Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

I’m getting a major jumpstart on my spring-cleaning, even though it’s still February with more snow threatening to blanket the east coast. Unlike the previous few months in which I whipped up a massive solo recital (January) or handcrafted and packaged over two thousand chocolate truffles (December), I think I was feeling antsy without a main focal point for my excessive energy this February. Instead, I am overhauling my apartment with the invaluable help of my sister-in-law Alison, who is a miracle worker in the decluttering department, not to mention the bartending expertise of my brother Peter who kindly makes me killer martinis to ease the upheaval process. We’ve rearranged furniture, pruned my bookshelves and combed through my closets more thoroughly than ever before, and after hauling seventeen bags of STUFF off to the thrift store, I feel as though I’ve instantly lost a ton of weight and that my home is now much healthier. And because I’m in apartment purging mode, I’m craving food that is nourishing and simple to prepare. This Roasted Cauliflower Soup totally fits the bill.

I think cauliflower is underrated. This chameleon of the crucifer family is always a willing vehicle for delivering complimentary flavors, unlike cabbage, which is often bitter, and bracing, or broccoli which always asserts its individual broccoli-ness no matter what other flavors it is paired with. However, cauliflower gets to be the star while all the other ingredients are the supporting players in today’s recipe. The flavor of the soup comes from roasting the cauliflower with olive oil till it caramelizes to a deep golden brown, bringing out an inherent nuttiness that don’t always have a chance to shine on its own. Its slightly smoky rich taste might make you think that it contains bacon or a lot of cream in it, but in fact this a dairy-free soup that can also be a vegetarian one if you prepare it with vegetable stock.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I Heart A Great Affogato

If my mother’s birthday post was devoted to her favorite dessert—chocolate cake with whipped cream—then today’s post in honor of my dad’s birthday would have to involve both coffee and ice cream. And what better way to combine two of his favorite things than by making an affogato? Even though Dad usually enjoys both things separately, I know he has absolutely no objection to gelato with hot espresso poured over it.

My dad is serious about his coffee. And I mean SERIOUS. From the time I was little, I remember him constantly seeking out substantial dark roasts long before gourmet coffee was widely available. While my friends’ parents usually had Folger’s or Maxwell House percolating in their countertop coffee makers, my dad would grind his beans fresh and make a heady brew in a French press pot. I used to sneak sips of his coffee when he wasn’t looking, trying to figure out why he was so crazy about it. My 8-year-old palate couldn’t understand how something with such an intoxicating aroma tasted like hell, but eventually I learned to love coffee—maybe not as much as my dad, but appreciatively well enough.

Dad also had a cappuccino machine when I was a kid, something I also never encountered in any of my friends’ houses. Long before the proliferation of Starbucks on every street corner, my dad’s college students used to show up at our home late at night, desperate for espresso. They always came bearing gifts of Haagen-Dazs, knowing that they could easily bribe their way in with pints of rich ice cream. On those nights when I was awakened by the doorbell, the sound that invariably followed was the buzzing of the coffee grinder. Even though I usually didn’t join these impromptu parties as I was supposed to be asleep, it always made me happy to hear Dad cranking up the espresso machine for his students. I found it comforting to hear the milk frother screeching and steaming away amidst the animated voices that came bubbling from the kitchen, as though all was right with the world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lavender Pavlova Loveliness

I am feeling incredibly big-hearted and wish that I had the means to make you all a Lavender Pavlova right now. What could be lovelier than lighter-than-air meringues topped with whipped cream and fresh berries? Actually, I’ll tell you what’s even lovelier: LAVENDER-scented meringues topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream and berries that have been tossed with delicately perfumed lavender sugar. This is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and I feel that it is my sacred duty to share the recipe with you just in time for Valentine’s Day. I know that most people think of decadent chocolate desserts when it comes to V-Day, but I think that you could win the heart of anyone you desired if you served him or her this Lavender Pavlova.

The Pavlova is a traditional Australian dessert, allegedly created by a prominent Australian chef in honor of the great ballerina Anna Pavlova when she toured Australia and New Zealand in the late 1920s. The foundation of this confection is a crisp meringue disk, presumably resembling the shape of a ballerina’s tutu, and it is a study in textural contrasts as it is traditionally topped with softly whipped cream and fresh fruit. It is ridiculously easy to make, provided that you have an electric mixer for beating the egg whites into a billowy cloud, as well as the patience to wait for the meringue to bake in a low-temperature oven.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Black Magic Cake

Today is my mom’s birthday, and if I were in California today, I would most likely be baking her a chocolate cake right now. Most of the time I can't imagine living anywhere outside of New York, but it always feels weird to me not being there to celebrate my parents' birthdays with them in person, especially since I love birthdays so much and have always been the cake-baker in the family. Since we’re on opposite coasts right now, the least I can do is post a recipe for Black Magic Cake in my mom's honor.

Black Magic Cake is a simple two-bowl affair, so easy that even a kid could make it, which is why this recipe came to be one of the very first cakes in my repertoire years ago. You sift all the dry ingredients together into one bowl, mix the wet ingredients in another bowl, then combine everything and bake the batter in a greased 13-x-9-inch pan. That’s it. The recipe only calls for cocoa powder, not melted chocolate, and the addition of brewed coffee intensifies the chocolate flavor. This foolproof cake was a great way to start my baking career once upon a time.