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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Chopped Spring Vegetables

I have this weird love of all things pickled. The addition of a vinegary bite to crisp vegetables makes them even better in my mind. And while I will buy pickles by the boatload at the store, I’ve never tried my hand at making them at home. I’ll be honest – it’s the fear that I will unleash toxic botulism into innocent cucumbers, which will inevitably lead to the headline “Home Cook killed by Pickles’ that keeps me from trying home pickling.

PepperCarrottsAsparagus

Until, that is, I ran across a recipe for Spring Giardiniera in a Cooking Light cookbook. I’ve been trying in vain to eat healthier and this recipe had vegetables out the ying yang. And not only vegetables, but pickled vegetables. Rather than scare me by requiring me to sterilize every inch of kitchen, the recipe only called for a brief (8 hours) pickling period in a big zip lock bag. So I shook loose my fear of botulism and bad press and gave in to the alluring appeal of pickling.

Garlic ClovesBay leafDill

If you merely read the first sentence of the recipe ‘combine first 8 ingredients in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil’ it all seems pretty straightforward, but it does not begin to convey how the smell of boiling vinegar will permeate every corner of your home nor how the vapors will bring tears to your eyes. This should not dissuade you from trying this recipe; just perhaps save it for a day where the windows in your home can be thrown open and a nice breeze will usher fresh air through your kitchen.

Boiling hot pickling liquid

The rest of the recipe is easy. Put chopped veggies in a ziplock bag, pour in liquid, let sit in a the refrigerator for 8 hours. What comes out is perfectly pickled spring vegetables – a nice healthy snack without even a hint of botulism.

Spring Giardiniera

Spring Giardiniera

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
2 bay leaves
2 cups small cauliflower florets
2 cups (3-inch) diagonally cut asparagus
1 1/2 cups green beans, trimmed (about 8 ounces)
1 cup (1/4-inch) diagonally cut carrot
1 cup red bell pepper strips
6 green onion bottoms, trimmed
4 garlic cloves, halved

Preparation
Combine first 8 ingredients in a large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes. Arrange cauliflower and remaining ingredients in a large heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Carefully pour vinegar mixture over cauliflower mixture.Seal bag and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight, turning occasionally. Remove vegetables from bag with a slotted spoon. Discard bay leaves.