Are you East Coasters starting to thaw out yet? Mother Nature wasn’t kind to you folks. Heck, even Southerners got walloped this time around–Charleston, SC got five inches of white stuff last week, which gave me pause, because late this week, that’s exactly where the T. family is headed. I guess I should feel lucky, because the 7-day difference is working in our favor. It will still be a bit chillier than usual, but at least the city won’t be on lockdown.

The Minxes have never been anywhere in the southern part of the US, so they’re excited. Well, they’re mostly excited about being in fried chicken and biscuit territory, but that’s understandable. I get excited about those two foodstuffs, too. I was trying to explain to Miss M. the other day about the difference in dialect, vernacular and everyday speed of daily life that epitomizes “the southern way,” but I think she’s going to have to experience it to believe it.

“What do you mean, they talk and walk slower there?” she said.

“They just do, baby. You’ll see,” I said.

She scrunched her nose. “That will be weird. Especially for you. You’re the fastest walker and talker on the planet.”

She’s got a point there. What can I say? I’m a nervous small dog of a person, and we nervous small dogs move fast, dagnabbit.

 

I’m at the stage of travel planning called the “avoid the grocery store and stretch the scraps in the refrigerator” stage. It’s not my family’s favorite, because by the end of the week (in this case, Thursday evening) it’s slim pickings at The House of T.  Those girls will be lucky if there’s milk for their Thursday morning bowl of cereal. They may be forced to eat a rather questionable array of foods in the lunch box, too. Like a couple of cheese sticks, half a sleeve of Ritz crackers, a juice box and a lethargic looking apple. Maybe.

Early in the week, I decided to start whittling down the contents in the vegetable crisper. The carrots and celery went into a pot of clam chowder, but I still had some broccoli and a fat onion loafing around. I didn’t really have any meat that wasn’t frozen solid and I refused to wave the white flag and purchase something this late in the game.

What I settled on: this recipe for Roasted Broccoli with Brown Butter Fish Sauce. I somehow stretched it into a respectable dinner by serving it with rice and adorned with a poached egg. And you know what? It was a respectable dinner…actually, a very good dinner.

The secret to this dish is the bomba-licious brown butter sauce, toasty and nutty and enhanced with capers and funky fish sauce. You also roast the broccoli and onion until it’s damn near charred, which gives it a deep, rich flavor. You’re going to look at your pan of vegetables in the roasting pan and think, “I’m gonna catch Hell for burning the dang dinner.” But you didn’t burn it, you roasted it…a lot.

Not to worry. Bathe that pan of vegetables in that umami-laden, magical butter sauce and all will be forgiven.

This makes a delicious side dish next to roast chicken or a juicy chop. Alternatively, if you’re feeling vegetarian-ish (or cheap and Spartan, as my husband says), serve it as I did, over rice and topped with a lovely runny-cooked egg.

Even if you don’t have a plane to catch, or a refrigerator to clean out, it will make you quite pleased with yourself.

 

                                                        ^^No, bitch did not burn her broccoli. That’s char, people.

 

Roasted Broccoli with Brown Butter Fish Sauce

serves 4

slightly adapted from John Nguyen

 

 

1 1/2 pounds broccoli, cut into large florets

1 medium to large red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

1/4 teaspoons chile flakes (optional)

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 tablespoon capers, drained

2-3 teaspoons fish sauce (if you want a truly vegetarian dish, jettison the fish sauce and use Tamari sauce instead. It’ll still be good)

black or regular sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 500. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the broccoli and red onion with olive oil. Spread in an even layer and season lightly with salt, pepper and chile flakes, if using. Roast, without turning, until the broccoli is just knife-tender and browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a platter.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt the butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter browns and smells nutty, about 6 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat, back up a little from the skillet and stir in the capers and fish sauce. **I’m tellin’ you, back up! Give that skillet a little breathing room! It will splatter alarmingly at first.**

Drizzle the butter mixture over the broccoli/onions. Serve over rice, if desired. To make this a meal, slap an egg on it!

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Happy New Year, Readers!

I hope you all had a merry and wonderful holiday? We mostly enjoyed a relaxed and festive few weeks, although I did spend the day after Christmas in bed with the vomiting plague. I was the only one who got it, probably because I spent the entire week prior to Christmas in the public realm (eg: the dang grocery store, the dang SuperTarget, the dang wine shop, the dang butcher, the dang seafood market…you get the idea).

I swear that I’m religious about washing my hands when I return from each and every one of those places, but I think you just can’t outrun virus season forever. It catches up with you eventually and you spend a few days wishing for death. Or for one of those robotic maids that the Jetsons had in those old cartoons. A robot maid would be epic.

Still, I was very glad that I didn’t spread the yucks to anyone else in the family.

We had a holiday first here at the T. household: almost zero leftovers from the Christmas day feast. As always, I ordered a large Honeybaked ham (and a filet mignon roast!) but we picked up a few last-minute guests on Christmas, so we threw open the doors, feasted well,  packed up the leftovers and said guests happily took them home. To be honest, it was kind of a relief. Sure, it’s nice to have a few slices of something for midnight snacking (or if you’re like me, a bowl of leftover scalloped potatoes for breakfast) but after a day or so, I’m ready to move on.

A couple of days after Christmas, my husband came down the stairs and said, “You know what’s weird?” He jiggled the waistband of his jeans. “Not only did I not put any weight on over the holidays, I think I might have lost some. How is that possible? Unlike you, I didn’t even have the stomach flu.”

It’s true–a decent bout of the stomach hurls can undo several days of overindulgence, although I don’t recommend it.

He hadn’t been hanging out at the gym more than usual, so it wasn’t exercise induced and he certainly hadn’t been teetotaling during the business-party circuit.

He did say that he’d been so busy at work that he didn’t even wander into the break room to see if there were cookies or other holiday temptations around, but we did have some at home. We’d still been sticking to a good ratio of plant-based meals, although things had definitely relaxed for a few weeks.

So what’s going on, caterpillars?

We had some mighty cold weather leading up to Christmas (not -50 like Fargo, North Dakota, but cold enough) and the bite in the air had caused me to rely heavily on my soup pot in the weeks before New Year’s, and you know what? That’s the ticket, I think.

Nearly every day I’d been sending him off to work with a vegetable laden soup for either lunch or dinner, and darned if those bowls of broth didn’t keep him warm, full and skinny. I’d been eating those bowls, too–sometimes for breakfast and lunch, depending on how chattery my teeth were after walking Mozz-man around the neighborhood. Turns out, it wasn’t just the stomach flu keeping extra pounds at bay.

I’d made this riff on minestrone, and this nourishing lentil soup and even this cheese-inclusive broccoli recipe. All delicious, all easy, and all good for you. How’s that for a package deal?

I am not a girl to make New Year’s resolutions, because let’s face it, 2017 was depressing enough and I’d like to start the year off without immediate failure…but. If you are of a mind make yourself a health-related promise for 2018, eating more soup isn’t too much of a sacrifice. How hard is it to replace your afternoon burrito or sandwich with a cuddly bowl of soup? It won’t make you weighed down or sleepy afterwards, and it’s packed with nutritious stuff, and if you make a pot of soup on a snowy weekend, it’s all ready for you to nosh on for days.

Soup for 2018…I like it. At least for the chilly part of the year. We can always switch back to salad country when it’s balmy out. Your body will thank you (as long as you don’t mainline cream-packed recipes or ones dripping in cheese).

If you try the soup featured below, your tastebuds will thank you, too. This recipe, at first blush, sounds weird but it tastes amazing. I’m not kidding–my husband’s jaw dropped when he first tasted this. It’s full of warming Moroccan-influenced spice, but it’s not spicy-spicy (harissa does vary depending on the brand you use, so taste as you go, though). It’s vegan, but the addition of almonds (two varieties, regular and smoked) give it a complex depth and a little swirl of coconut milk adds richness. The cilantro keeps things bright, and you’ll love the contrast that the almond garnish on top provides.

Try it.

It’ll make you feel like a world traveler.

A world traveler who can fit into her skinny jeans.

I’ll toast to that. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Moroccan Cauliflower and Almond Soup

adapted from Taste of Home

serves 6-8

 

1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets (about 3 1/2 pounds)

6 cups vegetable stock

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted (yes, you do need to toast them. It makes a difference. 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes)

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, divided

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 teaspoons harissa paste

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/3 cup full-fat coconut milk

1/4 cup chopped smoked almonds, for serving

additional harissa, for serving (optional)

 

In a 5-6 quart slow cooker, combine cauliflower, vegetable stock, 1/2 cup almonds, 1/2 cup cilantro and garlic.

In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat with the harissa, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, paprika, salt and pepper. Cook until spices begin to smell fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the slow cooker.

Cook, covered, on low heat about 6 hours or until cauliflower is tender.

Add coconut milk to the slow cooker and puree mixture with an immersion blender. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt, pepper and harissa, if desired.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with smoked chopped almonds and remaining chopped cilantro.

 

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One of the best things about the holiday season, without question, is the appearance of those oh so special, once-a-year kind of culinary delights. Cookies dusted with sparkly sugar, Grandma’s famous fudge, from-scratch dinner rolls and coffeecakes, succulent roasts of expensive cuts of meat, all the potatoes, in all incarnations.

Those things are certainly worth waiting for, and when we see them on the holiday table, it’s hard not to feel like a little kid again. Those treats also remind us of who we are and where we’re from. Some of those recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, and they say as much about us as our birth certificates do, if not more.

You’ve seen those advertisements for Ancestry DNA on television? How about I save you some pennies, folks. Go dust off you grandmother’s and your mother’s recipe boxes, riffle through some old cookbooks, stained and battered with use. That’s where you’re from, my friends. No need for pomp or science.

Mama made several kinds of Christmas cookies that only graced our house once a year: Mrs. Hagerup’s crescent cookies (a buttery walnut cookie, shaped like a crescent, rolled in powdered sugar), Dusseldorf cookies (two butter-almond cookies sandwiched together with raspberry jam and rolled in granulated sugar) and my favorites, toffee bar cookies, smeared in a generous bath of chocolate ganache and a smattering of pecans.

They are all nostalgia-packed little sugar bombs and absolutely delicious and I look forward to them, but herein lies a cautionary tale.

As I’ve grown older, and had to have a few decidedly age-related procedures done like the removal of a certain gall bladder, I’ve learned that eating these things with my old childish gusto and verve isn’t such a smart idea.

In fact, I am so downright dangerous with a platter of those toffee cookies sitting around that I make them the night before Christmas, serve them at Christmas dinner, and then pack up each and every leftover and send them directly home with guests.

Alas, this is my old lady fate. Limited to three toffee bar cookies on Christmas. I could be bitter, but it makes better sense to just enjoy the damn cookies and applaud myself for wise restraint.

Restraint.

Not really a sexy thing, is it?

And to be honest, the holidays should be about family, tradition, gratitude, love, kindness, and peace on Earth first. And then cookies and candy.

I ain’t a-gonna lecture you about what you ingest this holiday season because holidays are meant to be fun, and food is fun, and it’s none of my business what you cram into your pie-hole while nobody’s looking.

Also? The girl who ordered a Honeybaked Ham bigger than a Prius for her Christmas buffet table has no business sniffing at anyone for seasonal overindulgence. There will be mucho consumption of pork product, butter, potatoes, alcohol, cheese, gluten and maybe that fourth toffee cookie at my house. And it’s going to be good. I’m going to enjoy it immensely.

And then, there will come a time when the guests have bade farewell, the scattered ribbons and wrapping paper tidied, the holiday garb jettisoned for my favorite ratty pair of flannel pajama pants, and I’ll sink into the couch in a warm, fuzzy puddle and I’ll think, “You know? I think I’d like to eat something simple.”

It almost always happens to me after a period of party food and rich fare. Suddenly I just want a plate of scrambled eggs. Or a salad, even in the dead of winter.  Or if I can’t quite get myself to salad territory, a cozy bowl of soup.

Is it just me?

Somehow I doubt it.

So if you’re one of my kindred souls craving soup after a hectic season, allow me to recommend this one. It’s incredibly easy to make, it doesn’t call for fancy ingredients, it’s chock-full of warm, fragrant spice, and…bada boom! It’s good for you.

This soup is vegetarian (vegan, even!), protein-packed, adaptable and delicious.

It’s funny, because even with such simple ingredients, the soup ends up tasting like something fairly complex. I think it’s from allowing the spices to bloom for a couple of minutes, so they become fragrant and toasty, and from the garlic and ginger, which add warm heat. The coconut milk makes everything round and luscious and takes the sting out of the red pepper flakes.

It freezes well, if you have any left over, and if you want to bulk it up a little, feel free to stir in some cooked basmati rice or quinoa.

Then cuddle up with a bowl and toast yourself to a season well done.

Happy Holidays, dear Readers!

 

 

 

 

Curried Lentil, Tomato and Coconut Soup

serves 4

slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

 

2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon medium curry powder (such as S&B)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 (2 1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3/4 cup red lentils

1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish

kosher salt and pepper

1 (13.5 ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk, shaken well (do not use low-fat, please and if you can get your hand on Chaokoh brand, use it here)

Lime wedges, for serving

 

Heat oil in a large-ish saucepan over medium heat. Add the cumin seed, ground coriander and curry powder cook until fragrant, about a minute or two. Add onion and cook until golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant and spices begin to bloom, about 2 minutes.

Add lentils and cook for a minute. Add tomatoes, cilantro, a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and 2 1/2 cups water.

Set aside 1/4 cup of the coconut milk for serving and add remaining coconut milk to the pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Serve in bowls, topped with a drizzle of coconut milk and chopped cilantro with lime wedges on the side.

 

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