Friday, December 24, 2021

Golden Goodness: Christmas Eve Cauliflower

The house is cozy on this Christmas Eve, as the cold wind blows about outside and the aroma of butter and chocolate still lingers in the kitchen. It's been a bonkers busy month, with major cookie baking - both for my holiday boxes and for the Saskatoon Farmers' Market, where I now have a table and sell my baked goods (and cookbooks!) every weekend. This decision came about in early October, just as I was about to launch my second cookbook, and I have to say it's one of the best I've made. Perhaps starting a business in the midst of a pandemic is a bit wacky, but heck, folks have done nuttier stuff. I love working for myself, and baking delicious cookies for awesome customers is just the best. I've got some great ideas coming in the new year, so if you're in Saskatoon, stay tuned for that!

With all of the cookie baking, holiday prep was kinda sorta shoved to the backburner. I'm on full on cleaning mode today, and then there is the wrapping of presents and brining the turkey for the big feast I'm cooking tomorrow. Before all of that goes down, I wanted to pop in here and tell you about the best cauliflower cheese. It's roasted whole and looks absolutely impressive when brought to the dinner table. I made this the first Christmas Dixon and I were together, and I remember how he and my mom ooooohed and awwwwwed as I brought it to the candle-lit table. It's a golden dome of goodness, and there are a couple of steps you can do ahead so there's no big pressure on the big day. No one wants any of that, right? So far, many of you have already made this recipe from Vegetables: A Love Story, and my heart is so happy knowing that it's become a favourite of yours, too. 

Cauliflower and cheese sauce is a classic combo. I’ve gussied it up a little here by roasting a whole head of the creamy white vegetable slathered in the aforementioned cheese sauce. It becomes a bit of a spectacle, especially when presented to a table of guests. They will ooh and ahh at all of its bubbling golden glory—just like Mom and Dix did when I prepared it for Christmas Eve one year. Stick a small carving knife in the head before you bring it to the table, and they’ll be talking about your dinner party for years! I like to slice the cauliflower at the table and tell guests to help themselves to wedges. Just be sure that everyone gets some of the sauce. If there’s any left over, I’ll take a slice of bread and dunk it in the skillet, wiping up all of that cheesy, garlic goodness. 

Merry, Merry to you and yours this holiday season. I hope you get to rest and relax and soak in a little of that Christmas magic. xoxo Renée

Christmas Eve Cauliflower

1 lemon, sliced
1 head of garlic, cloves smashed
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 medium head of cauliflower, outer leaves removed and core trimmed so it sits flat
Cheese Sauce:
2 Tbsp butter
2½ Tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ cup white wine
1 cup milk
½ cup whipping (35%) cream
1½ cups shredded extra-old
cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Red pepper flakes
Finishing the Dish:
7 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp dried thyme

1.Prepare the cauliflower: Bring a very large pot of water to a boil. The pot needs to be large enough so the cauliflower can float. Stir in the lemon, garlic, 1 Tbsp of the oil, the salt, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Put the cauliflower into the pot with the core facing up. Cover, turn down the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the cauliflower is fork-tender, 10 minutes. Carefully remove the head from the 
water and drain it in a colander. This step can be done a day in advance. Just cover and refrigerate 
the cauliflower head until you’re ready to proceed.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prepare the cheese sauce: Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter, then stir in the flour so it makes a paste (yes, that would be a roux). Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the wine, milk, and cream, being careful to scrape along the inside edges of the pot. The sauce will thicken after about 8 minutes or so. Stir in the cheese, mustard, paprika, salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Keep stirring until the cheese is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and season to taste.
3. Place the cauliflower head in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet or baking dish. Rub the head with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with the dried thyme. Pour half of the cheese sauce over top and snuggle in the whole cloves of garlic around the bottom of the cauliflower. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour over the remaining cheese sauce. Bake, uncovered, until the cauliflower is tender and golden, about 10–12 more minutes.
4. Cut the cauliflower into wedges and spoon some sauce over each wedge. Serves 6. 

Recipe from Vegetables: A Love Story, by Renée Kohlman (TouchWood Editions, 2021). 

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