A former kindergarten teacher turned gourmet blogger revealed some delicious talents for both cooking and entertaining a crowd at Fresh Starts Chef Events.
Gabi Moskowitz, whose BrokeAss Gourmet blog has drawn a national following, presented some favorite recipes for economical foodies, starting with Cauliflower Crust Pizza.
As she cooked, the Santa Rosa native talked about her recipes with ingredients that never exceed $20 and the genesis of the TV sitcom “Young & Hungry” that’s inspired by her life. For anyone who’s watched during the show’s five-year run, Gabi stressed that it is not actually her life.
The Santa Rosa native still considers herself an educator—teaching others how to cook healthy, delicious meals that don’t break the bank. Cauliflower Crust Pizza makes an adventurous starting point — perfect for those who love pizza but not carbs.
Gabi takes care to strain the cauliflower after cooking (she prefers to microwave it) and squeeze out as much liquid as possible to avoid a soggy result. Parmesan cheese in the mixtures pushes the crust toward crispy as it bakes.
The crust remains light, though. In fact, when Chef Gabi demonstrated how to flip the crust in mid-baking, it fell apart. But, like Julia Child, she patted it back together and didn’t miss a beat.
As for toppings, she recommends “a light hand.” Guests enjoyed a version with a brush of tomato sauce, cheese, red peppers and onion – though different from traditional pizza, it made a tasty alternative.
Gabi prepared a favorite salad, Kale with Carrot & Pumpkin Seeds, which becomes a main dish with chicken or tofu. Her sure-fire technique for “tofu that doesn’t suck” is adding cubes of tofu to hot oil and then waiting for them to crisp before adding veggies.
For kale, Gabi stresses to slice thinly and dress early, allowing the dressing to soften the tougher leaves before serving. As she quickly put together a vinaigrette, she dishes out advice: “Stop buying salad dressing, because it’s so easy to make!”
Her version of pho, the classic Vietnamese noodle soup, came as a main course. The recipe shortcuts the traditional hours of making broth with plenty of aromatics — garlic, onion, lemongrass, soy sauce, fish sauce, chili sauce, and a lot of ginger. Her secret ingredient is Chinese Five Spice, “a quick way to get the flavor.”
The pho was an excellent lead-in to something sweet: her Rocky Road Brownies dressed up a classic recipe with mixture of mini marshmallows, chocolate chips and chopped almonds (or other nuts.)
Before her dessert demonstration, Gabi paused for a short graduation ceremony for three students from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy, the job-training program housed in the venue’s kitchen. Proceeds from the celebrity chef events support the program and students get hands-on training while working with the chefs — a proverbial “icing on the cake” as the evening closed. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.
Cauliflower Crust Pizza – Serves 2 – 3
½ large cauliflower, cut into florets
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for topping the pizza
Pinch of salt
¼ cup sauce of your choice (tomato, pesto, romesco, etc.)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1–2 toppings of choice (we love sliced bell pepper, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, and caramelized onions)
Fresh herbs (optional)
Red chili flakes (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place the cauliflower florets in a food processor and purée until the mixture resembles ricotta cheese and each grain is about the size of a piece of couscous.
Tip: If you can’t seem to get the right consistency, or if a few whole florets remain after puréeing, try adding enough water to cover (usually about 2 cups) and purée as if you are making soup. When all the cauliflower has been completely processed, strain it in a fine-mesh strainer.
Scrape the cauliflower into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave it on high for 5 minutes.
Carefully scrape the microwaved cauliflower purée onto a clean dish towel. Very carefully (using a second towel if necessary to protect your hands) squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Get it as dry as you possibly can.
In a mixing bowl, combine the cauliflower, the egg, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the Parmesan, and the salt. Mix together to make a thick batter.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Scrape the batter into the center of the parchment. Gather the batter into a ball shape. Wet your hands and carefully pat the batter into a circle, making it as thin as possible.
Drizzle the cauliflower circle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and use your hand or a pastry brush to spread it all over the circle.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and a little crisp.
Remove the crust from the oven, but leave the oven on. Place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the cooked crust. Carefully flip the whole thing so the bottom is facing up. Remove the parchment from the top (what was previously the bottom layer).
Top your pizza with sauce, cheese, and anything else you like. (I encourage you to go light on the toppings—the crust is sturdy but not as sturdy as conventional pizza crust.)
Bake for 20 to 22 minutes more, until the cheese is browned and bubbly. Slice and serve, topping with fresh herbs and red chili flakes if desired.