Monday, February 28, 2011

Chou-fleur au beurre noir

Sometimes a dish sneaks up on you with its goodness. You make it, set it on the table, and then are dumbfounded by the result. This is exactly what happened to me last week as I was unthinkingly trying to get rid of some surplus cauliflower from my organic produce box. As you may know, I love cauliflower—actually all of the cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, rapini, all of them.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a copy of LaRousse Gastronomique. The consensus of the interewebs said to get the pre-revision version, so I bought the 1961 edition. It’s not really a cookbook, but more of an encyclopedia of food. Each entry describes the food/dish/technique in detail and then gives practical examples. I was reading through the “C” section and stumbled upon “cauliflower” or chou-fleur as the French say. I read through all of suggestions for preparation and they sounded all right, but mostly involved boiling in well-salted water, serving either hot or cold and covering with something like cheese or butter or herbs.

Later that day, I’m staring mindlessly into the fridge trying to come up with something for dinner and I thought, What the hell. I’ll just boil that cauliflower up. So I followed the directions and boiled the head whole and topped it with browned butter. Then I sliced the cooked cauliflower like a loaf of bread, plated it, and on went the browned butter (good, European-style). I served it as an entrĂ©e with a mesclun salad. It was amazing. Rich, savory, and very satisfying. This is exactly what people mean when they say “more than the sum of its parts.” Cauliflower with browned butter will most certainly make it into regular rotation at my house. I realize it doesn’t sound like much, but you really will just have to take my word for it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A San Francisco Treat!

I spent this Christmas with my girlfriend and her "Blue State" family. A bunch of us got together and stayed with Serena's sister Cydney and her husband Kevin in San Francisco. OMG! It was so fun. I'll tell you, the last time I was in San Francisco was about twenty years ago--back when everyone was still vegetarian. You've come a long way baby! Just about all we did was eat. We cooked. We went to Chinatown. We went for coffee. To Boulette's Larder. But maybe the most fun was the day we went to the Ferry Building and ate at Boccalone, a salumi shop that sells sandwiches as well. (Here I am with my brother-in-law, "porking out.") I love their motto: Tasty, Salted Pig Parts. For lunch, I chose to have the "meat cone." A delightful cone filled with slices of many of their porky offerings. The prosciutto was great. It was like heaven! A cone of meat for lunch. What more could a girl want?

I realize that maybe next to Brooklyn, San Francisco is probably the most foodie place in the country. I've read that. I didn't disbelieve that, but after four days there I just couldn't get over the quality of the food and drink that was seemingly everywhere. Cydney served fresh oysters. They were so good, I cried. I hadn't eaten seafood so fresh since I left Seattle. Here in Chicago, I have to search high and low for quality produce. Despite shopping at high-end groceries and having a weekly organic produce box delivered, I still often feel as if the food quality comes up short. It's really frustrating. Of course San Francisco has the luxury of being in a temperate climate. It practically has a year-round growing season. Yesterday in Chicago it was -2 BEFORE the windchill. I guess you do what you can with what you've got.