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I laughed out loud when I saw that this months ABC baker's challenge was cauliflower cheese, you forget we don't all have the same food experiences. To me cauliflower cheese is bog standard but lovely, old school cooking, something that could still be part of your Sunday roast or you have a distant memory of your gran's.
Cauliflower cheese is served mainly as a side dish, paired with a roast dinner or another protein. Cauliflower in Australia now is more often seen in curries, stuffed in flat breads like Gobi ke Parathe (YUM!!), salads, roasted, stir fries, soups, as a faux pizza base or the popular cauliflower rice but there is still a place for the classic cauliflower cheese in your repertoire.
supermarkets and fruit/veg shops carry the already chopped cauliflower for quick low carb cooking.
Baking along with a talented group of bakers that are a part of ABC (Avid Baker's Challenge), this month was 'Cauliflower Cheese' from Smitten Kitchen.
I've made the basic cauliflower cheese in individual portions with a couple of small changes to Smitten Kitchen's recipe. I also include a wasabi variation and a gluten free cauliflower and cheese soup recipe.
The first printed version of cauliflower cheese is in the 1861 publication of 'Beeton's Book of Household Mangement'. Where hot white sauce (Mrs. Beeton uses a sauce blanche) is poured over the cooked cauliflower, topped with grated parmesan, bread crumbs and then put under the griller (broiler/salamander) until bubbling and golden.
The cheese sauce for the cauliflower cheese today is a Béchamel (white sauce), a sauce that is Italian in origin but now is probably more well known as one of the French mother sauces. Béchamel is the base to other sauces, add cheese like we are today and it's "Mornay sauce".
I made buckets (literally) of Béchamel decades ago when working in seafood retail/catering, some became mornay sauce, used in seafood crepes, seafood pies, seafood bakes and goodness proving it was a long time ago seafood "vol au vents".
Start by preparing your cauliflower by cutting it into florets and either steaming them or boiling them. I cooked them to the "cooked but still holding shape stage", as I didn't bake the dish further as Smitten Kitchen did.
cauliflower florets ready for steaming
Whilst the cauliflower was steaming, butter was melted and flour added and stirred together until flour is cooked off, 2 to 3 minutes to make the white roux.
Milk is added and stirred continuously until thickened and hot. Grated mature cheddar cheese (tasty) was stirred in then.
*I upped the flour used to 40 grams and reduced the butter to 50 grams. I reduced the cheese too, Smitten Kitchen uses 155 grams, I used 75 grams to be added to the sauce and 25 grams to be sprinkled on top and I used 2 cups (500ml) of 2% milk. I prefer to make the sauce thicker because you can always thin it with a little warm milk but not visa versa.
Time to add the seasonings.
Coleman's mustard strong enough to "put hairs on your chest"as nan would say.
I added a large teaspoon of prepared English mustard, a grate of fresh nutmeg and a shake of white pepper for the seasoning. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning to personal taste.
Cauliflower was arranged in 4 separate ramekins, then topped with the sauce, sprinkled with grated cheese and put under a hot grill (we say "grill" in Australia... it's broiler or salamander elsewhere) to gratin. Serve when bubbly and golden.
Change up your cheese or veg
Change your cheese for another strong tasting cheese (be careful if using a blue cheese, you could end up with a gray coloured sauce) or if using a milder cheese pump up the flavour with more mustard or chilli and the like. Use broccoli or cauliflower and broccoli instead of plain cauli, or how about potatoes or sweet potatoes for a change? Mornay sauce matches most vegetables, adjust seasonings accordingly and if your not going for a baked or gratin finish then add a crispy finishing touch.
I used a wasabi cheddar for an alternative version of cauliflower cheese that I'll be serving with fish this Easter. A ittle wasabi paste was added for an extra kick. Wasabi cheddar cheese was swapped out for the mature cheddar and wasabi paste used instead of the mustard, nutmeg and white pepper. Pour the hot sauce over your cooked cauliflower, I topped with butter browned panko crumbs and wasabi sesame seeds.
wasabi sesame seeds
Ooops, I was supposed to use the black bowls my "gee this is such a yellow sauce" thought carried onto the bowls.
Gluten free Cauliflower Cheese soup
A simple pureed veg soup is a nice gluten free addition to your Easter feast.
1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets
1 large leek or 2 medium onions, diced
2 stick of celery diced
I medium potato, peeled and diced
1.5 litres of salt reduced vegetable or chicken stock
200 grams of grated matured cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
optional extra cheese for garnish
In a large pot over heat the olive oil over a medium heat, and add all the cut vegetables. Stir and place a lid partially over pot, continue to cook for ten minutes. Stirring occasionally to prevent catching.
Add the stock and bring to the boil, reduce the heat then and simmer until veggies are soft.
Remove pan from heat, add the grated cheese and heaped teaspoon of English mustard and a light grating of nutmeg. Puree the soup in pot with a stick blender. If soup is too thick, thin with a little boiling water. Taste the soup, add salt and pepper to suit you and your family being mindful of what garnishes, if any, you are using. Serve the soup piping hot with extra crumbled or grated cheese and grated nutmeg.
Happy Baking :)
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