Friday, November 29, 2013

Cauliflower and Leek Soup

Cauliflower gives this soup body, the leeks and bacon give it flavor.  A serving of this, topped with some freshly grated Parmesan, is a bowl of warm comfort on a cold night.  It’s the perfect quick meal after days of excess. 

When I joined Facebook back in 2009, one of the first things I did was start a group for me and my friends to share our recipes.  We were going along great until Facebook, in its infinite wisdom, decided to change the format and the recipes were no longer categorized under Discussions and became jumbled in several long threads.  With all the complications, we stopped using the group.  But not before my dear friend, Jayne, had shared the tidbit that the leftover rind off a wedge of Parmesan makes a lovely addition to soup as it simmers.  (I think she was making potato and leek.)  I kicked myself at the time because I had JUST thrown one away.  But I held on to that nugget of flavorful information and have used it ever since.

You can have this delicious soup on the table in less than 30 minutes so it’s the perfect weeknight meal.  Pop some of your own homemade biscuits in the oven at the same time, and you will be dancing in the kitchen.  (Put on some music too.  Come on, live a little!)

Ingredients to serve two very generously and four you have bread or biscuits to go with.
1 small head of cauliflower (about 1 lb or 500g)
4-5 small leeks or 2-3 large ones (about 1 lb or 500g)
2-3 slices smoked bacon
Olive oil
1 stock cube (chicken or vegetable)
1 rind Parmesan cheese (optional but recommended)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup or 80ml cold milk
1 heaped tablespoon cornstarch or cornflour
Sea salt, to taste at the end

To serve: Freshly grated Parmesan for each bowl (optional but highly recommended)

Method
Cut the large stem off the cauliflower and then cut the florets into bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.


Cut the root ends and the hard green bits off the leeks and discard.  (Or save in scrap and peel bag in freezer for making homemade stock later.)



Now split the leeks in half lengthwise.

Run them under cold water, separating the layers to clean all the dirt off from inside.  This is very important because even one little piece of grit you leave behind will mess up the whole pot.



Chop the leeks into small pieces and set aside.  Slice the bacon into little pieces as well.  Fry the bacon with a drizzle of olive oil, in a pot large enough for all of your eventual soup.



When the bacon is crispy, add in the leeks and give the whole thing a stir and cook for a few minutes or until the leeks have softened.



Now add in the cauliflower florets and stir again.



Add water enough to cover the vegetables, add your stock cube and bring the pot to a boil.

If you are fortunate to have a Parmesan rind, peel off any plastic and pop it in the pot when the stock cube goes in.  Turn it down to simmer and put on a lid partially covering the pot.

Make sure to take the wax or plastic off of your Parmesan rind. 


The soup is almost done when the cauliflower is soft enough for your liking.   Add the cornstarch to your cold milk and stir until the cornstarch has completely dissolved.

Pour the mixture into your pot, stirring constantly.  Bring the soup back to the boil and let it thicken a little.   Add a few grinds of fresh black pepper.  (If you aren’t adding grated Parmesan to each bowl, check the taste and add salt to your taste.  Otherwise, remember that Parmesan is pretty salty and be conservative with the salt.)


Serve with extra grated Parmesan for each bowl.


Enjoy!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cranberry Muffins for #MuffinMonday

Dried cranberries glow like rubies in these beautiful muffins.  Perfect for breakfast or snack time. 

You all are probably laughing at my photo.  Go ahead.  I know it’s ridiculous.  As much as I try to pretty things up with plates and napkins and other props, the bottom line here is that life comes before blog.  What you see there is me on my way out the door to go sailing with friends in Abu Dhabi.  Which is an hour and a half from home.  I baked the muffins and stuffed them warm in a bag to go.  The car was all packed and even the hound was already fully ensconced behind the front seat when I realized that I hadn’t taken a photo of the finished muffins.  So that’s my hand and behind it, my front yard.  And speaking of life, have I told you we bought a small sailboat?  Yep, it’s a Drascombe Longboat and it lives in Abu Dhabi.

Her name is Jade, despite being blue. 

When we aren’t sailing, there is always piddling about to do: cleaning, repairing and general maintenance.  We ended up not sailing on Saturday since weather was poor, but new ropes have been spliced to tie down the boat cover.  It’s a man thing that involves technical knots and fire apparently.

Hard at work, splicing ropes.  Women knit, I was told.  Men splice rope.  Right.
Not to perpetuate stereotypes but I was happy in the kitchen, preparing lunch.   


Anyhoo, the muffins are tasty and perfect for this season of cranberries and holidays.  Make some for Thanksgiving or to bring to a neighbor.

Ingredients
2 cups or 250g all purpose flour
3/4 cup or 170g sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup or 180ml milk
1/2 cup or 120ml canola or other light oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 generous cup or about 135g dried cranberries (Mine are sweetened.)

Method
Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C.  Generously grease cups 12-cup muffin pan or line with muffin liners.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together.


In another bowl, whisk together milk, canola, vanilla and eggs.



Add all the milk/egg mixture to flour mixture.


Gently fold just until dry ingredients are moistened.   Set a handful of the cranberries aside and then fold the rest of them in.


Divide your batter relatively evenly between the 12 muffin cups.


Top with the reserved cranberries.


Bake 20-25 minutes or until muffins are golden.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before removing muffins from tin.



Enjoy!





Muffin Monday is an initiative by Baker Street, a culinary journey of sharing a wickedly delicious muffin recipe every week. Drop her a quick line to join her journey to make the world smile and beat glum Monday mornings week after week.


Plus learn all you ever need to know about muffins at Muffin 101.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Freeze and Bake Buttermilk Biscuits for #SundaySupper

Tender, buttery buttermilk biscuits that can be made then frozen until you need to bake them are perfect for rushed Thanksgiving or Christmas mornings.  Get a batch in your freezer today and you can thank me later. 

Ever since the theme #beingthankful for today’s Sunday Supper was added to our forum, I have been mulling over what I am most thankful for.  So I started writing this post with a very long list of blessings.

Then, as we sat down to eat dinner the other night, I was telling my husband all about it.  He said immediately, “Make sure you mention seatbelts.”  And I deleted everything I’d written so far and started over.

He called in the wee hours of the still dark morning, his voice shaking.  “We’ve been in an accident.  Head on.  We are okay.  Just come.”  It was 16 March 2003 and our elder daughter was in sixth grade.  Her school, the International School of Kuala Lumpur, had (still has!) a fabulous program for all Middle School students that required that they leave home for one week and experience rustic life in various environments, river, beach and mountain, all in the wilds of Malaysia.  Depending on the location chosen, there were no bathrooms, few creature comforts and students cooked their own meals.  Just lots of fresh air, exercise, experiential learning and team building.  Her bag was packed and as she slept that night, I laid in my bed and prayed before her early morning departure.  “Keep the angels around her.  Keep her safe.”  We had agreed that her father would take her to catch the bus, to avoid having to wake up her little sister so early on a Sunday.

The wildly flashing lights and horrific traffic as we approached in the dark almost completely undid me.  Another driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and crossed the highway median.  My husband and daughter both had serious seatbelt bruises across their chests and abdomens.  Her glasses flew off and out of the car on impact.  We never did find them.  And there was blood everywhere from the cuts caused by the shower of broken glass.  But they walked away from the totaled car.  Because they had their seatbelts on.

The red car was ours.  The cars were towed to the police station from the site of the accident. 

Seatbelts do save lives and words cannot express the enormity of my gratitude to Nils Bohlin, the inventor of the three-point belt now standard on most cars and to his employer, Volvo, which didn’t patent the invention but made the design available to all manufacturers.  Buckle up, folks.

If I hadn’t rewritten this post, way on down the list of large then small blessings, you’d have found these biscuits.  Because they are easy to make and easy to bake.  They bake up light and fluffy, whether you bake them immediately or after some time in the freezer.  They are a blessing on a busy day.

Ingredients
2 cups or 250g flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup or 115g cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup or 180ml cold buttermilk
Extra flour for the counter top and rolling pin
Small splash of milk for brushing on biscuits before baking.  (Perhaps 1/4 cup or 60ml if you are baking the whole batch at once.)

Method
If you are planning to bake some of the batch after making it, preheat the oven to 400°F or 200°C and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.  If you are going to freeze any, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or wax paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk it all together.



Take your cold butter out of the refrigerator and cut it into small chunks directly into the flour mixture.


Use a pastry blender or two knives to work the butter into the flour.  It should turn a bit crumbly looking but you don’t want to get the pieces too tiny.  There should still be some butter visible. This is what helps the biscuits bake flakey, rather like rough puff pastry.

Now pour the buttermilk into the bowl and stir it around till a dough form.


Flour your work surface and tip the dough out onto it.

Knead a few times until it’s not too sticky to handle, sprinkling on a bit more flour, if necessary.


Roll the dough out with your rolling pin till it’s about half an inch or 1 cm thick.  Use a floured cookie cutter or drinking glass to cut out circles of dough and place them on your prepared pan (or pans, if you are baking AND freezing.)



Knead the leftover dough and roll it out again and cut more biscuits, until all the dough is used up.  My cookie cutter is 2 3/4in or 7cm across and this recipe made 13 full size biscuits and one little leftover-dough one.

I froze all of mine.  You'll want to space them farther apart if you are baking.  

Brush the biscuits with a little milk and bake for 12-15 minutes or until they are lightly browned on top and lovely and golden brown on the bottom.



Put the pan of unbaked biscuits in the freezer for several hours.  After they have frozen, pop them off the parchment paper and put them in a Ziploc bags.



To bake from frozen, put the biscuits on a greased cookie sheet and then preheat the oven to 400°F or 200°C.  My oven takes about 15-20 minutes to get up to temperature and by that time, the biscuits are completely thawed.  If your oven is quicker, just take the biscuits out a little earlier, before you preheat.  Bake according to the instructions above.

Don't let the fact that they have butter already in them stop you from adding more! 
 
They also go ever so nicely with jam or syrup. 

Once last thing I’m thankful for today, besides you, my lovely readers, is the Sunday Supper group and our lovely host, Paula from Vintage Kitchen Notes.  You will never meet a nicer or more talented collection of food bloggers anywhere!  It is my honor and privilege to bake and cook with them most Sundays, encouraging folks to spend time together around the family dinner table.

What are you thankful for this year?

FIRST COURSE / APPETIZERS  



SAVORY BREADS + STUFFING


MAIN DISHES


SIDE DISHES



DESSERTS + SWEET BREADS


WANT WINE WITH THAT?



Join the #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter on Sunday!  We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world.  Our weekly chat starts at 7 p.m. ET.  Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat.  Check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board for more fabulous recipes and food photos.


Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.