I’m pleased to find that even without the leafy ambiance of fall in the Midwest, I still love this season of shorter days in Texas. Of course, it helps that because I went home to the Mitten for a few days, I got a tiny taste of real fall, the kind with fresh apples, mulled cider, breezy days, and cool nights. It was a short trip home, just six days and with many hours of traveling on two of those days, but I am so glad I went. The fuzzy-lovey feeling that I get when I see my family is still fluttering around in my heart. I really needed it. I miss them in a way that’s hard to explain, because overall, I am pretty happy in Texas. But I’ve learned that it is possible to be happy and still miss someone deeply. I call it one of love’s contradictions.
On my final day in Michigan, four of us went for a walk in a nearby nature preserve. I had gone shopping with my sister Theresa that day, loading up on Whole Foods goodies to take home with me, and on a whim, I picked up a bag of green beans and a head of cauliflower. My brother Charlie convinced her to join us on our walk, and together, we buckled my niece Lydia into her carseat and drove over to the nature preserve, on a site that used to be a farm.
It was a gorgeous, perfect September afternoon—warm enough for comfort but cool enough for sweaters and long pants. We strolled along a forest path, with my niece riding in a stroller that we took turns pushing. Theresa and I both had our cameras on us, and we took advantage of the golden light, snapping photos of the forest and ourselves. We compared jeans and athletic footwear. It’s amazing how even though we only see each other 2-3 times a year, we tend to gravitate toward similar styles. Take, for example, our shoes here.
Now, Lydia would find both pairs of shoes unacceptable because of the lack of pink. She really wished I had brought more pink to wear on my vacation. I’ll have to keep that mind for December. Nevertheless, I really like this grey sweater paired with the black lacy top that Theresa gave me last Christmas. She has the best taste in clothes. I want to hire her as my personal shopper.
Lydia tried to hide from the camera using a leaf she found. Here I love her striped shorts, which the leaf couldn’t hide. I’m always asking her if I can wear her clothes, and she always says, somewhat exasperatedly, “No, they’re too small!”
But you know, when she tries on my clothes, they seem to look just right on her.
While we were on our walk, my sister-in-law Amanda was back at the homestead, making dinner for all of us. She really spoils us, I swear, because she made this amazing Indian patties called pakoras, a savory fried treat that is becoming a regular part of her dinner repertoire. Amanda usually makes her pakoras with lots of spinach, but this time she was low on spinach and instead added extra onions and peas, and I think they were even better this time. I’m not sure exactly how she makes them. From peaking at her recipe, I saw that it calls for chickpea flour, and I’ve already told you about the vegetables and the frying. She mixes the vegetables into the batter, which is a little different from other recipes, which call for coating the vegetables with batter and then deep-frying them. Also, instead of deep-frying, Amanda pan-fries her pakoras using a generous amount of oil in a cast-iron skillet. Standing at the stove, she sets the finished pakoras on paper towels, and then at the table, we dig in, slathering them with various chutneys that dance along the sweet-hot spectrum. Sometimes she makes a lentil soup too, to eat alongside the pakoras, but on this particular night, the aforementioned green beans and cauliflower became our vegetable side dishes. Amanda steamed the green beans, and Lydia ate them by the handful as though she hadn’t eaten in days. The cauliflower—well, that’s what I’ve been meaning to share with you for two weeks. This one’s worth the wait, I promise.
Or perhaps I held out on you unnecessarily. It’s just simple roasted cauliflower, toasted in the oven’s heat until it softens and browns and tastes like popcorn. There’s nothing original about roasted cauliflower, and yet, it is so delicious that it would be a shame not to declare my love for it on this site. I first started making it last fall, my first season in Texas. I found the recipe on Twitter, of all places. I’m not on Twitter myself, but I absolutely love the tweets posted by Crescent Dragonwagon, my favorite cookbook author. The recipe was a quickie, describing a thinly-sliced cauliflower, tad olive oil, coarse salt, roast at 475 for 20 min. on Silpat until brown. (That’s more or less what Crescent tweeted.) In my recipe notes, I wrote, “Yum! Surprisingly delicious.” And that still rings true to me today: this is a transformative preparation for cauliflower, one that I often look forward to after a long day at work. It’s easy, fun to prepare, satisfying, and good for you. Ask for more than that and you’d be accused of greed.
The key to this preparation is really letting the cauliflower brown. Much of its flavor comes from the toasty bits that contact the cooking sheet. Recently, I’ve done away with using the Silpat in this recipe, and instead, I use more olive oil. Either way is very good, so it’s your call. And I swear, it really does taste like popcorn if you roast it right.
Simple Roasted Cauliflower
From Crescent Dragonwagon via Twitter, with a minor adaptation from me
1 head of cauliflower
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste (see below)
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1) Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. (Yes, really! 475! This is a hot roasting.) Get our your pan: a large cookie sheet, with or without a rim, with or without a Silpat. Set the pan aside for now.
2) Quarter the cauliflower and remove the outer leaves and thick stem. Thinly slice it and place it in a big mixing bowl, including all the little bits that fell apart while you were slicing.
3) Add the olive oil: if you are using a Silpat, use a “tad,” like Crescent suggested. If you are not using a Silpat or are feeling more decadent, add up to 2 tbsp. olive oil to the cauliflower and toss it together to coat.
4) Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the cauliflower and toss again.
5) Spread the cauliflower in a single layer on the prepared pan and roast for 20 minutes, turning things over once at the 10-minute mark. If your cauliflower isn’t brown enough, roast for a few more minutes, but watch it carefully so that it doesn’t burn. Serve warm or at room temperature.