Musings on Food and Life

Musings on Food & Life

Food is my passion. I create, read, write, breath, eat, photograph, love and live food. As a chef and culinary instructor, each day is a quest to learn something new about a food ingredient, recipe, history, or fact about all things edible. Three silly dogs share my passion for eating and I'm blessed to be married to my best friend Tracy. Tune in for my thoughts on food, recipes, dogs, travel, music and life.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lighten Up!

I am often inspired by my chef friends. They teach me, make me laugh, act as sounding boards, give advice, and share my passion for food and serving others. One such chef is Nancy Waldeck. Nancy's a local Atlanta chef who has made healthy cooking both her mission and her lifestyle. As a cancer survivor, Nancy develops classes and teaches at a local hospital wellness program. Her recipes are based on healthy cooking principles and lightening up foods to give all the flavor with less fat and calories. She recently released a great cookbook called Taste and Savor, which is full of terrific recipes and tips - check it out at or on her website

Nancy and I both do work with Calphalon and recently she was featured on their website for an excellent article on fresh and healthy ingredient substitutions. One item she mentions is heavy cream, one that I like to use in small quantities. So when I recently looked for a recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Soup, the one I found on a reputable website had a whopping 2 cups of heavy cream in the ingredient list. Using Nancy's recommendation of 2 tablespoons for every cup of cream, I revised the recipe, swapping out the 2 cups of cream for only 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup). I made the recipe, pureeing the soup then adding the smaller amount of cream. It was so tasty with roasted cauliflower, garlic, carrot and shallots that I never missed the omitted cream. Pureeing soup allows thickening without the extra calories of additional thickening ingredients.

Enjoy this flavorful and easy recipe, one that features the humble cauliflower in a tasty way. Pair with a simple salad or sandwich for a great lunch or dinner. Adjust the consistency as you wish with either chicken broth or water if it is too thick.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

2 heads cauliflower, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 large garlic cloves
3 shallots, peeled & sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
2 medium or 1 large carrot, peeled & sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
Kosher salt & either white or black pepper to taste
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups chicken broth
1 - 2 cups water (or chicken broth)
1 bay leaf (fresh is best)
1/8 teaspoon Penzey's Mural of Flavor seasoning (is salt free)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Chopped chives for garnish (optinonal)

Preheat your oven to 425 F.

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower, garlic, shallot and carrot with 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place on a foil-lined sheet pan in an even layer and roast in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes or until browned.

In a stock pot, place the roasted vegetables, broth, 1 cup water, bay leaf and Mural of Flavor seasoning. Bring to a boil and then turn to medium low, simmering for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and discard.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is smooth. (Or puree in small batches in a blender, taking care when blending hot liquids.) Stir in the cream and fresh thyme. Adjust the consistency with a little more water or chicken broth if necessary. Heat through and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warm bowls with chopped chives for garnish.
Note: If you don't have Penzeys seasoning available, you can omit it. Their spices are most excellent and available by mail at

Friday, March 4, 2011

Oil and Vinegar

Store bought salad dressings are hit and miss in the taste category, especially if they are low fat or fat free. There are a few that I like such as Ken's Light Caesar or Light Vidalia Onion dressing. More often than not though, I make my own salad dressing, vinaigrette style. Vinegar is easy to store and does not have to be refrigerated. It's also affordable and easy to find in any grocery or specialty store. Usually I use olive oil and the type depends on the flavor I want to have. Extra virgin olive oil usually has a more pronounced fruity flavor than does olive oil or light olive oil. Oil and vinegar can be less expensive and you can easily make it fresh each time you need it. Vinaigrettes are also usually less calories per serving than creamy dressings, especially those that include mayonnaise.

A typical ratio of oil to vinegar is 3 to 1, but my palate finds that too oily. To dress lettuce salads, I like a ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar (or other acid such as citrus juice). The simplest mix is vinegar with a little salt and pepper, and then whisk in the oil. I use this as my "standard" oil and vinegar dressing recipe:

2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
kosher salt
fresh-ground black pepper
1/4 cup oil (which is 4 tablespoons)

Place the vinegar, mustard and shallot in a small bowl. Add some salt and pepper and then whisk to combine. Whisk in the oil and then adjust the seasoning as needed.

The mustard provides flavor and helps the vinegar and oil to stay combined in an emulsion. Shallots are part of the onion family and add an aromatic background flavor to the mix. Chopped fresh herbs are also a wonderful addition to homemade vinaigrette. Parsley provides great flavor and color as do sage, tarragon, thyme, oregano and others - choose the one or two that you enjoy most.

A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of visiting Houston, Texas to meet up with several amazing, foodie chef friends. We went to many interesting stores but one of my favorites was q store in The Woodlands called Oil and Vinegar. This store sells an amazing array of flavored vinegars and oils. I prefer to buy flavored vinegars rather than oils since vinegar usually has a longer shelf life than oil. I bought date balsamic, elderberry apple lime, and passionfruit white balsamic. They all have different uses but make fabulous, fresh salad dressings for a variety of fruit salad, lettuce salad and even grilled or roasted veggies. For roasted asparagus, I often add a dressing of 1 part balsamic to 1 part olive oil, usually 1 tablespoon of each depending on the amount of asparagus I serve.

Try picking a vinegar you would like to use regularly. I like Champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar, and red wine vinegar for my "standard" vinegar choices. Enjoy making your own dressing - it's easy, fast and flavorful!