roasted cauliflower


The truth is, pretty much any vegetable is better once you roast it. Say what you will, but just about nothing will make me take that statement back, ever. A little olive oil, salt, pepper, and a four-hundred degree oven is pretty much all you need to make your kids like vegetables.

There you go, America. Problem solved.

I applied this wisdom to a easy end-of-day dinner. Truthfully, getting home between seven and eight (both of us) makes me understand why takeout and extra-large to-go pizzas are so popular. BUT. Not exactly your best friend nutritionally. And though we've done our fair share of picking up Chinese at 9PM, roasting is pretty much as easy as it gets for a fast dinner. There's not tons to do, no constant stirring, no pots to watch. Quick prep, toss it all on a tray together, get it in the oven, and you have thirty to forty minutes to relax, shower, etc. You get the idea.

We got this pretty beautiful head of cauliflower this weekend. Even though I would have liked green or maybe purple, this creamy white version was difficult to resist. And I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of most cruciferous veggies in the raw. Don't get me wrong, I'll eat them, as I'll eat generally most things that I don't love but know are healthy. I know, how adult of me. But raw cauliflower (or broccoli, ick), is really not why I got started eating strictly vegetables. And that's putting it nicely.

So I decided to test out my roasting theory instead. I was feeling pretty confident in the amazing-ness to come. I decided to pair it with some Brussels sprouts (THE best roasted. The best.) a little olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper, salt, and toasted pine nuts. The easiest dinner ever.

Preheat your oven to (that's right) the perfect roasting temp, 400 degrees. In the meantime, get started on chopping up your veggies. Cute Colin's (adapted from the lately unheard from Jamie Oliver, where ARE YOU?) is to toss all ingredients in a bowl before spreading them onto your roasting pan. One more dish to wash, I say, NOPE. I just put it all directly onto the pan, hand toss until everything has an even coating of olive oil, squeeze a whole lemon over the top and into the oven it goes.

This particular mix was tender with slightly browned edges (AKA roasting perfection) in about 35 minutes. While I waited, we usually pair something like this with a hearty grain, most of which will cook in the same time frame though maybe slightly longer.

Some sort of crunchy add-on is nice, too, so for that we put some pine nuts in a small pan over medium heat, moving frequently. They'll acquire a nice toast in about 3-5 minutes.


the best granola


Okay, as it would appear, I am obsessed with Deb Perelman this month. Or, I am obsessed with her (and her RECIPES, people) just about every month, and now is just when I've chosen to reveal myself. You decide.

Also, I received her newly-released cookbook for my birthday about two months ago, which is surely not helping my case. Also the fact that I'm going to make these later today. Sheesh.

This week's Smitten-escapade comes to you in the form of the very best granola recipe, ever. Eaten or made, this is it. I realize what that says to you about many things, but try to trust us (you know, Deb and I) on this one. It's really, really good.

For what you'll need, see below. (Again, with slight additions, modifications, etc. Her recipe originally called for 3 cups of oats, and I had four. Rather than save that last cup for a weekend breakfast, I tossed it in and made the entire recipe a little larger. I digress.)

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
More or less one bag of Dang coconut chips (THE BEST)
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup pistachios, shelled and chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup dark maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large egg whites, beaten
2 cups dried fruit (I used cherries, raisins, and blueberries.)

Alright, now most of the granola recipes I've tried in the past have involved pre-toasting your oats/other dry ingredients, have come out in a chewy, sticky bar form (which isn't a bad thing), and none of them have had that big cluster quality that you find in cereals. THAT's what I crave when it comes to granola. So when I saw page 26 of Deb's cookbook boasts "big cluster maple granola," well. I was already on board before I read any further.

So preheat your oven to 300 degrees, she says, and let's get started. Combine everything (YES, EVERYTHING. I LOVE RECIPES LIKE THIS) into a bowl -- probably the biggest bowl you've got. Except for the dried fruit and egg whites. Toss it up to make sure everything's evenly dispersed.

Don't mind the oat flecks on my Pyrex here. 

In a small bowl, whisk your egg whites until slightly frothy. These guys, as Deb and I have discovered, are the key to the cluster-quality of granola. Genius, I'm afraid. Why I've never stumbled across a recipe with this method sooner is beyond me. It came out generally perfect.

Stir your eggs into the granola mixture and try to get things as even as possible using a wooden spoon.

Spread this bowlful (which is smelling heavenly by now) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Your bake time will be about 45-55 minutes, or until your granola appears or feels (or tastes) "dry." Also important, make sure to rotate your pan about halfway through to ensure even baking. While you rotate, try to flip sections, carefully, as not to break up your future clusters. Despite rotation and flipping, one corner of my pan still got a little browner than the rest. But not burnt. And that's all that matters here.

Once it's evenly browned, transfer your pan to a wire rack to cool completely. This is the hardest part, obviously. I didn't make it quite completely to "cool." Cute Colin came home and remarked that the place smelled like breakfast. Yes, indeed it did.

Once it is cool, stir in your dried fruit before serving or storing. Deb tells us that this granola can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (or if frozen, even longer). Yeah, ours didn't quite make it past the three-day mark. I took half to work, keep the other half at home for yogurt parfaits and random snacking. So good. So, so good.


vegetarian chili + cornbread


As I sit here writing this, there is currently a light (yes, light, knock-on-wood) dusting of snow outside.  And I drove around earlier this afternoon on a quest for wiper fluid (my windshield more or less appeared to have a fine spray of opaque salt--not exactly the safest for highway traffic). And even though we have on sweaters and thick socks: winter hasn't been that bad, yet.

If I've jinxed it for all of us, well. Be mad if you want to, but it won't be the first time.

I think I can shrug off winter at this point because in just a few days (namely, five), I am jetting off to Florida for my little sister's wedding. And then, just five days following my return, will be on another plane to Oaxaca, Mexico. More on this later, but it's safe to say I'm choosing the escapist route this time around.

Still, winter or no winter, the fact that I wore a T-shirt last Sunday or not, I've still had a sincerely deep craving for a warm bowl of chili, the ultimate cold-weather comfort food -- okay, maybe not ultimate. Mac & cheese, hello. But certainly in the top ten. And as far as comfort foods that are vegetarian-friendly, chili pretty much let's you play by your own rules. A little of this or that never hurt, so mixing up a recipe without really having a recipe is usually the way to go.

I've also lately been obsessing over finding a good cornbread recipe. Since there are about, oh, I don't know, a MILLION, I have no idea what good actually means. I only know what it tastes like. Crumbly, slightly sweet, sturdy enough for a healthy (ahem) smear of butter. You know, that.

When in doubt, turn to Smitten Kitchen, I've found. Deb has about six or seven-ish cornbread-type recipes. So I just decided to wing it the first one that popped up: sour cream cornbread (her recipe title continues to say "with allepo." I skipped that part this time.) Since this particular recipe didn't seem destined to be overly sweet, I thought it might pair nicely as a savory side to our dinner. For this quick bread, you'll need (and I made a tweak here and there):

1 cup all-purpose white whole wheat flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup buttermilk (or one of these options)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Take some nonstick spray or butter and go to town on a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together your flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Then whisk in the sour cream, buttermilk and olive oil. Then gradually stir your wet ingredients into the dry ones, then spread your batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 22 to 25 minutes. You should see a beautiful golden brown (literally!) color. And everyone knows a cornbread with a slightly darker edge is perfect for a nice crusty crunch.

While your cornbread is in the oven, time to get started on your chili. I'll go ahead and tell you what I put in mine, but feel free to ad lib here. Chopping up almost any vegetable will work, spices, you name it. If it's a chili (or a soup), it's worth a shot.

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 small white onions, diced
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 handfuls (sort of) of curly kale, stemmed and chopped
1 large can unsalted whole tomatoes - you might as well just go diced, since I ended up squishing them up myself once they hit the pot
2 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth
2-3 tablespoons-ish of olive oil
a dash of crushed red pepper flakes
cracked black pepper
salt, as needed and desired 

Start by heating the olive oil in a large stockpot. Add your garlic and onions and let them caramelize, about two to three minutes. Slowly add your bell pepper and carrots (if you decide to include any other sturdier vegetables, now would be the time to toss them in), stirring for about five minutes. Add in your jalapeño, red pepper flakes and other spices. Adding your spices in early will help them permeate the entire dish, making the flavor more well-rounded throughout. And so on and so forth.

Add your broth, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any goodness that may be gathering on the bottom of your pot. Next, toss in your kale, which will immediately begin its shrinking act. Let this mixture come to a simmer before adding your tomatoes. If you already went ahead and got diced, like you should have, great. If not, like me, go ahead and add your canned tomatoes, juice and all, and use a fork, slotted spoon, potato masher, whatever you've got, to crush them into smaller more chili-sized pieces. Then add your beans.

If you thought have a free-for-all ingredients list was great, I've got more good news: however long you let this cook is up to you. The thing about chili is that it only gets better then longer it simmers. If you have an hour or two, great, let it go. If you've got to have dinner on the table in 20 minutes, this will still work. It all depends on your sense of urgency and, well, hunger.

Us, we let it go for about an hour and a half, just long enough for the stomach-rumbling to get really unbearable and after we snuck a corner (or two) of the already cooling cornbread.

Psst. Let me prepare you for something here: this cornbread is not sweet. At all. If you're thinking of the densely sugared versions that your mom used to make, possibly in a cast-iron skillet, that is not what you're getting with Deb Perelman's Marcus Samuelsson's adapted version. Add a little bit of butter, a drizzle of honey, and it works. And sweeter versions to come.