You know the feeling. You love to cook and you’re good at it. You make beautiful dishes that taste wonderful and that your guests love. But you’re an amateur and really, inside yourself, you know that as good as a single dish is, it doesn’t taste quite like it does when a chef makes it in a restaurant. It’s not that they’re better than you are (well, they kind of are, but that’s not the point). Chefs have all kinds of secrets: they use ingredients only they can find, add seasonings you wouldn’t even think of, they’re not shy of using plenty of butter and cream (which I try to use sparingly, especially because I’m lactose intolerant) and they now even have new tricks up their sleeves like foams, spheres and caviar (not the Iranian kind) – which only the most adventurous of home cooks are brave enough to attempt.
Every once in a while, I stumble on a recipe that transports me, makes me beam with happiness and clap with joy (almost) when I realize it tastes just like in a gourmet restaurant. Maybe you think, home food is different than restaurant fare, you shouldn’t try to emulate but embrace the differences. I can’t help it; maybe because I know I probably won’t ever cook in a professional kitchen, it’s something I always try to achieve. Find the perfect balance that makes me think, I could have picked this from one of my favorite chef’s menu.
One of my endless quests is making macarons that taste as good as Pierre Hermé’s (I know, good luck with that), but more recently, I stumbled on a recipe that surprised me and made me put it in my “When you want to impress” folder. It started very humbly: a few months ago, my local grocery store has started giving freebies when you checkout a certain amount. I don’t read the weekly flyer so it’s always a surprise, sometimes happy (broccoli! environmentally-friendly window cleaner!), sometimes less so (processed cheese??).
A couple of weeks ago, they were back to healthy vegetables and I inherited not one but two beautiful (and huge!) cauliflower heads. I love cauliflower, especially in gratins and risottos, but the sheer amount of cauliflower I had on my kitchen counter called for a more cauliflower centric recipe. I also had beautiful apples on hand so I thought of making a cream combining the two, which is quite a classic. I searched the web to find out what kind of seasonings are usually associated with this combo and mostly found cheesy or curried versions. And then I found a recipe by Daniel Boulud, dating back to 1993 (I was surprised it had made its way to the web!). The recipe featured the traditional cauliflower/apple combo but incorporated a few surprising twists, which I instantly identified as secret chef’s tricks: adding Madras Curry instead of the regular one and making a diced apple compote to serve on top of the cream.
The recipe is deadly simple but everything’s in the details. I served it to friends as a first course and because I wanted to make it extra special and a bit more filling, I added warm crab meat on top of each bowl. It added texture and sophistication and my friends almost passed out because of the soup’s creaminess (not due to the sneaky addition of heavy cream) and subtle flavors. Daniel Boulud at my humble table, I beamed with joy and clapped my hands (ok, I didn’t) and swore I would make this again and again. I suspect it will be even better made with local cauliflower and apples.
Daniel Boulud’s Curried Cream of Cauliflower and Apple Soup
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 cup onions, chopped
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup Golden Delicious (or other apple), peeled, split, cored and sliced
4 cups cauliflower (about 1 medium head), greens and stem discarded, head broken up into small florets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To serve (optional):
Curried Apple Dice (see recipe below)
Warm crab meat
Really good extra-virgin olive oil
Heavy cream or soy cream
Warm the chicken stock over medium heat. Melt the butter in a cast-iron pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, curry powder, and saffron and sweat for 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the sliced apple and sweat for another 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the cauliflower and warm chicken stock and bring to a boil. Boil until the cauliflower is tender when pierced with a knife, approximately 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the soup in batches to a blender or food processor and purée at high speed until very smooth. Keep warm until ready to serve or refrigerate when cool and reheat just before serving.
Note: The original recipe adds 1 cup heavy cream just before blending the soup. I completely omitted it: cauliflower already makes a soup really creamy, more than any other vegetable so I thought heavy cream was completely unnecessary - and it saves the calories. I only added a touch of soy cream as a decorative touch in each bowl right before serving.
Curried Apple Dice
1 cup Golden Delicious apple, peeled, split, cored, cut in 1/4 inch dice
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads or 1 pinch saffron powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place the apple dice with 1 tablespoon of water in a pan over medium heat. Add the curry powder, saffron, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, cover with a lid, and cook for 3 minutes over medium heat. Strain and keep warm on the side.
Recipes from the book Cooking with Daniel Boulud.