Sunday, 24 February 2008

Cauliflower Cheese

Food is comforting and healing. For instance, I made this cauliflower cheese recipe the other day when I was feeling a bit down and looked forward to the therapy of making the white sauce. Cooking through the flour and butter and slowly adding the milk bit by bit keeping it all smooth is almost like an art. It takes time and patience but is a delightful process. In the end though, I tried out the quick method and was delighted by a better taste than usual, which could be just hit and miss, but missed out of the full therapy of the mixing.

Just now I am feeling out of sorts. One of those minor blips and so I am writing about food to cheer me up.

Mr Doris particularly loves cauliflower cheese that we often have it and sometimes he makes it and sometimes I do. (It is funny but I often want to write it as cauliflour cheese and not sure why that is.) Some end results are better than others but the main tip is that the sauce will only thin, if anything, and will not "improve" in the oven. So the sauce has to be right before it goes onto the cauliflower.

The other big tip is to NOT add any salt at all to this recipe. It does not need it as the cheese seems to contain enough salt.

Equal quantities of marge (or butter) and flour (maybe 65 grams)
3/4 litre milk (but don't use it all at once in case it is too much)
2 teaspoons dried English mustard powder
Black pepper
250gm cheese grated
1 cauliflower

Put the oven on to 200C to preheat.

Cut cauliflower in largish florets keeping as much of the stalk as possible (ie don't waste any of it!). Steam for about 9-10 minutes to just cook whilst making the sauce. Aim for firm - don't let it get too soft.

The Quick Method:
Put butter, flour, mustard powder and 3/4 of the cold milk altogether into cold saucepan and put on the heat. Use a hand whisk and gently whisk the flour into the cold milk as it heats and whisk in butter as it melts. Keep whisking gently until it comes to boil and turn heat down to a low manageable level and keep whisking. The sauce will thicken almost immediately without lumps! Really, it does! I was so surprised that I had to share this was indeed true. The idea is to keep the sauce cooking to cook the flour. This whole process takes maybe three minutes. Add more of the milk if needed. Aim for a very thick cream sauce. Keep on low heat stirring occasionally. Grind in black pepper and stir in about 3/4 of the grated cheese. Taste and add more pepper if needed.

The Therapy Method:
Melt butter in saucepan and when melted add the flour and mustard powder and mix. It will turn into a roux paste ball and you need to keep it moving with a wooden spatula. Cook for about a minute or so. Add a dribble of cold milk to the base of the pan and let it heat slightly and start to stir into the roux ball. It will reform into a ball again and keep repeating the process until the roux ball is more a paste and then you are pouring the milk directly onto it. Keep stirring and combining the milk as needed. Don't rush it otherwise it will not thicken. This process can take five to ten minutes but is relaxing. Aim for a very thick cream sauce. Keep on low heat stirring occasionally. Grind in black pepper and stir in about 3/4 of the grated cheese. Taste and add more pepper if needed.

Don't forget, the sauce has to be thick. It will not thicken in the oven, nor will it lose any lumps!

Transfer hot, steamed cauliflower into saucepan and stir through to combine over all the florets and then tip into a heatproof dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and put in hot oven for about twenty minutes or until nicely crispy on top and bubbling round the sides.

Serve with boiled potatoes or even just by itself. This one was gloriously delicious and worthy of photographing. The taste is of thick unctious creamy cheesy-ness with a tang of mustard smothered around barely crisp succulent freshness of the caulifower.


Doris said...

Yaaaay! And after my little composition I am feeling most cheered :-D

Thursday said...

Whenver I felt cheesed off when I was younger, my mother would make cauliflower cheese - one of the ultimate comfort foods and a dish I still make fairly regularly (fortunately Joe Brown likes it as much as I do).

Susie said...

The picture of your cauliflower cheese has been popping into my head since this morning, so on the way home I bought a cauli! It has always been one of mine and my children's favourites but now I live alone I rarely make the effort, however I will today.

I have a slight variation on your recipe though as I hate mustard - I sprinkle a little cayenne pepper into the cheese sauce, I also place sliced tomatoes on top before popping it into the oven. All washed down with a glass of whatever, and a few slices of crispy bacon.

Susie x

Cheryl said...


I use half the mustard powder (isn't it wonderful - it gives flavour even to cheap 'plastic' supermarket cheese) but sometimes I pre-warm the milk with a peeled and halved onion in the pot, and/or add a glove or two of crushed garlic to the sauce itself.

Never tried using pepper, and never tried the quick method - I've always started with a roux - thanks for that.

A slightly runnier version of the sauce makes a wonderful macaroni cheese (even well cooked macaroni tends to slurp it all up otherwise) - especially with tomato slices and pre-grilled bacon in the mix.

Oooh now I'm hungry.


Cheryl said...

that would be clove; CLOVE. I wonder how many cloves would fit a glove...

Doris said...

The concept of your mother cooking you something to cheer you up when you were younger sounds amazing. An alien concept to me that was most poignant to read your comment just after another splat of family/self awareness. Blog post coming up on that.

Aww I am so glad it prompted you to treat yourself. I can imagine the cayenne pepper giving it that necessary bite to counteract the creamyness and will try that instead of mustard sometime.

Now those are some ace variations - even allowing for a glove of garlic ;-) Funny how the brain processes as I only saw it as clove and not as glove. Son used to love macaroni cheese but (to my shame) only certain ready-made varieties so once I used some of the sauce on macaroni and he didn't like it. Maybe because the sauce was actually too thick - now that you mention it - and that was all that was wrong with it. I am inspired to try again at macaroni cheese!

Josephine said...

Great picture :-)

I am so printing out this recipe and doing it!!


Jay said...

Aaaaaaah!! I LOVE cauliflower cheese! And with boiled potatoes? Now that's Comfort Food. *Sighs wistfully*

Because I put on weight at the drop of a peanut, I now make all white sauce with cornflour, not roux. Definitely no salt. And I serve my cauliflower cheese with a green veg and no potatoes.

You're right about the sauce thinning in the oven too - but you can help this a bit by putting the cauliflower back on a very low heat for a minute after you drain it to reduce its water content. No lid, of course.

Doris said...

Hi Jay :-)

So lovely to read your messages this morning.

Good idea about draining and then heating the cooked cauliflower ..... just a couple of nights ago Jo, the blogger from the message above yours, came to visit, and so I made this dish. But Jo was very late and what was my thickest ever sauce turned out watery after staying in the oven for a whole hour! The moisture must have come out of the cauliflower. So I'll do the drying off thing next time!

And I did roast veg in the oven to go with it .... barely takes more than a sprinkle of olive oil (which is a good fat) and onto a hot tray in a hot oven and yum yum. This time I did potato, sweet potato, parsnips, carrots, onion quartered and whole garlic in skin. All cut at varying sizes (eg carrots smaller than tatties) so they all cook at the same time. Just a little salt and pepper and most yummy.