Cauliflower Cheese Soup

Well, folks it's been a very emotional week, to say the least.  My heart and shoulders are aching from the weight of  it all, and I know I'm not alone, nor have I felt it the most.  It seems sort of trivial to be blogging about food at a time like this, but then again we still need to eat, and more importantly we must continue to nourish and feed ourselves and each other.  So in honour of that, here's a recipe for some true comfort food to help keep us strong and warm as winter approaches.    

There is something so hearty and satisfying about the classic combination of cauliflower and cheese.  It's like mac and cheese, but with out the heaviness of an indulgent pasta feast, and the delicately nuttiness of cauliflower pairs perfectly with the nippy tang of a crumbly old cheddar.  

When I was a kid the only way we ever ate cauliflower was boiled until squishy and bathed in a thick orange cheese sauce, usually to accompany some sort of roast.  We never thought to cook it in the oven until crispy and caramelized or to toss it with potatoes and fragrant curry spices.  And while I love all of these other delicious cauliflower preparations,  I always enjoy revisiting the comforting cheesy flavours of my British-Canadian childhood, as do my kids, who request this soup on a weekly basis.  

This recipe comes from Jamie's Food Revolution, one of my favourite Jamie Oliver cookbooks.  It first came out in 2008 and it's full of simple, delicious and relatively affordable recipes that have become a part of our family's regular meal rotation.  This is such a simple soup to prepare, and it's hearty enough to stand on it's own as a meal, especially with a hunk of good bread.  Jamie recommends topping it with a bit of crumbled bacon which you will not regret doing, if you swing towards the carnivorous side. Surprisingly, despite the dairy component, this soup freezes beautifully so I often keep some on hand as a quick kid dinner or a thermos lunch. 

2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
2 medium onions
2 cloves of garlic
8 cups of cauliflower
olive oil
7 cups of stock (vegetable or chicken)
8 oz of Cheddar cheese (Irish, smoked or the end bits of various cheeses are all tasty here) 
1 tsp mustard (Dijon or English)
optional: pinch of nutmeg

1.  Peel and roughly chop the carrots, onion and celery and slice the garlic.  Chop the cauliflower into florets.  Don't worry too much about size/ shape because everything will be blended at the end.  

2.  Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and toss all of the veggies in.  Turn the heat to medium and leave for about 10 minutes, until everything is starting to soften.   

3.  Add broth to the vegetables, bring to a boil and then simmer for another 10 minutes with the lid on.  Stir occasionally.  While this is simmering, grate your cheddar.

4.  When everything is soft, turn off the heat and add your cheese and mustard.  Blend until silky smooth using an immersion hand blender or whatever liquidizer you have.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and grate in a pinch of nutmeg, if you like.  

Serves 6 to 8


Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake

I went away this past weekend to beautiful, bucolic Prince Edward County on the shores of Lake Ontario, with a great group of friends from my fitness class community, FitnChips.  We spent the day cycling around a pastoral paradise, vibrant yellow fall leaves shimmering in the bright blue sky, making friends with pigs and farm dogs and stopping at local farms and vineyards along the way. The company was a perfect blend of ridiculous and inspiring and I returned home with cheese curds, farm fresh eggs and a couple of pecks of apples.  I would have bought bushels, but my small urban home won't allow for the storage of such quantities.  

I couldn't wait to bake something with the spy and honey crisp apples that perfumed the air in the car the whole way home. Almost  immediately I thought of Dorrie Greenspan's friend Marie-Hélène's French apple cake I had read about here, here and in my Food 52 Genius Recipes cookbook.  Something in the description grabbed me and it was simply this:  this cake is "more apple than cake". Yum.  Also, the recipe calls for multiple types of apples because they provide a diversity of flavours and textures.  I had the two types I'd bought in The County, plus I had a third mystery kind that our generous and gregarious school crossing guard had given us the other day, so I tossed one of those in for good measure.   

Apparently Marie-Hélène uses dark rum in her cake, but being the lousy pirate that I am, I have no rum.  However, I do have many little bottles of Calvados, a French apple brandy that my Aunt, a longtime inhabitant of France, gives to me every year at Christmas.  I used this in lieu of rum, which I think took the apple flavour to the next level.  Then I served it with a dollop of whipped cream and crème fraîche, because they were in my fridge and because that's what David Lebovitz recommends.  

This is a cake that truly celebrates apple season, it's so simple to put together, delicious anytime of day and it calls for only a handful of ingredients.  For breakfast, tea time or an elegant after dinner dessert I will be making this fragrant, moist French apple cake with many more apple pecks in my future.  

From Dorrie Greenspan via Food 52 Genius Recipes

3/4 cup all-purpose flour  (I suspect you could easily use Gluten Free flour here because it's such a moist cake) 
3/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. dark rum (or Calvados)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 a cup of unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.  Grease an 8 or 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 350F.

2.  Whisk together the flour and baking powder.

3.  Peel and core apples and chop into 1 to 2 inch chunks.  

4.  Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until foamy and then add in sugar and whisk for another minute more.  Add in the vanilla and alcohol of choice. 

5.  Add half of the flour mixture, half the butter and then repeat.  Mix gently so that the batter is smooth, but not thick. Fold in the apples with a rubber spatula.

6.  Scrape into prepared spring form pan and use the spatula to even out the batter in the pan.

7.  Bake on a cookie sheet lined with more parchment for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.