Marinated Roasted Cauliflower Salad

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about sponges. Well: not actual sponges, but sponge-like behavior. Specifically the sponge-like behavior that occurs when you cook something–pasta, beans, vegetables–and then add them to an incredibly flavorful, incredibly potent mixture (a sauce, a dressing) allowing all that flavor to get sucked up inside.

This is why it’s always best to take your pasta out of the water a minute before its done and finish it in the sauce; it’s also why it’s best to toss boiled potatoes in a dressing for potato salad right out of the water–you went those pores to be open, to sponge up all that fatty goodness. And sucking up fatty goodness is precisely what I wanted the cauliflower to do when I set about making a marinated cauliflower salad.

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Peppadewed Pork Chops with Cauliflower

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One of the best things that I made before I packed up my New York kitchen and moved to California is the dish you see above. I’m calling it Peppadewed Pork Chops with Cauliflower, but the truth is I didn’t use Peppadews; I used pickled red jalapenos I’d been testing for my cookbook. However, the next time I make this–and there will be a next time it was so good (more on that in a bit)–I plan to use Peppadews, which are those sweet, spicy, red, pickled peppers you can buy in a jar. You work them into the dish twice: you chop them up and add them to a pan of caramelized cauliflower; then you use the Peppadew liquid to deglaze the pork chop pan to make a sauce with butter.

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Caramelized Cauliflower with Oranges, Olives and Saffroned Cous Cous

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Cauliflower makes me comfortable. If I see it a grocery store, I heave a sigh of relief: “I know what I can do with this,” I say to myself. The store manager eyes me warily.

Last time cauliflower made an appearance on the blog, I cooked it like a steak for a bunch of vegans. Well the leftover cauliflower florets from that dinner were sitting in a bowl in my fridge last week and inspiration struck again. Here’s what I did.

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The Recipe Tweaker

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This morning I tweaked a recipe and I wasn’t even cooking. I was reading Twitter (as I do every morning after reading The New York Times, Google Reader, and checking Facebook) and I saw my friend Elise Tweet about her beet hummus. I clicked to the recipe (see here) and then I Tweeted to her: “Have you considered adding horseradish to your beet hummus? I wonder if that’d work?” She Tweeted back: “love the idea of adding horseradish to the beet hummus. yummmmmmm.” That’s what’s known as a Tweet tweak and it’s just one example of the many tweaks I’ve been tweaking, lately, in my newfound life as a recipe tweaker.

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Heaven & Hell Cauliflower Pasta

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White food is supposedly unappetizing. Tom Colicchio, on “Top Chef,” will mark down a plate of food if everything on it is white or beige. I see his point: there’s something almost clinical about a plate of white food. That’s why parsley’s such a useful ingredient to have around; it’s an easy color-solution, the flecks of green create a vibrancy and sparkle a plain plate of white food just doesn’t have.

That said, there’s always one plate of white food that makes me smile. It makes me smile because it’s white food with a secret; a plate of white food that explodes with flavor. And that, faithful readers, is my Heaven & Hell Cauliflower Pasta.

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Spicy Cauliflower Soup & Braised Lobster Mushrooms

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How does dinner happen?

It happens in many ways. We ask the person we’re with, “What are you in the mood for?” or we just pick up the phone and dial the Thai place down the street or the pizza place around the corner. Or, if we have the ingredients, we make a quick bowl of pasta and if we’re even more inspired we head to the store and buy ingredients for that recipe we’ve been meaning to try.

The best, though, is when dinner happens organically. When one event leads to another event and by the end of the chain you have a tasty, unexpected meal before you. That’s what happened Sunday night when I made the dinner you see above: a very strange pairing of cauliflower soup and braised lobster mushrooms. How did that happen? Well it all started with stock…

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Purple Cauliflower with Aioli

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The other night I made a stew (post to come later in the week) but I started too late: it wouldn’t be ready until 10:30. “10:30?” yelped Craig. “But I’m starving.” It was 8 when he said this.

I sprung to action. In a plastic bag on the table was a head of purple cauliflower I bought at the farmer’s market on Friday. It cost $3. I cut it into bite-size pieces and put it on a platter. Then I made aioli.

Well, to be honest, I made two bad attempts at aioli and then I finally–thank the Lord–made aioli. Here’s the technique I perfected:

Take a egg yolk and put it in a BIG bowl. Take a clove of garlic and put it through a garlic press. I almost never use a garlic press, but for aioli it works better (at least based on my attempts) because the garlic gets pulverized. Put the garlic in the bowl with the yolk, add some salt and pepper, and then grab a whisk. Here’s where it gets tricky. Whisk all of that together and then, as carefully as you can, put one single drop of olive oil in the bowl. Whisk that in. Then do another drop. Whisk again. Go drop by drop and the aioli will stay thick. You want it to look like mayo: if it breaks down into oil and solids you’ve messed up. But my third try rewarded my patience: I went drop by drop and then I advanced to the barest trickle. Eventually I had the aioli you see above and it was terrific.

So as your loved ones get cranky next time you’re cooking, whip up some aioli and have a purple cauliflower ready. To quote Escoffier, “You can never go wrong with purple cauliflower and aioli. Bitch.”

Bring Me The Head of Roasted Cauliflower

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Here’s a secret for successful cooking: follow your urge. Too often we punish ourselves with recipes that are supposed to be good for us or easy to do instead of trusting the greatest tool we have, the little voice in our head that tells us what we’re hungry for.

If you have a craving for pizza or pasta or Lobster Thermidor, that’s a very lucky thing: that’s your body telling you what will make it happiest. Pay close attention, then, and react accordingly. For example, on Friday night my body had an urge for cauliflower. Not just any cauliflower, though: the roasted cauliflower I had with Heidi and Bruce at Pizza Delfina in San Francisco. It’s an entire head of cauliflower roasted with capers and red chile flakes and all other kinds of seasonings.

I thought I’d have to wing it, but then I found this recipe on Epicurious and you know what? It was awesome. You just take a head of cauliflower, get rid of the green, rub the whole thing with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop into a 450 oven until it’s dark golden brown. When it comes out, you pour a vinaigrette made with olive oil, lemon juice and capers over the top. I added some red chile flakes to give it some heat and served it up with the leftover pork from the other night.

Oh my, how it hit the spot. See? Take my advice: listen to your craving. It guarantees success each and every time you cook. Unless, of course, you have a craving for food that is unsuccessful. That’s a conundrum even I can’t solve.