Cauliflower macaroni and cheese.

Cauliflower is one of my favourite vegetables, probably second only to potatoes. My grandma used to steam a whole head of it, cover it in drawn butter sauce, and stud the thing with toasted slivered almonds, and it was so delicious and I would have to fight some of the other relatives for it, and one year at Christmas dinner I won and ate so much I thought I was going to die. On a related note, I think I’m missing the thing that tells you, “You’re full, dumbass – stop eating.”

Cheese is also quite excellent with cauliflower, which you likely know by now. And if you throw in a bit of pasta, it’s a meal! Some nuts for crunch, and you have a 9″x13″ masterpiece, which will feed a family, or if there’s just the two of you, like there’s just the two of us, you’ll have dinner and lunch the next day, and possibly the day after that.

I’m participating in Midnight Maniac’s ninth Meatless Monday blog carnival today, so after you’re done learning new bad habits over here (Meatless Monday is about health? I’m doing it wrong.), hop on over there and say hello, and check out some of the other bloggers’ fantastic Meatless Monday recipes.

Cauliflower macaroni and cheese

(Serves four.)

  • 3 lbs. cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 cups uncooked macaroni
  • 3 cloves minced garlic, divided
  • 3 tbsp. butter, divided
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 6 oz. aged white Cheddar, grated (about four cups)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and then chopped
  • 1 cup bread crumbs

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Grease a 9″x13″ baking dish, and set it aside.

Place cauliflower in a large pot, fill to just over the top of the cauliflower with salted water, and bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes, drain, then set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a pot filled with the macaroni to a boil, and cook until almost al dente, five or six minutes. Drain and pour the noodles in with the cauliflower.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter with two of the minced garlic cloves. When it’s bubbling, add the flour and mustard, and stir until a paste forms. Add milk, and whisk to combine. Turn heat down to medium. Add pepper and cayenne pepper, and simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally, about five minutes.

Add most of the cheese, save for a handful. Taste, and add salt as needed. Stir and pour over top macaroni and cauliflower. Add hazelnuts, and stir mixture to coat cauliflower and pasta in sauce.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Meanwhile, over medium-high heat, melt one tablespoon of butter with the last clove of garlic. When the butter has foamed, add bread crumbs, and stir to coat. Cook until butter is absorbed and pan looks dry, about two minutes. Pour over top of macaroni mixture.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and crumbs have turned golden. Serve to adulation. This is creamy, cheesy, and crunchy, thanks to the nuts and the crumb topping. It’s texturally pleasing, and it’s hard to go wrong with that much cheese. Maybe serve with something green or otherwise colourful, because it’s a rather neutral-coloured dish. Fortunately, the taste is much brighter. Serve with beer or ice cold milk.

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Oat crêpes.

This morning I really wanted crêpes, and I got up and discovered we’re out of flour. But we have oats! So we had oat crêpes, and now are so full. They’re the easiest things ever to make, and if you whip the batter up the night before and stick it in the fridge, they’re even better.

Fill them with whatever you like; I made a purée of yams, orange zest and juice, and spices. This time of year, applesauce would also be really fantastic, or a compote of this summer’s berries. And then, of course, top with whipped cream.

Oat crêpes

(Makes eight.)

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar

In a blender, combine oats, eggs, milk, butter, and sugar. Purée until smooth. Refrigerate 30 minutes, or overnight.

Over medium heat, melt a small amount of butter in a nonstick pan, rolling the pan to coat the whole cooking surface. Pour an eighth of the batter into the pan, rolling again to coat surface in batter, and cook until the surface of the crêpe loses its sheen, about two minutes. Flip gently, and cook for another minute.

I butter the pan once for two crêpes, but use your best judgment. Keep cooked crêpes in a warmed oven until all crêpes are ready to be served.

I’ve had enough winter now.

This morning when I woke up the cat was on edge and chattering and chirping at the window because OHMYGOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!, which is what she must have meant. Large white chunks were falling where birds usually fly, and she was not prepared. And then I had to tell Nick about the mess, and soon the two of them were at it, chittering away about the whiteness and the terrible, slippery bleakness of it all.

I checked my email four times, but work wasn’t cancelled.

I dressed accordingly.

And there was a line at Starbucks, which I go to because there isn’t anything better around. At least there wasn’t, and thank goodness for stupid busy Starbucks because I finally went into this other coffee place that’s a few steps past my bus stop, and holy crap, they had Nutella hot chocolate.

Sprinkled with 70% dark Callebaut chocolate, which is hand-shaved daily.

And served by the friendliest coffee shop employee I’ve ever encountered at 8:10 in the morning.

I took a picture, but there was another person in the place so I felt like I had to rush, so it’s blurry.

The place is called Dose Espresso Bar, and it’s on Broadway and Granville, and if you’re in the neighbourhood, please go. Independent coffee shops are a rarity this end of Broadway and based on the hot chocolate alone I insist you frequent this one. Frequently.

When I got to work, the place was covered in snow, and quiet. It’s a pretty place when snow falls, before a day’s footprints turn the fluffy white stuff into sloppy brown slush.

My face is still heavy with a cold I can’t stop complaining about, so my friend Dan and I went for pho for lunch.

Dan was kind enough to not say anything about my runny nose and my inability to eat long noodles like a lady. The soup was hot and soothing, and with a few squirts of sriracha was just spicy enough. I practically inhaled the whole bowl, and we gossiped and Dan told me what real winters are like in other parts of Canada.

Intolerable, from the sounds of it.

The day never got much brighter than it was when I rode the bus to work this morning, but in small doses, perhaps this winter business isn’t so bad. I’m done with it, but if I have to endure it longer, which Environment Canada says is pretty much a guarantee, good hot chocolate and spicy soup will make it somewhat more bearable.

Tamale pie with black beans and red peppers.

Nick’s birthday was last week, and to celebrate we went out to the Tiki Bar at the newly renovated Waldorf Hotel. It was snowing, so I drove so I could still wear cute shoes and eschew a warmer, frumpier coat in favour of something that went better with my outfit. For awhile, the outfit was perfectly acceptable, because on a night like that there’d have been no reason to go outside.

I don’t know what happened.

Somehow, Nick’s friends decided that The Waldorf wasn’t fun anymore, and because it was Nick’s birthday and I drove them, I went along with their new plan to go to some house party on Commercial Drive. We parked the car at his friends’ house, because they said the party was within walking distance – closer than possibly having to park somewhere out of the way, I was assured – and on a warmer night, it might have been. First we walked several blocks to Commercial Drive, and then we headed south. I wasn’t wearing socks inside my stilettos, and my coat only buttoned halfway.

It was a 25-minute walk, and the snow was already several inches thick on the ground. And while Nick’s veins had been warmed by tequila before we left the bar, mine had not. This caused a variety of predictable problems for us as we plodded along.

I remember telling Nick I was going to stab him in the face and leave him to bleed or freeze to death in the snow. A few minutes later, we got to where we were going.

There was a $10 cover for each person, and as we climbed the stairs to the house, I realized that I am far less open-minded than I thought I was. The unmistakable stink of incense wafted down from the front door to the first landing on the stairs up, and when we got inside, we were instructed to remove our shoes. A sign informed guests that there would be no alcohol permitted in the house or outside of it.

This was the sort of place where I would be inclined to drink heavily. In a room with a beaded doorway, a woman warbled poetry and played what I think was a sitar, but it might have been that someone was stepping repeatedly on a cat, or a herd of cats – there was no way to be certain without going into the room, and I am uncomfortable sharing my personal space with a lot of strangers. On the back porch, an erotic cuddle puddle seemed to be forming, and downstairs, there was a performance I’m pretty sure included interpretive dance. I was in hell.

So we left. And we walked, again, in the snow until I was sure my toes would blacken with frostbite and fall right off. When we finally got home, I crawled into my fleece footie pajamas and drank tea so hot it was still boiling in the mug. When I woke up the next morning, I noticed a scratch in my throat, and by Monday, the cold was going full-bore.

This week is for very thick socks, sensible outerwear, and comfort food. Tonight I made a big pan of tamale pie, which is essentially Shepherd’s Pie with cornmeal instead of potatoes. I used a base I adapted from Homesick Texan’s Mexican Chorizo recipe; what resulted was a huge dish of food, one that will last as long as I need soothing, which, given the chill still haunting my toes and the cold fogging up my brain, might be a long time.

Tamale pie

(Serves six.)

  • 1 onion, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 7 oz. can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 19 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 5.5 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Chop one half of the onion, and place in a food processor or blender with garlic, chipotle peppers, vinegar, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and salt. Blend until smooth.

Place pork in a bowl, and pour the blended pepper mixture over top. Mush the meat and the liquid together with your hands until combined. Wash your hands.

Mince the other half of the onion, and heat it in olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add peppers, and saute until they’ve begun to sweat. Add meat, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon, and then add black beans, and both kinds of tomatoes. Simmer until liquid has reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir the mixture regularly while it simmers. Add cilantro, and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bring four cups of salted water to a boil over high heat. Whisk cornmeal in, and reduce heat to medium, whisking frequently until thickened, three to five minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir in butter, then eggs. Keep the mixture moving as you add the eggs so that they don’t scramble and ruin everything. Add cheese.

Pour meaty mixture into a 9″x13″ baking dish. Pour the cornmeal mixture over top of the meaty, beany pepper mixture.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden on top and bubbling around the sides. Let rest five to 10 minutes before serving, so that the topping can set. Serve with sour cream or thick yogurt.

Choucroute garnie à l’Alsacienne.

It’s our anniversary! Our second one, but Mondays are boring and also our laundry day, and for some reason I was awake at 4:00 this morning, so to celebrate we did a load of towels, had a nap, and Nick brought me orange flowers, and we went for sushi, which was delicious, though convenient.

But last night I wanted to do something kind of special, because we spent our first anniversary pushing Paul’s car across the border, which was as romantic as pushing a Honda Civic across the Canadian border in the dark and then standing under an orange street light for an hour waiting for a tow truck on the other side in November after frost has fallen and taking public transit back to the city can be.To make up for last year, this year I brought my A-game. Sometimes I like making food that takes all day, and I wanted to do something distinct to mark Sunday as separate from the rest of the weekend, during which we also celebrated Nick’s birthday. I invited Grace and Paul over to celebrate our anniversary with us, and we had so much food. Come to think of it, it makes sense now that I was up at 4:00 a.m.; there is only so much pork that one can cram into her maw and still expect to sleep through the night.

The recipe that follows is based on Jeffrey Steingarten’s recipe for Choucroute Garnie à L’Alsacienne, from his book The Man Who Ate Everything. Because I am paid considerably less than Mr. Steingarten and am routinely accosted by Nick over how much I spend on special-occasion meals (not much, by the way, but he feels that all the dollars I spend on fancy ingredients could be spent far more enjoyably on beer), there are some adjustments. Much as it saddens me, I simply do not have an elaborate collection of specialty meats on hand. One day. Perhaps with the next husband?

Choucroute garnie à l’Alsacienne

(Serves six, generously)

  • 2 smoked pig’s feet
  • 3.5 lbs. sauerkraut
  • 2 lb. bratwurst
  • 1 lb. kielbasa
  • 2 lb. other sausage (such as pork and apple)
  • 1/2 lb. bacon
  • 3/4 cup gin
  • 2 tbsp. butter or duck fat
  • 2 lbs. onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 lbs. apples, grated
  • 1 1/2 cup dry Riesling (preferably from Alsace)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 25 black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 4 branches fresh thyme
  • 6 sprigs parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt

Place pig’s feet in a medium-size pot, and cover with water to about an inch above the feet. Simmer for one hour, then remove feet, and reduce until about two cups remain, an additional 15 minutes. Set aside.

Drain sauerkraut in a large strainer, squeezing out liquid periodically. Rinse, then continue to drain, about an hour.

Cook all three sausages and bacon. Set aside.

Simmer gin in a small pot until reduced by about two thirds. Set aside.

In a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, melt butter, then cook onions until softened but not golden, about ten minutes. Add apples and sauerkraut. Stir to combine. Add gin reduction and bay leaves.

Add reserved stock, and Riesling, and two cups of cold water. In a piece of twice- or thrice-folded cheesecloth, combine peppercorns, caraway, cloves, thyme, and parsley. Tie tightly with kitchen twine and let sit in sauerkraut mixture.

Place meat on top of mixture, then scatter garlic over top, and then sprinkle salt over top. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low. Cover, and simmer for 90 minutes, stirring approximately every 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 250°F. When choucroute has finished cooking, remove meat to a plate and let rest, covered in tin foil, in a warm oven. Let choucroute rest, covered and off the heat, for 30 minutes.

To serve, drain choucroute and place in the centre of a platter. Place meat on top, and scatter side dishes around, such as spaetzle or fried potatoes. Serve with sweet mustard, sour cream, and cornichons. To eat, ensure you are wearing something with an elastic waistband.

Coq au Riesling.

Sometimes I like to imagine that I am someone quite fabulous like Ina Garten or Nigella Lawson, and at the end of a grueling day of snacking and writing cookbooks and lunching with my fabulous friends in the garden and making roast chicken I come home to my sprawling manor and there is calm and wine from France and a library just heaving with books that I have all evening to sit and read while nibbling on bits of ham.

I usually imagine this on the bus, and it keeps me from sobbing or stabbing someone. The 99 B-Line is a hell of a thing, an accordion bus polluted with the tinny blitz of a thousand little ear buds failing to hold the bad music in, and it smells like a damp sheep’s crotch, and everyone wears his backpack and is telling his friend how he’s, like, probably going to medical school or that her favourite poet is TS Eliot because he’s so super deep or whatever. It’s the bus that ends at the University, and for a ride that takes 25 minutes on a slow day, it feels like the relentless march of karma getting even.

And so I escape into my head, and by the time I’ve arrived at work I have dinner planned, and even though the evening always ends at my less-than-palatial apartment which is always in frantic disarray, with its shelves that don’t heave nearly as much as I’d like, there is wine here, and a cat who very much wants to be in my lap even when I’m standing, and Nick is so nice about not mentioning that my hips are looking more and more like Nigella’s all the time. And while the fantasy is nice, I have no idea how we’d pay for it all, and we probably couldn’t keep it clean anyway.Anyway, the best part of it all is the food, and that’s something I can replicate. What follows is a version of Nigella Lawson’s Coq au Riesling, with the addition of cornstarch for thickening. It’s the perfect stew for pretending you’re someplace else, like Alsace or Nigella’s dining room, and you can have it in under an hour.

Coq au Riesling

Adapted from Nigella Lawson

(Serves four to six.)

  • 1/2 lb. thick-sliced bacon, diced
  • 1 large leek, cleaned and sliced width-wise, white and light-green parts only
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 10 to 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 lb. oyster or chanterelle mushrooms, sliced or torn roughly
  • 1 750mL bottle of dry Riesling
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, fry bacon until crisp. If you’re using a non-fatty bacon (I used peameal bacon), add a bit of butter. Stir in leeks and garlic, and sauté until leeks have softened, about two minutes. Add chicken, then mushrooms, and deglaze the pot with the wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove cover and turn heat back to medium-high. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Whisk cornstarch together with 1/4 cup of water, and stir into the pot. Let the mixture return to a gentle boil until thickened. Remove from heat and serve over rice, buttered noodles, or (my favourite), braised cabbage.

Meatball soup with kale and chickpeas.

Our apartment faces north, and when there aren’t clouds over the North Shore you can see the mountains over the rooftops of the buildings across the way, and it’s very nice except when you look down and then it’s mostly just alley. A tree blocks the light from the living room window, which faces east, and the only two other windows on that side are in the bathroom and the bedroom, and there the blinds are always drawn because it’s possible to see into at least ten other apartment bedrooms from there. Lately, there hasn’t been much light, and this place feels dark. At night it’s nice, because our rooms are not very well lit, so the yellow light of a few table lamps creates warmth, and the glow of a few candles makes us seem more attractive. But during the day, lately it’s just been grey.

November is an ugly month. It’s the warm-up to the holiday season but the sparkle isn’t here yet, and I’m impatient. I want glitter, not rotting leaves, and Christmas songs and puddle-free sidewalks that shimmer with fresh frost, and to be able to wear my sweater with the reindeer on it already. I don’t like dark hallways or radiators that tick like bombs. There is a chill, for sure, and the smell of snow in the air, though none has fallen yet. I don’t want to do anything but sit around in my flannel pajamas and eat soup.

Fortunately, this is an easy, hearty soup recipe, with meatballs for comfort, kale for health, and chickpeas because I love them. It’s best if you make your own stock; it’s not mandatory, but the smell of bones and veggies and herbs simmering in your kitchen for an hour or two is comforting, and will do magnificent things for your mood some drab November evening. This will come together pretty quickly; if you make the meatballs ahead of time you can have this steaming in bowls on your table in under fifteen minutes.

Kale and meatball soup

(Serves six to eight)

Meatballs

(Makes about 30)

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. good olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. dried chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Soup

  • 1 tbsp. good olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 4 cups (packed) chopped fresh kale (about one bunch)
  • 1 19 oz. can chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, combine beef, bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, oil, egg, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, chili flakes, and salt, and squish the whole thing around with your hands, just enough to mix the ingredients and no more. Roll this into balls about one-inch in diameter – you should end up with 28 to 30 balls.

Meanwhile, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add wine and stock, and bring to a boil over medium high heat.

When stock begins to boil, reduce heat to medium, and add meatballs. Simmer for five minutes, then add the kale and chickpeas, and simmer for another five minutes. Just before removing from heat to serve, stir in cheese and parsley. Taste, adjust seasonings as needed, and serve with additional grated Parmesan and a few drops of good olive oil.

This is best with crusty bread. Almost all things are.