Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Chive Oil and Espresso Salt

A few weeks ago I had the most amazing cauliflower soup. It was rich, creamy, and silky smooth. I instantly wanted to make it myself, but I was convinced my immersion blender would not be up to the task. I thought I would definitely need an industrial strength restaurant blender to get a puréed soup that smooth, and I was not really in the market for one of those.

Even with some nagging doubts, I decided to give it a whirl (ha). After cooking the bejeezus out of the cauliflower, I busted out my trusty blender and puréed the soup, and then puréed it a little more, and then even a little bit more. And guess what? Silky smooth! I was impressed and a little astonished. Good job, blender. With the soup done, I focused on garnishes, just for fun.

The original recipe called for fried capers, but I goofed and forgot to pick them up at the  store. So I took a cue from the restaurant soup and topped it with seemingly exotic espresso salt. After scouring the internet for espresso salt recipes and coming up empty, I decided I could probably handle this one on my own. I combined relatively equal amounts of ground espresso and grey sea salt, rubbing the mixture together with my fingers until it looked and tasted good. Voila.

And then I served the fanciest-looking weeknight soup ever. A creamy cauliflower purée topped with fresh chive oil and espresso sea salt. Fancy looking, but ridiculously easy. I promise.

Creamy cauliflower soup with chive oil and espresso salt

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Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Soup

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large (4 lb.) head of cauliflower, chopped into small florets, or 6 cups frozen chopped cauliflower
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup half and half or whole milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chive Oil

  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Espresso Sea salt

  • 1 tsp. ground espresso
  • 1 tsp. coarse sea salt

Heat olive oil and 1 Tbs. butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and stir until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in cauliflower and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer until cauliflower is soft, about 25 minutes or so.

While cauliflower is cooking, make the garnishes. To make the chive oil, combine chives and olive oil in a small food processor or blender until well-combined. You can keep it slightly chunky or puree until completely smooth. To make espresso sea salt, stir together ground espresso and salt until well-combined. Set aside.

Once the cauliflower is soft, remove the soup from the heat and puree with an immersion blender until completely smooth. (You can also puree it in batches using a standard blender, but an immersion blender is relatively inexpensive and makes killer soups with ease. I highly recommend getting one.)

Place pureed soup back over low heat and stir in half and half, remaining 2 Tbs. butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat and serve immediately, garnished with chive oil and sprinkled with espresso sea salt.

Source: Slightly adapted from How Sweet It Is.

Homemade Bagels

Returning from a lovely but busy vacation, I had little motivation to cook. I basically just wanted Indian food or sushi delivered to my door for days on end. But now I have my mojo back. This became rapidly apparent when I decided to make homemade bagels last night. Starting at 9:00 PM. Hey, when inspiration strikes, go with it!

I’ve made bagels before, but they turned out a little lumpy and flat. I think it was my shaping method. Take note: I highly recommend sticking your thumbs in the middle to make a hole rather than forming a log and joining the ends. It makes for prettier bagels. I also think the overnight resting period in this recipe plays a key role in developing the flavor.

Making homemade bagels takes a fair amount of time and some strong biceps, but it’s so worth it. Next up, homemade cream cheese? Hmmm, I’m thinking about it… that would take some serious mojo.

Homemade bagels

Homemade bagels

Homemade bagels

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Homemade Bagels

Sponge

  • 1 tsp. instant yeast
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Dough

  • 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 2 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups bread flour

To Finish

  • 1 Tbs. baking soda
  • egg wash (1 egg + 1 Tbs. water)
  • cornmeal, for dusting the baking sheets
  • desired toppings (see below)

Make the sponge: In large bowl stir together yeast and flour. Stir in water until a sticky dough forms. Cover and place in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, or until bubbly and doubled in size.

Make the dough: When the sponge is ready, stir in the additional yeast, salt, and honey. Stir in 3 cups of bread flour until a ball forms. (You can use a stand mixer for this step if it’s easier.) Turn the dough onto a counter and knead for at least 10 minutes by hand, or 6 minutes if using a stand mixer. If the dough is too sticky, add additional flour. If it seems too dry, add a few drops of water. The dough is done when it’s firm but pliable and satiny smooth, not tacky. It should also pass the windowpane test.

Divide the dough evenly into 16 pieces and form each piece into a roll. (I used a kitchen scale to help divide the dough, and each piece weighed 3.3 ounces.) Cover with a damp towel and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with oil.

Shape each roll into a bagel by sticking your thumbs through the middle and carefully turning the dough until an even hole forms. The hole should be about 2 inches in diameter. Place the shaped bagels on the parchment-lined baking sheets and spray lightly with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for another 20 minutes at room temperature.

Time for the float test: Place a bagel in a bowl of water to see if it floats within 10 seconds. If the bagel doesn’t float, place it back on the baking sheet and let the bagels continue to rest for another few minutes. Try the float test again. Once the bagel floats, place the baking sheets (still covered with plastic wrap) in the refrigerator. Refrigerate overnight, or up to two days.

When it’s time to bake the bagels, preheat oven to 475° F. Bring a large, wide pot of water to a boil and stir in baking soda. Prepare egg wash by beating together egg and water, and gather your toppings. Remove bagels from refrigerator.

Carefully place bagels in boiling water– 3 or 4 at a time– and boil for one minute. Flip bagels over and boil for one more minute. (You can boil them for two minutes on each side if you want chewier bagels.) While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the empty spots on the parchment-lined baking sheets with cornmeal. Using a slotted spoon, remove bagels from boiling water and place on baking sheets. Brush bagels with egg wash and sprinkle with desired toppings.

Bake on center rack of oven for 5 minutes, turn the baking sheet 180° and bake for another 5 minutes, or until golden brown. (At this point you can bake for an additional 3-5 minutes if you want darker bagels.) Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 16 bagels.

Source: Slightly adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart via Smitten Kitchen

Bagel Topping Ideas:

Everything: Stir together 1 Tbs. each of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dehydrated minced onion, and dehydrated minced garlic. (You can also add caraway seed and kosher salt, but I’m not a fan.)

Cinnamon sugar: Stir together 1/4 cup of brown sugar with 1 Tbs. ground cinnamon.

Cheese: Freshly grated parmesan or asiago.

Garlic: Simply sprinkle with dehydrated minced garlic.

Onion: Simply sprinkle with dehydrated minced onion.

Sesame: Yup, just sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Poppy seed: Okay, you get it. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Hearty Winter Minestrone

There’s really not much to say when the wind-chill is 46 below. And the frost has left a feathery trail eight feet high, all the way to the top of the porch door. And you have to worry if the antifreeze in your windshield wiper fluid is capable of functioning in this kind of cold. Not that it matters, since you won’t be going anywhere.

There’s not much to say, except that it is absolutely, definitively, without a doubt, soup weather.

So if you are blessed to be in a region experiencing the polar vortex, or winter storm Hercules, or heck, if you just caught a matinee of Disney’s “Frozen,” warm yourself up with a big pot of minestrone. Any soup that starts with sautéed bacon and then adds piles upon piles of hearty vegetables is a guaranteed winner. And since Gabe and I are a two-person household, this big batch of soup has lasted us for days.

Just in time to jet off to California, where I can almost guarantee it’s not soup weather. Phew.

Hearty winter minestrone

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Hearty Winter Minestrone

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 oz. bacon, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth
  • 28 oz. canned, diced tomatoes
  • 6-8 cups unsalted chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup uncooked orzo
  • 15 oz. canned navy beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • freshly grated parmesan, for serving
  • homemade or store-bought pesto, for serving

Heat olive oil in large dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 6-8 minutes. Stir in the onion, carrots, celery, butternut squash, garlic, and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes, or until vegetables have begun to soften. Stir in dry vermouth and cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes, 6 cups of chicken stock, bay leaf, 1 Tbs. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Stir in the orzo and simmer for another 10-12 minutes, or until orzo is al dente. Remove the bay leaf from the pot and stir in the navy beans. If the soup seems too thick, add more stock. Cook for another few minutes, until the beans are heated through. Stir in the baby spinach and cook for a few more minutes, until the spinach is wilted. Taste the soup and add more salt and pepper if desired.

Serve in individual bowls with freshly grated parmesan and a dollop of fresh pesto on top.

Serves 8.

Source: Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten.

2014 Food Resolutions

Happy 2014! Last year was a big transition for Gabe and me food-wise, instigated by a desire to be healthier and my avid reading of books and articles about the food industry. We still live in 21st-century America, but we’re trying our best to say goodbye to most highly processed foods. It’s actually kind of amazing and depressing that we no longer go down half of the aisles in the supermarket because there’s nothing good to be found.

In retrospect, “eating fewer highly processed foods” was an incredibly easy resolution to keep. I have a (slightly crazy) desire to challenge myself in the kitchen, we don’t have small children constantly begging for sugar, and we were both 100% on board with the change. We have absolutely no desire to go back to eating all those packaged food-like products, and I know we’ll continue to make strides on this journey. But now it’s another year, and I have three new cookbooks to delve into. So here we go!

Krista’s food resolutions for 2014:

  • Make things from scratch, scratchier. I’d love to learn new/old techniques like canning and how to soak beans. And I got a food grinder for Christmas so this girl is gonna try grinding her own hamburger!
  • Try my hand at sourdough bread. I have to admit, this one makes me nervous. A bubbling, fermenting sourdough starter in my fridge? Egad. And do I need to wait until spring to have enough wild yeast in the air? Lots of research to do before my first attempt.
  • Only buy humanely raised meat, locally if possible. If only based on price alone, this goal will definitely lead to us eating a lot less meat. I’ll also need to spend more time in a nearby co-op, although our local Target amazingly carries Thousand Hills beef.
  • Try making more dishes from other cultures. This one also scares me. I’m very content making Italian food or Americanized versions of Mexican and Chinese. But I asked for (and received) the cookbook Jerusalem for Christmas, and I’m gonna give it a whirl. I’ll probably start with hummus to reassure myself that I can handle the challenge, and then go from there. Wish me luck!
  • Eat more vegetables. Always.

In the same vein, Mark Bittman wrote an interesting list of food resolutions in the NY Times that has a lot of great ideas to adopt. What are your food (or non-food) resolutions for 2014?