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cauliflower au gratin – or how to get a guy to eat vegetables on the second date

March 6, 2011

Yes, we’ve gone theme here at emandam.   All cauliflower, all the time.  Ok, it’s not all cauliflower all the time, it’s just two cauliflower recipes within a week’s time, but whatever.  Let’s act like fifteen year olds writing an American lit paper and pretend that two of anything constitutes a theme.

I made this cauliflower au gratin for the beloved carnivore on our second date, alongside steak roquefort and a spinach, avocado, and grapefruit salad. And while he ate only about half of his salad, to be polite (I later found out he dislikes avocado, hates grapefruit, and has mixed feelings about spinach), I think he might have even gone back for seconds of the cauliflower.  The cauliflower.  I got the man to eat cauliflower.

Of course, to do so, I had to cover the cauliflower with a delicious Mornay sauce.   But I still consider it a victory.

Now this is one of my favorite dishes, not only because it is one tasty dish, but also because it makes me think of our second date – our second date, which might not have happened (at the time it happened, anyway) but for a fortunate flight cancellation.  You see, our first date was on a Friday in mid-December, two days before I was going to go home for six weeks to spend the holidays with my family and take my January exams at home.   And while our first date was wonderful, we both knew it’d be six weeks before we’d see each other again and get a chance to have a second date.  But then, the following day, I found out that my Sunday morning flight was canceled.  It was the only Sunday flight canceled – even though it was a weather-related cancellation – coughcough it was destiny coughcough.  So, anyway, I took the flight-cancellation lemons and I made second-date lemonade.

And after the second date, I think we both had the lovebug really bad, and so we talked and e-mailed and texted all during those next six weeks.  And then he picked me up at the airport, with a cold Diet Dr. Pepper in hand (I love that man!), and the rest is history.

Last night Emily and our friend Sarah and I made this dish after we went to the grocery store together.  Sarah has a car, which means she can go to a real grocery store instead of cobbling together her food supply from various mini-markets and grocery delivery services, like Emily and I usually do.  But Sarah is also nice, and she took us with her to the grocery store.

We also made a delicious, very easy-to-make salmon quiche that we’ll tell you about soon.

As a note on the cheese – I am rarely able to find Swiss cheese that isn’t already in slices, so what I do is stack five slices on top of each other and then use a knife to slice the stack thinly.   Then I sort of roughly chop the cheese and then use my fingers to separate all the little bits that are stuck together.

Like this:

Cauliflower au Gratin

Adapted slightly from Rocky Mountain News; makes about 4-6 servings

  • 1 small head cauliflower
  • 6 TBSP butter (divided into 4 TBSP and 2 TBSP)
  • 5 TBSP flour
  • 2 1/2 cups hot milk
  • 4 TBSP (1/4 cup) heavy cream
  • rounded 1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese (Gruyere if you can find it)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • scant 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • big pinch of nutmeg (or about 1/4 tsp)
  • 2 TBSP fine, un-flavored bread crumbs
  • ice

Not-so-special equipment:

  • 1 bread loaf pan (approximately 8″ by 4″)

You’re going to be doing two things at once – prepping and cooking the cauliflower and prepping the sauce.  They don’t come together till the end.  So you may want to rearrange the steps based on your kitchen – I’ve just suggested what I’ve found to be the best, least confusing way to do all of this.

  1. Slice or grate your cheese according to the instructions in the note above.
  2. Break the head of cauliflower apart into small florets.  If there are any huge florets, chop them in half – you want people to be able to eat each piece of cauliflower in one bite, albeit a big bite.  Set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to boil – this is for the cauliflower.
  5. Once the water is boiling, toss in the cauliflower and set a timer for 9 minutes.
  6. Fill a large bowl half-way to the top with ice and the coldest water your faucet will give you.   Set aside – you’ll put the cauliflower in this bowl immediately after it’s done boiling.
  7. Once the timer for the cauliflower goes off, test it to make sure it’s tender when pierced with a fork (if it’s not, keep it boiling for another minute or two).  If it’s done, drain it with a colander and then transfer to the bowl with ice cubes and cold water.   Set this aside.
  8. Heat the milk in the microwave – either in a bowl or in a microwave-safe measuring cup.   You want it to be as hot as possible but not burnt – in most microwaves, this will take about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.  Leave this in the microwave till you’re ready for it.
  9. While the milk is in the microwave, heat 4 TBSP of butter and 5 TBSP of flour in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly for two minutes until it’s all blended and is a very, very pale brown.
  10. Off heat, add in the milk and seasonings.
  11. Return to heat and bring to a low boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  By the time it starts boiling and popping,  the mixture will be quite thick.
  12. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the heavy cream tablespoon by tablespoon, stirring after each addition.
  13. Remove the sauce from heat and add in all but two tablespoons of the Swiss cheese.  Stir until the cheese is completely melted, about one minute.
  14. Pour 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the loaf pan.  Add all of the cauliflower into the pan.  Don’t overfill the pan – there should be about one or two inches free at the top of the pan.
  15. Pour the rest of the sauce over the cauliflower, smoothing it over with a spoon so that it moves around and fills in all the nooks and crannies.
  16. Top with the bread crumbs and the the remaining two tablespoons of cheese.
  17. Melt 2 TBSP of butter in the microwave (about 30 seconds) and pour over the top of the bread crumbs and cheese, trying to coat the crumbs evenly so that they’ll brown well.
  18. Put in the oven and bake until warm, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  19. Serve with whatever main dish you want!  Like crustless salmon quiche . . .

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    March 6, 2011 3:05 pm

    This was delish! So glad to now have access to the recipe. 🙂

  2. March 6, 2011 7:50 pm

    If Chris liked it then I feel like I may have to try it out with my girlfriend…or more like she would cook it and I would help. I’m not a big cauliflower fan, but I’ve said ‘not a big fan’ about way too many foods and ended up enjoying them. Thanks for posting it (and the photos help a lot)

    • Amanda permalink*
      March 6, 2011 8:11 pm

      oh my gosh – Chris uses the phrase “not a fan” all the time!! not about my cooking, of course . . . just about things I suggest that he eat.

  3. Emily permalink*
    March 6, 2011 11:49 pm

    Cauliflower! Someday I want to try this with gruyere.

    • Amanda permalink*
      March 6, 2011 11:53 pm

      It doesn’t change the taste all that much, based on the one time I had gruyere. But you should definitely try it. The one trick to making it with gruyere without bankrupting yourself is to find a deli or a cheese shop (hahahaha in this food desert? I know, silly me) that will give you the right amount (very small amount – maybe 1/4 pound, probably a good bit less) instead of having to purchase an entire 1/2 pound block. Or the bricks of cheese I saw at the store on Saturday. oy.

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