Cauliflower and Potato Soup: a Charming Compromise

or how I found delight in a liquified long time foe

Let's be honest here - cauliflower and I never really did get along.  I kind of saw it as the hard headed cousin of broccoli, which barely snuck onto my acceptable vegetable list itself, and most definitely the item to avoid on those ready made veggie trays.  But since my relationship with my husband has grown so has my bond with one of his favorite vegetables, broccoli, and so the time came when it was only fair to at least try to overcome my battle with its not so distant cousin cauliflower - for my husbands sake, he did after all venture into the realm of squash with me last Summer. 

I had managed to put it off for quite some time, I even tried brussel sprouts for him before I was willing to take on this long time foe, but eventually I was moved to compromise through a surprising experience involving our most recent vacation to Florida.  We love to eat and explore new foods on our trips, it's one time when we really are willing to indulge unique tastes that we don't come across every day at home.  Some past trips have resulted in a love affair with green tea pudding, an instant bond with fisherman's pie, and an over-dedication to egg sandwiches.  But this most recent trip highlighted a delight that centered around one of my long time rivals - cauliflower - it was a rich and delicious cream of cauliflower soup from a Norwegian restaurant.  It started with a taste from my husband's bowl, but soon I was hooked.  How could this delicious soup come from that vegetable?  I became determined to find out.  Not determined enough to go full force into cauliflower, but determined none the less.  So I took baby steps, incorporating my good friend the potato into the dish to ease me into it, and found a surprisingly delicious dish that both my husband and I truly enjoyed.  I'm hoping to take that next brave step towards roasted cauliflower some day soon, but in the meantime I give you this: a charming compromise for cauliflower enthusiasts and skeptics alike - Cauliflower and Potato Soup.

4 small golden potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups ham stock
6 pearl onions, chopped
2 cups sliced cauliflower florets
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tbsp butter
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
parsley, garlic, black pepper, salt
¼ c sherry

1. In a large saucepan heat the potatoes, 2 cups of ham stock, and onion to a simmer.  Covered and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Add the sliced cauliflower and remaining stock, bring back to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes more or until tender.

2. Strain and reserve some of the potatoes and cauliflower.  Puree the rest in batches in a blender or food processor, or in the pot using an immersion blender.

3. Return the puree to the pot and heat on medium-low while stirring in 1 cup of the milk, the nutmeg, and spices. Bring to boiling and reduce to a steady simmer. In a separate pan melt the butter and stir in flour to create a golden roux.  Whisk into the soup until fully incorporated. 

4. Add back in the reserved vegetables and stir in the heavy cream. Simmer and stir occasionally until thickened and bubbly.

I must apologize, I don't have a great picture.  It's creamy and white and not terribly photogenic, but it is delicious so I would encourage you to give it a try (if I can overcome my feud with this vegetable anybody can, so it's worth a shot right?)  It really tastes great with some garlic toast or thick cut bread and butter, for lunches I tossed in some seasoned croutons and those did the trick too as they softened in the soup. 

You never know when something is going to come along and change your perspective on any given ingredient so it doesn't hurt to put a small amount of time into experimentation, I'm not saying I'm all "buddy buddy" with cauliflower now but this certainly has given me some hope into its potential.  So why not give an exiled vegetable a chance?  Take it home and add your own flavors to make it your own - enjoy!


Bias Breaking Buttermilk Bundt Cake

or a semi-sweet delight for all ages

You may think that traditional bundt cakes are a thing of the past, gone the way of roller skate keys and dial up internet, but let me assure you - this is most definitely not the case.  You don't need to be attending afternoon tea with your grandmother or a book club meeting with your dear Aunt Charlotte to enjoy a sweet treat from this long loved pan, in fact it a "doughnut cake" (as our nephews so affectionately call it) can be a perfect final act to Sunday dinner with the family. 

Don't believe me?  Let's start with this - the recipe doesn't have to be fancy or loaded with foreign materials such as fruits or nuts the cake just has to be good, and a sweet frosting gently glazing the top doesn't hurt either.  If that isn't enough to open your mind to the potential of bundt cakes consider this - not only do our nephews now jump around excitedly when a beloved "doughnut cake" comes into the house, but it has made the final menu for my husband's birthday dinner next week.  If that isn't persuasive, I don't know what is.  Take a moment to consider the benefits of a semi-sweet dessert such as this - it has a milder flavor then many sugar loaded cakes that reach the market today so you don't have that post-dessert guilt falling as heavily on shoulders after eating, it holds up well to time when stored in an air tight container so there's no pressure to consume all in one sitting (though after tasting it, the desire may be hard to resist), and it is equally appealing to family and friends of all ages.  Have I at least piqued your interest here?  I hope so, just give it a chance and read on.  It's time to dust off that bundt pan that you got as a housewarming or wedding gift and finally put it to good use.

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
3 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk

Hardware: Bundt cake pan (approx 10 inch)

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease the bundt cake pan, ensuring that it is well covered in all those nooks and crannies.

2.  Cream together the sugar and butter. Then add the eggs one at time, beating mixture well after each (I'm not entirely sure that the individual introduction of eggs is essential, but from my experience it seems to incorporate more consistently so I figure - why mess with a good thing?  It doesn't take that much longer to prep anyway...)

3.  In a separate container mix the baking soda with the buttermilk so they have a chance to get acquainted before joining the party. Once prepped, add to butter mixture and beat with an electric mixer to combine.

4. Next add the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the mixture. Stir in the 2 teaspoons vanilla, continuing to mix until the color is consistent throughout. Carefully pour the batter into prepared bundt pan.

5.  Bake for one hour. Flip out onto cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature, and then top with butter cream frosting (see recipe below), allowing it to ever so slightly melt down the sides.

 Butter Cream Frosting

16 oz powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
¾ cup milk
1 ¾ tbsp vanilla

Beat sugar, butter, milk and vanilla with electric mixer at low speed until well blended and smooth. If frosting becomes too thick, beat in additional milk by teaspoonfuls until the frosting is of spreading consistency.

Can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, it will solidify more when cold so allow it to come to room temperature again before using.

Did that just blow your mind?  If so, go ahead and clean up, I'll wait... (minds can be very messy things when left laying around like that)  Now remember - this delightful dessert is not just for special occasions, it's great for any day you just want to treat yourself or your family to something special.  It stores great for almost a week when placed in an air-tight container so it's an ideal way to add something special to your weekday lunches or to stock up on after dinner desserts, it tastes great topped with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream and berries.  You can swap out the frosting for a glaze of your choice and op with your favorite treats when serving, this can easily be dressed up or down for the occasion, so why not give it a chance?  It is dessert after all, and if all else fails - eat dessert first, I won't tell.  Take it home to your own kitchen and give it a whirl, and as always - add your own little twists, find your own tastes, and make it your own - enjoy!


Romancing the Fish (Sticks)

 or how to persuade even the pickiest of eaters to enjoy seafood at home

I know, I know, this is not exactly a "Valentine's Day" type of post (despite its reference to romance in the title, we all know fish sticks are not a universally romantic type of food - though I'm sure a few five year olds out there might disagree).  I don't expect to convince everyone to fully embrace the concept of homemade fish sticks, but I do hope to win a few of you over with my offering here.  

Fish has many physical health benefits, and just as many mental health benefits, but many people stray away at the risk of encountering a ":fishy" taste in their food.  Well, the easy answer to that is this - most fresh fish will not taste "fishy," so buy something fresh from the counter instead of packaged in the case.  To take it one step further, many of the fish-opposed variety will indulge in beer battered, deep fried fish, which carries with it as many health risks as it does benefits.  So let's find a mid-way point to help this group transition shall we?  We'll use fresh ingredients, healthier alternatives to traditionally high fat components, a delicious (albeit different) cooking technique, and a shout out to the universal childhood finger food that is frozen fish sticks.  Sound like a plan?  Well check it out:

1 pound of cod filets
House seasoning blend
½ cup flour + 2 tbsp
2 eggs
2 tbsp olive oil mayonnaise
1 cup of Panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt
Butter-flavored spray

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray your baking pan with cooking spray.

1.  First for the lay out: Place 1/2 cup of the flour in a shallow dish. In a second shallow dish, whisk together the eggs and mayonnaise until combined, then whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Spread the bread crumbs in a third shallow dish.  Good?  Ok, let’s get going.

2.  Slice each cod fillet into 1” wide strips, for me this usually results in 2-3 strips per fillet but it will depend on the size.  Sprinkle some house seasoning blend over the fish.

3.  Now dredge each strip in the flour and gently shake off the excess, you don't want bits of fish taking flight over the kitchen. Next coat with the egg mixture, then hold for a moment over the dish allowing the extra to drip off.  Finally cover all sides with a thick layer of the bread crumbs, pressing to help them adhere. Lay the cod on the prepared baking sheet

4.  Spray the tops of the cod with butter flavored spray and season lightly with kosher salt.  Bake until lightly browned, about 15 - 20 minutes, and the thickest part is cooked to 140 degrees F
Alternate step 4 - if you need to take baby steps into the fish world - fry
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange half the fish sticks in a single layer without crowding; cook until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove fish sticks from skillet, and transfer to a serving dish. Wipe out pan and repeat with remaining oil and fish. Serve fish sticks, hot or at room temperature, with tartar sauce.

Now for my secret weapon - a sweet and tangy homemade tartar sauce.  I highly recommend McClure's Relish for this, but it is a company local to Michigan so it may be hard to come across elsewhere.  If you can find a relish, like McClure's,  that has the pickles sliced into more of a strip shape rather than a cube it will really add to the uniqueness of this condiment.  Traditional tartar sauces are made with sweet relish, so adding the spicy and garlic relish instead will really make it stand on its own two feet (so to speak).

Tartar Sauce with a Kick
1 - cup olive oil mayonnaise
1 tbsp spicy relish
1 tbsp garlic relish
1 - tablespoon dried minced onion
2- tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, relish, and minced onion. Stir in lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.


A Marinade & A Brine: a Tale of Two Infusions

or how I learned to cook with, and not against, my refrigerator.

Infusing flavor is a fascinating thing.  No, really, it is.  It can make that intimidating turkey fall to its knees, that tough cut of beef come apart at the seams, or that blank canvas of pork practically jump off the page.  All it takes is a little chemistry, a little confidence, and a few ingredients that are probably already on your shelf.  This entry isn't as scientific as it may sound, if you'd like the chemical requirements I'd suggest consulting an expert or checking out some websites that suggest they have the chemical key to these concepts as I will make no such claim here.

I will admit, laziness and distrust have long been my companions in an ongoing campaign against using brines and marinades.  I am sure many of you have unknowingly been members of my cause over the years as well.  It was always hard for me to justify the extra time and effort it took to try to infuse additional flavors into my foods when I could easily add it during the cooking process.  But this past holiday season made me change my mind.  I cook roasted chicken regularly throughout the year and even make a turkey or two, but when I was hosting both of our families at once this season I wanted to make sure it was a no fail meal.  I figured it was just one time so it was no big deal, I'd give that brine idea a shot.  The results were amazing!  I could not believe how quickly the turkey was eaten up, people even went back for seconds before diving into the beef tenderloin (which usually gets the highest reviews on the table).  So here I am, a believer.  If you already were, perhaps the options I give you here will add to your repertoire or inspire you to take a new spin on some of your favorites.  But if you are hesitant, like I was, I invite you now to come with me down a little path that leads to flavor lane.  Just take my hand - it won't be that bad - and together we'll let the journey begin.

The World is Your Marinade: The kitchen counter chemistry concept - an acid, a salt, and a good base.  For acid juice works well, lemon is generally nice, as does wine .  For salts I like to use kosher salt or soy sauce.  A good base can be made up of stock or olive oil, just a little something extra to help move those spices around and really soak into the meat.  Then all you need are some seasonings, usually something that give a good flavor line up to your meal.

Pork Marinade (prepared with my Fry All Your Cares Away Pork Chop recipe)

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup apple juice
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ tsp minced garlic
  • ½ tsp freshly grated ginger

  1. Combine all the ingredients in the marinade and stir well to combine.  Add the pork chops, flip a couple times to get good coverage.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours (probably could go for less time but I prep in the morning and cook after work).  Flip once before the last 30 min if possible.
  2. Allow the excess marinade to drip off and then dredge in a Panko and Parmesan cheese misture, press to coat.  Pan fry in olive oil.  (see linked recipe for more details).

A Brine for Every Season:  The kitchen counter chemistry concept - ice water, a salt, and a sugar.  For ice water, you'll need enough liquid to cover completely the meat that you wish to brine.  Don't feel confined to just ice water though, feel free to sub out a quart or two for a flavorful stock, just remember to keep enough ice in there to maintain the temperature.  For salts I like to use kosher salt or table salt.  A nice sugar could be brown sugar, honey, or even just white sugar.  Then all you need are some seasonings, if it's the holiday season I like to add some sage and thyme for a touch of earthy comfort but in warmer weather I would consider going with a lighter flavor set balanced around some garlic and parsley.

A Turkey and Brine Union: 

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 quarts chicken stock
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tbsp dried thyme
2 heads garlic broken into individual cloves
2 gallons ice water

14-16 lb turkey, cleaned and innards removed

1.  In a medium pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil over medium heat. Put the kosher salt in a large bowl and slowly pour the boiling water over the salt. Stir to blend. Stir in the brown sugar, spices, and garlic.

2.  Add the remaining 3 quarts of cool water and the ice to a cooler or bucket large enough to hold the brine and the turkey. Pour the brine and chicken stock over the ice and use a large whisk to blend all of the ingredients.

3.  Submerge the turkey, breast side down, in the brine. Make sure the cavity of the bird fills with the liquid as you are submerging it. Cover the cooler and allow the bird to sit in the brine overnight or for about 12 hours.

4.  Remove the bird from the brine and dry it thoroughly. Take care to wipe inside the cavity as well. Discard the brine. 

Optional: Mix together 1 stick of softened butter, 1 tsp garlic, ½ tsp chopped rosemary, and ½ tsp sage to make a compound butter. Using your hands, loosen to the skin from the breast by gently inserting your fingers between the skin and the flesh. Rub the compound butter underneath the skin.  The butter will add extra moisture and richness as the bird roasts.

5. Arrange the turkey in a roasting pan fitted with a rack, cover tightly with aluminum foil. Put on the lower rack of the oven and roast until the internal temperature of the turkey taken from the thickest part of the thigh reads 160 degrees F, time estimates for roasting can often be found on the package (remember – these are estimates, and can call for cooking longer then necessary, this is why a meat thermometer is handy).

6.  Remove the foil and turn the heat up to 450 degrees to finish cooking and to crisp the skin.  Remove the turkey from the oven to a cutting board or serving platter and tent with foil. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.