Friday, June 2, 2017

Saffron & Mushroom Cauliflower "Couscous"

Happy belated Mother's Day to all of the amazing moms out there! I had a wonderful time with mama Ina in the Hamptons cooking up our favorite treats for Jeffrey...

Well, I wish...

I did, however, enjoy reading through Ina's latest book, Cooking for Jeffrey, which is a tribute to her 50 year partnership to Jeffrey.

It offers a glimpse into their marriage and shares recipes she's cooked for him over the years. Every page illustrates Ina's unconditional and eternal love for Jeffrey, unaffected by her fame, fortunate, or army of hot gay men at her side. It's one of my favorites!

Though I didn't get my dream date with Ina and Jeffrey, I did spend the week in NYC celebrating with my beautiful birth mother, family and friends.

Somehow I was given free reign over choosing the restaurants this year. That's like letting a misbehaved toddler run loose in a candy store. I had no restraint as I added high end restaurant after restaurant onto our "itinerary." (See below). At least it's organized, but also dangerously bordering pathologic.

Sure, I was teased and taunted a bit for my itinerary, but the food. Sigh. Let's just say it was beyond least any words a measly Biology major who struggled through a single college writing course could muster. There were so many sensational experiences but my favorites (in ascending order) were Nix, Gotham Bar and Grill, Dovetail, Annisa, Le Bernardin, Jungsik, and of course, Eleven Madison Park.

I even got to meet Eric Ripert and Anita Lo at their restaurants! Yes, feel free to be jealous...that is until the debt collectors come slamming on my door

But in all seriousness, while I certainly enjoy Michelin-starred establishments, I'd choose delivery from a Piźa Haute chain any day if it meant dining with my friends and family.

Though I love dining out with friends, my favorite option is always to cook for them myself. Like Ina, nothing brings me more pleasure than preparing a simple, intimate meal for my loved ones, my "Jeffries."

However, not every relationship is as fairy tale as Ina and Jeffrey's, and not all good things last. I have always wanted to be honest on here, so I'm sharing that recently, I've had to learn to be my own Jeffrey.

As my own Jeffrey, I've re-discovered joy and excitement in being kind and loving to myself. In addition to getting back to the gym, taking spa days, and snapping a few shameless selfies, I created a dish to represent me - my quirks, borderline manic passions, and love for lavish ingredients.

I ventured to Whole Foods without a plan, but almost instinctively envisioned a cauliflower couscous elevated with morels, wild mushrooms, saffron, and fresh herbs. Basically all my favorite ingredients.

After weeks of tweaking and force feeding cauliflower to my friends, I'm excited to share my masterpiece. It's great as both a meal or a side dish. Just be sure to make extra because you'll be hooked...I've literally eaten it nonstop for 3 weeks.

The couscous is not only comforting and delicious, it's also healthy. It's entirely made of veggies, herbs, nuts, and EVOO...basically making it the poster child for the Mediterranean diet. That means, it's good for your heart AND can help prevent heart disease. (Click to read more).

Believe me, I very strongly dislike "diet foods." I'm a proponent for moderation, so if I occasionally want a slice of pizza, you better give me a goddamn slice of pizza. Don't even think about serving some imitation crust to this NYC Jew. Not gonna happen. Not on my watch!

With that being said, this cauliflower recipe is special. Whether it tastes like couscous to you or not is irrelevant. It's addictive. I've made the recipe over a dozen times and it's always a hit.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Please let me know on social media or in the comments below!

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Cauliflower "Couscous"
  • After reconstituting dried mushrooms, save the wonderful broth
    • It's great for stocks and recipes. 
    • Just be sure to pass it through a coffee filter to remove dirt and debris
  • Morels add a pretentious factor to the dish, but if you can't find them or are a reasonable person that doesn't want to spend 20 dollars on a tiny bag, just replace them with more wild mushrooms
  •  A food processor is preferred for a finer, couscous consistency
    • Box graters will work just fine, though. Just expect a slightly larger "grain"
  • Flavors vary considerably depending on the size of your cauliflower and your ingredients
    • Be sure to season to taste with more or less salt, pepper, and lemon
  • Have fun and create your own versions. There's endless options. Share your favorites! 
  • Try the couscous with my salmon chriameh. The sauce and cauliflower are perfect together

Cauliflower "Couscous" Ingredients
  • 1 head cauliflower (medium to large), cored, broken into small florets
  • 1 1/2 ounces dried mushrooms (morels + any assortment of other wild species)
    • Roughly half from dried morels (~3/4 to 1 ounces)
    • Remaining portion from other wild species (porcini, chanterelle, lobster, morels, etc)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 (generous) teaspoon saffron threads 
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 8 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts
  • 1/3 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Cauliflower "Couscous" Recipe
Reconstitute the mushrooms:
Place the dried mushrooms in a medium sized bowl and pour 2 cups boiling water over them. Soak for at least 30 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, scoop the mushrooms out of the water. (Don't pour the liquid and mushrooms directly through a strainer to avoid re-soiling the mushrooms with dirt and debris that settled at the bottom of the bowl).

Rinse the mushrooms under cold water to remove any remaining grit and drain. (Nobody wants to eat sand for dinner). The mushrooms may vary in size. Cut any large mushrooms into 2 or 3 pieces. Set aside.

Steep the saffron:
Place saffron threads in a small bowl and soak with 8 tablespoons boiling water. Allow saffron to steep for 30 minutes. Set aside.

Prepare the cauliflower:
Place cauliflower florets into a food processor fitted with the standard S-shaped blade. Carefully pulse until all the florets are broken down and resemble couscous. Do not pulse beyond that point.

To make the "couscous"
In a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan or dutch oven (I use a 5 quart dutch oven from Le Creuset), heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, till the mushrooms are at desired doneness. Remove the mushrooms and garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside, but leave the excess olive oil in the heated pan.

Immediately add the grated cauliflower to the pan, stirring to combine with the oil. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper to the cauliflower and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Using a large spoon, occasionally fluff rather than stir as you would couscous.

Stir in the saffron liquid and threads and cook for approximately 5 minutes, until cooked through. There should be no residual raw cauliflower flavor. As far as the texture, it should be softened, but not mushy. I like it to maintain a slight bite.

Remove from the heat and gently fold in the parsley, scallions, lemon zest, lemon juice, almonds, and mushrooms. Allow the flavors to blend together for about 5 minutes before serving.