Embraceable Cauliflower

Yeah, so maybe cauliflower isn’t very huggable (and this post’s title probably won’t make it very popular) but we’ve come a long way from our meager beginnings together. Many of us seem to have grown up with certain vegetable voids for a variety of reasons. Asparagus was scarce in South Carolina back in the 1970’s- I barely knew what it was until I was an adult. Neither Grant nor I knew what to do with Brussels sprouts when we first started receiving them in our CSA box back in Seattle ten years ago and now we love them! Then there’s the matter of zucchini and cauliflower in which case my Mom does not like so we just never ate them growing up. My earliest memory of cauliflower is seeing it on the salad bar at a Western Sizzler!  Years passed and I only ever considered cauliflower as an ingredient for crudité platters, in its raw state. That is until about six years ago when our West Seattle neighbors, Terry and David, invited us over for dinner. They had an amazing cheese platter which I will never forget but they also served pureed cauliflower in the place of mashed potatoes (cauliflower had a little resurgence here in the US of A in the post-Atkins low-carb diet boom). This potato substitute was delicious and I kept meaning to replicate it time and time again but never did for some unknown reason. Fast forward to two weeks ago when two childhood friends, Laura and Shannon, visited. We were sitting around eating and Shannon mentioned cauliflower and wondered why no one really ever ate it. I took this little curiosity as a challenge and couldn’t stop thinking about what we could do to enjoy more cauliflower. It is quite nutritious with antioxidant, antibiotic and antiviral properties (all the good antis) and it is helpful in cases of asthma, kidney and bladder disorders, high blood pressure, and constipation. We first set out to eat it as a side dish and borrowed an Italian preparation Grant had learned from his friend Marisio awhile back.We sauteed it in browned butter until it was soft and then topped it with sea salt, black pepper, and grated Parmesan Reggiano.

The following week, we made a pasta dish with sauteed white onions, cauliflower, a little lemon zest, and chopped olives (a mix of green manzanilla and kalamata) in olive oil. We served it over fettuccine with finely grated Parmesan Reggiano.

In our search for recipe ideas, we also came up with some gratins- topped with bread crumbs and cheese (YUM) and cauliflower soups. Of course, the health benefits are best reaped when eaten raw so salads are still the best bet for ideal cauliflower consumption. Speaking of which, I noticed a delicious looking raw cauliflower salad in the deli of the new Turnip Truck Urban Fare which consisted of pistachios and grapes. Pistachios make most things seem more delectable…

And speaking of olives… I am amazed at the lack of really good olives in Nashville. It is impossible to find good olives here. I did a big internet search this past weekend, though, and have good olives on the way thanks to La Tienda out of Virginia. Olives are on the way!

Back to those fried green tomatoes- which are STILL lingering around- Grant has perfected his method and I think this might be one of my new favorite foods. We enjoyed them this weekend for brunch again with cheese grits and turkey sausage. It was a nasty-good Southern mess of a meal…

Grant’s Fried Green Tomatoes

green ‘maters right off the vine
1 egg
1/4 c milk
1/2 c fine corn meal
1/2 c flour
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1/2 tsp celery salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt

Wash and slice tomatoes- not too thin or too thick. Mix the milk and egg together in one bowl. Mix the corn meal and flour with the spices. You may need to adjust the spices to taste. (Grant never measures anything so this is a guess but should get you close to perfection!) Dip the tomato slices in the egg mixture and then in the flour mixture. Fry in a frying pan coated with olive or grape seed oil.

And my grits were really great this time- here’s how I did it. I used the local stone ground grits- Falls Mill White Corn Grits- which I found to be coarser than my usual stone ground grits.

Cheese Grits

half an onion, chopped finely
green pepper, chopped finely (I used the little Italian ones from the garden)
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 tbsp organic butter
1 cup stone ground grits
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup organic milk (I used 2%)
1 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2-1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (I used half sharp cheddar, half Parmesan Reggiano)

Saute onion in butter. Add peppers and then garlic. Add the grits. Stir. Add the water, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook for about 30-40 minutes until consistency is smooth and thick. Add the milk and stir again. Stir in the grated cheese.

And here is the final mess, all together… (Note: I added a little maple syrup in the bottom which Grant finds very odd and does not do. It is delicious but maybe not for everyone.)

Puttering around on Sunday with the ipod on, I was reminded how much I LOVE Hayes Carll’s music. He is an amazing songwriter and he is also from Texas and it has been my observation that this combination of characteristics makes for some fine folks.

Hayes Carll at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville- Dec 2008

You can find out more about him and buy his music here.

I found a yummy cookie recipe in the latest Saveur mag. It is actually a NY Times cookbook recipe. It might be a new favorite! They really are flat and chewy, sweet and salty. I’ll definitely make this one again.

Flat & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups flour
1 scant tbsp. kosher salt
1 1⁄4 tsp. baking soda
1 1⁄2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1⁄4 cups sugar
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
12 oz. finely shaved bittersweet chocolate
8 oz. finely ground walnuts

1. Whisk flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl; set aside. In a bowl, beat sugars and butter with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, 1–2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time; beat in vanilla. Add reserved flour mixture, chocolate, and nuts; mix until just combined; chill.

2. Heat oven to 325°. Divide dough into 1-tbsp. portions; roll into balls, transfer to parchment paper–lined baking sheets spaced 3″ apart, and flatten. Bake until set, about 15 minutes.

And, speaking of desserts, we went to the art walk this weekend and observed Bryce McCloud’s (Isle of Printing) Old Fashioned Pie Throw in which he invited all to partake at throwing a pie at him for a mere $5!

It was a super fun event complete with two dancing ladies and a Hawaiian band featuring Chris Scruggs and Fats Kaplin. We just gauked and loitered (until Grant bought me this poster!).

We also ventured up to Estel Gallery to gawk at our friends Harry Underwood and Mister Hooper‘s newest paintings. I’ve decided Grant and I need to strive to be more like Herb & Dorothy Vogel as we grow old… Their story, by the way, makes for an amazing movie. Check it out!

Low Country Cookin’

We love the South Carolina Low Country and all the gastronomical goodness that accompanies it. Some years back, while still living in Seattle, Grant stumbled across an article in a wine magazine about Low Country cooking which featured some recipes from Loius Osteen’s book, Charleston Cuisine. We tried a few of the recipes and they were delicious! About a year later, a dear friend of ours was getting married in the Low Country and during our visit to Pawley’s Island, we were able to dine at Louis Osteen’s restaurant and we bought his book, pictured above. A few of his recipes quickly became staples for us such as his Baked Sweet Onion Rice which I will include here. We serve this all the time and everyone always raves about it. It makes great left overs, too.

Baked Rice With Wadmalaw Sweets

Serves 6-8
Ingredients:
4 tbsp unsalted butter
8 cups sliced sweet onions
2 cups minced shallots
1 bay leaf (we use 3-4)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups stock
1 cup long grain white, such as basmiti
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Heat butter in an ovenproof skillet with a cover over medium  heat. Add the onions and shallots and saute, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add bay leaves, thyme, and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add rice and stir to mix well. Cover and transfer to a preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until the rice is cooked through and the liquid is absorbed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently fluff rice with a fork before serving.

One of the best things about this super side dish, is all the amazing dishes you will be inspired to create to accompany it! Grant made this yummy BBQ Shrimp last night to accompany our Sweet Onion Rice. It was a perfect Sunday night dinner.

And, back to Louis Osteen… A few months back I was thinking about him and decided to do a google search and find out what he was up to. Turns out he and his wife just moved to Nashville and he is now cooking here, as part of the new BBQ restaurant in the 12th South neighborhood, Blind Pig. Psychic? I think so! We are anxious to see what culinary delights he brings to Nashville.

Continuing the Southern culinary inspirations, we have had some delicious fried green tomatoes lately- Monell’s served up some amazing little sweet ones when my Dad was in town a couple weeks ago. Everyone has them on the menu right now because we all have them in our gardens. I came home from work last Saturday and Grant had fancy Southern BLTs waiting for me. They included- red leaf butter lettuce, crispy bacon, green tomatoes from the garden coated with corn meal and spices and gently fried, Big Smokey’s special sandwich sauce, and rosemary bread. Delicious!

And you know what makes a great sandwich side dish? Roasted okra! Yes, we still have local fresh okra thanks to the late, hot summer we had.

I’ll end this post as I usually do- on a sweet note. People seem to like my pies and I really enjoy making pies but have to admit that pies are not my favorite dessert. I don’t eat many sweets but when I do, my favorite dessert is cookies.

Lately, I am obsessed with cookies- more specifically, my friend Rebekah’s cookies. She is the pastry chef at City House and she keeps showing up with bags of her cookies every time I see her and these are the best cookies in the world. I can’t stop day dreaming and obsessing about them. She has inspired me to want to be a better cookie baker so I have started trying to make all the good recipes I can find. I am in search of the perfect cookie recipes! Until I figure that out and have some of my own recipes, be sure to check out her amazing recipe for fancy gourmet Peanut Butter Moon Pies! Heavenly…