Archive for December, 2008

Best Vegetable Dish of 2008!

Ok, I may be a little caught up in the end-of-the-year Bests, but this cauliflower I made tonight just rocked our world!!!   And to be honest, Michael and I were both a little surprised.  I’m not overly fond of vegetables, usually because they don’t have a ton of flavor, and I like all my food dripping with flavor.  For this reason, Gramma’s stir-fried broccoli is my go-to vegetable, with garlic, lemon, salt and sugar to make it uber-flavorful.  This new cauliflower recipe is right up there with stir-fried broccoli, and I honestly never thought I’d be able to say that about about another vegetable – let alone CAULIFLOWER!

The official name of the recipe is Pan-roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts, Garlic and Rosemary.  I cut it out quite a while ago (I think at least a year ago?) from, guessing from the type font, Cottage Living.  It’s survived a couple purges of my cut-out recipe piles (I usually go through them a couple times before deciding to keep them around to try them), mainly because it seemed like you wouldn’t really be able to go wrong with the mix of ingredients, despite the fact that they are sprinkled on CAULIFLOWER.

Maybe I’m being too judgemental of this particular veg.  To be fair, I really haven’t had a lot of experience with it, aside from the “Mashed Potatoes” I made once on the South Beach diet from steamed cauliflowers.  It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, but it certainly didn’t have a lot of flavor.   Or any flavor, come to think of it.  I’ve never really seen cauliflower on menus or in other recipes.  But it’s in season in the winter, so it makes sense to come up with some good ways to prepare it.

Not surprisingly, it also packs a healthy punch.  Here’s the nutritional information written about the humble cauliflower on wikipedia:

Cauliflower is low in fat, high in dietary fiber, folate, water and vitamin C, possessing a very high nutritional density. As a member of the brassica family, cauliflower shares with broccoli and cabbage several phytochemicals which are beneficial to human health, including sulforaphane, an anti-cancer compound released when cauliflower is chopped or chewed. In addition, the compound indole-3-carbinol, which appears to work as an anti-estrogen, appears to slow or prevent the growth of tumors of the breast and prostate.[8] Cauliflower also contains other glucosinolates besides sulfurophane, substances which may improve the liver‘s ability to detoxify carcinogenic substances.[9] A high intake of cauliflower has been found to reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.[10]

 So now that I’ve got you buttered up to maybe just CONSIDER that this might be good, let me try to explain the heavenly combination of flavor and texture in this little gem of a dish.  The cauliflower is tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped rosemary (fresh would be even better but I used dried and it was still good).  You roast the slathered cauliflower for 20 minutes, then take it out and add (and this is the point where you start to think, dang, this might actually taste pretty good!) chopped garlic and pine nuts.  After another 10 minutes of roasting, the cauliflower and pine nuts are golden and gleaming in their olive oil dressing and the scent of garlic is wafting under your nose.  But, we are not done yet!  Add some toasted bread crumbs and toss – and all the flavor from the olive oil and spices gets soaked up and clings to the cauliflower.   The breadcrumbs also offer a little crunch to the dish.  When I couldn’t believe how good it was, Michael said, well anything will taste good if you drench it in butter – which is actually how this tastes – buttery, garlicky, goodness!   But there’s not a drop of butter, just healthful flavor boosters.

I feel a little bad to be bothering you with something as mundane as cauliflower when ’tis the season for cookies and all things sugar, but take my word for it and give these a whirl – if it’s not a good fit in the midst of the festivities, you may feel like it when January and the post-holiday-weight-loss-panic sets in.  And then, I think, you’ll forgive me. 🙂

Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts, Garlic and Rosemary

(adapted from Cottage Living, serves 4)


2 lbs fresh golden, purple or white cauliflower (about 1 head), washed and cut into 1 ½ inch florets

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (dried can be substituted)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

¼ cup pine nuts

2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine

¼ cup breadcrumbs, toasted


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place cauliflower in roasting pan, and toss with rosemary and next 3 ingredients.  Roast at 400 for 20 minutes.
  2. Add pine nuts and garlic; toss to combine.  Roast 10 minutes, rotate pan and roast 10 minutes more or until golden brown.
  3. Toss with breadcrumbs and serve warm.

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 I tried a new recipe this weekend, one I saw Giada make on her Food Network show that had me drooling.  We love our french-style beef stew, Beef Bourguignon, so I thought it might be fun to try an Italian version.

The short version is that I should not have bothered.  This was ok…not difficult to make, tasty enough, but just ok.  This stew also cooks in a bottle of wine, but you also add 4 cups of beef broth.  I found the stew to be too liquidy, and mixed up a quick roux/thickener (1 tablespoon butter melted and mixed with 1 tablespoon of flour) to add.  This helped, but  it was still quite soupy.  And the flavor of the broth was, I thought, much weaker than in Beef Bourguignon, where you cook the beef ONLY in a bottle of wine and the sauce is thicker and much, much more flavorful.  I appreciated the fun addition of olives and other Italian ingredients but there’s no reason to make this again when we already have the most flavorful and PERFECT beef stew you could ever want. 🙂  So if I haven’t yet sold you on trying that Beef Bourguignon recipe yet, I hope you’ll find time to try it soon!  Bon Appetit! 


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Do-good Bananas

I’m one of those weird people who like green bananas.  Not completely green, but with streaks of green so that they are still quite firm and not too sweet.  Once they’ve got the first trace of a brown spot, I can’t eat them.  If a bunch of bananas ever gets to that point too quickly without being eaten, I get excited about making banana bread.

My dad taught us that the brown bananas are perfect for banana splits, although I remember thinking that was a suspicious argument (nearly as suspicious as the attestation that unlabeled can goods retrieved from the grocery store dump were exciting to open and good for us.  Yes, that happened.)  But it turns out he was quite right, as everyone always recommends the brown bananas for baking or other banana desserts.

Even if we have no need for a whole loaf of banana bread at the time they are on their way out, these bananas can still be very useful.  The bread is easy to mix up and the loaf can then be frozen and thawed when needed.  [Wrap the completely cooled loaf in foil and then place in a large plastic freezer bag with as much air as possible removed.]  But it also makes a great give-away treat.  Recently, I needed to use up some bananas and we certainly didn’t need more carbs/sweets than we’ve already got around here with the holidays.  We do, however, have some friends who have been spending much too much time at the hospital for a very sad reason, and those browning bananas were the perfect excuse to send a little package of home-cooked comfort their way.

I think most people already have a good banana bread recipe they like, and I’m not going to say this one is the BEST necessarily, but it’s very tasty and my new favorite.  I had another recipe I made for years and years that was also very good, and I have a great recipe for Chocolate Banana Bread from my friend Melissa.  This one is from a small paper-bound booklet of recipes from the fabulous Hominy Grill restaurant in Charleston, SC, where we once ate two days in a row we liked it so much!  I find it’s a little sweeter and the addition of the oats is also quite delicious.  I’ve added cinnamon as well for a bit more flavor.  It’s extremely easy to double this recipe, if you have enough bananas.  I particularly recommend this be eaten toasted and then spread with either butter or cream cheese.  YUM!  Spread the love. 🙂

Banana Bread (adapted from Hominy Grill Recipes)


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted

2 tsp double-acting baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cinnamon

4 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

½ cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

¾ cup whole oats

1 ½ cups mashed, very ripe bananas (3-4 medium)

2 Tbs water

Plain breadcrumbs or flour to dust the pan


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 10-inch bread pan, dust with breadcrumbs (or flour, if breadcrumbs are not readily available) and set aside.


In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.


In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy, about 30 seconds.  Add the sugar and the vanilla and beat until well mixed.  Add the egg and continue beating until fluffy and pale in color.  Add oats, mashed banana, water and beat until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.


Scrape the batter into the pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes.


Cool pan on rack 5-10 minutes before removing loaf.  Let loaf cool completely on rack.



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Mmmmm, gingerbread!  I’m not talking about Men or Ladies.  I’m talking about good old-fashioned bready gingerbread.  This is a family recipe my grandmother makes, and although this dessert doesn’t seem to be very common these days, it’s extremely flavorful, very wintery and Christmasy, and easy to make!  I usually have all these ingredients in my pantry.

It’s especially good served warm, with either a simple lemon sauce spooned over, or fresh whipped cream.  If you don’t usually make your own whipped cream – now is the time to start!  It tastes nothing like cool whip, is infinitely better, and is as simple as just pouring whipping cream into a mixer with some sugar and two minutes later you have delicious clouds of the stuff.  Both recipes (if you can call it that for whipping cream) are below.



 1 stick of softened butter

½ cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 cup molasses

2 ½ cups sifted flour

1 ½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

½ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

¼ tsp allspice

1 cup hot water


Cream butter and sugar.  Add beaten egg, then molasses.  Add dry ingredients til just mixed and then slowly add water while mixing on low.  Finish incorporating all water by hand til batter is smooth.


Pour into greased 9×13 pan and smooth the top of the batter.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.


Lemon Sauce

1 cup sugar

2 Tbs cornstarch

2 cups boiling water

4 Tbs butter

Juice and zest of 1 lemon


Mix together the sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan.  Gradually stir in the boiling water.  Boil for one minute, stirring constantly.


Stir in the butter, lemon juice and lemon zest and keep warm til serving.  Spoon over gingerbread.


Homemade Whipped Cream


1 cup whipping cream

2 Tbs sugar


Combine in a bowl and mix on highest speed until desired consistency.  The whipped cream should be eaten immediately and does not keep well.  This recipe can be doubled if serving more people – this amount would serve about 4 generous dollops on top of a dessert.



PS: Another great way to eat this gingerbread that I’ve just discovered: this makes a GREAT breakfast heated, especially with coffee sweetened with eggnog.  And if you don’t put eggnog in your coffee during the month of december that’s definitely something else you should try. 🙂

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Leftover Soup

This is a recent and very useful find, from the Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook.  Her recipe is called Ribolita, which is an Italian vegetable soup.  I don’t follow her recipe exactly because it calls for some extra steps like puree-ing part of the beans to thicken the soup, etc.  I use the parts I like as a base recipe and then toss in whatever other veggies or meat are in the fridge that I want to get rid of (hence the glamorous name of the dish).

Post-Thanksgiving, this was a great way to use up extra tomatoes, squash and zucchini.  I would have thrown the leftover shredded turkey in as well but Michael insisted upon using every last piece for Turkey Sandwiches.  If your family is less adament about the sandwich consumption, that would be delicious in here.

There’s really no limit to what you can add to this little beauty – I’ve thrown in prepared pesto before, I think it would be wonderful with some sliced smoked sausage, and nearly any vegetable or bean would work.  Next time you find yourself wondering what in the world you could do with that ___ left in the fridge, take a look at this recipe and see if it just might be the perfect solution. 🙂

Leftover Soup (adapted from Barefoot Contessa At Home)


2 cans of white beans (such as Great Northern or Cannellini), rinsed

¼ cup olive oil

8 oz bacon, chopped

2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)

1 cup chopped carrots (3 carrots)

3 Tbs minced garlic (6 cloves)

1 tsp black pepper

¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 28-oz can crushed or diced tomatoes

4 cups coarsely chopped kale or other dark green

½ cup chopped basil leaves or 1 tsp dried basil

6 cups chicken broth (or more if more ingredients are added)

2 cups sourdough bread cubes, crust removed (this is the thickener – add and stir til they dissolve)


Heat the oil in a large stockpot.  Add the bacon and cook over medium heat til crispy.  Remove from oil; set aside.  Add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, 1 tablespoon of salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to the pan with the oil.  Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender.  [Additional vegetables would be added at this stage.]


Add the tomatoes with their puree, kale and basil and cook for another 7-10 minutes.


Add the cooked bacon, beans and chicken stock and bring to a boil.  [Additional meats or beans would be added at this stage.]  Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.  Add the bread to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes.


Leftover mixing ideas:

Cabbage, zucchini, squash, chopped fresh tomatoes, small-chopped potatoes, artichoke hearts, prepared pesto, tomato paste, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, sliced smoked sausage, cooked hot Italian sausage, chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, etc.


For serving, I like a quick drizzle of Truffle Oil (see Food Products in my Amazon Store for reference) and grated parmesan cheese and slices of the rest of the sourdough bread on the side.

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