Last night for dinner was left over night! I was thrilled to reheat the lasagna from Tuesday and the fried rice from Wednesday. With the main dish and the side accounted for, all I had to fill in was the veggie. I decided to make some cauliflower since my 6-year old informed me that the cauliflower at the school lunch looked like gray fungus. Well, he’s not that far off. And, how could I get frustrated? My initial experiences with cauliflower weren’t stellar either. It was the one food that stunk up the whole house. I would squeeze my nostrils together and take the fastest bites I could, just to satisfy our mandated rule—no dessert potential without eating veggies. However, I’ve learned through many errors, if you don’t overcook the cauliflower and simply sprinkle on some toppings (like cheese or breadcrumbs) the once bland mushy white veggie transforms into a celebrated dish. So, I attempted to cook and serve Cauliflower Au Gratin, knowing my suspicious kids would cave at the sight of melted, oozing cheese.
Apparently, cauliflower’s taste and nutritional value is directly linked to the method in which it is cooked–you can reduce the levels of some vitamins by cooking them with one method over another. A while back, food writer Mark Bittman quoted a Cornell University study in a New York Times article. It stated that 100 grams of cauliflower had 55 mg of vitamin C after boiling, 70 after steaming, and 82 after being cooked in the microwave oven. So, while the fact that I actually baked the cauliflower in the oven ranked high on the vitamin C list, pouring a mixture of melted cheese and milk and butter definitely erased its “healthy” moniker. But, my goal was to get my kids to like eating cauliflower, and I was determined to succeed.
I went to the local market to search for a nice head of cauliflower and immediately made one observation as to why cauliflower probably isn’t as popular as broccoli. The price! A head of cauliflower is rarely as cheap as a head of broccoli. Or, maybe it’s the color, or the absence of color that’s unappealing? Or, perhaps it’s the fact that cauliflower is a relative of stinky cabbage? Who knows, I didn’t care. I picked my head and went on my way.
This recipe is very reminiscent of the Slow Cooked Mac and Four cheeses. The main difference, substitute the cauliflower in place of the elbow noodles. (And, by the way, I can’t cut cauliflower without making a terrible mess. My friend, Lauren Slayton over at Foodtrainers has effective instructions to master cauliflower cutting.)
You need to cook the cheese and milk and cream on the stove. However, I did learn another new cooking term in the process “roux.” The recipe instructs one to make “roux.” That’s simply a cooking mixture of flour and a fat, traditionally butter. It functions as a thickening agent. With my roux ready, my Monteray Jack cheese grated, added in and melted, I generously poured the mixture over top the cauliflower heads and headed for the oven.
Thirty minutes later and I had hot, melted, bubbly Cauliflower Au Gratin, otherwise know as “Mock and Cheese.” And, I was right, the kids seemed less interested about the veggies as they were about the cheesy coating that blanketed the dish.
The dish received two thumbs up from both kid taste testers. I did make a separate version of cauliflower baked with a little bit of olive oil, salt and some parmesan cheese. I found it equally tasty, the kids voted for au gratin. Either way, the hard part is done.
Cauliflower has been added to our repertoire. I see more cauliflower in our future! Cauliflower smoothies? Cauliflower spread? Cauliflower facial scrub?
Cauliflower Au Gratin (adapted from Mom and Pinch of Joy)
- 1 head of cauliflower, about 3 pounds
- ½ small onion, diced
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cups grated cheese (cheddar, Colby Jack, Monterey Jack)
- 2/3 cup parmesan cheese (or Swiss)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- pepper to taste
- Pinch of nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Cut cauliflower into small pieces. Do not cut the florets apart.
- Spray 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray. Rinse cauliflower sections and place in baking dish. Cover dish and microwave 3 minutes on high.
- In large pan, melt butter over medium heat.
- Add onion and garlic and saute’ until fragrant, 1-3 minutes
- Add flour and stir to form a roux. Cook, stirring constantly about 1 minute. Lower heat if necessary to avoid browning the roux.
- Add cream*/milk slowly, whisking to keep the mixture smooth.
- Bring mixture to slow boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thick, smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes.
- Add nutmeg, salt and pepper and grated cheese, stirring until cheese is melted.
- Pour evenly over the cauliflower in the 8×8 baking dish and sprinkle grated parmesan evenly over the top.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.
* you may reduce the amount of cream by a half cup if necessary. I reduced the amount of cheese by 1/2 cup.