Thursday, May 20, 2010

Macaroni & Cauliflower

Welcome back to our little piece of internet real estate. I'm so glad to have people actually reading and enjoying these posts, it's nice to get feedback and input on all of our hard work. Yesterday alone we had close to 40 views. That's not too shabby for two amateurs just taking a whack at things in the kitchen. Anyway, back to the reason you are all here in the first place - the cooking. Tonight was my turn to take back the kitchen, and I chose to tackle another Jamie Oliver recipe for the main dish. (Also apologies in advance for funky formatting. Google's blogging tool is throwing the pictures off to the side, can't seem to fix it.) 

The recipe: Macaroni & Cauliflower

What you'll need:

1 lb elbow macaroni
1/2 head of cauliflower
8 oz. cheddar cheese
4 oz. parmesan cheese
1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

First, you'll want to bring two pots of water to a boil - one large cooking pot and a smaller sauce pan. You will only want to fill the sauce pan with about an inch or so of water. While these pots are warming up, turn your attention to the cauliflower. Now, I've learned two big things about myself of the last few weeks. First, I'm not a big fan of large, chunky pieces of cauliflower in my food. I find its flavor tends to overpower a dish if the pieces are left too large. Secondly, I've learned that I really am not all that fond of chopping vegetables. It's time consuming, tiresome and sort of a chore.

So, you can see my dilemma. My recipe calls for large pieces of cauliflower (something that I do not like) but in order to remedy that, I would have to chop up the stinky little plant into smaller pieces. So, I thought tonight would be the best night to try out our latest kitchen purchase. The OXO Smart Chop. We picked up this little guy at Bed Bath & Beyond for a little over $15. Now, it was as simple as dropping pieces of the cauliflower into the chopper, slapping the handle a few times and - ta da - perfectly minced cauliflower. When you're done, simply run the chopper under water and dry it off. It's simple to use, it saves a lot of time (and best of all, it breaks down cauliflower into much more manageable pieces). Long story short, it's great and certainly worth the money.

My vegetable chopping savior 

After you have sliced the cauliflower down to your preferred size (any size is fine, it's all a matter of preference), turn your attention to the cheeses. For this recipe we purchased a 36 month old aged cheddar cheese (from Vermont) and some freshly grated parmagiano reggian from Italy. Grate the cheddar cheese if needed (parmagiano is already broken into small pieces) and combine the two cheeses into a medium sized mixing bowl.

Once the water begins to boil, add your macaroni and cauliflower (in the large pot). Meanwhile, add the creme fraiche  (Which, as an aside, I still have not been able to find. We've searched speciality markets as well as large grocery stores and have never been able to turn up anything. So, whatever creme fraiche is - it's hard to find. Thus, we went with sour cream as a substitute) to the mixing bowl with the cheese. Place this bowl on top of the sauce pan (Like pictured below).
Mixing bowl atop a pot of boiling water 

When you first mix the cheese and the sour cream, it's going to be a big sticky mess. Resist the urge to stir or otherwise pat down the mixture, as it will only result in a big ugly glob on the end of your spoon. (Speaking from experience here...) Instead, let the bowl rest over the boiling pot for about 30 to 45 seconds. At this time, you should begin to see some of the cheese melting. Stir everything together for two to three seconds and wait another 30 seconds before stirring again. After about 3 minutes you should have a very silky smooth liquid in the bowl. When there are no more visible lumps in the mixture, and everything has blended together, remove the mixing bowl from the pan (WITH OVEN MITS, the bowl is VERY hot...again, speaking from experience here) and set aside.
The cheese should be smooth and silky 

In addition to the main recipe I wanted to add a good side dish. I picked up some fresh baked Italian bread at the market last week with the intention of using it with this dish. While the macaroni and cauliflower were cooking, I sliced the loaf into smaller (inch thick) pieces. Buttered every slice (same side of each slice, so no two buttered sides faced) and then stacked the loaf back together. After wrapping the entire loaf in a tin foil blanket, I placed it in a preheated 350 degree oven and let bake for 25 minutes.
Fresh Italian bread 

After about twenty to thirty minutes, the macaroni should be done. Drain the water from the pot (using the same large pot) mix in the cheese sauce that you set aside earlier. Stir the whole lot up really well and season with a light dash of salt and pepper. I took this opportunity to great a little creative and also added some oregano, just to spice up the flavor a little. This is entirely optional, however, (and not in the recipe). Other spices (such as parsley) would be good as well.

If you'd like, the dish is complete here. However, if you're fond of a nice golden baked finish - (like I am) you'll want to do a couple of more things. First, spoon the macaroni into a medium sized baking dish. Sprinkle some more parmesan cheese, salt & pepper and parsley (or oregano) on top, and place the dish in an oven set to 'broil'. (Medium heat is ideal here). Allow that to bake until the cheese is nice and golden brown and the dish begins to pop and sizzle. (It takes roughly 10 to 15 more minutes). Once that's complete, all that is left is to enjoy!
The completed dish 

Freshly baked bread, just out of the oven 

Tonight's recipe was a lot of fun to make. It was a very straight forward and easy dish (I only looked at the actual recipe once before I began, after that I just 'went with it' - and everything came out great) and it was not at all time consuming (45 minutes from start to finish). What's even better is the final result was fantastic! The cheeses and sour cream blend very nicely with the cauliflower to give the entire dish a very rich and creamy flavor - I would really recommend this to any pasta lover out there.

I did learn a few things from cooking tonight. First, macaroni multiplies in the pot. (That really is the only logical explanation, I put in enough to cover the bottom of pot, and by the time I was done, the pot was overflowing with noodles.) We now have a VERY large surplus of cooked macaroni. Lesson learned, next time - less (much less) macaroni. Secondly, it doesn't matter if a metal mixing bowl is not directly on the heat; If it is over a pot of boiling water, the entire bowl will be very hot and it will not take you very long to realize this. (Ouch)

All in all, it was a very enjoyable cooking experience with a satisfying end result. We're taking the night off tomorrow (Friday night) but plan to be back on Saturday with a creative use for a wine bottle in the kitchen. Once again, I cannot thank all of you enough from stopping by and reading our experiences. It really means a lot to have people enjoy something you work hard on. Thanks again, and until next time,


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