For a long time C had a habit of bringing me back a cookbook whenever he had a conference in what might conceivably be called a ‘food’ city.   Usually he would have a fabulous meal at a local restaurant and then, if the restaurant had a cookbook, he would kindly bring one back for me.  Once he returned home, he would inevitably recount his wonderful meal and I would attempt to control my food jealously.  I suppose he thought that giving me cookbooks from these restaurants would alleviate some of this jealously, but in truth it only made it worse.  And when he came home from New Orleans a few years back with a cookbook from Commander’s Palace, I knew I would just have to tag along at his next trip to the city, because it was clear that this restaurant was not to be missed.

Long story short – I did accompany C on his next trip to New Orleans and we had a fabulous meal at Commander’s Palace – it was how we celebrated our move to Nashville.  And once I had experienced that wonderful restaurant – and all the wonderful foods they prepare there – I realized I was ready to fully explore my Commander’s Palace cookbook.   Before I explored too long though, I found a recipe that would go on to become one of my favorite comfort foods – Cauliflower and Brie Soup.

I’ve never been a big cauliflower fan – I always found it sort of bland.  But in this soup,  when it’s combined with onions, celery and garlic, it has a wonderful savory sweetness.  And the addition of brie – well that is pure genius.  Some of the brie melts seamlessly into the soup, some stays in a semi-solid state and then proceeds to melt in your mouth.  The brie is a perfect addition to a soup that is mainly vegetables.

Once you add some heavy cream – or half and half if you’re watching calories – the finished soup is creamy beyond belief.  The fact that it’s also savory and has a hint of sweetness is all part of why this is one of my favorite soups.  There really is nothing better on a cold, rainy autumn day.  And every time I eat it I think of New Orleans and Commander’s Palace  – and mentally plan my next trip.

Cauliflower and Brie Soup

From Commander’s Kitchen by Ti Adelaide Martin and James Shannon

Ingredients:

2 heads of cauliflower cleaned and trimmed

10 T. butter

2 medium onions, peeled and diced

1 head of garlic, cloves peeled

1 medium bunch of celery, diced

Kosher salt and pepper

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock

2 T.  AP flour

8 ounces Brie Cheese, cut into a medium dice

1/4 c. heavy cream

Directions:

Clean the cauliflower by removing the leaves, coring, and cutting into large florets.

Melt 8 T. of butter in a large soup pot.  Add the onion, garlic and celery, cover and cook over medium heat to “sweat”, stirring occasionally until they are tender, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in cauliflower, cover and cook for 5 -7 minutes.

Combine the cauliflower and stock and puree with a hand mixer, a blender or food processor.  Melt the remaining 2 T. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat stirring constantly and add the flour.  Cook until the roux smells nutty and is the consistency of wet sand.  Do not brown it.  Whisk into the soup and bring to a simmer.

Add the brie, a few pieces at a time, and blend until the cheese has melted into the soup.  Add the cream and adjust the seasoning to taste.

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So it should come as no surprise that I love homemade pizza. What’s not to love? It’s easy, it tastes good, and it tends to impress anyone who doesn’t make homemade pizza themselves. And while I love the ‘classic’ pizza combination of red sauce, mozzarella and Italian sausage, when I’m in the mood for something special, nothing beats a smoked salmon and brie pizza.

There’s nothing too labor intensive about this recipe. The only thing you need to make ahead is the pizza dough – and really, any recipe for pizza dough will work. Heck, if you’re not in the mood to wait the hour and a half to make homemade pizza dough you can check with your local grocery store to see if the bakery sells uncooked pizza dough. It’s an easy time saver that I have been known to use.

The cut-up brie is easy enough to prep. When I make this recipe I always throw the brie in the freezer for 15 minutes before I cut the rind off. The sub-zero temperature firms up the cheese and makes it much easier to cut into small pieces. I don’t have any trick to make the salmon easier to cut up – in fact, depending on the smoked salmon you use it may be easier to tear into little pieces rather than cutting it. As with everything in this easy recipe, use what works best for you.

The rest of the process is pretty self explanatory. Because the brie and smoked salmon are rather delicate – at least at high temperatures – you need to blind bake the pizza crust without any toppings. Once the crust is almost brown, you pull it from the oven and quickly scatter the cheese, salmon and onions over the top. Another few minutes in the oven melts everything together. What comes out is a wonderful combination of a pizza and a Sunday morning lox bagel. I would advise anyone making this to cut the pizza slices small, since the dish can be very rich. But even in a small slice the wonderfulness of homemade pizza makes it all worthwhile – and you never know who it might impress.

Smoked Salmon and Brie Pizza

Adapted from New Pizza by James McNair

Ingredients:

Pizza Dough

Vegetable or olive oil for brushing crust and drizzling over toppings

1 pound of brie cheese, rind discarded and cut into small pieces

12 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon cut into small pieces

1/2 cup minced sweet onion ( I used green onions)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 500 degrees (My oven smokes at that temperature – so I used 450 and it turned out fine). Brush pizza screen or pan with oil. Stretch out the pizza dough and place on the screen or pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then brush with oil.

Put the crust in the oven and bake until the crust just begins to brown (around 5-7 minutes). Remove the pan from the oven and top the crust with the cheese, followed by the salmon and onion. Drizzle evenly with oil. Return to the oven and bake until the crust is golden (around 5-7 minutes longer).

Remove the pizza from the oven and let stand for 2 minutes. Slice and serve immediately.