Easy Off/ Hard On (featuring Cauliflower Piccata with Crunchy Garlic Garbanzo Beans)
It started with a can of Easy Off… as all modern-day misadventures do. That shiny blue can of optimism and empowerment, the one that practically reached out and grabbed me in Aisle 4 of the grocery store and said, “Alison, I know you don’t have much going on right now, so why don’t you take a little time to deep clean your oven. Hey, I know you. You spend more time with your oven than most people do in their whole lives and it’s getting kind of crusty in there. Cleaning your oven is like opening the doors to spring! First a clean oven, then a vaccination, then you can do anything! Cook with passion, clean with Easy Off! TM”
Boy oh boy, was this what I needed to hear. Chef/ catering work is always dreadfully slow this time of year and it’s been zip, zilch, nada during the pandemic. I was putting time into a blog post about a client I’d cooked for in October but that was going nowhere. I had been hitting a lot of dead ends energy-wise. The pandemic’s year anniversary was wearing thin and the thought of kick-starting the buoyancy I associate with spring cleaning was thrilling.
The blue can is magic. It takes patience because if you truly want to get your oven clean you have to spray it on and then let it sit for a day, but the difference was breathtaking. It was like we’d bought a new oven! The only frustrating part was the filthy inner oven glass, which you can’t clean without taking the oven door off.
*This is where you shout, “Alison! NO!!! Don’t do it!”
But I was inspired. Empowered. The sun was streaming through our kitchen window, sparkling off the shiny blue interior of our LG oven, a brilliance thwarted only by the grimy glass. Also, I’ve always loved taking things apart and putting them back together. It’s one of the reasons I love cooking. Understanding how things work is vital for me.
Two Youtube videos later and the tools were out. Easy off indeed. The oven door was removed and disassembled in a flash. At 10:00 am the glass was clear and streak-free, the nuts and bolts organized into small cups, the outer and inner walls of the door laid on an old yellow towel on our kitchen floor.
I thought, ‘This goes here, this goes there and shazam…’
But it would not fit together.
‘Ok, no problem, this to this for sure. Then this into here…’
Something was off.
10:15 became 12:30.
The yellow towel exhibited tiny droplets of knuckle blood from unsuccessfully squeezing and prying the differently weighted metal clamps and doors and screws together.
‘This here?’ I thought, over and over.
Francis entered the kitchen to see about lunch.
“Oh boy…” eyebrows raised higher than normal.
“Don’t be mad. It’s just taking longer than I thought it would. I’ll have it back together soon.”
Francis is a unique husband. He did not attack me with ‘what were you thinking’ or ‘I can’t believe you did this.’
He said, “I know you will,” and ordered a burrito.
1:00 became 5:30 and with my stomach eating itself, cavernous blue bags forming under my eyes, and the taste of old socks and failure frothing on my tongue, I quit.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” I said to Francis, still awaiting the gaslighting and chastisement I’ve endured in previous relationships.
“It’s no biggie. You’ll figure it out or we’ll get it fixed. We’ll buy a new one if we have to.” I pshawed this suggestion as loudly as I could for the record but silently swooned in the ease with which he said it. We would survive my foolishness, one way or another.
The next day, with a clear head and fresh cup of coffee, I…
failed some more.
Morning became afternoon and the tears arrived. I couldn’t find myself anymore, only my incompetence. Head hung low, I found an LG repair place online and scheduled an 11:00 appointment for the following day.
That night, Francis and I made a fire in our old washbasin firepit and I told him about the story I had intended on writing for this blog about the man that I cooked for who, like all of my clients, made me feel so appreciated that I felt like a different person. We ate take-out middle eastern food and laughed about the ups and downs of life.
The following morning, I cleaned the house while waiting for the repairman. Soon it would be done.
At 10:30 they called to say that they couldn’t find anyone qualified for the job and would I like to reschedule for the following Wednesday. Gasping for air like I’d lost a family member, I agreed to the new appointment. I concur that this was a melodramatic response, but it’s not a writer’s embellishment.
My ears too full of my weepy lamenting, I did not hear my phone ring, but minutes later I saw a message.
It was from my client back in October! The same one I was writing the blog post about. His girlfriend had loved the meal I cooked for them so much she wondered if I was available to cook again. This isn’t a regular customer. I cooked for them once last October, but they remembered me.
I looked down and it was as if my hands had reconstituted. I was reemerging—reappearing as quickly as I had vanished. I called the man back and said, “Yes, yes I’d love to!”
Then I got down my hands and knees on the stained yellow towel and suddenly the door parts made sense. This to that, that to this. It came together quickly. While I’m tempted to remark that I couldn’t believe it, that would be a lie. I knew I had it somewhere in me. I’m a crafty motherTucker once I get out of my own way. Sometimes it just takes a few days on the floor to remember that.
Three days, one pie, one loaf of bread, and some crispy chickpeas later and all is right with the oven.
Here’s what I got to work on once the kitchen was mine again; a cauliflower piccata, which is 100% vegan and gluten-free but the taste isn’t lacking anything.
Cauliflower Piccata with Crunchy Garlic Garbanzos
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into steaks or florets (I’ve always found that I can only get about 3 steaks out of a head of cauliflower but that there’s also a ton of florets in that head that won’t stay together. If you’re set on cauliflower steaks without florets and you’re serving a few people, you should get a few heads of cauliflower.)
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons potato starch (not potato flour)
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons rice flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Fry oil, preferably vegetable oil like safflower or peanut, not olive oil as its smoke point is so low
- 1 shallot, finely chopped (a heaping tablespoon of chopped shallot)
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons vegan butter
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 can garbanzo beans
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Place a strainer over a bowl and empty the can of garbanzo beans into the strainer, saving the liquid from the can. This liquid is called aquafaba and it’s the best vegan egg substitute. This is what you’ll dip your cauliflower into before frying it so it’s key to keep it. Put the bowl of aquafaba off to the side and rinse the garbanzo beans with water. Pat the beans dry as best you can and then dump them onto a parchment covered sheet pan.
- Toss them with the olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and onion powder and the put into the oven and cook for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix together the potato starch, rice flour, and salt.
- Pour about a half inch of oil into a skillet and heat on medium high. You want the oil to come up to 350 degrees, which will take about 5-10 minutes.
- Dredge the cauliflower steaks or florets in the aquafaba. Then place them into the starch/ flour/ salt mixture.
- When your oil is hot enough, place the steaks or florets into the oil and fry 3 minute each side. The potato starch creates an amazing crunch which is why I add it to the rice flour (which is also always great for frying). Do not wash the starch/ flour bowl when you’re done with dredging! There should be about a tablespoon of starch/ flour at the bottom of that bowl and you’re going to use that in just one second.
- Remove the fried steaks or florets onto a plate lined with paper towels. When all the cauliflower has been fried, pour off all the oil except for a tablespoon (ish). You do not need to clean the pan.
- Put the pan back on a medium heat and add the chopped shallots and garlic. Saute for about 30 seconds – 1 minute. Stir 1 tablespoon of the leftover starch/ flour into the shallot/ garlic mixture, making sure that the starch/flour is coated with oil/ shallot/ garlic
as best you can. You’ve just made a gf/ vegan roux. Add the vegetable broth to the roux and stir, scraping up any fry bits or shallot/ garlic bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the lemon juice and simmer for a few minutes. It will thicken. Stir in the 3 tablespoons of butter, which will melt into the sauce easily. Let simmer for a minute, stirring. Add the capers.
- Plate your cauliflower steaks and drizzle the sauce over them.
- Your garbanzo beans should be really crispy now so I use them as a garnish for the cauliflower but they can also be served alone beforehand (they’re being exploited for their aquafaba in this recipe).
- Sprinkle the whole thing with parsley and eat!