Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Garlicky Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Golden Raisins

Do you ever go through periods when you think you've lost your cooking mojo? Over the summer and into fall, when I was helping my parents, I had little time or energy to cook. As things have slowly begun to return to at least my version of normal I've been spending more time in my kitchen.

And yet.

For awhile everything felt foreign. Favorite dishes I'd made for years as staple meals eluded me. What did I use to cook for myself? How did I do it?

Gradually it's been coming back. One of my favorites over the years has been roasted cauliflower. I had my way of making it--quickly blanched, then mixed with garlic, olive oil, and grated parmesan cheese before going into the oven--and I enjoyed it and that was that. We all have those. But while at the market recently I decided to pick up a head of cauliflower and add some new flavors. And, I wondered, what would happen if I didn't blanch the florets first or even cover the roasting dish during most of the cooking? Would the cauliflower end up tough or burnt?

The answer was no, not at all. So, this roasted cauliflower now takes less steps. It's still combined with garlic (because it's my favorite flavor and I'm just not giving it up), but also with capers and golden raisins and a minced spring onion. I seasoned it with sea salt and marash pepper flakes--an earthy, fruity red pepper with a little heat, used primarily in Turkish cuisine. And it's tossed in extra virgin olive oil and panko crumbs. I left out grated parmesan cheese, but go ahead and add it if that appeals to you. The result was a cauliflower dish that was sweet and salty with a little heat and a little crunch from the panko. The cauliflower itself cooked through without any issues; in fact, it was tender with just a little bite. I ate it as a side dish for a couple of meals and then tossed it with whole wheat pasta that turned out to be a natural combination.

I also decided to roast the dish in a hand-thrown clay casserole dish. I mention this because if you have some clay pottery you'd like to cook with there are rules to this so the pot remains intact. My friend, cookbook author Paula Wolfert, is an expert in clay pot cooking and has these tips. For my purposes here, one of the key tips is not to preheat your oven before placing the dish into it. Instead, you'll let the dish slowly heat up along with the oven so it won't crack.

Garlicky Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Golden Raisins
Serves 4
(printable recipe)

1 head cauliflower
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup capers
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 spring onion, diced
2 teaspoons marash pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup panko crumbs plus 2 tablespoons to sprinkle on the top
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 375˚ if you're using a conventional casserole dish. If you're using a hand-thrown glazed or unglazed dish don't turn on the oven until you place the filled dish into it.
2. Remove the core and leaves from the cauliflower (you can save these to cook separately and puree or add to vegetable stock). Peel and mince the garlic cloves.
3. If you're using dried, salted capers, place in a bowl and cover with water to soak for 15 minutes. Then rinse and drain. Also soak the golden raisins in a bowl of water for 15 minutes, then drain.
4. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the extra 2 tablespoons of panko crumbs. Pour into a casserole dish. Top with the extra panko crumbs and drizzle a little olive oil.
5. Place in the oven for about an hour or until golden brown on top.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sweet and Crunchy Buckwheat Groats

So, last week I wrote about cooking up buckwheat groats as a hot cereal. Let's take a 180 with this grain and turn it into a crunchy dessert topping.

The same grains that get soaked and turn slimy and turn into a soft, comforting breakfast can, instead, be transformed after that same overnight soaking into a delightful jar of unusual crisp sweetness for anything from baked apples to ice cream.

It's pretty easy. Yes, you pre soften the groats with an overnight soaking in water. After rinsing and draining as you did for the cereal prep, you put them in a sauté pan and heat to dry them out. Then you'll add a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom (or other flavors you like), along with a splash of your favorite vegetable oil. Stir it up, then place on a silpat- or parchment paper-lined sheet pan and place in a 400˚ oven. Bake for about 7 minutes, then stir it around to get it evenly cooked, and place back in the oven for another 8 to 10 minutes until the groats are nicely browned. Let them cool completely, then break up the clumps.

And that's it. How cool, right?

Sweet and Crunchy Buckwheat Groats
(printable recipe)

1 cup buckwheat groats
1 tablespoons vegetable oil (canola or the like)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1. Place the goats in a bowl and cover with water. Let soak overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 400˚.
3. Drain the water from the groats and place in a colander. Rinse thoroughly and let drain.
4. Add the groats to a sauté pan and heat to dry them out. Once they start giving off a nutty aroma and you can no longer see water streaks on the bottom of the pan (about 5 minutes), add the rest of the ingredients. Stir thoroughly and let cook another couple of minutes.
5. Spread the groats mixture evenly on a sheet pan lined with either silpat or parchment paper. Bake for about 7 minutes, then stir the mixture up and return to the oven to bake for another 8 to 10 minutes until the groats are golden brown.
6. Remove from the oven and let cool thoroughly, then break up any clumps. They can be stored in an airtight container.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sick of Oatmeal? Try Buckwheat Groats

Since I read and wrote about Carolynn Carreños' book Bowls of Plenty, I've been a little fixated on breakfast bowls. Initially, having had no time to play around with the idea too much I took what I had--oatmeal--and livened it up with yogurt, toasted walnuts, and a dollop of honey. Then I branched out à la Trader Joe's with a canister of their Organic Multigrain Hot Cereal, a mix of rye, barley, oats, and wheat. I topped that with this tangy Bellwether Farms vanilla sheep's milk yogurt that I love, along with blueberries and honey. That's been my staple for weeks now.

But while at Whole Foods recently I was eying the grains they sell by bulk and came across buckwheat groats. Now these aren't exactly foreign to me. I grew up eating kasha (buckwheat groats) varnishkes. This is a traditional Eastern European Jewish dish that combines the toasted kasha with bowtie noodles (the practical Jewish American translation of the "varnishkes") in a heavenly mixture of onions and mushrooms sautéed in chicken fat. It has a distinctive nutty aroma from the kasha that becomes one of those childhood memories that never leaves you.

Out of that nostalgia I filled up a bag with the buckwheat groats and took it home. And kept staring at it as I tried to decide how to enjoy it. I finally concluded I'd use part of it to make a breakfast bowl.

Dutifully I soaked them overnight to help speed up the cooking process. The next morning I put the now slimy groats into a colander and rinsed them well. Then into a small saucepan they went to toast a little on the stove. Once I got that wonderful aroma I added milk (You can use water if you don't want the dairy; I like the creaminess it creates), a pinch of salt, and--get this--pumpkin pie spice. Yeah, you know that little jar you pull out once a year to make your pie (and that you really should toss because it probably no longer has any flavor)? Well, if you just bought it last fall for Thanksgiving this is a great way to get additional use out of it. After all, what better way to enjoy a porridge than by flavoring it with cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom? No pumpkin pie spice jar? No worries. Just toss in a half stick of cinnamon.

Okay, so the groats are mixed with milk, salt and the pumpkin pie spice. Bring the mixture to a simmer and keep stirring until the liquid mostly evaporates. Now if you read other instructions for making porridge--with oatmeal, buckwheat, or other grains--they'll probably tell you to cover the pot during this stage. My advice is don't do it. You will (especially if you have an electric stovetop) experience major bubbling over that's a drag to clean. Just keep the lid off, monitor the heat, and stir until it reaches the consistency you like.

Pour the buckwheat porridge into bowls and add a little sweetener. It could be honey, brown sugar, molasses... whatever you like. I mixed in a couple pinches of maple sugar. Then I topped it with low-fat vanilla yogurt and a handful of blueberries. You can change your toppings with the seasons--toasted nuts, berries, chopped figs, sliced bananas, toasted coconut, raisins or other dried fruit all work well.

And I have more cooked porridge to warm up for tomorrow.

Buckwheat Groats Cereal with Yogurt and Blueberries
(printable recipe)
Serves 4

1 cup buckwheat groats
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or half a cinnamon stick)
Pinch of sea salt
Sugar or other sweetener to taste
1 cup yogurt
1 cup fresh blueberries

1. Soak the buckwheat groats in a bowl of water overnight. The next morning, pour them into a colander, rinse them under cold water to remove the slimy texture, and drain.
2. Place the buckwheat groats in a saucepan on a stovetop and toast them while stirring until you can smell a nutty aroma--just a couple of minutes. Then add the milk, pumpkin pie spice, and sea salt. Stir well and let the mixture come to a simmer. Adjust the heat so it doesn't boil over and stir periodically until most of the liquid is absorbed.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in your sweetener. Spoon the cereal into bowls and top with yogurt and then berries.

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