warm about ¼ cup of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add most of the sliced broccoli and cauliflower, conveniently leaving the smallest bits behind on the cutting board for the moment. (They’ll burn if you add them to soon.) The oil should sizzle quietly. Swirl the pan, and leave the vegetables to cook until you see the edge bits browning, about 3 minutes. Salt very lightly and toss or stir and fold gently. Add a few more spoonfuls of oil and scrape the remaining bits of broccoli and cauliflower into the pan. Add the capers and swirl gently. Continue cooking over medium heat until the edges begin to brown, another few minutes, then give the pan another stir or toss. Don’t stir too soon or too often, or you will get a homogenous, steamy pile of vegetables instead of a crispy, chewy one. Most of the capers and vegetable crumbs will shrink into crispy confetti-like bits.

Meanwhile, drop the pasta into 6 quarts of rapidly boiling water seasoned with a scant 2 tablespoons  salt (a little more if using kosher salt). Stir, and cook al dente. Set a wide bowl or platter on the stovetop (or in the still-warm oven if you made bread crumbs) to heat.

Once the mass of broccoli and cauliflower has shrunken by about one-third and is largely tender, reduce the heat, add another few spoonfuls of oil, and scatter the chopped anchovy, garlic, fennel, and chili over all. Give the vegetables a stir or toss to distribute. Cook for another few minutes, then add the parsley and olives. Taste – every flavor should be clamoring for dominance. Adjust as needed.

Toss with the well-drained pasta and garnish with the warm, toasted bread crumbs, if desired.

Winter Salad

Notes: For this salad, I used a mandolin to thinly slice the fennel. For the orange prep, using a serrated knife, I sliced off the top and bottom of a navel orange, then sliced the skin off the fruit by following the outside curve. Then I rolled the orange onto its side, and thinly sliced the orange. Each fruit yielded about 8 slices.

I had roasted the beet the day before by preheating the oven to 400, setting the beet in a small baking pan with sides, filling it water about halfway up, adding the beet, and tenting it all with tin foil. It took about an hour to roast. When it was time to peel, I simply ran the beet under cold water and rubbed the skin off into the sink.

My apologies for not measuring out exactly how much cumin I used in the dressing. I grind my cumin seeds in a coffee grinder I use specifically for spices. I was literally taking pinches of cumin for the dressing. The same goes for the brown sugar. My best advice for the dressing is to taste until it tastes right to you. That’s really the best way to handle homemade dressings, anyways.

Ingredients

For the salad:

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced on a mandolin

2 oranges, sliced thin

1 beet, roasted, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes – make sure to prep the beet last, otherwise all your other ingredients will be stained magenta

5 black olives, sliced

Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl or lay out on a platter

For the dressing:

In a small glass jar, shake together:

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon jarred mustard

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 pinches cumin

Taste-test the salad dressing using a piece of fennel. If it’s to your liking, pour the remaining dressing over the vegetables.

Sesame Street

This past Rosh Hashana, with me in mind, my mother picked up a container of halvah from the new Turkish market near her house. The sweet sesame candy was studded with green pistachios the same color as its plastic lid. She left it on the island counter in the kitchen, which my uncle and I took as the go-ahead to stand there, spoons in hand, and dig away at the candy. We passed it back and forth like we were college students sharing some sort of contraband. My mom offered the two of us – her older brother and her youngest daughter – knives and plates. Oh no, we said, waving her away, don’t worry about us, we’re all set.

Looking back, it’s probably not a best practice to eat directly from a container, be it halvah, ice cream, or even bags of carrots. But there’s something about the warm taste of sesame that always draws me in. Remember this addictive dressing? I rest my case.

This recipe I have here for a tahini and roasted cauliflower dip is my penitence for shoveling halvah into my mouth for two days straight. A good friend of mine actually requested this recipe to be one of the first that I shared on this blog, but I kept on forgetting to photograph it before I devoured the entire bowlful. I found it in a Food & Wine from a few years back; I tend to kick up the amount of ginger and ground coriander the original recipe calls for. I never seem to have fresh cilantro around when I’ve made it, but I’m sure it tastes very good in it.

This dish doesn’t have to be served right away, and can be stuck in the fridge for a day or two. It warms up beautifully in the microwave. It should be noted that a serving of tahini has something like 18 grams of fat in it. But it’s mixed with cauliflower, so how unhealthy could it be? Don’t answer that.

Roasted Cauliflower and Tahini Spread — Slightly adapted from this recipe

Ingredients
1 head of cauliflower (2 lbs.) halved crosswise and thinly sliced
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ Tablespoons minced fresh ginger (I would say go with a solid two)
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander (I round up to a hefty two teaspoons)
Kosher salt
3 Tablespoons tahini (sesame) paste
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Sesame seeds
Pita bread or chips, for serving

Directions

Preheat oven to 450. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with the oil, ginger and coriander and season with salt. Spread the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, stirring once or twice, until tender and lightly browned in spots. Let cool slightly

Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor. Add the tahini and lemon juice and pulse to a chunky puree; season with salt. Add the cilantro and pulse just until incorporated. Transfer the spread to a bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve warm with pita bread or chips.

Stew Tube

One of the amazing benefits of working at Boston University — besides getting to ride my bicycle to my office along the Charles River when things aren’t covered in snow — is the tuition remission. For the past several years, I have been working, slowly but surely, on a Master’s in Gastronomy and Food Studies. This isn’t a culinary degree, although the program offers one. This is a liberal arts degree, and I get to study things like the history of food and the meaning of meat. This past fall, I took a class called Food and the Visual Arts, studying the depiction of food in film, television and advertisements. (Netflix cue alert: Big Night, Eat Drink Man Woman, Delicatessen, Babette’s Feast, Our Daily Bread, Food Inc. and Mostly Martha)

As often happens in humanities classes, gender emerged as a theme. We read and discussed the differences between chefs and cooks, and why it seems that men tend to be thought of as the former and women the latter. For the television part of the class, we started with the grande dame, Julia Child — ask yourself, is she a chef or just a really good home cook? — then worked our way through to the burgeoning Food Network of the mid-nineties, and finally, to the televised present. We watched Emeril bam his way through the nineties, Jamie Oliver tool around on his Vespa, and read A LOT of Rachael Ray-bashing.

The Food Network, once the ugly stepchild of cable television, is now a $1.5 billion powerhouse. And as the Food Network grew in size and power, a funny thing happened to their hosts: They went from portly male restaurant chefs to attractive women, wearing what seems like an endless supply of tight brightly-colored v-neck sweaters.

I don’t watch a lot of Food Network anymore, especially now that the prime time line up is all reality-inspired competition shows. But the one show of theirs I still watch is Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. It is a traditional how-to cooking show starring Anne Burrell, the titular restaurant chef previously best-known to viewers as Mario Batali’s amazing sous chef on Iron Chef America. Since the show is about using restaurant tricks at home, Anne has traded her kitchen whites for… brightly-colored v-neck sweaters. It’s as if the producers are trying to fit her into the Giada/Nigella mold, but it doesn’t quite take. Anne Burrell looks like she cooks for a living, and her enthusiasm for food is infectious. Most importantly, her food make me want to eat it. And cook it.

When I saw her make this cauliflower stew a few years back, I knew it was a winner. It appeals to me on several levels: It is vegan; it uses a food mill; and it’s a pantry raid: one fresh vegetable and your well-stocked pantry, and you’re good to go. Also, it tastes better the next day; in fact, I don’t even bother eating it the day I make it. The ingredients need some time to get to know each other.

Anne Burrell makes this to be served with grilled striped bass and parsley salad, which I am sure is wonderful, but I eat it as is. Here’s a cauliflower tip: If you see a few brown spots on the white florets, just use your microplane — which you’ll already have out for zesting the lemon — to rub them away. Everything underneath it is perfectly good to eat; waste not, want not. If you don’t have cauliflower, the tomato sauce alone is extremely delicious. You can stop the recipe there, maybe saute a few mushrooms or wilt some spinach, then toss it all together with some pasta and you’re done. So, so good.

Cauliflower Stew

Ingredients

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

Kosher salt

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, passed through a food mill (If you don’t have a food mill, use a box of Pomi. Or BUY A FOOD MILL.)

Water

1 large head cauliflower, coarsely chopped

1 lemon, zested

1/4 cup slivered Gaeta or kalamata olives

1/4 cup sliced caperberries, cut into thin rounds (or one tablespoon capers)

Directions

Coat a large saucepan with olive oil. Add the onions and bring to a medium heat. Add a generous pinch of salt and a small pinch of crushed red pepper. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onions look wilted and cooked but do not have any color. Add the garlic and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and 3/4 of a can of water, and season with salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Taste; it should taste good.

Bring a pot of water to a boil over medium heat and season generously with salt; it should taste like the ocean. Add the cauliflower, let the water come to a rolling boil and cook for additional 5 to 7 minutes. The cauliflower should be really soft and almost falling apart. Strain the cauliflower and add it to the tomato mixture. Cook the cauliflower in the tomato sauce until the cauliflower has completely broken up and the sauce clings to the cauliflower, about 20 to 30 minutes. Taste to see if the seasoning needs to be adjusted. Stir in the lemon zest, olives and caperberries. If you can, wait until the next day to enjoy.