Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Old Fashioned Comfort. Cauliflower Cheese

I REALLY don't think it's fair that foods that qualify as "comfort foods" are nearly always the sweetest/saltiest/fattiest bad for you foods that we all feel so guilty about eating.
I know, I know, anthropologically, we're hard-wired to crave foods which are sweet, fatty or salty and now that we don't really hunt or gather anymore, we no longer need those high calorie foods unless we're very physically active.
Unfortunately, the most exercise I get is walking the dogs and working out my whisking hand, so as a rule, I do try to keep us on a healthy track and stick to "smart" choices for our menus but on occasion the naughty stuff calls, especially when it's bloody freezing outside and it's been a long day.
For me, it's much more about savoury dishes like stews, meat pies and mashed potatoes than cakes and biccies, so about once every six months or so I'll make a favorite of mine and my stepson's- Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese.
My Mum's was always so tasty and one of the first thing she ever taught me to cook. After moving to the US, it pretty much dropped off our family menu, in fact I don't think I ever really heard of anybody in the States eating it, which is surprising really, because who doesn't like cheese sauce on their veggies? Absolutely packed with butter, cream and cheese, it's not for those of us watching our girlish figures, but really, can one little portion once every six months be that bad, when it tastes SO GOOD?
Mine is a pretty basic recipe, but with a few tweaks to add a little bit of oomph, without distracting from the basic, unctuous cheesiness. I can't think of a better way to get kids to eat their veggies!
I served it tonight with baked chicken and jacket potatoes.

Cauliflower Broccoli Cheese
Serves 8 as a side dish or 4 as a main:
1 full head of cauliflower, florets separated
2 large heads of broccoli, broken into florets
250g strong, mature cheddar, grated
500ml whole milk
200ml heavy cream
50g flour
50g butter
40g freshly grated parmesan
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp white pepper
2 tsp good paprika (Smoked paprika is also lovely!)
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
handful fresh white breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 180 C/375 F
Steam the broccoli and cauliflower together for about 5 mins until almost cooked, and still firm. Empty into a deep casserole dish and put to the side.
Meanwhile, make a roux by melting the butter over a medium heat and then adding the flour. stir for a few minutes, until the flour paste begins to slightly brown and smell cooked. Put the milk and cream together in one jug and add slowly to the flour and butter, whisking gently until the mixture starts to bubble and has thickened. If there are lumps which cannot be broken up by whisking, use an immersion (stick) blender for a few seconds until all nice and smooth.
Add the salt and white pepper and then the cheese in handfuls, whisking to combine, leaving a large handful aside for topping.
Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower and broccoli fold together, ensuring that all the veg are well coated in the sauce. Sprinkle over the remaining cheddar, then parmesan, then breadcrumbs, then the paprika and put on the top shelf of the oven for about 20 minutes until it is (As Alton would say) golden brown and delicious.

Speaking of chicken, because free range and organic ones tend to cost a bit more than intensively reared ones, as a way of offsetting the difference I buy whole chickens and joint them myself. Here's how:
After a few times of doing it, it gets quite easy and I also get tasty stock out of the left over carcass. Most weeks we have one dish made from the breasts and one from the legs and wings, so it actually works out to be about the cheapest meat we eat.
Cauliflower Cheese on FoodistaCauliflower Cheese

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