Cabbages and Things (or more warm soup transforming leftovers into gold)

Sometimes the food fads happen so quickly I don’t even know a food is out and then I hear it’s in again. That’s what happened recently when I heard that cauliflower is the new kale.

Didn’t cauliflower have to be out before it became the new kale? It’s questions like this that keep me awake and watching Law & Order reruns at 2 a.m.

When kale became  an in food, I’d only seen it at the farmer’s market and really didn’t know what to do with it other than I supposed stir fry it. Then I had an amazing kale salad at a New York restaurant and before I knew it I was living a cliché. For about two or three years, I thought my friends and I were so clever to be eating kale salads after lovingly massaging each leaf and then marinating them in lemon juice so that we could enjoy all the benefits of a (very flavorful)  superfood. Then one day, I discovered that Costco sells a pre-made raw chopped kale salad and, happy as I was, I knew that the fad was over.  (I tried to link to this salad on line but they don’t sell it online. All I could think was “Good. More for me. Sorry. Not sorry).

I love my kale salad so much that I won’t let myself be bullied by the fact that it’s no longer chic, I’ll share the “recipe” such as it is but it’s actually not a recipe but more of an embarrassing admission: I buy bags of Costco’s Sweet Kale salad which has chopped kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and chicory. The package also includes Poppy Seed Dressing which I throw out because it’s the kind of mayonnaise-y concoction I can’t stand and would never use.The salad also comes with mixed pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries that I put aside for when I make tossed green salads for company. I like pumpkin seeds and craisins just not in my cabbagy lunch salad.

Actually the folks at Trader Joes have just come with a version of the cruciferous salad that doesn’t come with dressing and seeds that mean you don’t have to throw anything out, and that works, too. Of course, if you go the Trader Joes route, you will need another source for your pumpkin seeds and craisins.  Conveniently, dried fruit and seed mixes are just the sort of thing TJs has always sold.

I suppose some clever readers will tell me that it is also possible to just buy some cruciferous vegetables and chop them; that is true but then it wouldn’t be my simple, one-person-quick-lunch-thrown-together-at-home. And by the way, this is not the recipe part of this blog post. This is glimpse into my life part of this blog post.  Anyway, back to  lunch. I add fresh pomegranate seeds, salted peanuts and (in my case vegetarian) fish sauce. Voila, a salty/sweet, fiber-filled lunch for one. It satisfies cravings , fills me, and, in case you’re counting, is not a lot of Weight Watchers points. (Yup, total honesty here: I devised this lunch to meet my Weight Watchers needs and to consume as few points as possible before dinner time. But I really, really like and managed to crave it for more days in a row than you can imagine).

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, we’ve come to the recipe part of the blog post. The recipe I really wanted to focus on in this blog post does not have that now passé superfood kale and instead has the newly avant garde member of the cabbage family: my beloved cauliflower, appearing here in a gingery Indian soup.

Since I started working mostly at home not only do I eat my out-of-date kale salad for lunch, I’ve also become much better about checking the inventory in the fridge and using up leftovers. Once upon a time, we wasted leftovers here. Mr. Dot (who generally does the cleaning up) would want to throw things away and I would try to convince him that I really would use them. In the old days, before I was a consultant, we’d find stuff in tupperware  weeks later and it did not look too appetizing. Now that I’m around and spend a lot less time commuting, I’m much better at planning our meals to use up leftovers while at the same time repurposing the food so that we don’t feel like we’re always eating the same thing.

Thick, gingery, not totally pureed cauliflower soup in foreground with penguin SCUBA salt and pepper shakers in background.  Any similarities between salt shaker on the left likes to dress and someone who would throw away perfectly good leftovers are purely coincidental.  Photo taken by REG

Thick, gingery, not totally pureed cauliflower soup in foreground with penguin SCUBA salt and pepper shakers in background. Any similarities between the salt shaker on the left is dressed and the way someone who would throw away perfectly good leftovers would like to dress are purely coincidental. Photo taken by REG

One of my favorite ways to use leftovers is this cauliflower soup, an adaptation of an Indian recipe. I start out with cauliflower, which, chez Dot, has usually been roasted for a previous meal (though it could also be steamed or boiled and the soup would still be great). This, like other Indian dishes of mine, cooks up pretty quickly but has a lot of flavor thanks to all the spices.

Ginger Indian Cauliflower Soup

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 leek, chopped

1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

2 medium potatoes cut into rough 1/3 inch dice

1 cup cooked cauliflower (I generally roast it in olive oil but it really doesn’t matter how you cook it)

5 cups vegetable stock (I usually use store bought vegetarian no-chicken stock)

Salt to taste

Optional 2/3 cup half and half (if you don’t use it, it will be vegan and it will still be pretty creamy)

Set the oil in a medium high heat in a good size saucepan. When the oil is hot, put in leek, ginger and garlic. Stir and fry for about 4 minutes or until onion is somewhat browned. Put in cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Stir once and put in potatoes and stock. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover, turn the hit to low and simmer gently for 10 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add cauliflower and cook for a few more minutes. Taste for salt and add as necessary.

Blend with immersion blender or add to blender in two batches. I like this with some lumps. This does not have to be a thin soup. Add cream and reheat and serve.

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Some Like it Hot

Lately I’ve written about some of my favorite foods from my mother’s Hungarian inflected kitchen, but I’m also fascinated by how the Hungarian palate has influenced some of my other food choices. We grew up eating spicy foods. My mother was a great cook and a great hostess but there were times when I thought she should issue warnings to her guests about the spice levels in the food. At the very least, as a snarky teenager, I suggested that she should offer each guest a personal pitcher of ice water. In fact, there was one year when she accidentally put hot peppers in the chicken soup she made for the meal that we ate just before the Yom Kippur fast. I’m sure that some of those  guests still remember that  very spicy soup 35 years later. That was an occasion when the personal pitcher of ice water would have been a necessity and not just optional.

This love of spicy food has carried over into  my current family (especially Ms. Dot Jr. and me) and our love of spicy Asian cuisines. We would be happy to eat Asian food all the time, especially since I’m including Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern which gives us a lot of great flavors–and spice to work with.  To be totally honest, Mr. Dot needs his pasta like any boy who grew up in North Jersey. He may not be Italian but he eats like one. That’s a whole other story and a blog post for another day.

If you’ve read  (and tried) some of my other recipes, you know that in addition to heat, I love coconut and other flavors found in Asian cuisine.  In this recipe, spicy heat and coconut and some other great flavors come together with leftover chicken for a Thai inspired chicken noodle soup.

I hope I’ve already sold you on how delicious this Thai inspired soup is.  The other reason to make it is that it’s incredibly easy AND it will help you use up leftovers. I love repurposing my leftovers.  I (and the rest of the Dot family) get fed up with leftover chicken as plain old reheated chicken, Even if we loved this chicken  last night or two nights ago, it’s less fun when it makes its appearance as leftovers. This soup recipe requires very little  work, but it totally transforms the leftovers into something new, delicious, Thai-ish, hot and (on a cold winter night) soothing.  To be fair, it might not be the last thing you want to eat before you fast on Yom Kippur–or if you do make it before a fast, you might want to leave out the ginger, chili, and fish sauce.

Mr. Dot is served (his personal pitcher of ice water is just out of range of the picture which was taken by REG).

Mr. Dot is served (his personal pitcher of ice water is just out of range of the picture which was taken by REG).

If you have home-made chicken broth to use, it will be super, extra wonderful. It is easy to have broth on hand and store it in small containers in the freezer. But if you just use regular old store-bought broth, it will also be good. I like the broth that you can buy in boxes and frankly I have no brand loyalty,  although I generally have some low-sodium no-chicken broth on hand for throwing together various quick meals.

Thai-Style Chicken Noodle Soup

1 quart chicken broth

6 ounces thin rice noodles or cellophane noodles

14 ounce can coconut milk

1 ½ “ of ginger root—grated

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 fresh red or green Thai chili—seeded and cut into strips

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon tamarind paste

1 teaspoon light brown sugar

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 cups shredded chicken

1 leek—sliced

1/3 cup sugar snap peas

1/4 sliced carrots

½ cup bean sprouts

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

We need to super-size the turmeric around here, thanks to the way our Hungarian palates have adapted to Asian and middle-Eastern foods. Thank goodness for Yekta and other local markets.

We need to super-size the turmeric around here, thanks to the way our Hungarian palates have adapted to Asian and middle-Eastern foods. Thank goodness for Yekta and other local markets.

Place noodles in a large, heat proof bowl and pour boiling water over noodles and let stand while soup cooks. This should cook the noodles. Alternatively, follow instructions on noodle package.

Heat chicken broth in large saucepan.  Add remaining ingredients except snap peas, carrots, bean sprouts and cilantro to the pan and bring to a boil. When the chicken is piping hot, add peas, carrots, and sprouts. After a few minutes, add the drained noodles.

Serve in bowls, topping each bowl with chopped fresh cilantro. This actually isn’t so spicy that you will need individual ice-water pitchers for each guest, but if you like extra spice, knock yourself out and add some extra chili.

Truth in Advertising or at Least in Coconut Cakes

You know that feeling when you finally have decided that you will splurge on a great dessert and then it isn’t so great. After suffering some trauma about this, I’m here to solve that problem for my readers. I’m still smarting about a disappointing encounter with a coconut cake that was not all it seemed almost 20 years ago.

Shortly after I moved to Los Angeles to join my honey, Mr. Dot, I found myself in Santa Monica’s shopaholic-paradise Montana Ave. where I was doing some pre-wedding shopping. It’s kind of mind boggling that I was considering any dessert treat because it was pretty clear that none of the boutiques on Montana Ave. carried the insanely large (by LA standards) dress size that I wore at the time—American size 8. At that time (1998), the sizes you could buy on Montana Ave were 0, 2, 4 and maybe 6 (which sometimes worked on me). They hadn’t invented the 00 yet but there were some good tailors if you needed them to take in your clothes. For the record, the average American woman wears a size 14. She probably loves coconut cake.

In any event, that Santa Monica coconut layer cake looked so delicious back in 1998. It had two tall layers and lots of frosting and some very seductive large coconut curls. I went ahead and ordered a slice.

And then I found out how all those women in LA stay so slim. Actually this beautiful looking cake was a metaphor for LA. Joan Didion or maybe James Ellroy should have written about this cake. It wasn’t a coconut cake. It was a vanilla cake with some beautiful looking coconut swirls outside and inside, bland, bland, bland. It was a foul lie. Hmmm. Maybe the movie Chinatown is the best way to describe this cake—the whole thing was based on a big lie.

Coconut to the Core Cupcakes  photo and cupcakes by REG

Coconut to the Core Cupcakes
photo and cupcakes by REG

This was not the kind of cake that Ms. Dot Jr. (also known as my fearless photographer) was going to make for her best friends’ birthday (the apostrophe is in the right place—the best friends are twins). Every year, Ms. Dot Jr. bakes a cake for their Christmas birthday and she decided on coconut this year. Chez Dot, when we say coconut cake, we mean coconut IN the cake and coconut IN the frosting. And it was so great, Ms. Dot Jr. ended up creating coconut cupcakes, too.

Too many of those great Truth in Advertising Truly Coconut to the Core Cupcakes and you may not be able to find a store that carries your size on Montana Ave, but as Joan Didion said (perhaps after having a real coconut cupcake, though probably not  since from pictures she seems like she probably buys size 00 and then goes to the seamstress to have her clothes made smaller): “Self-respect is a question of recognizing that anything worth having, has a price.”

Baked, conceptualized, decorated and photographed in honor of the birthday of the fearless photographer's best friends' birthday on the eve of their trip to le France.

Baked, conceptualized, decorated and photographed in honor of the anniversaries of les amies of the  fearless photographer on the eve of their trip to le France.

Truth In Advertising Truly  Coconut to the Core Cupcakes

Cake Ingredients:

7 ounces of butter, softened

2 cups of white sugar (or more accurately 11 ounces)

1 teaspoon coconut essence

3 large eggs

4 ounces unsweetened grated coconut

2 2/3 cups self-rising flour (or more accurately 12 ounces) (yes, this is that flour that comes with the leavening in it—that’s what we get for having first found this cake in a British cookbook—but it’s worth it and these days any American supermarket carries self-rising four)

12 ounces buttermilk

Frosting Ingredients:

1 14 ounce can coconut milk

1 cup (16 ounces butter) softened

2 ½ cups confectioners sugar

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup grated unsweetened coconut

1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions for baking the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners or if your more free form and adventurous, with parchment paper. Beat the butter, sugar and coconut essence until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Fold in the coconut and flour alternately with the buttermilk.

Spoon the mixture into the cupcake tin and smooth the surface. Do not fill too high because you want cupcakes and not muffins (unless you don’t plan on frosting these and you do want muffins!). Bake for 35 minutes—testing for done-ness. These should be golden on the top and a skewer should come out clean.

Leave in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn on a wire rack to cool. When cool, they are ready to frost.

Frosting directions

Reduce coconut milk by boiling it in a large deep saucepan over medium-high heat (it will boil up high in the pan). Reduce heat to medium-low. Boil until reduced by half, around 25 – 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. This can be done up to 2 days ahead.

Using electric mixer, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar, ½ cup reduced coconut milk, vanilla and salt. Continue to beat on medium low until blended, scraping sides and then add coconut and beat further until light and fluffy.

Using pastry bag or offset spatula, frost the cupcakes. For a simple and quick way to frost (as we did) you can use a small baggie and snip off the corner. Not the fanciest, but they look nice.

To be honest, before we served them, I wasn’t sure if every one loved coconut as much as we do—but then when people had seconds and thirds, I realized that people do love coconut and it’s worth the splurge.

Authentic Hungarian Potato Casserole—With a 1960s Kosher Kitchen Layover

Recently I had a craving for one of my favorite dishes from my mother’s suburban mid-century kitchen. I’d always believed her Hungarian cauliflower casserole was an authentic dish. It seemed the perfect thing to eat on a winter night when I was having people over for a Chanukah meal and I couldn’t look at another latke and someone else was making the ponchkes. Yes, Chanukah means fried food and I was all fried-out.

It occurred to me that mom’s cauliflower dish would be a nod to tradition and also a sort of deconstructed latke .  It would  also, like every Hungarian vegetable dish I’d ever had (heavy on the butter and sour cream)  line our stomachs. To me it always seemed the ultimate winter comfort food. Even as a kid,  I sort of knew that it wasn’t totally authentic. I remembered mom telling me that the cauliflower was a later addition. Later, a post-college roommate who also had Hungarian heritage  made it with veggie sausage (she, too, only ate kosher) and when I checked with mom, she told me that indeed this was really a potato and sausage dish.

Recently I consulted the Bible of Hungarian cooking, George Lang’s The Cuisine of Hungary.

My mother's copy of Lang's Cuisine of Hungary (1971 edition) with original Paperback Booksmith bookmark and her illegible notes which may refer to butter

My mother’s copy of Lang’s Cuisine of Hungary (1971 edition) with original Paperback Booksmith bookmark and her illegible notes which may refer to butter

I have my mother’ copy from 1971 and on the same day that I went to check out Lang’s book, I came across a post on my Facebook feed from Food and Wine magazine in which Chef Nicolaus Balla of Bar Tartine in San Francisco calls it the Ultimate Hungarian Cook book. You’ll see that Lang’s recipe for Rakott Krumpli (which is what mom called it but in her kitchen  Hungarian I never would have guessed that that is how it was spelled or even that it was two words) would not have worked in a kosher kitchen. Here is Lang’s recipe:

George Lang’s Rakott Krumpli

3 pounds potatoes (small if possible)

1 ½ tablespoons salt

6 hard-boiled eggs

¼ pound butter

¼ pound boiled ham, sliced

¼ pound fresh sausage, sliced

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon paprika

Preheat oven to 350. Drop potatoes in their skins in water to cover with 1 tablespoon salt. Cook until tender.

Peel and slice potatoes. Do the same with the hard-boiled eggs.

Butter a heatproof glass dish well. Arrange a layer of sliced potatoes neatly on the bottom of the dish. Season with salt.

Melt the butter in the top part of a double boiler. Sprinkle a little on top of potatoes. Cover this layer with ham slices and top with another layer of sliced potatoes. Again season with salt and sprinkle with melted butter. Arrange egg slices and sausage slices on top. Finish with a final layer of potatoes.

Pour any remaining butter on top. Spread sour cream over all and sprinkle with paprika. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.

One of the great points that Lang makes in the first part of his book which is a treatise on Hungarian food  is that there is no one great version of a classic Hungarian dish. Each Hungarian cook had her own version of a classic dish.  Your grandma’s dobos torte might not have been like my grandma’s dobos torte and that’s fine.

In any event, there are some essential elements of Lang’s potato dish that exist in my mother’s dish (which presumably came from my grandmother and her mother and so on) which I would not and do not change—even though some are at odds with current food trends and also it is likely that all those sour-cream and butter-dousing vegetable eaters in the old days in Hungary may have spent more time on manual labor burning off some more calories than we do. Lang points out that Hungarians never served plain vegetable dishes and wouldn’t have known what to make of a plain boiled vegetable served alone.

cauliflower casserole in foreground (with pomegranate tofu and leek patties) photo by REG)

cauliflower casserole in foreground (with pomegranate tofu and leek patties–in my mother’s tradition of worrying that there would not be enough food) (photo by REG)

To sum up,  what mom’s dish has in commons with Lang’s and what I won’t give up (at least the 2 times a year that I make my mother’s cauliflower casserole): potatoes boiled in jackets: check. Boiled eggs: check. Butter: check (as I think Julia Child said, it gives things flavor); Sour cream: I actually have found I can get away with no fat sour cream.

Another old-timey feature of mom’s dish is boiling the cauliflower. I love roasted cauliflower in general, but in this dish, I’m all about boiling, then roasting, then covering with butter, sour cream, and this leads to my last digression . . .

Before Passover last year, my nephew  and his wife (to whom I swear I am about to send mom’s first edition copy of Lang’s book) requested mom’s cauliflower casserole recipe, demonstrating that this is a beloved family recipe through the generations. It was interesting to me that he sees this as a Passover recipe, which it is only if you eliminate what I consider one of its essential ingredients: cornflake crumbs. Now some of my readers may quibble and point out that it’s possible that there no cornflake crumbs in early 20th century Hungary or even before that. This may be true. I’ll leave that question those persnickety food historian types who will point out the Mr. Kellogg didn’t even invent whole corn flakes until the late 19th century in Michigan–and who knows when people got the idea of crumbling them and using them instead of breadcrumbs? But to me, along with the cauliflower, they are the soul of this dish and that is why I love my mother’s casserole as the quintessential blend of Budapest and Levittown.

Hungarian Cauliflower Casserole a la Rachelle

 6 medium sized potatoes boiled in jackets

4 hard-boiled eggs

1 cup sour cream (low fat or fat free is fine)

corn flake crumbs

salt and pepper to taste

around ¼ lb. butter (use to butter pan—melt remainder in the microwave)

One medium – large head of boiled cauliflower

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter a 2-quart Pyrex casserole (round or oblong) generously. Sprinkle bottom and sides with cornflake crumbs. Peel potatoes and eggs and slice each into slices around 1/8 inch thick. Alternate layers of potatoes, cauliflower, eggs, sour cream, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Begin an end with a layer of potatoes. Pour melted butter all over top layer. Sprinkle top with more cornflake crumbs, just like they would have done in Hungary—and then more butter—which I’m sure they did in Hungary.

This is not a delicate casserole, so there’s no need to worry about getting the proportions right or not. As long as you use the right amount of corn flake crumbs (and mom’s recipe does not indicate what that is), it will be great.

Bake for 45 minutes.

We usually served this hot out of the oven, but leftovers can be eaten hot or as mom at her most suburban notes: “cold leftovers make a unique potato salad.” That’s true without the ham–I can only imagine that this even better with the ham.  One of my readers will have to let me know.