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.

I spent part of one very hot and humid summer living and interning in Charleston, SC. It was the first time I had ever been to a coastal southern city, but the minute I arrived I knew that this place was what I had always imagined a southern city to be. I grew up in California, but watched hours and hours of Gone with the Wind, so the beach and Spanish Moss (along with hoops skirts and parasols) always figured prominently in my mind.

That summer in Charleston, I fell in love with the city. Even now when I talk about Charleston, I feel a little like Carrie Bradshaw and the SATC episode “I Heart NY.” It is hot and feisty, but when one is left to wander downtown to a great restaurant, head off to the beach right after work, or pop into a boutique to drool over a fabulous outfit, it is hard not to be enchanted. (Unlike Carrie, money did not magically appear in my wallet to afford a pair of fabulous shoes…but if it had, I would have been well prepared to use it.)

The next year when I graduated from college, I knew exactly where I wanted to plant myself. So I packed my boxes into my 15 year old silver Saab named Rosie and moved there permanently. I guess permanently was a bit premature because 12 months later, I packed up my life again and moved to foodie heaven, aka New Orleans.

However, Charleston was the first city I really “ate my way through,” and when I go back it is like I never left. The minute I step off the plane, my stomach growls like I am in my mother’s kitchen. There is nothing quite like knowing exactly what I can get myself into in a weekend.

So this year, H and I got our act together and coordinated a trip to Charleston to visit our very good friends Bentina. (Yes, like the illustrious couples before them -Bennifer, TomKat, and Brangelia- Bentina acquired their name first as a joke, but like the others it stuck.) H and I also timed our trip to include a small sampling from the Spoleto Festival USA, a couple of trips to the beach, and lots of fantastic meals.

Our Saturday was spent preparing for our dinner, full of fresh veggies from the Charleston Farmer’s Market at Marion Square. Bentina shared a fantastic marinade recipe, which they used on some shrimp. Heavy on the garlic, but not overwhelming when it came off the grill. Along with a couple bottles of wine, some grilled veggies, and a cold tomato and cucumber salad, we enjoyed a fabulous feast.

Bentina’s Never Fail Shrimp Marinade
1 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup White Wine
3 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
Zest of 1 Lemon
6 Cloves of Garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons Fresh Oregano
1 Teaspoon Salt

Mix all ingredients together. Will easily marinade 2 pounds of shrimp. Bentina also use this marinade for Chicken and I personally think it would work for lamb as well.