Sunday, 7 March 2010

A quiet night at home

So last night heralded just that (thank you Bare: A Pop Opera) and at one point I was juggling 3 pans on the stove, all cooking different things. The big project of the night was a Malay Lamb curry, which I know I had promised for this post, but that'll be the next one as I've been bribed with roast chicken courtesy of my flatmate tonight. I've seen the amount of roast potatoes being cooked and I'm the nearest to gleeful I've been in ages.

I was specifically after comfort food last night. Mum had suggested mashed potato, or something I could just throw in the oven - come on down M&S chicken tikka masala, the stage is yours. But no longer having a local M&S and being by nature distrustful of ready meals I'm not familiar with. Walking around Sainsburys (hellish on a Saturday, so why I inflicted that on my slightly fragile self, I don't know) nothing caught my eye until a sudden decision that caulifower cheese was the way forwards.

Now, regular readers will be aware that I am loathful/ loathsome of cheese sauce in anyform other that in a lasagne. I refuse to go near it, after a traumatic incident involving a tummy bug and a plateful of macaroni cheese as a child. Not good. In fact it's up there with aubergines on the most hated list. However, I've mainly been eating hot cross buns this week, and can't honestly say I've gone near my veggie tray so the inclusion of cauliflower alone was a step forward.

After the success of my much loved (yes I have realised that I blogged it twice in three months. My bad) Waitrose chilli, and not finding any inspiration in my cookbooks, I turned to the Waitrose recipe database for some inspiration. I knew I wouldn't be able to stomach a runny cheese sauce so originally intended to go with what I use for a lasagne. As it was, this recipe (which I halved quantities of and have half of that still in the fridge) was on the mark.

Waitrose Cauliflower Cheese

Serves: 3 to 4
1 large, creamy-white cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
25g butter
25g plain flour
568ml carton Waitrose Whole Milk
150g Keen's West Country Farmhouse Unpasteurised Cheddar, grated
2 tbsp crème fraîche or double cream (optional, but a mighty improvement)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard, or a little less of English mustard
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
25g fine fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water until just tender - 5-6 minutes but no more. (Don't underdo it either - crunchy, al dente cauliflower is not right for this dish.) Drain thoroughly. Grease the sides and edges of an ovenproof dish that is large enough to take the cauliflower in a closely-packed single layer, then tip the cauliflower in.
2.To make the sauce, melt the butter in a medium-sized pan. Spoon in the flour and stir for about 1 minute, without allowing it to brown. Remove from the heat and gradually beat in the milk, a few spoonfuls at a time at first, then increasing the flow as the sauce thins.
3.Return to the heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened and creamy. Stir frequently to prevent the sauce from catching on the base of the pan.
4.Remove from the heat and stir in three-quarters of the Cheddar with the crème fraîche or cream, and the mustard. Season with nutmeg, a little salt and lots of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, making sure that it is fairly punchy. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower.
5.Mix together the breadcrumbs and the remaining Cheddar, then sprinkle evenly over the cauliflower and sauce. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until browned and bubbling. Serve immediately.

My Notes:

I ommitted the creme fraiche/ double cream. I also used skimmed milk as I never have whole milk in the house.
I also just used uber strong cheddar, which was a case of whatever Sainsburys had on offer yesterday morning.
Mustard: I didn't have any mustard in the house, but had Colman's mustard powder (for salad dressing) in, so made up a dessert spoonful of that with water. Perfect
I tend to be quite heavy handed with pepper, I think this was a bonus.
Ham, I knew that just cauliflower and cheese wouldn't do it for me, so at the deli counter today had asked for a thick slice of the boiled ham they did, I folded this over and put the par-boiled cauliflower on top and then covered the lot in the cheese sauce and more grated cheese. This improved it massively in my opinion. I could eat plain cauliflower cheese as an accompaniment to roast beef I think or even roast chicken, but not just on it's own. One of my aims for this year is to learn how to cook my own ham, it's just so much nicer although this really was a good peice.

I cannot enthuse enough about how soothing and comforting this dish is. Eaten from my lap with a cat curled up next to me, it really did hit the spot. Not fussy or demanding much of me (which cannot be said of the curry) it kept me occupied while making the cheese sauce, and then gave me half an hour for a hot bubble bath while it baked.

Slightly melancholy, but an apt exerpt from the song title of the post.

Ships and Princes all gone home
Alone again. Again alone
A quiet night at home
With thoughts of wine
A quiet night at home
Spent getting by

And next time I promise. Malay Lamb curry. Guides honour.

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