Saturday, January 29, 2011

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Crispy Pancetta and Shitakes

I have been cryptic lately in my posts. So, I am just putting my news out there. Along with my recipes, photos, stories and kitchen tips, you have also been reading about my heartache. My marriage has dissolved. Ten years of togetherness has come to sudden end. An unexpected surprise filled with a kind of sadness I had not thought possible. Wave after wave filled with numbness, anger, sorrow, freedom, completeness and struggle are filled also with the knowing I will wash up on dry shore. I have been very lucky to have an entire community of friends and family tenderly holding me as I watch the carefully crafted fabric of my life be torn and stitched back together in a different way. I have wondered about those in the world who go through these experiences alone. I can understand how people could reach for food or relationships or drugs to escape this kind of pain. Running away from suffering seems so natural. Going outside of yourself keeps the pain at a distance. I am not though. I have chosen to dive into the inhospitable waters of my anguish and learn how to swim a new way. And you are here, reading this. So, thank you. All of you.

I packed a lot of boxes today. I am moving in a matter of weeks. So, meals are being simplified. I have one less person to cook for these past months, so my six year old has become my own professional pint-sized foodie companion. I hope I have not created a foodie monster. I am having visions of her starting protests someday in college because the salad bar does not have organic arugula. I think I will be able to keep it under control though. She loves a bagel just as much as she loves croissants. But her flavor palate is very evolved for a little person. Yesterday I had her try goat cream cheese. She loved it. Day before last she devoured a plate of oven roasted romanesco. I feel incredibly lucky that I will know all these little moments of her life. Last night it was creamy cauliflower soup with crispy pancetta. She thought it tasted like a bowl of mashed potato soup (with a version of bacon bits on top?). Simple does not have to taste simple though and this soup is a perfect example. We each had a bowl for dinner. I just ate another for a late lunch. The pancetta really gives this dish depth. The salty with the mellow cauliflower perks it right up. I used butter instead of my usual olive oil to keep it creamy. Since there is no cream, I wanted it to have some richness. So easy, so quick.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Crispy Pancetta and Shitake Mushrooms
serves 3 larger bowl or 4 small

1 med/large head of cauliflower
2- 2 1/2 cups stock (I used organic chicken)
pinch salt
1 1/2 tbls butter
3 oz. thinly sliced pancetta (or proscuitto)
2 cups chopped shitake mushrooms

Steam the head of cauliflower until tender. Put in a blender and add 2 cups stock. Blend. If it is too thick, add 1/2 cup more stock. Puree until smooth (about 2 min). Pour into sauce pan and cook on low simmer for 10 min. Taste for salt.
In cast iron (or non-stick) pan cook pieces of pancetta like you would bacon. Remove from pan with a fork when brown and crispy on each side. Add to the pan shitakes and 1 tbls. water to deglaze the pan. Sautee until soft; about 8 min. Chop the pancetta and top the soup with a spoonful of pancetta and shitakes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Baby Artichokes baked with Bread Crumbs

Packing up a house is a mixed bag. In some ways I am really happy to get rid of about half of my things. On the other, it is sad to move my life under such sad circumstances. I am resigned to letting the emotions come out as they wish. It has been an exercise in loving for myself. No matter the thought, emotion or conversation I am having, I am doing it with a new found confidence for myself and my struggles.  I never thought I could be thankful about my life falling apart, but I am finding that I spend more and more days filled with gratitude and a sense of myself I have never had before. Suffering has been an unbiased teacher that has shown me the way to loving. The biggest gift in my life so far.

And so we have artichokes. I wait for the baby artichokes to show up in the market and then buy pounds of them. It has taken a few years of working with them to feel comfortable cooking them.  But I have mastered the learning curve! My secret is trimming them down to the yellow leaves. I cut off the bottom stem and almost the top half. Then I pick off the exterior leaves until I get down to the light yellow ones. If they are not trimmed enough, they are tough when you eat them. I have also tried to oven roast or pan sautee them, but have come to the conclusion that they should be steamed first and then are ready for a second cooking method if you want to impart more flavor. I mostly save baby artichokes for a special dinner occasion. They can get expensive if you buy a lot, and you need quite a few if you are using baby artichokes (I would say 4-6 per person). Today I made bread crumbs with fresh thyme and a buerre blanc sauce to add to the artichokes. Little M kept coming into the kitchen and digging her fingers into the buttery bread crumbs after they had cooled.  They have a bit more butter than I usually use, but it was the main dish for dinner tonight. Nice and hearty for cool January nights....

Baby Artichokes baked with Bread Crumbs
makes 4 small portions

12 baby artichokes trimmed
2 tbls butter
1 tbls fresh lemon juice (I used meyer lemon)
1 small shallot finely chopped
pinch salt
2/3 bread crumbs
2 tsp.
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp mustard
1/3 cup white wine

Trim artichokes (see above paragraph for directions) and steam for 10 minutes. Make sure they are knife tender before removing from heat and cook longer than 10 minutes if needed. Cooking time will be slightly variable depending on how big the artichokes are.
In a pan add butter, lemon juice, shallot and heat until butter starts to foam. Add wine, mustard and thyme. Reduce to half and add artichokes (about 4 min). Use a spoon to scoop buerre blanc on top of artichokes until sauce has reduced and has thickened (about 5 min). Remove artichokes and set in a heat proof dish. Add breadcrumbs to pan with buerre blanc and heat through. Spoon bread crumbs over artichokes and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees and bread crumbs start to brown.
To serve set artichokes on plate and scoop a spoonful of bread crumbs on top of each artichoke.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Baked Pumpkin Seeds

What a weekend. I spent a good part of it with my friends at the SYRCL Wild & Scenic Film Festival. Think Sundance, only smaller, quainter and no pretense. There were quite a few films focusing on food, farmers and sustainability. I was inspired. I felt hope! One film challenged the audience to know the farmer of one ingredient of one meal a day you eat. I am taking that challenge seriously. What do you think of that challenge? I imagined that it would be pretty exciting to really feel like you are supporting a farmer in your community and wonder if that could change how you feel about the meal you are eating.

Wendy Van Wagner, a local friend, colleague and entrepreneur served kale pesto and beet dip from this blog on crostinis she catered for the gala event for the film festival. I was honored! Mostly because she is a talented chef and teacher herself and owns her own local cooking school In The Kitchen and knows her stuff. Thank you again Wendy!

My recipe this week is from my sweet friend Nikiya. She is a fabulous cook herself. She introduced me to my local grain CSA I belong to. I went to her house one day and her partner Kevin gave me a handful of pumpkin seeds that she had soaked in water overnight and then baked in the oven with a bit of salt. I had to stop myself from eating the whole jar it was so tasty. Salty, crunchy, nutty and satisfying. I have been making them regularly since then and packing them in my bag before I leave the house for a snacks on the go. Soaking seeds make them more digestable and break down the enzymes that make nuts harder to digest. When you bake pumpkin seeds, the seeds puff up and then get crunchy. It reminds me of popcorn in a way. I am not kidding when I tell you that when I made these for a dinner party a week or two back the bowl was gone in less than five minutes and the adults had to stop the kids from taking handfuls and running down the hall to keep them for themselves. A sign of a successful dish! A wonderful snack, but great to put on top of soups, enchiladas, crostinis, oatmeal, chili, granola...a long list of compatible foods. And, this is super easy!

Puffy Pumpkin Seeds
makes two cups

2 cups raw green pumpkin seeds
1 tbls braggs liquid aminos

Soak pumpkin seeds overnight in a bowl of water. The next day, drain the seeds and combine with braggs in a bowl. Spread on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for around 15 minutes. Every five minutes use a spoon and gently stir the seeds. You will hear them start to pop as they start to dry and puff up. When they start to brown and are crunchy and not soggy at all, they are done. I let mine sit on the cookie sheet until they are cooled and then put into a glass jar for storage.
I use braggs liquid aminos because it is less salty then tamari which I think it overpowering to these little seeds. You could use sea salt too. Since you are not drying the seeds before you bake them, the salt sticks to the seeds. I know this recipe is easy, but you will never go back to traditionally roasted nuts after you try this alternative method.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mandarin Marmalade

With good friend Marcellas over holiday break!

Mandarins are here. In my latest grain CSA I received a bag of mandarins and meyer lemons. I really love that winter in California has its own fruit ambassadors. Yesterday, I stopped myself after I ate six or seven mandarins. My daughter ate 4 after school. Oh how I love their tangy sweetness!
I ate those six mandarins before I sat down to meditate. They were on my mind. Meditating and falling asleep give me my best recipes. Today I was inspired to make mandarin marmalade. It was perfect because a dear friend of mine turned 40 just a few days before and I knew he would love homemade marmalade as a gift. I decided to add ginger for the warming properties it has as well as being a digestive tonic which makes it tailored for winter. Marmalade seemed the perfect way to pay tribute to a happy winter fruit. I did not add pectin to my recipe because I used mandarin peels which naturally have a lot of pectin, so just added the mandarins, peels, sugar, ginger and a bit of vanilla seeds. I did not get fussy at all with this recipe. I love rustic angles on food; the more untouched the better.

And with that I will share a few trends happening in my house right now gliding us into the new year...and say that I was in southern california after the holidays and was able to catch up with family and my dear friend, Marcellas!

1. big bowls of heirloom beans drizzled with olive oil and tamari. Good quality olive oil is spectacular drizzled over cooked beans.

2. turning the thermostat down to 60 to save on heating bills

3. taking lots of soaks in my ofuro to warm up from a cooler than normal house (dang! I am going to miss that ofuro when I move!)

4. making popcorn more often because it always seems like such a special treat (don't forget the yeast)

5. Frazey Ford...she is just singing the soul of where I am right now. Great interview and music clips from NPR...

6.The Swell Season... the duo that made the movie Once back in 2006. My favorite song of the album is High Horses

7. cooking dinner listening to #5 and #6.....

8. Sharing special wine with friends before I move that I have been collecting over the last seven years

9. Thinking, dreaming, wondering, manifesting my reality that showcases food, farmers, health and soul in marin county... preferably with the food network or style network ♥

10. practicing "surrender is not about giving up, it is about letting go"..thank you Christi

Mandarin Marmalade
makes a bit over a cup

2 cups mandarins inner piths removed
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. crushed vanilla beans
1 heaping tbls fresh chopped ginger
1/2 cup mandarin skins chopped

I peeled the mandarins with a paring knife. Then I chopped finely 1/2 cup of the skins. Remove the mandarin piths inside. It is a fantastic source of vitamin C, but in this case it will contribute to more bitterness than you might care for. Roughly chop mandarins into 1 inch pieces. Use a sharp knife so you don't lose too much juice on your cutting board.
Add mandarins, vanilla, sugar, skins and ginger to sauce pan. Bring to boil, then lower to simmer for 90 minutes.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cardamom Butternut Squash Soup

January could be called the month of our resolutions. In the middle of nature sleeping, we are busy making plans for ourselves. Plans to become better mostly. On one hand it is our job as citizens of this great green earth to make things better. On the other hand, I think the standards and expectations we sometimes set up for ourselves can be pretty intimidating. So instead of resolving to change me this year, I am resolving to be more in my loving about me. My fears, my fails, my mean words, my tears, my wilted cauliflower and too much olive oil on the broccoli, my dingy whites and not folding the laundry quick enough, my sometimes I don't floss even though I know I should, my playing a song five times in a row on the ipod in the car, my occasional hopelessness, my inability to forgive just yet; all of it is going to get more loving than it did last year. The good and the bad are all getting more loving this year.

Because I did wilt the cauliflower tonight. I put it on the same cookie sheet as the potatoes and over-roasted it. And my christmas tree is still up, and my laundry is piled high, and I did not make my bed today. And I cried for about 2 hours. And my suitcase is still sitting by the front door where I left it a day ago. But at this moment,  I sit here and am beyond my housekeeping and grief knowing that I stayed in my loving by not judging myself for not getting it done.
I am especially in my loving about how I just turned 39 and not 40 in one of the most craptastic years in memory. Next year will be different though. Stay tuned. It should be good.

Well the day was not a complete wash.  I did make soup again today.  I roasted a butternut squash yesterday and made soup two days in a row with it.  It has been a bit cold here, so I  added cardamom along with cinnamon and a pinch of red pepper flakes to make a nice warm, cozy soup.  A small squeeze of lemon and maybe a bit more olive oil than I should have were added also. But if that is all I am having for dinner like last night, I go heavier on the monounsaturated fats for good luck. I put it all in the blender with some stock and was good to go.

A note about how I roast squash (all squash). I put it in the oven whole to roast it. I don't slice it, or split it or remove seeds. I am convinced I will cut my fingers off somehow and just put the whole thing (no matter the size) on a cookie sheet and bake it. After it is knife tender, I take it out of the oven, let it cool for a bit and then slice it in half, scoop out the seed and then scoop out the flesh for whatever I am making. It always works out well for me.

Cardamom Butternut Squash Soup
makes 4 servings

3 cups roasted butternut squash
2 cups stock (I used organic chicken stock)
2 tbls extra virgin olive oil
pinch salt
1/2 tsp. powdered cardamom
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp heaping red pepper flakes
1 tsp. lemon juice

Blend all ingredients in blender for almost a minute,  then cook on simmer for 20 minutes.


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