Recipe: Cheesy Cauliflower Soup

As all the food bloggers will point out, when the weather gets cold and crappy, the temptation to make soup gets even more powerful. And even though spring “technically” starts tomorrow, it’s still very winter-ish here in southeastern Michigan, and so for the past few weeks, it’s been soup on the menu for Sundays. Soup on Sundays is not a bad habit to be in; it’s warm and comforting, you have plenty of time to let things stew, and you tend to have leftovers for the rest of the week.

Well, except when you make this cheesy cauliflower soup because in that case, all the leftovers disappear on a Tuesday night. Sure you get a tummyache afterward because you ate ALL THE SOUP by yourself, but oh, it was so worth it. This is one of our favorite soups of all time, discovered, of course, on Pinterest. I’m always amazed, however, at the reactions I get to this soup. Say the world “broccoli cheddar soup” and it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s my jam. I get that at Panera all the time. Cheese and vegetables, yeah!” But if you decide to pair white cheddar with cauliflower and then puree it, suddenly it’s like, “Wait, are you eating ranch dressing?”

But it’s not ranch dressing, I swear! It’s the most delicious, creamiest soup ever! It’s the best cheese-based soup I’ve ever made, mainly because it’s absolutely fool proof. It involves a few steps, but overall it’s easy and so worth it.

Roasted Cauliflower and Aged White Cheddar Soup (originally found on Closet Cooking)

Servings: 4+
Prep Time: 10 min.
Cook Time: 50 min.

The Stuff:

  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 3 tbl olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp thyme, chopped
  • 3 cups of veggie or chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups white cheddar, shredded
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • salt and pepper

What To Do:

Cut up your cauliflower. Personal note: cutting up cauliflower is so much more a pain in the ass than cutting up broccoli. Cauliflower just gets EVERYWHERE. Why you so difficult, cauliflower? I did not take a picture at this step because of frustration with cauliflower.

Spread out said cauliflower on a baking sheet, tossing in 2 tablespoons of the oil, salt and pepper, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, or until they’re light brown.

soup 6

These aren’t brown yet. Don’t take them out of the oven!

Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan (I call this, my large soup pot) over medium heat. Throw in your onion and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Shortcut: You know what I love? Frozen chopped onions. They’re my new favorite thing ever. Whenever I’m making soup or something where chopped onions serve as a base, I don’t mess around with regular onions that make me weep all over the place. I just open my freezer, grab the non-sad frozen onions, and away I go! For this recipe, I used about 1/2-3/4 cup of the frozen stuff.

soup 5

Go onions, go!

When things get all sizzly, throw in your chopped garlic and thyme and saute until fragrant, like a minute. Fun fact: I’m not paying $5 for fresh thyme that I’ll only use once this week, so I used dried, powdered thyme. Not as cool as using the real stuff, but it still gives it that nice thyme-y smell/taste.

Then, add your chicken broth to deglaze the pan, and add the cauliflower. Bring it all to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Shortcut: I typically don’t use “real” chicken broth because I’m cheap. Instead, I boil up some boillion cubes in water = instant broth! Woo!

soup 4

I’m sorry this picture isn’t more exciting.

Once everything is all simmered and done, you’ll want to puree your soup until it’s nice and thick and creamy. If you have a stick blender, this would be the time to whip it out. If you’re not cool enough to own a stick blender (like myself), you’ll have to transport your soup in batches to a real blender and puree that way. A little messier, sorry.

After that, or while the soup is simmering, shred up a block of white cheddar. Any white cheddar. For some reason, white cheddar is more expensive than orange cheddar, but it’s also tastier. Maybe because it’s less fake? Who knows. I like it more anyway. I just shred up a block instead of worrying about measuring out an exact cup and a half.

soup 2

Ehmergerd, it’s cheese!

Since this recipe is full of so many shortcuts, I next warm up my heavy cream. Let me explain: when I have to buy heavy cream or buttermilk for a recipe, I almost never use the entire container at once. Which means I forget about it, and have to throw it away a week later once it goes bad, and then I feel bad about myself.

To avoid this, I now freeze my leftover cream and buttermilk. I read you can do this for buttermilk, but I have no idea if you can do it for cream. Oh well, doing it anyway.  To make up roughly a cup of cream, I gently melted about six ice cubes worth of cream in a saucepan (the same one I used to make my fake chicken broth, if you’re counting dishes used…like I do…because I hate doing dishes).

soup 3

Is this correct? I don’t know.

Then, when it’s all done, make the magic happen: mix your shredded cheese into your pureed cauliflower soup. Bring it to a boil again, remove it from the heat, and then add your cream, and however much salt and pepper you want. Remember: you already salted your cauliflower when you roasted it, so it’s probably already pretty salty. Also, cheese is super salty. Don’t kill your arteries!

At that point, avoid drinking this through a straw. Instead, put it in a nice bowl, pair with a slice of freshly baked bread and enjoy!

soup 1

My fantasy grocery list

One of the first things I did upon leaving my full-time job was re-do our budget. When I got a part-time job, I re-did the budget again. “The budget” is something that receives my constant attention, if you catch my drift.

“The budget” is another post for another time, but one of the areas where I knew J and I had to control our spending was food. Ah food, why must thy be so expensive? Namely, why is it so expensive if you don’t want to subsist on a diet of ramen noodes and rice? Food is expensive, so I’ve been thinking through our grocery list ten times over before we even get to the store on Sundays. What can we buy at Aldi at a fraction of the price? What is on sale? Should we go with the ten gallon bucket of rice to save money? Which kind of meat do we want to treat ourselves to this week?

Now, we’re not absolutely starved for cash, and so we’re not eating like monks. We love to cook, and that requires whole foods, fresh fruits and veggies, and meat. Also, spices and cheeses and milks and breads. In order not to go bankrupt, though, we typically buy store brands, try to make things last, and abstain from splurges whenever we can.

But what if we could buy anything we wanted? Last week, I saw this post over at Food Riot – My Grocery List If I Had All the Money – so I decided to dream up my own fantasy grocery list. My dream team, so to speak. Ah, if only…

Cheese!

It’s not a secret that J and I are big cheeseheads. One of our favorite (and probably most expensive) dinners is our “cheese and wine nights,” when we splurge on sample-sized hunks of various cheeses from our local fancy-schmancy grocery store, pair it with some three-buck chuck from Trader Joe’s and pop in a movie. If we were zillionaires, we would probably eat like this every damn week. Because also, you know, we will also eat the cheese blocks for lunch the next day, or a snack, or a dessert…just because of CHEESE.

Coffee

I’m a new convert to the cult of coffee in the morning; before, I could only drink the ultra-sugary confections from Starbucks or Caribou, and disliked the taste of “real” coffee with only a bit of milk and sugar. Now, I’ve been converted and enjoy a small(ish) cup with chocolate milk and some sugar-free caramel syrup every morning. J, on the other hand, sucks down about three to four cups of the black stuff every morning. Right now, we’re content with Foldgers, but if we were cool rich people, I would mix it up with some fancier, more flavorful roasts. I might also buy that Starbucks Mocha brew, which is like $10 or something stupid. Also, I would buy an espresso machine and just make my own damn mocha EVERY MORNING.

Alcohol

Really, any alcohol, but probably more craft beers for J and more boxes of Chardonnay for me. So I don’t have expensive tastes, but justifying any alcohol purchase when it’s not a special occasion is tough when scrilla is tight.

Orangina

Can you tell that we’re craving variety in our drink routine? But still, I would buying up all the Orangina – the French orange soda/spritzer – from wherever they sell it around here (right now, the only place I’ve been able to find it in Metro Detroit is – go figure – the very fancy gas station down the street). I introduced J to the wonders of Orangina when we were in France in 2012, when I bought it from a convenience store at the train station on our way out of the country. He was hooked but by the time we got to Germany, we couldn’t find it anywhere. Wah wah. But oh, it’s SO GOOD.

Now, can someone tell me what’s up this Orangina ad?? Man, I miss France.

orangina bear

Real chocolate

I’m talking all the Dove dark chocolates (for, uh, safe-keeping) as well as the real stuff for baking and melting and drizzling.

Saffron

Because it’s expensive, because Ina always uses it, and because if I were rich, I could

Local, farm-raised meat

I don’t think that limiting one’s meat consumption per week is a bad idea – really, we don’t need to be eating animal flesh EVERY night of the week – but if I had my way, I would only be buying meat from local farmers. It’s the sustainable side of me, but I do believe that animals raised humanely on a diet that makes sense for them (grass instead of corn mush for cows) produces better meat. Heck, I don’t need to believe it, I know it’s true. I grew up a little spoiled; my grandfather raised beef cattle for a large portion of my childhood, so we always had half a cow in our downstairs freezer, and man that meat tasted good. If I had my way, we would find a way to source all our meat this way.

Berries and other stupidly expensive fruit

berries

Why is the ability to eat these a sign of great wealth?

Why is it that fruit is so expensive? Some weeks the most expensive item on my grocery receipt is the five apples we picked up in the produce section. Maybe this is because it’s March and apples are NOT in season – and we’re shopping at Kroger – but it still pains me how expensive fruit can be at your regular grocery store. Berries especially. There is nothing I want more than a few cartons of blueberries or raspberries to snack on during the week. Maybe a carton for smoothie making. But when they’re $4 for half a pint, I just can’t do it.

Fresh herbs

Once I have a garden, I’m hoping that herbs will be easier to come by. But why does it cost $5 for a bunch of herbs at my grocery store? If I had all the money, I’d buy all the damn herbs I needed for my recipes instead of settling for the dried versions (never have I used fresh parsley in a recipe…).

Alouette cheese

Maybe this should have gone under cheese, but damn it, if I had money I would buy this every damn week. Back when money still made no sense to me – in college – I would always have a tub of sun dried tomato Alouette cheese on hand in the fridge. My friends, there is no better snack that this delicious cheese spread on some Cheez-Its. Nothing. I would eat it every damn day.

Alouette-Spreadable-Cheese

Give me all the Alouette cheese. ALL OF IT.

Best breakfast bars ever

After my granola fail of a few weeks ago, it’s nice to actually score a win in the kitchen when it comes to making something new, and healthy, for breakfast.

Enter: the best breakfast bars ever.breakfast bars2

First, let me say that it helped to actually have peanut butter on hand this time. Must remember: when a recipe calls for peanut butter, use peanut butter. Not molasses.

Second, Joel informs me that these bars also make very tasty recovery snacks post workout. After nomming on them this morning after my run, I have to agree.

Here’s how you make em. You’ll need:

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1-1 1/2 cups peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 cups bran flakes cereal
  • 1 package of dried cranberrie (or craisins, or as I like to call them, crazy raisins)

Basically, melt the brown sugar and honey together in a medium saucepan until the sugar is also melted. Then, dump in your peanut butter. I was paranoid about running out again, so I only used a cup but I could probably stand to use a little more. My bars don’t hold together all that well (though that doesn’t affect their yummy taste). Throw in the cinnamon as well.

Then, throw in your favorite bran cereal. We chose the Kroger version of raisin bran crunch because it’s our favorite, and we’ll eat the leftovers. But because there was already raisins in the cereal, I only used one-third of the bag of craisins (which I love using in my oatmeal).

Once you mix everything together, then dump it into a 9×9 brownie pan or, if you’re like me, a 13×9 cake pan. Make sure to line your pan with aluminum foil first. Smush it all down and then stick it in the fridge overnight or until they harden. Then EAT because they’re SO FREAKING GOOD. Sweet and peanut-buttery with just a hint of cinnamon, they’re hearty and filling and perfect for breakfast.

Femivores and DIY domesticity

Man, my tastes/interests are just so darn trendy (or, perhaps I tend to inadvertently follow trends…). While perusing the Internet the other day, I stumbled across this article by Emily Matchar on Salon. It’s actually an excerpt from Matchar’s newest book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity and it aligns perfect with what I’m interested in here.

Provocatively titled “Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig?”, you know I had to click on it. And while I’m not sure poor Mr. Pollan deserves that kind of slam, I found Matchar’s entire piece fascinating. I know what I’ll be reading once the book is released next week.

Check out my favorite parts:

First, this was a point raised during the “Makers” series on PBS, when they were discussing why young women today aren’t fighting for feminism and women’s rights.

Many smart, educated, progressive-minded people, people who in other eras would have been marching for abortion rights or against apartheid, are now immersed in grassroots food organizing, planting community gardens and turning their own homes into minifarms complete with chicken coops.

Second, as a devotee of books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, I strongly identify with this:

“The return to domesticity by young, intelligent, educated women like you see around here is a reaction against a broken food system in America,” says Marcie Cohen Ferris, a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on food culture. “We’ve lost our connection to traditional handmade cuisine, kids could have shorter life spans than their parents [because of obesity and poor diet], there’s global warming. This new food culture is a response to an industrial model that’s not working.”

And thus, why today’s “modern homemaker” is far and apart from the housewives described in The Feminine Mystique:

For young stay-at-home parents, a deep involvement in cooking and sustainable food culture can be a very twenty-first-century way of avoiding the notorious “just a housewife” trap. In 2010, writer Peggy Orenstein coined the term “femivore” to describe a certain breed of stay-at-home mom whose commitment to providing the purest, most sustainable foods has become a full-fledged raison d’être. These are the women who raise backyard chickens, grow their own vegetables for their children’s salads, join raw-milk clubs to get illegal-but-allegedly-wholesome unpasteurized milk.

Now, Matchar makes a point (and I agree) that much of this “movement” is dominated by young, urban or suburban, well-off, white people. There are bandwagons, and young white people like to jump on them. Plus, it helps when you have the means to treat “domesticity” like a hobby or a second career.

But back to a portrait of a young stay-at-home mom:

But she realized that modern homemaking could be creatively fulfilling in a way she’d never imagined. Unlike previous generations of housewives, who Erika imagines were bored and dissatisfied, Erika says women her age treat the duties of the home as outlets for their creativity. “The fact that I’m not career driven makes some people say, ‘You’re crazy, you’re a lazy sellout,’” she says. “But they don’t realize how much work her DIY lifestyle is.

“Now to be a stay-at-home mom doesn’t just mean you’re playing with your kids all day and not fulfilling your passions,” she says.

I’m close to calling shenanigans on that one, though. As my recent reading of The Feminine Mystique taught me, housewives of the 1950’s and 1960’s were also told that homemaking was a way to “fulfill your passions.” I think the difference here is that this Erika is CHOOSING to stay at home after having a very successful career after finding that being at home – and being domestic – was more fulfilling FOR HER than her previous career.

Now, onto whether Michael Pollan is a sexist pig.

Here’s another quote: “[The appreciation of cooking was] a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.”

Flanagan again?

Nope, that’s Michael Pollan. Yes, that Michael Pollan, the demigod food writer and activist at whose feet so much of progressive America worships. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Pollan’s pro-local, pro-organic manifesto, spent years on the New York Times bestseller list, and Pollan’s motto of “eat food/not too much/mostly plants” can be heard murmured like a mantra in the aisles of local grocery co-ops nationwide.

Yet there he is again, in the New York Times Magazine, dismissing “The Feminine Mystique” as “the book that taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included, as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression.” In the same magazine story, Pollan scolds that “American women now allow corporations to cook for them” and rues the fact that women have lost the “moral obligation to cook” they felt during his 1960s childhood.

Pollan is not alone in his assessment. Mireille Guiliano, author of the megabestselling diet book “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” ratchets up the guilt by blaming feminism both for ruining cooking and for making women fat: “[Women] don’t know how to deal with stress, and they eat when they’re not hungry and get fat. They don’t know how to cook, because feminism taught us that cooking was pooh-pooh,” she says.

Whoa, whoa, Michael. The Feminine Mystique did not TEACH women that housework was drudgery – it just told women that housework didn’t have to be EVERY woman’s vocation, the pinnacle of her life. This was an era when women were EXPECTED to stay at home, cook, clean and have babies because society told them they weren’t fit for anything else. The work (and real) world was for the men, the home was for women. If women had a moral obligation to cook for their families during the 1960’s, it was because they would be shamed as inadequate mothers and wives – nay, inadequate women – if they didn’t.

Now, I will admit that Friedan’s – and probably other feminists of her era – assessment of housework was a bit heavy handed. Keeping your house clean – and doing it without using  gallons of harmful, store-bought chemicals – is hard work, and does take time. Friedan does tend to brush this fact off rather flippantly. “Oh, it doesn’t take all day to clean a house.” “A working mother managed to keep her house just as clean as the stay-at-home mom, even though she only spent half the time cleaning!”

And yet, let’s not forget that this is the 1960’s. World War II is over and the market is flooded with dozens of new products meant to make life easier, more convenient, faster. Yes, women are going back to work again, and so the food industry rachets up its production of TV dinners and markets the hell out of them. We now know TV dinners are bad. But who’s to blame in this scenario? The food industry who knowingly produces crap and tries to tell us it’s good for us? Or women, who just wanted to get out of the kitchen, throw off centuries of stereotypes and get a semi-respectable job? Please.

But back to the article. Matchar makes an excellent point that sums up pretty much what I’ve said, but much better:

The food movement, with its insistence on how fun and fulfilling and morally correct cooking is, seems to have trouble imagining why women might not have wanted to spend all their time in front of the stove. Since scratch cooking today is largely a hobby or a personal choice of the middle class, many of us wish we could spend more time in the kitchen. But it’s important to remember that this was not always the case.

It’s easy to forget, in the face of today’s foodie culture, that cooking is not fun when it’s mandatory.

And finally, back off snobby foodies:

The term “foodie” was originally invented to describe people who really enjoy eating and cooking, which suggests that others do not. Yet today everyone is meant to have a deep and abiding appreciation for and fascination with pure, wholesome, delicious, seasonal, regional food. The expectation that cooking should be fulfilling for everyone is insidious, especially for women.

Granola fail (?)

I think it’s fitting that my first food post here will be a recipe-fail … or, is it? Anyway, cooking is all about messing up, starting over and improvising – if your recipes are coming out perfect each time, you’re not doing it right. I’ve been trying to be more creative with my cooking and baking, namely, coming up with my own ideas. Or rather, using someone else’s recipe and adapting it for my and my husband’s tastes and what we have in our pantry.

Take my latest … attempt. I had bookmarked this recipe for these “Energy Bites” quite some ago on Pinterest. The other night I was home alone for a few hours after dinner – Joel was at his community band rehearsal and I was enjoying a rare day off – so I decided to give them a try. I had been madly pinning a few hours earlier, giving me all this motivation to get in the kitchen. Specifically, I was stuck on the idea of making my own “snack food”, thereby reducing our dependence on processed and pricey snacks from the grocery store.

Now, a few months earlier than that, I had made a big batch of the Pioneer Woman’s granola bars. They were delicious but the recipe made SO many (note to self: Pioneer Woman recipes can feed an army), and most of the granola bars became hard as rocks after weeks in our fridge. However, after that experience, we did have some regular oatmeal in the pantry, as well as some wheat germ and molasses that wasn’t serving any purpose.

So I decided to give the Energy Bites a try, thinking they’d be a yummy breakfast snack when I was rushing off to open the store. Here’s the recipe as you can find them on Gimme Some Oven:

  • 1 cup of dry oatmeal
  • 2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

You stir all the ingredients together, chill in the fridge for half an hour or so, then roll into balls or whatever size you want. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.

My problem: The coconut flakes and chia seeds I did not have, but wasn’t worried about. What I also did not have was peanut butter – Joel and I had eaten the last of what we had earlier that week with our toast. Oops. Like I said, however, I did have molasses. Peanut butter, molasses – same thing, right?

Not really. On top of the chocolate chips, I also added butterscotch chips and some dried cranberries, but man oh man, was that molasses smell/taste strong. Not bad, necessarily – I do like the taste of molasses. But not that much. Plus, they weren’t rolling very well, though I think that was mainly due to the extra stuff I threw in.

I then decided that perhaps baking them in mini muffin cups would make a difference, and you know, I think it did! The molasses taste and smell was much more mellow after baking at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, with the flavors blending a little more.

Unfortunately, not having cooking spray, I just dumped this stick mixture into the muffin cups, meaning they were a tad difficult to pry out. The whole shebang had to be soaked overnight before I could wash it. And the ball concept just went to pieces, meaning what I was left with was some loosely-packed granola bits.

When it was all said and done, the granola still smells pretty strongly of molasses but the chocolate and butterscotch chips keep it sweet and tasty. I like to pick at it for breakfast and for a snack, though I still haven’t been able to get Joel to try it. I do think it would have been better sans molasses and with peanut butter, but you know, it’s good enough that I won’t throw it away. Verdict: minor success!