Cauliflower And Carrot Soup…

Take it from me, if you’ve not been in the habit of making homemade soups you’re missing out on something special. I don’t know why it took me so long to get with the program, but now I’m a homemade soup junkie! I guess I never realized how incredibly easy it is to make homemade soup. Plus you can control everything that goes into it and I am a big fan of that.

Let me give you a little backstory regarding how I came about making this particular soup. A little while back, here in Colorado, we were forecast to have a blizzard. We were being told we could get anywhere from 4 inches to a foot of snow with blustery winds. As the day got closer it looked like we might be spared the heavy stuff. So at first I wasn’t overly concerned.  In my mind 4 inches of snow could hardly constitute a blizzard. But I was wrong.

I found out an interesting piece of information regarding blizzards. Blizzards are not forecast due to the amount of snow that falls. They are forecast due to heavy winds that accompany a snowfall. When you think about it, that makes sense. Regardless of the amount of snow if the winds cause white out conditions that is extremely dangerous. And so, a blizzard we did get with wind gusts up to 80 miles an hour but only 4 inches of snow. Some areas got almost two feet!

So, knowing that I would be home bound for at least a day made me go into full test kitchen mode. What a great way to test some recipes and get them in the queue for publishing. And that’s exactly what I did – and cauliflower soup was one of the recipes I played with on that day.

So let’s talk Cauliflower and Carrot Soup:

Lesson Learned 1- The cut size of the vegetables is key: I used a 2 1/2 pound head of cauliflower and two cups of sliced carrots. It is important to cut up the cauliflower into small florets. If you don’t they won’t cook in time. I also took baby carrots and sliced them thinly on the diagonal. I wanted to make sure the carrot pieces were not overly thick so they would also cook in the allotted time. The picture below gives you some idea of the cut sized I used. They cooked perfectly in the time allotted.

Carrots Onions And Roasted Garlic

Lesson Learned 2 – Take the time and roast the garlic: Have you ever roasted a head of garlic before? It’s really quite easy and the result is fabulously sweet, flavorful garlic. The process is extremely simple. Cut off the top of the entire garlic bulb about 1/4 – 1/2 inch down, place the bulb in foil (do not remove the skins), drizzle the top of the bulb with olive oil, cover it with foil (I recommend adding an additional layer of foil to protect against oil leaking out of the wrapper) and roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour. When you take the garlic out of the oven you want the individual garlic cloves to be fork tender – that’s how you know it’s done.

I roasted my garlic in the toaster oven and put it on a foil lined sheet as extra protection from leaking oil. Once the garlic cooled I merely turned the cut side down and squeezed. The soft delicious cloves popped right out. I then coarsely chopped them and added them to the cauliflower and carrots. Preparing the garlic this way versus sauteing them raw with the onions gives the soup a much richer flavor. It is worth the extra step. But, if for some reason you don’t have the time, mince two large cloves of garlic and add them to the onions once they’ve caramelized. Continue to saute for about a minute or until the garlic is fragrant. Then add the vegetables and follow the recipe from that point.

Cut The Top Off The Garlic Bulb

Place In Foil And Drizzle With Olive Oil

Roasted Garlic Cloves

Lesson Learned 3 – Take the time to cook the onions to a golden brown: Onions are more flavorful when you take the time to caramelize them. So do yourself a favor and take that time. Just be aware that it can take about 20 minutes to get them to that beautifully warm color. But in the end, it also makes a big difference in the flavor of the soup.

Lightly Caramelized Onions

The rest of the process is pretty basic and within about 40 minutes or so you have this delicious homemade soup. Give it a try and tell me what you think. I’d love to hear how you did with this recipe.

Cauliflower And Carrot Soup...

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 pound head of cauliflower, cut up into small florets

2 cups thinly sliced baby carrots (sliced on the bias)

1 sweet onion, chopped

1 head of roasted garlic cloves, chopped (or two raw cloves, diced)

3 Tbs. flour

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 cup heavy cream

6 oz. of grated white cheddar cheese

Salt and Pepper To Taste

Olive Oil for roasting the garlic and sauteing the onions

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the top of a bulb of garlic. Place the bulb in foil and drizzle with olive oil (approximately one tablespoon). Wrap the garlic in foil (I recommend wrapping it twice) and let it cook for 45 minutes to one hour or until the cloves are fork tender. Unwrap the bulb and set it aside to cool. Once cool, turn the cut side down and squeeze the bulb from the sides until the cloves pop out. If a few a the cloves are stubborn, don’t worry. What pops out will be sufficient for the soup. (If you do not have time for this step simply mince two raw cloves of garlic and saute them with the onions after they have caramelized. Once the garlic is fragrant you can add the vegetables and proceed from there.)

Preheat a dutch oven over medium heat and add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the diced onions and saute until they are golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. While the onions are sauteing, prepare the carrots and cauliflower florets. (If you roast the garlic, chop the cloves and mix them with the vegetables.)

When the onions have caramelized, add the vegetables to the onions and saute for a few minutes. (You can add a little more olive oil, if needed). Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour and mix well. Add the chicken stock while stirring the vegetables.

Cover the dutch oven with a lid, leaving a small crack for the steam to escape. Cook for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Test the vegetables for desired consistency. If need be, let them cook for a little while longer until the desired consistency is achieved.

Stir in the heavy cream and cheese. Stir until thoroughly combined. Take off the heat and serve. (Optional: You can garnish with some croutons and some shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese).

 

 

 

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole…

Casseroles can be deceptive. On the outside what you see is a one dish meal – couldn’t be easier right? But upon closer inspection you see a wide variety of ingredients that have to be “bake-off” ready in order to assemble the casserole. And if you don’t have those ingredients on hand, there’s a lot of work involved in putting a casserole together.  Just be aware of that, especially if you are prepping ingredients from scratch. Let’s face it, casseroles are basically designed to help you use your leftovers – sort of a “fooled you, you ate this the other night for dinner and here it is again, just dressed up differently!” But whether you are using leftovers or preparing ingredients from scratch there is nothing as comforting as a casserole. And besides, I’d rather be relaxing an hour before the meal than scrambling right up to the last minute before you put the meal on the table. For me, that is the beauty of a casserole.

Casseroles also feed my love of prepping things. So I’ll admit I made this the other day without using any leftovers. This was a from scratch casserole. But if you’re a prep nut like me who gets satisfaction out of chopping, mincing, dicing and slicing than it really is no big deal.

So let’s talk about making a chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole…

Casserole IngredientsLesson Learned 1 – Get all the individual ingredients prepped first: This is pretty much a rule of thumb for almost any recipe, but since there are so many different types of ingredients in a casserole I’ve found the best thing to do is to get everything “assembly ready” first. That way you’re much more organized and the casserole assembly process is a breeze. That means have the chicken cut up or shredded, slightly steam the cauliflower, sauté the mushrooms, either use leftover rice or cook your rice, and shred all of your cheeses.

And by the way, it is always better to shred your own cheese. Packaged pre shredded cheese has an “ingredient” in it, cellulose, designed to keep the shreds of cheese from sticking together. And guess what – cellulose is made from wood pulp. So unless you want to have a regular amount of wood pulp in your diet, I’d recommend shredding your cheese by hand. It’s not that hard and obviously healthier for you.

Lesson Learned 2 – A chicken casserole’s best friend – store bought rotisserie chicken: You can always roast the chicken you need ahead of time in your own oven, but it’s so much simpler just to buy store bought rotisserie chicken and use that. I bought a small chicken, removed and discarded the skin and shredded the meat. It saved a lot of time and believe me, no one knew the difference.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use any melting cheese you have on hand: I had gruyere and havarti on hand so I just combined those two for this casserole. To top the casserole I found a specialty cheese called buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese. That cheese was great because it had a nice kick to it and added a unique flavor to the top of the casserole. Really, you can be inventive with your cheeses. You just want to make sure that whatever cheese(s) you use it is good melting cheese.

Lesson Learned 4 – Just slightly steam the cauliflower: I steamed mine for about 5 minutes. Really all you want is for them to just show the first signs of cooking. Remove them from the heat. No need to shock them. Just don’t feel that you have to steam them for a long time. All you really need to do is give them a little nudge.

Lesson Learned 5 – Once everything thing is prepped, assembly is a snap: Here is what the assembly looks like in pictures.

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread chicken mixture over the rice and cauliflower

Top with cheese

Top with cheese and pop into the oven

And there you have it. Forty-five minutes to an hour later you will be in casserole heaven. So try this one, play with the ingredients and as always let me know what you think…

CHICKEN, CAULIFLOWER AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1  Four pound rotisserie chicken, skin removed, cubed or shredded

1 small head of cauliflower cut into florets and slightly steamed (4 cups of florets)

8 large cremini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in 1 Tbs. of  butter

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (cooked in low sodium chicken broth for additional flavor)

1 ten ounce can of condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 cup of sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 cups shredded melting cheese (I used a combination of havarti and gruyere)

1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese (for the top)

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 6 quart casserole dish with butter or spray it with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the dish with the cooked rice. Arrange the cauliflower florets on top of the rice.

In a large bowl combine the chicken, sautéed mushrooms, havarti and gruyere cheeses, sour cream, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower. Cover the casserole with the buffalo wing cheddar cheese.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. If need be, cook up to an additional 15 minutes longer. Casserole is done when the cheese on top is melted and the casserole is bubbly. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Chicken, cauliflower mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole

 

 

Creamy Shrimp and Cauliflower Casserole

My goal with this blog is to make one new recipe a week. Sometimes that can be an arduous task and other times I can make a few in the same timeframe. I made this recipe a couple of weeks ago and absolutely loved it. I had a taste for shrimp and decided to try a different way of preparing it.

Casseroles can be deceiving. We tend to look at them as the convenience of a one dish meal with lots of different ingredients, and that’s true. What one forgets is that normally there is a lot of prep that goes into making a casserole, and so if you are not a prep person like I am, casseroles may not be the ticket for you.

So let’s talk creamy shrimp and cauliflower casserole:

Fresh uncooked shrimpLesson Learned 1 – Is your shrimp really deveined? Most people like to buy shrimp that is deveined with the shell removed so that they don’t have to do as much prep. But is shrimp marketed as deveined really completely deveined?  What I didn’t realize early on is shrimp has veins on both sides, the top and the bottom and when you purchase “deveined” shrimp only the top vein is removed. Next time you buy deveined shrimp check out the bottom and you will see that little black vein running through the bottom as well. Some people leave it in, I remove it. That adds to the prep time but then I’m not eating this disgusting vein once the shrimp is cooked.

For this recipe I got fresh shrimp from my fishmonger that was deveined on top but still had the shell, tail and bottom vein. I removed all of that before adding the shrimp to the other casserole ingredients.

Steamed CauliflowerLesson Learned 2 – This is what the prep entails: Not only do you have to prep the shrimp, you need to cut up and steam the cauliflower, cut up the spinach, melt the butter, grate the cheese and chop the parsley. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it does take a little time. My advice here is to grate your own cheese versus using prepackaged shredded cheese. Prepackaged shredded cheese has an additive in it that prevents the cheese shreds from sticking together. Anytime you can eliminate any additives in your food the better. Sure it takes a little more time, but consider the cumulative effects of those additives in your body over several years. Isn’t it worth a couple of extra minutes to grate the cheese yourself and eliminate those additives?

Lesson Learned 3 – Like most casseroles, you can decide what cheese works best for you: When I made the casserole I used a combination of gruyere and pepper jack cheeses along with the romano. I wasn’t sure if using just pepper jack alone would overpower the casserole. Next time I’m only going to use pepper jack and romano. I like the tang pepper jack gives the casserole and I don’t think it will be too much. Experiment with the cheese you like. Just make sure you are using a good melting cheese.

All Casserole Ingredients Mixed Together

I really liked this casserole, and it was a new way for me to serve shrimp. Try it and tell me what you think.

Creamy Shrimp and Cauliflower Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Creamy Shrimp and Cauliflower Casserole1 small cauliflower cut up and steamed until fork tender

1 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped

1/3 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped in large chunks

1/4 coconut milk

3 Tbs. melted butter, slightly cooled

1 extra large egg, beaten

4 baby bella mushrooms quartered

1/2 cup grated Romano

1 cup grated cheese (I used a combination of gruyere and pepper jack)

1 tsp. italian parsley, minced for the casserole and an extra tsp. or so for garnish

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 1 quart casserole dish and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the egg, coconut milk, garlic, parsley. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Put the cauliflower in another bowl and add the grated cheeses and egg mixture. Stir until the cauliflower is evenly coated. Add the shrimp, spinach and mushrooms and stir to combine.

Pour into prepared pan. Top with a light dusting of bread crumbs (you may not need the entire 1/3 cup). Bake for 25 – 35 minutes. (You want the cheese to be melted and the shrimp to be pink. I live in high altitude so it took me 35 minutes. At sea level I would start checking the casserole at 25 minutes).

Transfer to a plate and garnish with some additional chopped italian parsley and serve.

Ready for the oven

Fresh out of the oven

 Creamy Shrimp and Cauliflower Casserole

Balsamic Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

As I’ve mentioned may times before, I am a big fan of Pinterest especially as it comes to finding recipes. What I like about the site is one’s ability through “pins” to access websites that might not come to the top of a Google search, so you’re basically connecting with little known sites that you may never have found otherwise. And I have found these sites to be great resources for information and new ideas  for the kitchen.

So as I was browsing Pinterest the other day I came across the pin for a recipe called balsamic parmesan roasted cauliflower. It was pinned from the website http://www.kidneybuzz.com. Now doesn’t balsamic parmesan roasted cauliflower sound divine? And since I’m always looking for new ways to roast vegetables I just had to give the recipe a try.

When I evaluate recipes I look for a few simple things. First, are the directions clear – second, is it easy to prepare – third, can you be successful the very first time you make it, and fourth, did the recipe tell you everything you needed to know (as I find quite often recipes do not – especially where chefs-in-training are concerned). So here is my rating and lessons learned making this recipe:

Rating: C- with the potential for an A. I have never been so psyched to make a recipe and been so disappointed. I’m getting to the point though where I am starting to trust my own instincts versus just doing what is written. After some interesting lessons learned I would try this recipe again, as I do believe it has the potential to be an “A” rated recipe.

Balsamic Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

Balsamic Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

Lesson Learned 1: This recipe called for cooking the cauliflower from 20-30 minutes at 450. I will tell you right now if you do that you will have limp overcooked cauliflower. I’ve roasted cauliflower before and never over 400. But I thought, ok, I’ll compromise. I’ll roast it at 425. Big mistake!! The cauliflower came limp and overdone. I like my roasted vegetables to have some crispness to them. If you like them limp then cook them longer. In my opinion (and I roasted rather large florets) 15 – 20 minutes max at 400 is my recommendation.

Lesson Learned 2: This recipe does not tell you how to roast with balsamic vinegar, and that can be tricky. The proportions are perfectly fine, but you need to make sure that the cauliflower is primarily coated and not the pan. Otherwise you will have a sticky, gooey hard to clean mess because (unless this is different in high altitude) balsamic vinegar doesn’t evaporate as the recipe suggests, it burns especially in any concentrated amounts. That’s why I say make sure the cauliflower is covered in it and you don’t leave a puddle of it in your pan. If you do, clean up will be a nightmare (and in my opinion they should tell you these things in a recipe). I would also either spray your pan with cooking spray or line it with foil so that any balsamic that does not “evaporate” can be easily cleaned.

Lesson Learned 3: Tossing the cauliflower half-way through the cooking process is a must. That way you will get an even caramelization and the cauliflower won’t looked burnt. So, toss half-way through and don’t add the vinegar and cheese until the last five minutes.

Lesson Learned 4: Obviously this was not a recipe that turned out well the first time making it. I overcooked it and wound up with a gooey mess in my pan. That being said, it still had an interesting flavor, almost sweet. So I am definitely going to try this again as I think it has great potential.

I hope my lessons learned help you have more success the first time you try this recipe. I plan to continue to play with it until I get it right. When I do I will either update this blog or post a new one referencing this. I am a big fan of roasted vegetable but you have to get the cooking time and temperature just right, otherwise you have a limp burnt mess.