Ravenous Fig

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Silky Cauliflower Soup with Parmesan Crisps

[caption id="attachment_581" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="Look for firm, creamy-white florets that are tight and without brown speckles."][/caption]

For the first time in weeks, Vance and I have gotten to go to our Saturday farmer's market. It's one of those farmer's markets that's open year-round and serves fruits and veggies that could be from anywhere (most are not from within 100 miles). But we have to go to get our bagel fix from Davis Bakery (which has since been sold and will never be the same but we try not to think about that too much). Anyway, I consider it a bit of a personal challenge whenever we go to find something local to take home.

This week, it was cauliflower. Cauliflower's one of those things that's a bit of a blank canvas. You can roast it, eat it raw, cut it like steak and smother it in tomato sauce, turn it into low-carb mashed potatoes, or whazz it up into a luscious, creamy soup. Today, as part of our monthly Fancy Feast, I decided to do the latter.

[caption id="attachment_582" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="The finished soup and parmesan tuile."][/caption]


This was served among five other dishes in a tapas style spread, all but one of which were total winners (if you're lucky, I'll be disciplined enough to get them all posted to the blog!) Somehow this simple, fast soup made it to the top of Vance's list — the top two of mine. And now that I know how simple and delicious it is, it'll be appearing on our menu just about as often as I can snag some local cauliflower from the market.

Silky Cauliflower Soup with Parmesan Crisps

This recipe is David Lieberman's, but it's likely to make it into next year's cookbook in some form or fashion. It's dead easy to make if you have an immersion blender. Use caution if you're planning to throw it all in a blender!

Ingredients

For the soup:

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the parmesan crisps:

  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Chopped chives, for garnish

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Prepare the soup. Remove the leaves and thick core from the cauliflower, coarsely chop, and reserve. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the cauliflower is very soft and falling apart, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and, using a hand held immersion blender, puree the soup, or puree in small batches in a blender* and return it to the pot. Add the Parmesan and stir until smooth.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Peaches

The Season's Pick box from our local co-op has been pretty hit-or-miss lately. We've gotten some bizarre and exotic stuff in there, but very little that we would normally include in our typical cooking repertoire.

This week, however, I was delighted to find two huge, perfectly ripe, flawless heirloom tomatoes waiting in the bottom of the box. Normally I would just slice and top them off with a little light vinaigrette, so as not to take away from the perfect flavor tomatoes have this time of year. But this week I was inspired by the newest issue of Food & Wine, which is filled with southern recipes reinvented for the modern cook.

[caption id="attachment_194" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Heirloom Tomatoes, two from our Season's Pick box and one from Whole Foods"]Heirloom Tomatoes[/caption]

I grew up in the South… ish. Most of my extended family was centrally located in Memphis, Tennessee, and our family vacationed in North Carolina nearly every summer. It goes without saying that I was exposed to a great deal of southern food in my formative years. My grandmother's macaroni and strawberry cake recipes are legendary. (At least the Gillespies — myself included — think so!) And while I wasn't exposed to collards and okra until I joined the co-op many years later, I have fond memories of black-eyed peas, corn bread, and sweet potato casserole (smothered in toasted marshmallows, of course) from Christmases past.

There are few food genres that have a worse reputation for health value than Southern cooking (or is that cookin'). Rightfully so, perhaps. On my most recent trip to Memphis, the smell of southern fried chicken was in the air seemingly from the moment I stepped off the plane until I boarded again two days later. Which is why I was surprised to find a (mostly) healthy heirloom tomato salad in the middle of last month's issue of Southern Living magazine. (I know, I said I was inspired by this month's Food & Wine, but that's what made me pick up the Southern Living in the first place… Track with me, people.)

Peeling the Peach

Normally I change a few things about a recipe before posting it here — things I'd change if I made it again, or substitutions I had to make based on what I had on-hand at the time — but there's very little I would do to change this one. If you have amazing tomatoes and peaches at your farmer's market this time of year, this one is definitely worth a shot. If it's the middle of the winter and your tomatoes are like cardboard, put this on the shelf until tomato season hits!

[caption id="attachment_196" align="alignnone" width="540" caption="Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Pecans"][/caption]

Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Pecans

This will take about 20 minutes to prepare and make 6 servings, but my husband and I ate the entire thing right off the platter.

Simple Tomato Salad

A simple tomato salad is perfect on a hot summer day.

Since this blog went live a couple weeks ago, I've started actually reading cookbooks. I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to skipping straight to the recipes, but it's actually quite interesting getting to know the personality behind the food before pulling out the measuring cups.

This is especially true when it comes to Earth to Table (Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann). I read through the Summer introduction last night as I was soaking off the week in a bathtub with a glass of wine.

Cooking is easy in the summer; just don't ruin the way the food already tastes. What is easier than boiling some corn, or preparing some berries? A tomato salad is easy. Grilling is easy. Life is good in the summer.

In that same vein, I've put together the simplest tomato salad recipe that, if you're like me, can be made nearly start-to-finish with ingredients grown within a hundred miles of your kitchen (even better, in your backyard). I'm constantly playing with the vinaigrette recipe, using whatever we have on hand; if you don't have the type of vinegar I've listed below, substitute whatever you happen to have in your pantry.

Simple Tomato Salad

This will serve 4 as an appetizer/salad course, or 2 as a main course for lunch.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey mustard
  • 1 pint organic grape tomatoes, washed and sliced in half
  • 1/4 small red onion, very thinly sliced (use a mandoline if you have one)
  • 5-7 basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Feta cheese (optional)

Preparation

Pour the vinegars into a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and honey mustard until well-combined. Roll up all of the basil leaves together and cut into a chiffonade. Add the basil, the sliced onion, and the tomatoes to the bowl of vinaigrette and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you like, serve with some crumbled feta cheese on top.

Munchy Muffins

[caption id="attachment_121" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Mini munchy muffins, straight from the oven."]Bran Muffins[/caption]

I've had this unopened bag of wheat bran sitting on the shelf for over a month now. I picked it up at Publix when I was unsure whether the recipe I was looking to make required "wheat germ" or "wheat bran" (I bought both). Since then I've purchased my first iPhone, and now have all of my grocery lists stored in the Shopping List app; hopefully that will prevent future instances of munchy wheat product overload!

This morning I finally got the urge to turn the sawdust-looking stuff (wheat bran, that is) into something delicious and at least a little healthy. Most people would call the end result "bran muffins," but I thought the term "munchy muffins" did them justice. It's a rare find when I come across a recipe that can turn something that looks so much like a woodworker's trash pile into a moist, delicious snack I'm not ashamed to share with my coworkers.

Other than wheat bran, the ingredients used here are ones I keep a ready stock of in my kitchen; if you don't have allspice or nutmeg on-hand, you should. They're delicious spices that are the key to so many special muffins, pies, jams, and lattes. You might even know someone with an allspice tree who wouldn't mind offloading some of the stuff; I ground up the allspice for this recipe using the dried berries from my parents' allspice tree (thanks, Mom).

Munchy (Bran) Muffins

This recipe came from one of my very favorite cookbooks, The Best Recipe. The chefs at America's Test Kitchen take all the guesswork out of tough recipes by trying different variations sometimes dozens of times, until they come up with the one that's just right. This one is a keeper.

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons buttermilk*
  • 1 ½ cups wheat bran
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)

Preparation

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together in medium bowl; set aside.

Cream butter with mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy; 1 to 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until combined and fluffy, about 1 minute longer. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly before adding the next. Beat in vanilla, molasses, and sour cream until thoroughly combined and creamy, about 1 minute longer. Reduce speed to low; beat in muttermilk and half the flour mixture until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in remaining flour mixture until incorporated

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