Tag Archives: gluten free

10 Reasons to Rediscover Cauliflower

Yes, I think the cauliflower would creep quietly in. Its chaste, slightly coy presence makes this a vegetable that would never shout its qualities. ~Nigel Slater, Tender Greens

I’ve never heard anyone shouting from the rooftops about their endless love for cauliflower. Nor does it have the detestable reputation of brussels sprouts, lima beans, and the like. I don’t remember having much of an opinion at all about cauliflower, until I began my quest to increase the ratio of produce on my plate.

Guilt began creeping in whenever I would indulge in making my all-time favorite comfort food, homemade macaroni & cheese. At some point the idea of vegetables and cheesy, bubbly goodness merged (long before I ever considered this dilema.) Cauliflower, I remembered, is commonly coated in cheese sauce. I began substituting part of the pasta with chunks of steamed cauliflower. When I went on my gluten-free streak, I departed from pasta all together.

The funny thing is, I found I actually liked it. Yes, there will always be a special place in my heart for a big bowl of noodles. But whenever I replace a processed food with a vegetable, it makes the dish seem so much more a-live. A little sweet, a little nutty, a nicely cooked piece of cauliflower is a beautiful thing.

Here are my top ten reasons why this underappreciated, white-headed stepchild is worth a second look:

1)    Even though it’s not a dark leafy green, cauliflower is healthier than you might expect.

Whole Foods adopted Dr. Fuhrman’s ANDI scoring system to help shoppers make healthier choices. Their website has listings of these scores. Anything below 50 is considered not-so healthy. Kale, mustard and collard greens score 1,000, the highest possible. Cauliflower scores 295, which is higher than tomatoes, butternut squash, and any of the top listed beans, fruit, nuts and seeds, or whole grains.

2) Cauliflower is relatively cheap.

Prices range anywhere from $1-2 a pound, or even less depending on season and availability.

3) It’s available almost year round, and not just because of cold storage.

It is known as more of a cool weather vegetable, but varieties of cauliflower are in season all year long, except July and August.

It’s best to buy it whole. Curds should be tight, and even if you don’t eat the leaves they tell the story of how long it’s been since harvest.

4) It’s easy to grow in most climates.

Cauliflower can be grown in the winter in mild climates, and in spring and autumn in cooler areas. It will withstand light freezing. (For this information I consulted “The Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide.” It has brief, but handy little descriptions for growing most herb and vegetables.)

I planted my very first “cheddar” cauliflower this last fall. It wintered nicely, and is now engaged in some interesting sprouting activities.

5) There are some interesting varieties to explore.

Besides plain old white, other colors that occur in nature (not dyed!), include green, purple, and orange. I don’t notice any major difference in flavor, although reportedly these other varieties don’t have as much of the bitterness that can be present in the standard white. (Personally I think that may have more to do with freshness.)

Nutritionally speaking, orange cauliflower has 25 times the level of vitamin A, and the purple in cauliflower is caused by the same anti-oxidants found in purple cabbage and red wine (according to wiki).

Green, turreted Romanesco was clearly cultivated beneath the red clouds of Mars. This is probably my favorite variety, just because of it’s dramatic, unearthly presence. Oh, and it tastes good too. This beauty came in my FFTY CSA box.

6) Cauliflower cooks with little fuss or fanfare.

Cut into 1” pieces and steam for about 7 minutes (in a large, covered bowl with a little water in the microwave, stirring frequently) then season or add a flavorful sauce. Or, sauté bite-sized pieces for 6-7 minutes over medium heat in a little butter or olive oil till the florets begin to brown, then braise- add a small amount of flavorful liquid and cover for a few more minutes till tender.

7) It is quite versatile, culinarily speaking.

Not sure what to do with it? Recipes abound! Puree it (the better to sneak more veggies into your unsuspecting kids’ dinners because of its neutral color and flavor, my dear!) Roasted, pickled, sautéed, gratin-ed, raw, etc. So many possibilities, so little time.

And of course, cauliflower is a good replacement for pasta – this vegetable is made for cheese sauce. (Check out my gluten-free, dairy-free cauliflower gratin here.)

8) We all need to eat more vegetables anyway.

Michael Pollon said it most succinctly: Eat (real) Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. ‘Nuff said.

9) It’s highly photogenic.

Even from the back.

10) Why does there always have to be 10? Ok, fine. Here’s my latest cauliflower recipe for you to sample:

Simple Curried Cauliflower


1 head cauliflower, any color
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp paprika
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ cup water, or so
salt to taste


1)    Heat oil in a large skillet to medium high heat. While the pan is heating, trim off stem and cut cauliflower into bite-sized pieces.

2)    When the oil is hot but not smoking, add garlic. Cook just till garlic begins to brown, then add cauliflower.

3)    Sautee cauliflower for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add water, and cover till cauliflower is tender and water is mostly gone. Add a little more water if necessary to achieve desired toothsome-ness.

4)    Season with garam masala, paprika, and salt to taste. Finish with red wine vinegar and remove from heat. Serve warm.



Filed under Ingredients, New Recipes, Obsessed with Produce, Picky Eaters Anonymous, Techniques

Thanksgiving Improv

This post may seem a bit after the fact seeing as Thanksgiving is over. In my defense, it involves leftovers, super quick roasted nuts perfect for any occasion, and an epiphany: Jazz and Thanksgiving are soul mates.

Jazz by nature is so fluid it resists definition, but I tried anyway. Jazz could be defined as two conflicting cultures finding beauty in each other’s musical traditions, an embrace that results in music new, surprising, and glorious.

Thanksgiving could be defined as two conflicting cultures brought together by their mutual celebration of the harvest bounty (so the story goes).

Solidly rooted North American traditions, both are the result of two cultures in direct competition finding a common ground through art. Through mingling, new culinary and musical legacies were born.

I’m not sure exactly why jazz came into play. I wanted to write about Thanksgiving, but have been singing mostly blues notes as of late. There is so much to be thankful for, but instead of the usual lilting melody, this restless body is composing a cacophony that doesn’t match the love in my life.

Maybe I need to reinterpret my time signature. Just because it is dark when I wake, and dark when I leave work doesn’t mean there is less leisure time. Dark spaces feel smaller, but that’s what flash lights and desk lamps are for.

There is one thing that usually makes me feel better. In the jazz lexicon it would be called improvisation through syncopation; being open to new melodies (aka a dish) by using an unexpected deviation (combining ingredients not usually combined).

I set out on a culinary mission last weekend with that very thought in mind. Winter squash and nuts were the riff (repeated refrain). My plan was to make Maple Chipotle Nuts, and my very first homemade pumpkin pie. I began by making the nuts, and roasting and pureeing a sugar pumpkin. As I set out to make a pie the next day, it seemed only natural to make a Maple Chipotle Pumpkin Pie. The real surprise was my latest creation, an Acorn Squash Pumpkin Pie.

Maple Chipotle Nuts is a recipe I adapted from the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op biweekly ads. I first made them as part of a clean-out-the-freezer project, and have since made them three times in the last week and a half. They are sweet, a little spicy, and seriously addicting.

Maple Chipotle Nuts

1 pound unsalted raw nuts (any mix of pecans, green pumpkin seeds aka pepitas, almonds, walnuts, peanuts)
1 cup maple syrup
¼ cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1)   Heat oven to 325. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.

2)   Mix maple syrup and brown sugar in a small microwave safe bowl. Heat in microwave till sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Stir in chipotle powder, salt, and pepper.

3)   Combine nuts and maple syrup mixture. Stir till evenly coated. Spread nuts on lined baking sheet.

4)   Bake 6-7 minutes. Stir, then bake another 6-7 minutes till bubbly. Put nuts in a heat safe bowl and allow to cool, stirring occasionally to break them up.

5)   There’s plenty to snack on, sprinkle on a salad with bleu cheese or feta, and make Maple Chipotle Pumpkin Pie.

Maple Chipotle Pumpkin Pie

Even though it was my first time making a pumpkin pie, that didn’t stop me from tweaking the recipe. (Never does!) I got a small sugar pumpkin in my CSA box a couple of weeks ago, and finally got around to doing something with it. My 8 year old loves pumpkin pie, and begged me to make one. I warned her I was going to put nuts on top, but she could take them off. She allowed me to proceed.

You can use any piecrust you like. I used the “No Fear Pie Crust” from Cook’s Country. (This is a subscription website, but this particular recipe is free! Although it might be just be free during the holidays.) I highly recommend it. I took the recipe title for granted, and let my three year old help me make it with great results. Also, it stayed nice and crisp even though it took us a few days to finish the pie.

The filling I used is another free one from Cook’s Country, their “Pumpkin-Praline Pie.” You can click on the link or just follow my simplified instructions:

In a medium saucepan, combine:

15 oz plain pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
¾ cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
pinch ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt

1)   Once all the filling ingredients are in the pan, turn heat to medium high. Stirring frequently, heat till bubbling and thickened, about 4 minutes.

2)   Remove from heat and whisk in 1 cup evaporated milk, 3 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

To finish the pie:

1)   Pour filling into warm piecrust. (The filling is actually a little too much for a 9” pan. Save the leftovers! I’ve got a great use for it down the screen.)

2)   Bake at 350 till the filling puffs up, and barely jiggles at the center, about 35 minutes.

3)   Top with Maple Chipotle Nuts, then bake another 10 minutes or so until toasty, and you just can’t handle the aroma-torture any longer.

4)   Let cool on a wire rack till set, 2 hours or so.

Next time I make this pie, I plan to kick up the spice by putting a little chipotle powder into the filling.

Acorn Squash Pumpkin Pie

So, you may be wondering where the acorn squash comes in. I’ve had this beautiful Carnival acorn squash on my table as a fall decoration for a few weeks. It’s almost too pretty to eat.

But, when I made the piecrust, I realized I didn’t have any pie weights (because they would get used less often than my children ask for a bath). So, I improvised. I used a foil-lined pie tin with half an acorn squash to weigh down the crust and roast it at the same time. I put the other half face down in another pie pan, and essentially killed two birds with one stone.

But wait, there’s more! Once the acorn squash starts to caramelize, and is tender enough for a fork to pierce easily, flip it over and pour the rest of the pumpkin pie filling in the center. Bake another 10-20 minutes until the filling is set. This would be great in a butternut, or any other squash you like to prepare on the sweeter side.

Back to the Blues:

Maybe I need to take this syncopation thing more seriously. One way of making an unexpected deviation in music is with a rest where a stress is expected. Slowing my tempo makes sense, but seems impossible. Family life means trying to synchronize the rhythms of four people into one composed day, every day. Of course I can stop doing the extras I love (like writing, baking, little things that help me maintain sanity), but I can’t not participate in my family’s song. How do you do it all, or stop trying to do it all?

In jazz, some songs use a call-response format. The lead singer will sing an improvised line or two, and the chorus responds with a refrain. As the lead singer in this scenario calling to you, the chorus, what do you do when you find yourself singing the blues?


Filed under Cookbooks and other Book Reviews, Culinary Travels, New Recipes, Obsessed with Produce, Parties, Holidays, and Holiday Parties, Techniques

Macaroni & Cheese Free Mac & Cheese

Macaroni & cheese is the comfort and warmth of my childhood in a bowl. It seriously merits poetry. 

Food Memories
anchor deep and pull sharp
sharper than a picture’s soft

Soft boiled eggs and buttered toast,
my dad
biscuits with sausage gravy,
Grandma Faye
homemade mac & cheese,
that’s my mom
in all her Walton’s glory

Food memories live in the soft spot
under your ear, behind your jaw
and in the passages
of your nose

They warm your insides
steam up your windows
hug your throat
and tell you not
to forget your raincoat

What then would induce me to stop eating my favorite food on earth? An experiment, of course. In my latest hypothesis dairy is the potential villain, the trigger for eczema that has plagued me for the last thirteen years.

A few months ago I read this article about the relationship between inflammation and chronic conditions (hay fever, arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even depression to name a few).

There are plenty of potential environmental triggers for these conditions, but there’s also a good chance it’s an undiagnosed food sensitivity (not to be confused with food allergies which are life threatening). According to the article up to 40 percent of the population has a gluten sensitivity, “enough to notice brain fog, bloating, gastric distress, or fatigue after eating wheat.” Dairy sensitivity is similar.

The article suggests eliminating a food type for two weeks to see if symptoms are reduced. Then, add the potential allergen back into your diet and see what happens. (This should probably be done under a doctor’s care, but I kind of skipped that part.)

I’ve suspected allergies as a potential trigger for my eczema, but hadn’t considered food sensitivities. Since then I’ve toyed with the idea of using myself as a human guinea pig. I recently brought it up (again) during a conversation with a friend, and finally decided to dive in headfirst. I chose to go dairy-free first because it seemed easier to leave cheese off a sandwich than to make a sandwich without bread.

I made some really interesting discoveries during those two weeks, and will probably do a series of posts (including 5 new recipes!) One thing’s certain, there’s no substitute for cheese-sharp cheddar, Brie, and bleu, dill havarti, chevre, and Gouda too. I tried a vegan “cheddar cheese” on my salami sandwich. (Does this make kittens cry?) It was unforgivably squishy, like a raw, salty tofu. Sad kittens or no, that sham of a fake cheese went straight into the garbage.

Two weeks without dairy wasn’t as hard as I thought. Although, towards the end I went grocery shopping and found myself wistfully buying cheddar-colored foods like yellowish orange split peas, and this gorgeous orange cauliflower.

For the last year or so I’ve been substituting cauliflower for the noodles in my homemade mac & cheese recipe, pretending the veggies cancel out the cheese sauce (technically, this is a cauliflower gratin, but it satisfies the same craving). I thought, might as well take a shot at making a non-dairy “cheese” sauce. I’d heard of nutritional yeast as a vegan substitute for cheese a few years ago. It couldn’t possibly be as nightmarish as that slab of salty orange tofu. Why not?

Nutritional yeast has a nutty, cheesy flavor on par with a good 80s pop song. It’s actually a de-activated yeast in the same family as edible mushrooms. (Yes, there’s a fungus among us. Not very appealing? Consider it’s a replacement for moldy milk, aka cheese.) It’s a complete protein that comes in flake and powder form similar to grated Parmesan, and is often fortified with B vitamins.

I based my recipe on a vegan mac & cheese I found on vegweb, altering it substantially based on the reviews. I also used fresh onion rather than relying on garlic or onion powder. I kicked up the flavor even further borrowing a technique from curry making. The recipe called for oil, so l figured I might as well fry the onions to deepen the flavor without taking much time.

Honestly, the resulting dish blew me away. The caramelized onion and cheese flavor is deeply satisfying, not unlike its muse. It comes together faster than traditional macaroni and cheese. No waiting for milk to boil! Of course you can use noodles instead of cauliflower if you want it closer to the real thing.

Macaroni & Cheese Free Mac & Cheese
Serves: 6

“Cheese” Sauce:
¾ cup non-dairy milk (I used original whole grain rice milk, but might try unsweetened next time)
½ cup nutritional yeast
¼ cup water
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp white pepper (use black pepper to make it gluten-free)
2 tsp (or 2 squirts) mustard
½ cup oil (vegetable, corn, something neutral)
1 onion, sliced thin

1 medium head cauliflower, steamed in
½ cup water

Breadcrumbs (optional):
4 inch long piece of whole grain baguette or 1 ½ slices sandwich bread
1 Tbsp non-dairy butter spread (I like Earth Balance)
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast


1)   Preheat oven to 400º. Heat oil to med-med high heat in a large cast iron skillet while you slice the onion. When oil is shimmering, fry onion 5-7 minutes till deep brown in spots. Remove from heat and let cool.

2)   Meanwhile, remove core and cut cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. Steam in microwave safe bowl with ½ cup water. Cover with paper towel and microwave for 2 minutes, stir well, heat another 2 minutes, stir again. Steam another minute or so until fork tender. Put cauliflower in a large, shallow baking dish.

3)   When cool enough, add onions and the frying oil to blender with remaining sauce ingredients and blend well.

4)   Pinch bread into smaller pieces and put in food processor with butter spread and tablespoon nutritional yeast. Process for 30-60 seconds till crumbs are tiny.

5)   Pour sauce over cauliflower and stir to coat. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake at 400º for 15-18 minutes until bubbly and starting to brown around the edges. Serve warm and cozy. Leftovers keep well in the fridge for at least five days.


Filed under Cuisines (Regional and International), Ingredients, New Recipes, Obsessed with Produce, Techniques