Before we get any further I wanted to say a couple things. Over the last week or so I found myself sitting at the computer with the intention of responding to your comments from the last post and I couldn’t do it. Everything I tried to write seemed too trite and wasn’t able to capture how grateful, humbled and encouraged I am by your support. I’ll read all of those comments over and over throughout the process when I need a little boost. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
Also, and I can’t even believe that I get to write this, I was nominated for a Saveur award in the Best Cooking Blog category. I’m shocked, happy beyond belief and to be perfectly honest, would love to win. If you have a moment I’d LOVE if you could hop on over to their site and vote. There are so many great blogs in the running. I’m happy to have discovered a few new ones and to be among some great friends. Thanks, again.
In one of those fits of luck where things align too perfectly for it to be a mere coincidence I find myself listening to Dearie, (Julia Child’s biography) and I’m just at the point where she is deep into writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking while I’m at the beginning of my own recipe testing and development. Her kitchen is littered with stacks of chicken stock splattered pages and she is spending hours a day in the kitchen working tirelessly to get her recipes perfect. I can relate.
As far as things go with my book I feel as if I’m just starting to build momentum and the process seemed that so foreign and daunting just a couple weeks ago is starting to feel doable, possible and even more thrilling than I had anticipated. It’s the sort of thrill that makes my entire body scream in unison, “this is what you are meant to be doing.” In fact that’s exactly what I texted to Gabe while I sat in the quiet of my parent’s house working on some of the narrative for the book. For me it’s more common to say to myself, “What am I doing?!” So I relish that moment when all seems right. I’ve bottled up some of that goodness and am reserving it for when my most harsh critics – the voices in my head – are at their worst.
Let’s get back to Julia – this is what happens when I ramble write, I forget where I was going. Actually to be perfectly honest I’m not sure where I’m going but I do know that I wanted to write something about her process. To learn about others’ process is like peering in through their living room window and at the risk of sounding like some sort of creeper, I love that. I’m fascinated by the process and how others have worked out their own systems in order to create and live out their passion. I’ve learned so much by the vulnerability of others and their willingness to let me peer into the way in which they work and I feel like I’m sitting at Julia’s table watching her work while I’m listening to this 30 hour tome of her life.
She is fastidious, passionate and incredibly focused on creating the best possible recipes for the american home cook. It’s as if Julia sees herself as a missionary with the purpose of sharing the wonders of French food in a way that is approachable and exact. She’s thinking of her reader constantly while revising again and again her method for mayonnaise. When Julia made batch after batch of an oily beurre blanc nantais (a simple sauce of butter, shallots, wine, vinegar and salt and pepper) she set out on a reconnaissance mission to a favorite restaurant that had the sauce perfected. By the end of the evening Julia had charmed her way into the restaurant’s kitchen and watched the sauce being made while she took copious notes for the book.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking took years of hard work, hundreds of pounds of butter and an incredibly supportive husband. But in the end the book is not only highly functional but her passion made it a work of art. I’m humbled by her pursuit to create such a book and find myself in the kitchen with a cake close to perfection but not quite and ask myself, “what would Julia do?”
She’d do it again and so will I.
One can imagine that our need for vegetables is high while our counters are continually littered with cakes, cookies and the random batch of cinnamon rolls I decided to make Sunday afternoon. While it’s easy for me to be okay with variations of a salad for many meals, my children and husband aren’t. So creativity and wooing comes into play. When it comes to food it’s easy to woo with say, chocolate but cauliflower is another thing. That is until you serve a crisp – actually, practically charred, entire head of cauliflower. It’s grand and serves as a blank canvas for those of us who like to improvise and create recipes from little bits of the pantry here and there.
I served whole roasted cauliflower at my birthday dinner this year. I’ve been meaning to tell you more about that night so I’ll save the details except that I wanted those that I was feeding to feel lavished. So there was whole roasted cauliflower (also, homemade sausage and that ice cream cake I already told you about). For the birthday cauliflower there was a simple lemon vinaigrette with capers (fresh and fried) and parsley. This time around I went with sun-dried tomatoes then took it a bit further with feta and mint. Landing a plate on the table with an entire head of cauliflower, crisp, sweet and topped with a vibrant red crown of sun-dried tomato vinaigrette makes one quickly forget that it’s actually cauliflower. I mean until a few years ago I thought cauliflowers greatest achievement was being next to the ranch on a vegetable platter. This is no vegetable platter.
It should also be noted that this simple vinaigrette of only four ingredients is also great with eggs, stirred into pasta and combined with white beans, olive oil, chili flakes, garlic and the pureeing power of a food processor to make a very fine dip of sorts.
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Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette
1 whole cauliflower, leaves and tough core removed
Drizzle the cauliflower with a bit of olive oil and salt and place on a baking sheet. Roast in a 450 degree F oven for 1 – 1/2 hours until charred in parts and tender throughout. Pierce the cauliflower with a knife to check the tenderness.
Meanwhile prepare the vinaigrette.
Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
I’ve left my vinaigrette be less of a dressing and more of a condiment. If you want it a bit thinner and to dribble down the dimpled florets of the cauliflower just add a bit of water at the end.
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes (about 6 large halves)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine everything and adjust the seasoning to your liking. If you want a thinner vinaigrette add a bit of water a tablespoon at a time until thinned.
The cauliflower is a wonderful and impressive side dish on its own with a generous supply of feta and fresh mint or you can serve it with a simple kale risotto as I did. The sun-dried tomato vinaigrette loves this risotto almost as much as cauliflower.
1 cup water
1 cups chicken stock
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup arborio rice
1 bunch kale, roughly chopped in 1 inch ribbons
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
In a small saucepan heat the water and chicken stock to a simmer. Continue to keep it warm while making the risotto. This speeds up the cooking time and makes the rice creamier in the end.
Saute the onions with butter in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add a large pinch (about 1/4 teaspoon) kosher salt to the onions to help them break down and soften. Cook until the onions are tender and cooked through and just starting to turn golden around the edges, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter and onions. Pour in the wine and stir until the wine has been absorbed.
Add 1/2 cup of the warm water and stock mixture. Stir the rice until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Continue this process until the rice is tender with just a faint bite to it, similar to al dente pasta.
Turn down the heat to low and stir in the kale allowing the residual heat to wilt the greens. Stir in the fresh ground nutmeg. Remove the risotto from the stove, taste and add more salt. I stir in cheese at this point also. If I’m serving this with the cauliflower I add a bit of feta now and then more just before serving. Parmesan, ricotta and/or goat cheese are all good options as well. Consider your cheese choice when salting the risotto.
1/2 cup crumbled feta