Trader Joe’s has always been a mystery to me. People love the place, they start to cheer when one opens up in their neighborhood, but I’ve always been stumped by what to buy there. I’ve done well with trail mix (because it tastes more like candy), and it’s nice to get a decent bottle of wine for not a lot of money. But until yesterday, I’d never made a dinner from Trader Joe’s ingredients that I’d be eager to make again. Yet there I was–there’s one downstairs from my gym–and I wanted to make a healthy dinner so I bought a can of white beans (a pretty safe purchase), a bag of cruciferous vegetables (including kale), a lemon and a bottle of white wine. And the dinner that I made was so stupendous, I’ve just gotta tell you about it.
Now we all know the concept of the student beating the master and I don’t want to imply that my friend Diana was ever my student or that I was ever her master (though I was her roommate, which is kind of the same thing with me); what I’d like to imply, however, is that Diana–who was a timid cook when I lived with her–is now giving me a run for my money. I remember her not wanting to make a salad in front of me, back then, because she thought I’d be judgmental. Since then, and since moving in with her husband, she’s had a chance to hone her chops and by all accounts her chops are very good. Case in point: check out her potatoes.
There’s something thrilling about inventing a recipe. And though I’m not 100% sure that I invented this (it may very well have existed, somewhere, before me) let’s pretend that I am to this recipe what Isaac Newton is to gravity. No apple fell on my head, but garlic toasted in my head as I tried to figure out something new and different to do with couscous. Here’s how it all works.
Call me a freak, but I get excited about cauliflower. It’s got great texture and, when cooked properly, can yield lots of big flavor. Most often I roast it in the oven or I caramelize it in a pan; not very often do I boil it, but even boiled cauliflower can hold its own.
On Sunday, I was asked to bring a “vegetable side” to Craig’s aunt and uncle’s Easter brunch. I imagine most people, when presented with this request, would make a crowd-pleaser like mashed potatoes or roasted carrots or mashed potatoes with roasted carrots mashed up in there too which actually sounds kind of good but no one really makes that. Me? I went for a cauliflower gratin.
It’s funny how, when a partner goes away on a trip, you start to cook things that you wouldn’t cook if they were there. For many people, that might be something really decadent (rib-eye for one, for example) but for me, lately, I move in the other direction: I go healthy.
Which is not to say that I don’t cook healthy when Craig is here (see: Craig’s Quinoa Conversion) but that it usually takes some convincing. So now that he’s in Seattle for the week, I decided to make a healthy dinner too healthy-sounding for him to accept. Turns out it’s one of my favorite things I’ve made in a long time.
It was just a small rectangle on the cheese plate at The French Laundry; a single bite of braised endive to complement the other elements on the plate (apricot, a square of pistachio cake, a sour ale gastrique).
But that single bite stayed with me. It was memorable because endive, which is normally bitter, becomes remarkably sweet when it’s cooked. Not entirely sweet, though; the flavor is complex–which is why braised endive has a place on the menu at such a distinguished restaurant. The surprise is that it’s really easy to make at home.
Every year, Craig’s dad, Steve, makes the most amazing prime rib for Christmas dinner (see here) and every year I help out the best I can, usually volunteering to make a side dish. Last year I made a gratin but this year, since mashed potatoes were already on the menu, I offered up a vegetable. At my request, Craig’s mom (Julee) bought me a bag of Brussels sprouts from the grocery store and when the dinner hour grew close, I opened their refrigerator and pulled out a bevy of ingredients to help in my enterprise.
Let’s face it, cabbage is a tough sell. Even though it’s what makes coleslaw coleslaw and it’s a crunchy companion to a fish taco, most people associate it with their grandmother’s boiled cabbage fouling up the air with its death-like aroma. That’s why I’m titling this post Sexy Cabbage Sexytime because the other night, I came up with a way to cook it that’s so terrific, so genre-shifting, it’ll forever change the way that you think about cabbage.