Foodie Tuesday: Cogitation on Vegetation

Sometimes I just plain crave vegetable goodness. I am an omnivore, generally, and probably something of an addict when it comes to eggs and dairy, but there is nothing to substitute for vegetal deliciousness, at times. Green, give me green! Or at least, things that were growing on and as plants.

For there are so many wonderful non-green vegetable delights, as well. So when veggies call, I answer. Who am I to refuse the marvelous joys of the garden?

Today’s foray: back in the land of cauliflower. I find it to be a remarkably fine ingredient, highly adaptable and versatile despite being relatively strong flavored, because its strength is balanced by an indefinable character that isn’t quite this or that, inherently, so much as a strong framework for other flavors. A great companion or substrate, if you will, for a great number of other kinds of flavors and textures.

Today, I wanted an umami-filled comfort food, and while cauliflower easily gives the texture I want, it is not itself inherently umami loaded. Mushrooms, ah, even the most humble among those are crammed with umami. The recipe, typical of my cooking, is not a recipe at all, but it takes advantage of the strengths of cauliflower and a few other modest yet potent ingredients to pull in the richness of umami as best I could imagine at the moment.

I suspect that in future iterations of this dish I will likely add a deeply green ingredient (spinach? broccoli? collards?) or two. Those are so fulfilling in a wholly different way, seeming rather cleansing to me, and refreshing and lightening and brightening. But that sort of character is not necessary to the pleasure of vegetable dishes in general, as sometimes (especially in fall and winter) what I want from vegetables is a sense of warmth and earthiness. This time, cruciferous and fungal and spiced earthiness, combined with dairy and egg intensity to create a rich, full, round sensory experience best served warm at a candlelit table, no matter what the hour.

Cauliflower, Cheese & “Squashroom” Casserole

Take one head of cauliflower and a pint of white or brown common mushrooms, raw, and pulse them all in the food processor until coarsely minced. Spoon the mixture into a large cake pan or casserole that’s been thoroughly greased (I used coconut oil), and sprinkle with coarsely ground salt and pepper, smoked paprika, brown mustard seeds, and freshly grated nutmeg. Top with about two or three cups of sliced zucchini (I used yellow) and a cup of shredded Parmesan cheese, drizzle with 1/4 cup melted brown butter, spritz again with oil to even out the coating, and bake at 250°F/121°C for an hour or until softened and melding flavors. While that’s baking, mix one 12-14 oz. tin of chopped or pureed unsalted tomatoes, an equal amount of plain whole-milk Greek yogurt, three large eggs, and 1-1/2 cups of shredded cheese (I used mozzarella, which I had in the freezer, but cheddar or any kind of mild-to-sharp melting cheese should do) together thoroughly. Stir and/or layer this with the softened vegetables and bake at 350°F/177°C for another half hour to 45 minutes or until the cheese is thickening and bubbling nicely. I added a coating of crushed corn flake crumbs with Italian seasoning over the top of this before baking to vary the texture just a little, and while it looked a little odd in the baking, it smelled great.

I can only assume that this concoction will pass muster (never mind mustard) when I serve it for lunch later this week after refrigerating it to set it up a bit and then reheating it for the meal, but given that it’s fairly close to the cauliflower pretend-mac-&-cheese I made before I am trusting in the ingredients to behave well together. If you are a reasonably trusting or adventurous spirit, jump in; if not, wait for the verdict later this week (I’ll update this then). For now, here’s the Phase I picture, and I feel pretty confident.

Or does that just prove that I’m a vegetable, too?Photo: I'm a Vegetable, Too

Foodie Tuesday: Thirst Quenching

graphite drawing + textDrinks. I love food and all of its crunchy, salty, sweet, chewy, tender, steaming, spicy, bold, sour, gooey goodness, but let’s face it, all of that goes down better with a good drink or two. At the moment, I need to behave better than I have for the last number of months, so I’ll be living on the memory of all of the tasty liquid loveliness while sipping lots of cold, clear water for the nonce. This isn’t forever, and I know I feel better when I give my poor beleaguered body an occasional break from the excesses of travel and lazy eating and all of those other happy tortures that tempt and taunt in ever-increasing increments until it’s time for one of these breaks. And believe me, I’ve nothing against a crisp fresh glass of water. Or twenty.

photoStill, I do enjoy the wide variety of ways one can slake one’s thirst beyond refueling the necessary percentage of corporeal content with good old aitch-two-oh. That glass of lemonade made glinting green with alfalfa was a quintessentially Berkeley taste that was remarkably enjoyable in its grassy clean refreshment on a warm sunny day. I’m not sure if I felt more like a retro-hippie or a happy cow while sipping it–not much matter there; the only important thing is that it tastes great.

graphite drawing + textMostly, it’s a grand thing when the drinks complement the context. Sipping ‘hay clippings’ in earthy, counterculture country like Berkeley just feels mighty apropos. Wetting one’s whistle with a gingered Irish whiskey based drink in a pub while nibbling at hot fish and chips works like a, well, a lucky charm. Tipping back a glass of icy white rum with lime when sharing conversation with the cosmopolitan bar owner who made them and hearing about his history as an opposition newspaper editor in Noriega’s Panama, as a banker, and as a descendant of an old family determined to help shape the new Panama by subtler means, through ecological work, by working for social change, and by teaching others both by example and in simple, heartfelt conversations over a drink–that’s a combination perfectly designed to make a moment of what could be mere small talk into a cultural, educational and personal exchange to remember.

photoBecause we all thirst for something to drink. It’s essential that we replenish, you know, our bodily fluids. But far more than that, when we sip we are in communion, in a way. There’s the affinity between the drink and the situation, and between the drink and the food, to be sure. But a drink with another person can easily create, regardless of its contents, a real contribution to building affinities between those who share the drinks. Those that already existed, they can grow stronger. Some meetings of people need that nice drink to invent the possibility of affinity. The raised glass is the opportunity for a new meeting of minds, and maybe of hearts.

Then again, sometimes a refreshing drink is . . . just a drink.

Foodie Tuesday: Nothing Freaky about Frikadeller

Kjøttkaker, as they’re known in my Norwegian-descended (and oh, how far we can descend!) family, or frikadeller, as the Danes and some other ‘cousins’ of ours call them, are simply and literally seasoned ground (minced) meat cakes. My husband finds them strange because they aren’t cozied up inside a hamburger bun, since that’s pretty much what the patties are, though usually on a slightly smaller scale. He finds it equally strange to serve them without a nice tomato-based sauce over the top of some beautiful fresh pasta, since again, they’re pretty much meatballs too, though usually on a slightly larger scale. And they certainly aren’t meatloaves, being far too teensy to serve sliced to anyone without smirking at the sheer silliness of it, though it might be worth it just to watch their expressions, while you counted out five peas per person alongside the meat and baked one fingerling potato for each. In any case, it’s really no surprise that these little dandies should suffer an identity crisis on this side of the pond.

Truth be told, said spouse isn’t a huge fan of ground meats outside of some favorite places where they commonly lurk, as in the previously mentioned hamburgers, or as meatballs in pasta sauce, or in a nicely spicy taco filling. The texture isn’t all that appealing to him without some distracting vehicle or accompaniment. I will have to continue on my search for some other alternatives or just know that any kjøttkaker cooked up around here are all mine for the munching. Hmm, was I thinking there was anything wrong with that scenario? How ridiculous!

Because I do like a nice chopped meat treat of one sort or another occasionally. So I made up a batch the other day. These are no more than a lightly-mixed blend of equal parts ground beef, veal and pork (about a half pound each, I suppose) with a couple of eggs to bind them and boost their nutrients a bit, some salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, ground coriander and a nice toss of shredded Parmesan for a touch of textural variety. I oven-baked them (in bacon fat, because I’m a flavor-holic), having made a big enough batch to freeze a bunch and have a few left in the fridge for weekday meals in the short term. Then I stuck the ones headed for supper into the skillet where the side-dishes were waiting, so all would arrive together hot at the table.photoWhile the patties were roasting, I’d cooked up a nice big batch of crimini mushrooms in butter and my homemade bone broth, set them aside and lightly cooked some nice thin green beans in the fat of the pan, and then layered it all back up together. While the vegetable portion of the program rested a moment, I’d taken the meat patties out of the oven, poured off the fat and scooped up all of those nice meaty drippings into a little container where I whipped them up with some heavy cream. The drippings were already plenty well seasoned and nicely condensed by their medieval-hot-tub adventures in the oven, so I had Instant Gravy of a kind you’re not likely to find in a packet of powdered whatsis on your grocery’s shelf. Which is to say, rich and flavorsome enough even for the likes of me.photoAll I added at table were some nice little fresh tomatoes to add a bit of color both to the plating and to the palate, a brightener welcome alongside the warmth and savory goodness of the rest. A little shot of sunshine is always welcome, whether in the kitchen or on the grinning face of someone happily gobbling up what’s served for supper.photo