Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ghosts and Goblins and...Orange Cauliflower?
What’s cooking? Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Pesto and Cheese Sauce

Ya-ha-hah... Ladies and gents, give a cheer for Halloween! Possibly the most purely fun celebration of the year. No religious rites, no patriotic ceremonies, no special dinners to cook. Only costumes and candy and maybe a carved pumpkin or two – how could you not love it? And in spite of the Christmas trees now sprouting up like the weeds in my garden after a rain, I would like to mention that we have TWO holiday seasons (THREE if you add the early arrival of Hanukkah this year) to work our way through before any wise men should start packing their bags.

I love Halloween – possibly more as an adult than I did as a kid. I love opening my door to a handful of tiny fairies and dragons and pirates and princesses, all jockeying for position to get their trick-or-treat bags near the bowl of candy. I love the costumes, on old and young alike. (See my New York Times essay on the subject here.) And as a confirmed firebug, I relish the excuse to put candles in pumpkins – or anywhere else for that matter.

Halloween also brings the time of year when, at church on All Saints Day, they sing “For All the Saints.” One of my favorite hymns, it reminds me of my grandmother who, while not precisely saintly, got pretty damned close. And Halloween or not, she always had a bowl of candy near her front door for neighborhood kids who’d stop by. Not a bad model to emulate.

As I was walking through the New Jersey farmers’ market last week, taking in all the fall-ish offerings like butternut squash and mum plants and pumpkin scones from the bakery, I spotted something that made me absolutely stop in my tracks. Orange cauliflower. Yessiree, you heard it here. Such a gorgeous color, and the farmstand people said it would taste like the standard white variety, so I bought one. And packed it in my suitcase.

With a little research, I learned that orange cauliflower, also known as Cheddar cauliflower and Orange Bouquet cauliflower, is the result of a genetic mutation that allows it to hold more Vitamin A (beta carotene) than white cauliflower. Other than the color and the vitamin A thing, it’s pretty much the same as its lilywhite cousin in terms of texture and flavor. There is, however, one final difference: it’s way more fun as part of a Halloween celebration.

Having gotten it as far as Texas, I decided we had to do something different with it. A bit more research led me to slicing it into slabs and grilling it like steaks. I know, it sounds a bit weird, and the grillmaster at my house was darkly skeptical, but I persevered. One source suggested brushing the steaks with olive oil; another recommended pesto, which sounded so exotic, I had to try it. And, as luck would have it, I had basil pesto in the freezer. (Pesto being one of the Kitchen Goddess’s favorite ingredients. You could also use arugula pesto.) I’d recommend adding enough olive oil to the pesto to make it runny, so you can brush a thin layer onto the cauliflower.

I couldn’t really imagine cauliflower without cheese sauce, so I made some of that, too. I didn’t want to bury the flavor of the pesto, so the cheese sauce here is fairly simple. But oh, my. All we needed was a salad and a slab of Naan bread to make a completely delicious – and fun-colored – meal. And a great start to the Halloween season.

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Pesto and Cheese Sauce

1 head cauliflower, sliced in slabs ½-¾ inch thick**
¼ cup pesto (basil pesto or arugula pesto, thinned with a bit of olive oil) or just plain olive oil
salt and pepper

For the cheese sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
1 cup milk (I used skim, but it should work as well with whole or low-fat)
Optional seasonings: pinch of dry mustard, pinch of cayenne pepper
5 ounces aged cheddar or other sharp cheese, grated

Lay the cauliflower steaks out on a rimmed baking sheet and brush liberally on both sides with the pesto. Salt and pepper both sides as well. Grill over medium heat until the steaks can be pierced easily with a knife, up to 10 minutes per side. The edges of the steaks should begin to char.

While the cauliflower is on the grill, make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour and continue to stir until the mixture takes on a slightly golden hue, 5-10 minutes. (If you want more color to your sauce, just keep stirring.) Once the roux achieves the desired hue, add the salt and gradually pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk the sauce until it thickens. Once the sauce is thickened, remove it from the heat and stir in the cheese. Cover until ready to serve.

To serve, drizzle the cheese sauce over the cauliflower.

And yes, I have no photo of the cheese sauce. By the time we got to that point in the meal, my husband was ready to eat (if you get my drift), and I forgot to take another photo.

** Kitchen Goddess note: Once you slice it, you’ll be left with the sides of the cauliflower that don’t seem to lend themselves to steak-like preparation. I grilled some of that anyhow, and saved some for grilling another time soon.

Trick or Treat, everyone!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Doing the Veggie Shuttle
What’s cooking? Fall Harvest Frittata

So I hope you all didn’t think I’d fallen off the roof or something. I had an unexpected trip back to New Jersey last week, and it completely threw me off course. The good news is that I took advantage of the occasion to make one final visit to the farmers’ market there, and loaded up completely.

A couple of weeks before that in Texas, I met a woman – another foodie – who used to live in Brooklyn. We got to chatting about the wonderfulness (and yes, I know that’s not a word) of the New Jersey/New York farmers’ markets. She told me she always takes an empty suitcase on return trips so she can stock up on her favorite foods. What a great idea. And while I didn’t take an extra suitcase, I did pack as efficiently as I could to allow room for a few items to help me extend the season.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Back to the Grill
What’s Cooking? Grilled Broccoli with Chipotle-Lime Butter and Queso Fresco

The great North-South migration is now in full swing. We have friends heading to Texas from Nantucket, the Jersey shore, Wisconsin, and Colorado; others fleeing Alaska and New Jersey for  Arizona; quite a few ditching New York and New Jersey for Florida; and a final few escaping Maine for the Carolinas or even just as far south as Connecticut. Makes you wonder who’s left to shovel the snow when it arrives.

As usual, arriving home after three months is more than a little disconcerting. Where are the knives in this kitchen? I thought I had more olive oil than this, and do I not have any garlic? And, for some reason, the internet service is down. It turns out that if you go away for long enough, there’s bound to be an electrical storm in your absence that causes various outdoor plugs to spasm or your router to have an epileptic seizure. The ice machine doesn’t work either, so we spend the first few days calling repair services.

Then there’s the chicken in the fridge. Friends, a word of advice: do not leave a partially eaten roast chicken in your refrigerator for a month. I’ll confess that I was the one who left it there during a brief mid-term visit. On my return, I didn’t even open the paper bag it was in – I just removed it carefully to the garbage can before it could explode.

On the other hand – and thankfully, there always is another hand – the weather is at last temperate enough to eat on the porch, and we are at last back in digs that offer grilling. Fall veggies present wonderful opportunities for that method of cooking, and I have one for you here, today.

A Couple of Short Digressions – on Broccoli and Chipotle

In the years when I was actively mothering, broccoli was my go-to green vegetable. (“Hah!” my full-grown sons would say, “You are still actively mothering.” Now, does that sound like gratitude?) Although I knew many attractive ways to serve it, their palates were still in the “Just plain, please” mode, and I was still a working mom with more to do than figure out fancy presentations of a vegetable.

By the time they left the nest, I’d grown tired of broccoli, so it was a while before I’d even bother to look at it in the produce aisles. Then I discovered grilled broccoli – specifically this grilled broccoli with chipotle-lime butter and queso fresco – and became so crazed with the taste that I made my husband grill it twice in the first week.

The grilling process brings out the slight sweetness – yes, sweetness – of the broccoli; the little bit of char adds a flavor note that’s almost caramel. Those tastes are perfectly balanced by the salty tang of the lime and queso fresco, with a hint of smokiness from the Chipotle Tabasco. And the butter just pulls it all together.

Please don’t be put off by the Tabasco. Chipotles are jalapeños that have been aged and smoked. Farmers allow some percentage of the green jalapeño crop to remain on the vine until the end of the season, when they turn bright red and lose much of their moisture. The growers then pick these peppers and smoke them for several days until they resemble dried fruit. According to Wikipedia, it takes 10 pounds of jalapeños to make one pound of chipotles. They’re then sold as pods, powders, or preserved in seasoned adobo sauce (a paprika-based marinade). This recipe uses a variety of Tabasco sauce that delivers – in addition to a bit of heat – a nice, smoky flavor. The Tabasco is only half as hot as a green jalapeño, and if you’re nervous, you can reduce the amount.

Kitchen Goddess note: (1) The chipotle-lime butter can be made well ahead – I’ve kept it for a couple of weeks. (2) And the queso fresco is a crumbly, unaged white cheese that, according Wikipedia, is traditionally made from cow’s milk or a combination of cow’s and goat’s milk. It’s a pressed cheese with a salty-sour flavor, lighter but not too unlike either feta or farmer cheese. I get it at most grocery stores in Texas, and with the enlightened nature of major grocers these days, you probably can, too. I had a few brands to choose from, so I lingered at the dairy case until a Latina woman showed up and I asked her which brand. She said she preferred  La Vaquita. It’s also very nice crumbled on a salad or in scrambled eggs.

Grilled Broccoli with Chipotle-Lime Butter and Queso Fresco

Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine, June 2012

Serves 6-8.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 lime, finely grated
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon Tabasco Chipotle Sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 garlic clove, finely grated
4 heads of broccoli, stems peeled, florets cut into large segments
Olive oil
1 cup crumbled queso fresco

Whisk together the first six ingredients. Season lightly to taste with salt. Allow the mixture to sit for at least half an hour, to let the flavors meld. (If you make it ahead, take it out of the refrigerator for at least half an hour, to bring it to room temperature.)

Drizzle the broccoli – florets and stems – with olive oil and season with salt. Toss lightly to get coverage with the oil.

Grill the broccoli over high heat, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes or until lightly charred and crisp-tender.

Transfer the broccoli to a large bowl or platter, and toss with the chipotle-lime butter. Scatter the queso fresco over the broccoli and serve.