Cauliflower Parmesan Comfort Food

Between the Tuesday I entered the hospital for labor and delivery and the Friday my newborn and I were discharged, the last hints of summery weather had fled Denver. Autumn drenched the trees in our neighborhood in gold and red, the wind had turned cold and sharp, and the promise of snow tinged the afternoon light that slanted across our front yard. Those first few days home Cameron and I were busy adjusting to our new family member and helping her adjust to the unexpectedly bright world into which she’d been thrust, but even in my sleep-deprived delirium, I was craving homemade comfort food from our kitchen.

Today’s recipe, Cauliflower Parmesan, had been on my “to-make” list prior to the hospital stay (one of the planned freezer meals to get us through the first month of post-delivery life), so most of the recipe ingredients were already on hand. When I stepped out of the depths of postpartum recovery last week, I stepped into our kitchen and set to cooking.

A vegetarian version of Chicken Parmesan, the cauliflower florets in this recipe are battered and panfried until crispy and golden and then layered into a casserole dish with salty Parmesan, rich and buttery mozzarella, and plenty of homemade tomato sauce. If you’re short on time, you can substitute a jar sauce for the homemade version’s recipe offered at the end of the post. Either way the end product delivers on its comfort food promise: flavorful, rich, and ample enough to provide leftovers.

Cauliflower Parmesan 1

Image by author.

Cauliflower Parmesan
(a NY Times Cooking recipe)
Serves 6

– 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

– 4 large eggs, lightly beaten

– 3 cups panko or plain unseasoned bread crumbs (I used panko.)

– Kosher salt, as needed

– Black pepper, as needed

– 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 2-inch florets

– Olive oil, for frying

– 5 cups Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)

– 1 cup finely grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

– 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place flour, eggs, and panko into three wide, shallow bowls. Season each generously with salt and pepper. Dip a cauliflower piece first in flour, then eggs, then coat with panko. Repeat with remaining cauliflower.

2. Fill a large skillet with 1/2-inch oil. Place over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry cauliflower in batches, turning halfway through, until golden brown. Transfer fried cauliflower pieces to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

3. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle one-third of the Parmesan over sauce. Scatter half cauliflower mixture over the Parmesan, and top with half the mozzarella pieces. Top with half the remaining sauce, sprinkle with another third of the Parmesan and repeat layering, ending with a final layer of sauce and Parmesan.

4. Transfer pan to oven, and bake until cheese is golden and casserole is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving.

Simple Tomato Sauce
(a NY Times Cooking recipe)
Makes about 5 cups

– 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

– 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

– 1/4 tsp red chile flakes (optional)

– 2 (28-ounce) cans whole or diced plum tomatoes

– 2 sprigs basil or 1 bay leaf (I used a bay leaf.)

– 1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste

– 1/4 tsp black pepper

1. In a large pot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add garlic, and cook until just lightly golden. Add chile flakes if desired, and cook 30 seconds.

2. Stir in tomatoes and juices, basil or bay leaf, and salt and pepper.

3. Bring sauce to a simmer, and cook until sauce is thick and tomatoes have mostly fallen apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to keep at a steady simmer. If using whole plum tomatoes, mash them up with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher to help them break down. Remove sauce from heat, and discard basil or bay leaf.

Prepping for Postpartum Meals with Whole-Wheat Garlic Naan

Always the planner, when late October swung around last month, I started making larger batches of meals on the weekends so that I could stow leftovers in our freezer for the weeks following our baby’s arrival. I tried a few new recipes, but for the most part, I relied on successful recipes posted here at the Crafty Cook Nook that would hold up well to freezing.

I’m a staunch believer in eating freshly cooked food (and using fresh ingredients) as much as possible since you’ll be able to reap higher nutritional benefits from fresh food. I also prefer the taste of fresh food over the frozen variety. However, when it comes to soups and curries and some pasta dishes and casseroles, the dish’s flavors are often richer if the food is allowed to rest before being consumed.

Despite scheduling big cooking weekends for last month, I didn’t have quite as much time as I’d planned to stock our freezer with homemade meals since our little bundle of sleepy joy arrived a couple of weeks earlier, but I did cook up a coconut chickpea curry and a pumpkin, lentil and coconut soup that yielded ample leftovers and are easy to thaw and reheat when Cameron and I are too tired to make more involved meals. (Alice’s 3am feedings are enough to make me feel hungover for most of the day, but I can’t complain because that feeling is a small price to pay to see her growing so well in these two short weeks she’s been with us. She’s almost to seven pounds now!)

Both of these one-bowl meals go great with rice, but I also wanted to try out a homemade naan recipe I’d eyed on Once Upon a Chef’s blog. Naan is one of my favorite vehicles to move curry from bowl to mouth when I’m dining at Indian or Nepalese restaurants, but I’d never conjured up the nerve to make a batch at home because I assumed that naan cooked without a tandoor oven would be far inferior. I’m happy to report that if you like naan, even cooking it in a cast-iron pan on your conventional stove will offer you a pillowy and crisp flatbread worthy of these South Asian-inspired dishes.

As far as yeasted dough goes, this recipe is a breeze to prepare and makes enough naan that you can put up half (three naan) in the freezer to reheat and serve alongside your premade soup or curry. Feel free to double the recipe, though, if you’re looking for a larger naan stockpile. The original recipe uses all white flour, but I wanted something a little heartier and substituted 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour in my version. I also omitted the suggested anise seeds and added fresh minced garlic to the dough (and some garlic powder to the finishing butter) for added flavor.

Whole Wheat Garlic Naan

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Whole-wheat Garlic Naan
(adapted from a Once Upon A Chef recipe)
Makes 6 naan

– 1 tsp active dry yeast (not instant active dry yeast or rapid-rise yeast)

– 3 tsp sugar, divided

– 1 1/2 cups bread flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled off with a knife, plus more for rolling

– 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

– 1 tsp salt

– 3 cloves garlic, minced

– 3 TBS plain yogurt

– 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

– 2 TBS melted salted butter and 1/2 tsp garlic powder, for brushing on finished naan

1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the active dry yeast and 1 tsp of the sugar with 3/4 cup warm water (about 100°F). Let it sit until frothy, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tsp of sugar, flours, salt, and minced garlic. Set aside.

3. Once the yeast is frothy, add the yogurt and olive oil to it and whisk to combine. Pour the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients and mix the dough together with a fork. When the dough is about to come together, dust your hand with flour and knead gently into a soft, slightly sticky dough. As soon as it comes together, stop kneading. Lightly oil or spray a clean bowl with nonstick cooking spray (the bowl should be large enough to allow the dough to double in size). Transfer the dough to the prepared bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Let sit in a warm place for 1.5-3 hours, or until about doubled in size (hint: the warmer the spot, the faster the dough will rise).

4. Dust a work surface with flour, and dump the dough on top. Sprinkle some flour on top of the dough and on your hands. Shape the dough into a long rectangle and cut into 6 equal portions, dusting with more flour as necessary so the dough doesn’t stick.

5. Warm a large cast iron or heavy nonstick pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Using a rolling pin, roll one of the dough balls into an oval shape about 1/8-inch thick (it should be about 9 inches x 4 inches). Pick up the dough and flip-flop it back and forth between your hands to release any excess flour; then gently lay the dough in the dry skillet and cook until the top is bursting with air bubbles and the bottom is golden and blackened in spots, a few minutes. Flip the naan and cook about 1-2 minutes more until the the bottom is lightly browned and blistered in spots. Remove the naan from the skillet and brush with melted butter. Place the naan in a tea towel-lined dish to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining naans, adjusting the heat lower if necessary as you go (I usually find it necessary to lower the heat to medium after the first naan). Serve warm.

Note: To keep the cooked naans warm, place them in a 200°F oven. Store leftovers in a Ziplock bag and reheat in a 350°F oven wrapped in foil.

‘There’s Gotta Be Butter in Here’ Secretly Vegan Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

As I’ve been feeding a newborn seemingly nonstop since giving birth earlier this month, my mind hasn’t been on doing much else, but now that she and I are establishing a schedule and I’m on the mend, the kitchen and my baking supplies are looking appetizing again. Fun fact: Cooking and baking are much easier without the sore joints and extra weight that pregnancy brings.

The last few posts I’ve given mad props to Food52’s Baking cookbook, and while today’s recipe hails from a New York bakery’s cookbook, I learned about these magnificent cookies from my friend Anna over at Curiouser & Curiouser who happened upon this recipe at Food52’s blog.

Always on the hunt for vegan recipes that pack just as much flavor as political verve, Anna’s recommendation piqued my interest and sent me rifling through my baking cupboard. Besides picking up a bag of dark chocolate chunks, I had all the ingredients on hand and was able to whip up the dough in a matter of minutes. The only downside to these otherwise excellent, melt-in-your-mouth cookies? You need to do a little planning. After prepping the dough, it needs to sit in your refrigerator for at least 12 hours before baking to allow for it to firm up and better keep its shape once you’ve portioned out the dough into cookie formation.

Patience pays off, though, because once these cookies are baked and ready to be served, vegans and nonvegans can come together and chow down in solidarity over delicious baked goods. I love rich, buttery chocolate chip cookies, but I couldn’t tell that these were butter- and egg-free. They’re that good.

CCN Secretly Vegan Chocolate Chunk Cookies 2

Image by author.

Secretly Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from an Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York’s Most Creative Bakery cookbook recipe)
Makes 24 cookies

– 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour

– 1 tsp baking powder

– 3/4 tsp baking soda

– 1/2 tsp fine salt

– 1 cup dark chocolate chips (I used 62% dark chocolate chunks, and they worked great and were vegan.)

– 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

– 1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar (make sure it’s fresh, soft brown sugar, breaking up any clumps you notice.)

– 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola, grapeseed, or any other neutral oil

– 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

– 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

– Coarse-grained sea salt or flaky sea salt like Maldon, for garnish

1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips/chunks to the flour mixture and toss to coat.

2. In a separate large bowl, whisk the sugars briskly with the canola oil, water, and vanilla extract until smooth and incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, and then stir with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula until just combined and no flour is visible. Do not overmix. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Do not skip this step.

3. Ten minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper. Remove dough from the refrigerator, and use a 1 1/2 TBS cookie dough scoop to portion dough into 2-inch mounds. Freeze the balls of dough for 10 minutes before baking as the cookies will retain their shape better while baking.

4. Sprinkle the balls of dough with coarse-grained sea salt (if freezing, remove balls of dough from the freezer first), and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until the edges are just golden. Do not overbake. Let cool completely before serving.

‘Apple of My Eye’ Apple Cake

Over the months you may have noticed two changes to my blog. First, I haven’t been the most consistent in posting recipes, and often my accompanying written content was shorter than earlier posts. Second, my emphasis on savory recipes dropped off. I still ate my veggies, but for the first time in almost ten years, I was able to eat bread and sweets again and was itching to try all kinds of recipes I’ve avoided because of health issues. What voodoo magic brought beloved cake and cookies and artisan bread back in to my life?

A little girl named Alice. She’s been with me since late February, but last Wednesday, she decided to make her appearance in the world after quite the labor of love. Named after my maternal grandmother and my mother, Alice was expected at the end of this month but arrived early and has been bringing such love and wonder into the Middleton and Turner home.

Today’s post is dedicated to you, Alice, the apple of my eye. I love you so much and can’t imagine my life without you in it. I’d never planned to marry or to start a family, but I’m grateful for these gifts of love because I get to share them with you.

Below you’ll find an easy autumn-appropriate apple cake recipe that originates in the Food52 Baking cookbook. Moist and sweet without a cloying aftertaste, this cake goes well with a cup of black tea or coffee. And if you haven’t purchased a copy of Food52 Baking yet, get yourself to a store and nab one. After test-driving a library copy for a few recipes, I bought a copy for my cookbook shelf and can’t wait to try more recipes this fall and winter.

Apple Cake 2

Image by author.

Apple Cake
(a Food52 Baking cookbook recipe)
Makes One 9-inch round cake

– 1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour

– 1/4 tsp baking soda

– 1/4 tsp kosher salt

– 1/4 cup (60 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

– 1 cup sugar (200 g) (I used organic raw sugar here, and it worked well.)

– 1 tsp vanilla extract

– 1 tsp ground cinnamon

– 1/4 tsp nutmeg

– 1 egg

– 2 cups (300 g) diced apples

– 1/2 cup (60 g) toasted pecans, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter and flour a 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with 1-inch (2.5 cm) sides. (I used a regular cake pan with the same dimensions, lining the bottom with parchment paper.)

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg until pale in color and fluffy. Add the egg, and mix until smooth. Add the flour mixture, and mix again until smooth; the batter will be thick. Stir in the apples and pecans. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and spread it evenly.

Apple Cake 1

Ready to bake. Image by author.

4. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, and the top is a nice golden color.

5. Let cool slightly. If you used a tart pan with a removable bottom, nudge the cake out carefully while it is still a bit warm. If you used a cake pan, let cool slightly, then run a knife around the edge of the pan; turn out onto a plate or wire rack, then invert onto a cake pan so the crispy top of the cake is facing up.

Double-Layer Coconut Pecan Bars

The past few days in the Denver area have been crisp, high-altitude blue skies and fiery yellows and reds as the leaves on my neighborhood trees change color and drop in piles along the sidewalks. The weather folks forecast snow by week’s end in the city, and while I dread the frigid mornings waiting for the bus downtown, fall has been fantastic by this Southern lady’s standards. And I do live a mile about sea level in the northern hemisphere, so snow and cold is kinda the protocol around these parts.

As the days turn cooler, I’m inclined to bake. Today’s recipe, Double-Layer Coconut Pecan Bars, hails from my new favorite easy baking cookbook from Food52. This is the third recipe I’ve tried from the cookbook, and I’ve been consistently impressed with its reasonable ingredients list and easy-to-follow directions. The best part? These bars are off-the-hook delicious, buttery with just the right amount of bitterness from the pecans to temper the sweetness. I brought a dozen squares to work, and my colleagues made short work of them by morning’s end. For folks who like pecan pie, these bars will help you get your pie fix with minimal effort.

Double-Layer Coconut Pecan Bars

Image by author.

Double-Layer Coconut Pecan Bars
(a Food52 Baking masterpiece recipe)
Makes 24 small bars

– 1/2 cup (110g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

– 1/2 cup (100g) brown sugar

– 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour

– 2 large eggs

– 1 cup (200g) brown sugar

– 1/2 cup (40g) unsweetened shredded dried coconut

– 2 TBS all-purpose flour

– 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

– 1 cup (115g) pecans, chopped

– 1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. (I also inserted a square of parchment paper to the bottom of the pan to help with bar removal.) Set aside.

2. To make the shortbread, use an electric mixer or a wooden spoon to cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.

3. Stir in the flour, beating until just combined. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, and press it evenly into the pan. (I also used a fork to pierce the shortbread dough to prevent it from puffing too much.)

4. Bake for 20 minutes, until the shortbread is golden brown.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the topping. In a medium bowl, vigorously mix the eggs and sugar until well combined. Toss the coconut with the flour, and then add it to the egg mixture, along with the vanilla, pecans, and salt.

6. Spread the topping over the shortbread, and bake for 20 minutes longer, until the filling is browned on top and slightly puffed. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. (These bars lasted 24 hours, so I didn’t even refrigerate them.)


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