Friday, April 18, 2014

Kale... Fail. Cauliflower? Better.

I'm a snacker.  I love little things to munch while I drive or watch TV.  In trying to keep unhealthy and/or extra carbs and fat in check, the options are limited, and I keep my eyes open for new ideas.

More veggies in my diet would always be a good idea, so vegetables that could also be snacks would be a double bonus.  A couple of years ago, I tried making kale chips.  You can read about that here... I just wasn't thrilled with the result.  But I was recently intrigued when I heard the term "Cauliflower Popcorn."  I am a cauliflower fan, and loooovvvve  popcorn, so it was worth a try.

A quick search in the internet turned up a 5-star rated recipe on  The method is about the same as what I do to make roasted cauliflower, except for one thing.

For roasted cauliflower, I wash and pat dry a head of cauliflower, or pre-prepped cauliflower pieces and break them into approximately 1 1/2 inch pieces.  I place them in a large bowl, drizzle on a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder.  I also add parmesan cheese, but often hold it to sprinkle on in the last several minutes of baking. 

I spread the oiled and spiced cauliflower on a oil-sprayed baking sheet, one layer deep and spread out so that they aren't touching each other any more than necessary. 

After roasting for 20 minutes
I put the pan in a preheated 425 degree oven, and bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and starts to brown.  

This is where the Cauliflower Popcorn recipe is different.  The 'popcorn' is supposed to bake for a full hour.  This is a long time for the impatient to wait for a snack! According the recipes and comments I read, the extra browning, or caramelization, though, should make the cauliflower sweeter, and some of the smaller pieces will get nice and crispy.

At 30 minutes

Unlike the kale, which I didn't like at all, I wouldn't consider this to be a fail.  I really like roasted cauliflower and this is so  similar.  So similar, in fact, I'm not sure it was worth the extra time for the trade offs.  Yes, the ultra-browned pieces were crispy.  

"Cauliflower Popcorn"... After one hour of roasting.
Actually, it was after 55 minutes, because this was brown enough!
But to us they didn't seem that sweet, just a little burnt.  --Not so much that we couldn't eat them, but not anything we'd consider much of a plus.  The pieces that weren't browned to crispiness were super soft.  When I roast cauliflower, my aim is to get some definite browning, but also to get it out of the oven while the cauliflower still has some crispness of its own left, and hasn't turned to mush.  In an hour, there isn't much hope of that.

My other concern is, when it's cooked this much, has all the good veggie nutrition been cooked out of it, too?  Raw or barely cooked cauliflower, according to the nutrition facts listed on sites, such as World's Healthiest Foods, is an awesome source of Vitamin C, and also a very good source of other vitamins, including K, B-6, and folate, and fulfills other nutritional needs, like manganese, fiber, and Omega-3s.  It might help prevent certain cancers and has anti-inflammatory effects.  It is low on the Glycemic Index, which means it won't cause problems by raising blood sugar levels too much or too rapidly.

According to this article, steaming loses approximately 15% of most of the vitamins in cauliflower, while boiling causes much more of a loss when the vitamins leech into the cooking water.  Nutrition charts on this site, show more than a 50% loss of potassium when boiling, but doesn't have other cooked cauliflower information.  I'd guess the loss in roasting might be equivalent to that of steaming, but I couldn't find more exact information to share.  I still believe that the quicker the cooking, and the more intact the vegetable, the better the retained vitamins.  I would also think over-cooking would make the sugars more readily available to the bloodstream, which is another negative.

I think I'll stick to the shorter roasting time from now on.  I'll have my snack and eat it, too... more quickly!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pizza Steel - Round Number Successful!

I finally got GREAT pizza crust.  Done on top and bottom, in only 7 minutes, and with airy bubbles in the middle. --And this airy crust, not just at the edges, but all the way to the center of the pie.  

This latter trait is something I've been striving for more recently, having noted it as a goal in many of the pizza crust making articles I've read.  This started me looking at my crusts, which often seemed airy on the untopped and thicker edge, but more compressed and wettish on the rest.  It didn't look wonderful, just studying it, but, frankly, it didn't really have a noticeably negative effect on the taste or eating experience.  But still, I wanted it all, and maybe I was missing something in the experience I just didn't know about yet!

The best photo I have of the compressed crust.   I
hadn't taken many profile shots of the crust.  It just wasn't pretty.

Sooo...what was different this last time?  

It's funny to realize that impatience uncovered that, probably, patience is the key.

I actually had a little time on my hands at mid-afternoon.  I meant only to set the bucket of dough out of the fridge, as I've come to think that it being closer to room temperature may lead to a better rise.  But I was impatient, and wanted something to do, so started in on making the pizzas early.

I placed balls of dough on parchment, and let them rest, while I placed the steel in the oven (on the rack, 2nd position from the top, as instructed).  I turned the oven to its hottest setting (550 degrees), and used the mode with full bottom and full top heat.  On the Gaggenau oven's display, this is shown with a black line in 3 sections across the top and bottom.

Last week's Chicken Garlic with White Sauce

I then set in spreading the dough, making the sauce, and preparing the toppings.  I assembled the pizzas.

The oven was still coming to temperature, and the pizzas were ready to go... The oven would take a bit longer to heat the stone, and the family would be even longer in arriving home to eat after sports practices and such.  So I went away and busied myself otherwise for well over an hour.

When ready to bake, I switched the oven to
500 degrees, and full bottom heat, partial top heat.  

Right away, I saw a good 'pop.'  There was an immediate rise and bubbles formed in the crust.  I could see active bubbling inside the translucent crust bubbles!  It's hard to describe and impossible to get photos of to share with you.

I found that the oven loses heat pretty quickly... I got a significant drop (like 50 - 75 degrees) when I put in pizzas or took them out.  This meant I had to wait between each pizza for the oven to regain heat.  This would be a big problem during a sports team pizza feed.  But for every-Friday pizza night, it's a small annoyance.

My impatience at starting the pizzas taught me that patience, in letting them rest and rise, is the key.  Funny that I needed to do this, when pizzerias, and most pizza crust recipes, don't have a long rise time.  As for the difference in experience, the taste is the same, but the light crunch over the lighter interior is nice.  

Not that I'm fully done experimenting, but I'm pretty happy, for the second week in a row, with this kind of result:

 Tonight's Sausage-Mushroom-Onion with Classic Red Sauce

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