Photo by Kerri Sherman

Food and love are always intertwined.

Back in 2012, Lake Forest’s Meg Barnhart was looking for a business project that would be able to employ adults with learning challenges, like her son, Doug. For many years, she had turned to her trusty crockpot to get healthy and delicious meals on the family table, and she returned to it for her new concept.

When she met Jane McKay (a recipe-developing, food-writing Brit transplanted to Chicago), they combined forces to create The Zen of Slow Cooking. Why “Zen”? The slow cooker alleviated the guilt that Barnhart felt when she was unable to get meals together for her family; it helped her achieve a sense of peace and order in her life—her Zen.

The project started as a food blog, but has evolved into much more, with a series of organic spice “Zen Blends” available online and at local farmers’ markets. The spices are packaged with recipe instructions and shopping lists, and they are put together by Planet Access, which hires young adults with intellectual challenges.

It was important to Barnhart and McKay that there be a giving-back component, too. So every time a Zen Blend is purchased, a contribution is made to their slow-cooking initiative, the Drishti Donation, “where insight meets action.” That donation supports free cooking classes for developmentally challenged adults and the gift of a slow cooker for the community kitchen to help those adults gain independence through preparing meals for themselves.

Barnhart and McKay shared this recipe for a Curried Cauliflower Soup that you can make at home; the prep is done in less than 20 minutes, and the aroma will fill your house. This soup is delicious cold the next day as well.

Curried Cauliflower Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup diced white onion
  • 1 whole cauliflower, chopped roughly
  • 1 teaspoon each ground coriander, turmeric and cumin
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 can low-fat coconut milk
  • optional: truffle oil for garnish

1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and onions in the olive oil gently without browning, approximately three minutes. Put the mixture into the bottom of the slow cooker.

2. Add chopped cauliflower to the vegetables in the slow cooker. Add spices and stir to coat veggies. Stir in the chicken broth, salt and pepper.

3. Cook on low for five hours. Stir in the coconut milk and cook 30 minutes more.

4. Once cooked, blend and served. For added decadence, drizzle with a little truffle oil before serving.

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