Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cauliflower Cheese (Cauliflower Gratin)

I spent a couple of weeks in England last year and found a few gems in their often-maligned cuisine. I've already written about the fantastic chana masala I had there, but I also adored the ever-present cauliflower gratin, which they inexplicably call "cauliflower cheese". I have only recently come around to liking cauliflower, and this was one of the dishes that convinced me of its merits. I made a cauliflower mac and cheese a while ago, inspired by it. Now that my husband is on a low carb diet, I figure it is high time that I make cauliflower cheese proper!

Most recipes call for a cheese sauce thickened with roux, which is a no-go for the low carb diet. Plus, it's fussier than I'd care to be. So I created a minimalist dish that really only has three ingredients: cauliflower, cheddar cheese, and sour cream, plus whatever seasonings you like. Whether or not you're on low carb, this recipe is a great way to hit the same notes as mac and cheese, but while eating a big old plate of veggies instead! I dare say I would actually prefer it to mac and cheese!

Cauliflower Cheese
Approximately 40 oz cauliflower florets, fresh or frozen (For some reason, the Safeway by my house sells their frozen cauliflower in 20 oz bags, so this is a convenient amount for me. This recipe is flexible, so feel free to modify it for whatever increments of cauliflower are available to you.)
8 oz (approximately 1 cup) lowfat sour cream
8 ounces grated 2% sharp cheddar, a handful reserved for sprinkling over the top.  (You could add a few tablespoons of grated parm in addition to really take it over the top.)
1 t seasoning salt of choice (I like Tony Chacheres or Season All in this)
½ t garlic powder
black pepper to taste (I like a lot)
optional seasoning add-ins: dash of hot sauce, dash of Worcestershire sauce,
couple of tablespoons of bacon bits

In an oven and microwave safe casserole dish, microwave frozen cauliflower until softened, about 7-10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. In a separate bowl, mix all remaining ingredients. Drain any liquid that accumulated while cooking the cauliflower. Add cauliflower to remaining ingredients, mix together, and return to casserole dish. Bake, uncovered for 30 minutes, until cauliflower is hot and bubbly, and the top is slightly browned. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving; the cauliflower will absorb the remaining liquid and "set".

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower and Kale Soup

This is a healthier, low carb version of my Creamy Potato, Kale, and Sausage Soup. Instead of potato and milk, roasted, pureed cauliflower imparts creaminess and rich flavor. It's packed with superfood veggies, and I think I may like it better than the original. You could easily leave out the meat and garnish for a vegan dish. Bonus: it freezes well!

Roasted Cauliflower and Kale Soup
Approximately 2.5 lbs cauliflower (I used frozen)
a few T of olive oil
1 lb fresh Italian sausage (chorizo would also be good, or you could omit the meat entirely)
2 medium onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 t Italian seasoning or thyme
2 t salt
crushed red pepper and black pepper to taste
1 quart chicken or veggie stock
1 quart water
approximately 1 lb kale, tough ribs removed, chopped

Garnish with Parmesan cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 450. Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil and 1 t salt. Roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring once. Florets should have some golden brown spots on them when done.

While cauliflower is roasting, remove sausage from casing (if present) and brown in a large pot, breaking into small pieces. Remove and set aside. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Add spices, remaining salt, stock, and 2/3 of cauliflower. Simmer 7-`10 minutes, until cauliflower is very tender. Set aside bay leaf and puree soup thoroughly.

Add sausage, remaining cauliflower, and return bay leaf to pot. Bring to a simmer. Add kale. Cover and simmer on low for five minutes. Serves 8.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Indian Creamed Spinach (fake Palak Paneer)

Palak paneer is one of my favorite Indian dishes. It's basically creamed spinach with curry spices and paneer, a fresh non-melting cheese. A much more interesting way to eat your spinach than traditional creamed spinach. I made up this really simple recipe to approximate the flavors of palak paneer at home, using basic ingredients. I decided to leave out the paneer, because I would either have to go buy it at an Indian grocery or make it myself (there are neat recipes for homemade paneer on the web.) To me, the best part is the creamy curried spinach, anyway.

I threw this together years ago and brought it to a Thanksgiving hosted by friends on the West coast, then we moved to the East coast for four years. When we moved back West and reunited for our first Thanksgiving with our old friends in four years, they were still requesting this dish. For all the fuss, it's embarrassingly simple.

Indian Creamed Spinach
Indian Creamed Spinach in my friend's beautiful cookware, ready for Thanksgiving
2 t butter
2 t cumin
1 t coriander
1 t turmeric
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t powdered ginger
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t cardamom
2 lbs thawed frozen chopped spinach
crushed red pepper or cayenne to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 cup cream or half and half (depending on how decadent you want to be)
1/2-1 t sugar (To taste. You're not trying to make it taste sweet, you're just going to mellow out the spice a bit.)

In a medium-large saucepan, toast spices in butter for a minute, stirring frequently. Add spinach, cover, and simmer, 7-10 minutes. Lower heat to low and add remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Chili Verde (slow cooker and pressure cooker variations)

I'm on a roll today! I have a backlog of low-carb recipes after my husband's first week on the diet. Here's another one involving a Crockpot, which fulfills my promise to only use the device when it actually improves the recipe. In this case, slow cooking lean pork roast makes it super tender and flavors the sauce beautifully. Instead of chopping tomatillos (which are expensive where I live) I use jarred salsa verde as a shortcut. I often chop the veggies in the food processor instead of by hand. This turns out equally well in a pressure cooker. I love how flavorful and tangy this dish is.

Crockpot Chili Verde
1 bunch cilantro (remove leaves, chop them, and set aside for garnish. Chop the stems and cook in Crockpot with rest of ingredients.)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2-6 jalapenos, roughly chopped, with seeds (we love spice, so I do 6, seeds and all. If you are sensitive to spice, try one or two, and remove the seeds)
1.5 lbs poblano and/or Anaheim peppers, roughly chopped
3.5-4 lbs pork sirloin or loin roast or chops, cut into 2 inch pieces
1.5 T ground cumin
1 T dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
2 t Adobo seasoning
28 oz canned cannellini or pinto beans, drained OR 3/4 lb dried beans, soaked overnight. If using dried beans, add 1/2 cup water to pot before cooking
1 12 oz jar salsa verde or green enchilada sauce
1 can Rotel tomatoes
2 t ground coriander (optional)
1 t Liquid smoke (optional)
1 t Worchestershire sauce (optional)

Garnish:
Lots of lime juice
chopped cilantro leaves
sour cream
corn tortillas or chips (if not concerned about low carb)

Slow cooker instructions
Dump all ingredients except garnish into the slow cooker and stir. Cook 8 hours on low.

Pressure cooker instructions
Saute pork until a bit brown on the outside but not cooked through. Set aside and so the same for the vegetables. Add remaining ingredients and set pressure cooker to beans/chili (or manual) for 55 minutes. Use quick release when done. 

Simple Slow Cooker Chicken Soup

My husband just started doing a low carb diet, which means I have a new cooking project! It's a fun challenge coming up with recipes that work for his diet, but I have to say, it violates some of my core cooking values: I try to keep recipes simple and inexpensive, which means I often include lots of beans and try to stretch small portions of meat. He can't have beans during the induction phase, but we should be able to work a moderate amount of them in later. For now, that means a lot more meat than I am used to cooking.

To keep things simple and inexpensive, I wanted to try the old school method of making chicken soup: poaching a whole chicken. I already routinely use my Crockpot to make stock with leftover poultry bones, so I wanted to try cooking the whole chicken in there, making stock at the same time.

I have already written about how many recipes have no business being in a Crockpot, and that I will only use mine for the few applications in which the recipe will actually benefit from slow cooking. You can rest assured that this one of those recipes ideal for a Crockpot; making chicken soup this way makes the broth richer and saves you active cooking time. The soup came out fantastic: the chicken was cooked well, the broth was rich and herby, and amazingly, the veggies still had some bite to them.

Keep this on hand in the freezer for when you get the inevitable seasonal cold/flu!

Simple Slow Cooker Chicken Soup
1 onion, chopped
2 heaping T minced garlic
4-5 lb whole chicken
1 lb carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb celery (most of a head), leaves included, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 bay leaves
1 T salt
1 T plus 1 t seasoned salt (I like Season All)
1 1/2 T Italian seasoning (I love Italian seasoning, but it has never tasted very "Italian" to me. It tastes strongly of rosemary, with hints of sage, thyme, and marjoram; herbs that compliment chicken very well.)
lots of black pepper
1 cup uncooked brown rice, added 2 hours before end of cooking (optional; obviously don't use if doing low carb)

Garnish with:
1 bunch parsley, chopped
splash of lemon (freshens up the flavor and acts like a flavor enhancer. I swear it tastes more "chickeny" with a little lemon)

If you want to get super simple, you can chop the veggies in the food processor by pulsing in batches, or you can chop by hand.

Place onions and garlic on the bottom of a large (6 quart) slow cooker. Place the whole chicken, skin and bones and everything, in the slow cooker, breast side up. Dump everything else in except rice and garnish. Fill with water up to 1.5 inch from top.

Cook in slow cooker on low for 7 hours. If using rice, add after 4 hours. Once cooking is complete, remove chicken from slow cooker.

When I got to this step, I peeked into the slow cooker, and the chicken looked totally intact. I was excited about the drama of pulling out a whole chicken and carving it, and I was about to call my husband over to watch the perfect chicken emerge from the Crockpot. Luckily I didn't, because when I stuck the spoon inside the cavity to lift it out, the spoon went right through it, ripped the chicken in half, and made a disturbing "splat". Not a bad thing, really, it means that the meat is super tender and the bones have given up their gelatin to the stock. Just be aware that your chicken may break into a few large pieces when you go to remove it.

Use a couple of large serving spoons to get the chicken out. Let it cool on a plate for a few minutes. While it's cooling, skim the fat off the top of the soup. Alternatively, you could make the soup a day ahead and refrigerate it. The fat will solidify into a layer on top that you can just lift off.

At this point, you may wonder if you need to strain the broth. No! It will be fine! Keep it simple and rustic. The chicken stayed in large chunks, so it was easy to fish out, with no bones or weird bits left behind.

Pick the meat off your chicken, shred it, and return it to the soup. No need to cook it anymore; it's ready to garnish and serve! You may want to add more water if you want more broth in your soup.