Roasted cauliflower and white bean soup

I’ve always thought that cauliflower and white beans were meant for each other. If you ask why, however, I cannot answer you. Cauliflower strikes me as a sophisticated vegetable, whose flavor pleases a strictly learned palate. White beans, on the other hand, are my kind of vegetable: clear and direct. What you see is what you get (in terms of flavor). Marrying the two could go either way: happily ever after, or a painful divorce.

So, on a stormy night, I opened my fridge and looked in. Staring at me was a head of cauliflower….passed its prime. Since Francesco is away on business, I decided to try something new. I grabbed the few ingredients and made up a recipe as I went along. This is how the love story unfolded.

INGREDIENTS:

1 head of Cauliflower

1 can of white Cannellini beans

1 shallots

3 cloves of garlic

1 cup of chicken stock

1/2 cup of milk

1 teaspoon of nutmeg

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

First things first: the head of cauliflower shouldn’t be massive. A nice, medium size will do the trick.

To give the soup a little depth of flavor, I decided to roast the cauliflower before cooking them. Turn on the over to 400F and, at the same time, oil an oven pan. Chop the head of cauliflower into small pieces, wash them thoroughly and place them in the oven pan. Drizzle more extra virgin olive oil, add some salt and pepper to taste and roast them until light brown and tender (about 30 minutes)

Next, open a can of Cannellini beans (my personal favorite) and wash them a couple of times. Set aside.

Next, finely chop 3 cloves of garlic (or less…I love garlic and I tend to go overboard with it) and a shallot. You can use a yellow onion, but I think shallots are sweeter and perfect for this soup. Oil a pot with extra virgin olive oil and add the minced garlic and shallots. Cook them for 4 or 5 minutes or until golden.

While the cauliflower is in the oven, add the beans to the pot (with garlic and shallots) and cook for a couple of minutes. Once the cauliflower is tender and golden brown, add it to the pan with the beans, garlic and shallots. At this point, taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Once the ingredients are added to the pot, let them cook for 5 minutes. I added 1 teaspoon of nutmeg to increase the depth of flavor and because, to be honest, nutmeg is my ultimate favorite spice. You can add as much or as little as you wish…or leave it out altogether. I have to say it was a perfect addition.

After the nutmeg comes the liquid. I added 1 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of milk to the pot. You could add butter for a creamier soup. Cook the ingredients and the liquid for 25 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. 

Once the soup is the consistency of your choice, puree it with a hand blender until silky smooth. Add a touch of extra virgin olive oil and serve it hot. Buon Appetito!

Back with a vengeance!

I’m back and I am here to stay. It has been quite a while since my last post and boy, things have changed in my life. I left one job, found two amazing jobs, bought a house, painted every room (thanks to Francesco and my dad) and moved…all in one month. Whew! Of course, there are still boxed everywhere, but the kitchen….arguably the most important room in the house, is all set and ready for some cooking!

The hardest thing to decide was the color of the walls, and not just for the kitchen, but for the master bedroom, for the dining room, the bathroom, because once it’s painted…it’s permanent…at least for a year (that was and still is a deal I made with myself). So, we went from this…

To choosing a sage green color that matches the granite!

We absolutely love our kitchen! We can both cook uninterrupted and have already made a few of our favorite dishes: gnocchi, pizza and even a cheese souffle. We have been hard at work. Now, instead of wishing a bigger, better kitchen, I wish for better cooking skills! That, however, can be fixed.

Although the house is still in a state of disarray (boxes and bags in the entryway, my clothes and shoes in suitcases) and are still missing some key components: i.e. dining table and chairs and a bed for our master bedroom!!!!, the short drive home from work is one of the happiest moments of my day. I get to open the door and run to the kitchen to prepare lunch or dinner. (Maybe now I can try new recipes?)

By the looks of it, even Diego is liking it here.

Holiday Cookie Exchange: Vanilla Meringues

Well, yes, it’s been a while since these meringues graced the shuffle board table at Emily’s house for the annual Holiday Cookie Exchange, but I was so proud of this accomplishment, I wanted to share it. It first started when I received my monthly copy of Bon Appetit magazine with succulent peppermint meringues on the cover. I usually not one for tricky recipes, but those little buggers looks adorable. I had to give it a try!


What did I tell you? Impossible to resist. Now, I had never made anything remotely similar to meringues before, but I have always found them like little pockets of candy heaven…sweet, sugary and perfectly able to melt in one’s mouth.

For this project, I needed to go shopping (and that’s never a bad thing). I started out scouting Micheal’s in search of the appropriate equipment: pastry bags, pastry tips and anything else that would make this task easy breezy. I settled on Decorating Tip No. 12 and, in true Chiara fashion, I bought one too many of everything. (But the good thing is, I will be making meringues until the end of time).

The recipe called for peppermint flavored meringues, but I am a big fan of minty candy, so I decided to use vanilla extract instead.

Here is the recipe, adopted from Bon Appetit, December 2011. (Makes about 30)

3 large egg whites at room temperature

1/8 tsp. Kosher salt

1/3 cup of sugar

1/2 cup of powdered sugar

1/8 tsp. of vanilla extract

12 drops of red food coloring

Preheat the over at 250 F. In a mixer, beat egg whites and salt until a nice, consistent foam forms.

Gradually add the sugar in 3 additions. Whip and whip and whip and whip and whip again, until the peaks are well-formed. Just like this.

Add powdered sugar and the food red coloring. At first it looked like something out of a Halloween movie, but once the mixture is formed, the food coloring melts beautifully creating luscious strikes of bright pink.

Prepare the pastry bag. Add the decorating tip and spoon meringues into the bag until half full. On a baking sheet aligned with parchment paper, pipe 1″ rounds about 1″ apart. Bake the meringues until they are completely dry, about 2 hours or so. Let them cool for about 1 hour and enjoy.

My free-hand piping work leaves something to be desired, but as my first attempt, I can be satisfied. At least, they tasted great! And the vanilla added a new dimension. What I thought was an insurmountable project, something way out of comfort zone, turned out to be a pleasurable, and quite sugary adventure. More of this, please! (And I cannot be responsible for the incredible sugar high. Ehhhhh!) 🙂

New Year’s resolutions (eat more vegetables)

I never know where the time goes. It’s already January and I have yet to start on my New Year’s resolutions. (Blame it on the short vacation, beautiful weather, copious amounts of food and beverages). But January it is and the resolutions better start soon. Here they are: (in no particular order)

Eat more vegetables. I always tend to dance around veggies while preparing dinner. Coming home from work tired and deprived of imagination, I go for boring rather than creativity: potatoes, potatoes and potatoes (and Brussels sprouts).

Write more posts. This shouldn’t really be on the list, but with the little time I have to devote to the blog, I am going to make it my mission to populate this baby with tons of delicious recipes and posts.

– Therefore, cook more creative dishes. This really means that I need to experiment with ingredients, find perfect combinations (like truffle and butter), try new things (never cooked with collard greens),

Invent recipes. When I cook, I always try to think of other ways to incorporate a certain ingredient or how to transform a tired recipe into something new, fresh and fun. Wish me luck! Well…actually, wish Francesco luck because he will be the one trying my creations!

So, let’s get started! May 2012 bring all of you happiness, love and success.

Chiara


Out and About: Blue Moon Diner in Charlottesville

There are so many little secrets in Charlottesville. The Blue Moon Diner, a rock-and-roll eatery, is certainly one of them. Located on West Main Street, the largest artery in town, this one-of-a-kind diner is an institution. We’ve dined there for brunch, lunch and dinner and it has never disappointed our hungry mouths. The best thing is that it’s only a 3-minute walk from our apartment.

Aside from the Elvis-inspired decor, which is honestly the best I’ve seen around, the Blue Moon Diner’s food is the talk of the town. Sure, pretty amazing musicians grace the “stage” (more like a corner between two benches) on a weekly basis, and CLAW found its official home, they even have pancakes with faces on them! (Rainn Wilson, for example) but, again, the food is what it is all about. Hearty. Local. Simple. Perfect.

So, this time around, we chose brunch. Something Francesco and I love to do is wake up late on Sunday morning, take a quick shower and walk to Blue Moon. No matter what you get: “Huevos Bluemoonos ,” blueberry pancakes, meatloaf, any of the burgers platters, eggs any way you want, it’s always a solid bet. It’s going to taste good. On this day, I chose my own omelet with feta cheese, spinach and bacon. Delicious. It is served with house potatoes and a drink of your choice…hot tea for this girl.

And let’s spend a minute to discuss service. Servers are cool, fast and genuinely nice. Hearty brunch, good service and  fun decor. All things that point to a winner.

GQ’s Best Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: Brookville Restaurant

It’s not every day that a chef from a small town in Central Virginia makes the same list of super chefs of the caliber of Thomas Keller. Brookville Restaurant‘s Harrison Keevil made a grilled cheese sandwich so good, that it landed him on a national spread of GQ Magazine.

I’ve eaten at Brookville before and I can honestly say that it is one of the best new restaurants in town. Sure, the decor is simple, yet sophisticated, but it’s the attention to details that makes Brookville stand out from the rest. Local produce and meats, frequent menu changes and a hint of molecular gastronomy are the right combination.

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Picture: the first layer is The French Evolution by uber chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. The second is the brain child of Brookville’s chef Harrison Keevil and is called Southern Comfort and the bottom one is The Crispy Caprese from Artisanal in NYC.

From GQ:

The French Evolution
Chef Thomas Keller, The French Laundry, Yountville, California, and Per Se, N.Y.C.
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices brioche
2 oz. Gruyère, thinly sliced
Southern Comfort
Chef Harrison Keevil, Brookville Restaurant, Charlottesville, Virginia
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices rustic bread
3 thick slices high-quality pre-cooked bacon
3 thin slices Granny Smith apple
2 Tbsp. Duke’s mayonnaise (optional)
2 oz. Swiss cheese or Gouda, thinly sliced
The Crispy Caprese
Chef Terrance Brennan, Artisanal, N.Y.C.
1 Tbsp. butter
2 slices pagnotta (Italian country bread)
1 ripe tomato, sliced
Several sprigs fresh basil
3 oz. fresh burrata or mozzarella
Brookville made it on my list of most decadent desserts in Charlottesville (something I wrote for my paper’s Food and Drink Annual – scroll down to the very end of the page). I had the really hard task of going around town tasting desserts and deciding what made my nose tickle. Brookville’s Maple bacon waffles with grilled peaches were right at the top. Do yourself a favor, go try it.

The Weekend List 11/27/11

The week of Thanksgiving is always a strange one, working wise. But this year, we had the incredible treat of being guests at Emily’s parent’s house for turkey day. Amazing. Lots of family, lots of love and of course, lots of food and two words: glow sticks.

–An intriguing article by Thomas Madrecki in The Atlantic about working for six weeks in the kitchen of the world’s best restaurant, NOMA. Located in Copenhagen, Denmark, NOMA voted voted the best two years in a row. In our recent trip to Copenhagen, not being able to dine at NOMA is my only regret. Excuse to go back? I particularly like this passage:

At Noma and at other top restaurants, anything but striving for complete and total perfection is a disgrace. And to be frank, it is still a disgrace even outside of those top kitchens. The lesson here is just as simple as having a sense of urgency: Don’t bother doing anything but your best. Don’t half-ass anything. It’s either perfect — or it’s not.

Led by chef Rene Pedzepi, NOMA perfects Nordic gourmet cuisine while keeping the traditional cooking methods of the region. A reviewer from Scotland had this to say about the restaurant. “I could very quickly run out of superlatives attempting to describe our meal experience at Noma! For me, it was quite simply the best meal I have ever eaten.” Not too shabby.

Buttz BBQ in Charlottesville. I knew the restaurant existed and I knew about its reputation around town—and was the runner-up of C-VILLE Weekly’s BBQ contest, but I never actually took the time to go to The Corner district and try it out. Big mistake. The pulled pork platted was the best I’ve ever had: the right amount of juiciness and spice with a nice and lasting smoky flavor. I am not lover of super spicy foods, so I went with their Texas BBQ sauce, a sweet addition to my already delicious pork. After reading the owners’ explanation of their product, I like them even more.

We aren’t pros… just guys that love BBQ.  We are not your traditional Memphis, Texas, North Carolina or Kansas City BBQ.  In fact, we’ve combined the best of all regions into OUR BBQ.

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–Currently on my nightstand: Tender at the bone by Ruth Reichl. I giddily enjoyed Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires – the trials and tribulations of a food critic, so I didn’t think twice about picking this up. It’s so fascinating to read of Reichl’s difficult relationship with her mother (The Queen of Mold),  her early encounter with French gourmet cuisine via a classmate in Montreal, Canada and her escapades (which somehow end up being  always food related)  as a summer camp counselor in the French countryside. Can’t wait to read on.

Bon Appetit magazine cookie spread. It’s so unbelievably amazing. This particular page is of Peppermint meringues and cardamon crescents, but the spread includes Cherry pistachio nougat, chocolate macaroons with orange ganache, almond-oat lace cookies, butterscotch blondie bars, lemony slice-and-bakes, and chewy ginger cookies. I have plenty to choose from for this year’s Cookie Exchange!