Thursday, October 14, 2010

Staff Meals from Chanterelle: Cauliflower Gratin

I love cauliflower.  I know that I'm basically an outlier by espousing this view, but that's okay.  More cauliflower for me.  And that also allows me to have more of the cauliflower gratin I made tonight from the Staff Meals cookbook that I found at Half Price Books.  When you have an extra head of cauliflower in the refrigerator, this is just about the best thing you can do with it.

You have to make a bechamel sauce to pour over the cauliflower, and then you coat it in Gruyere.  Sounds like heaven.  Except when you don't salt the cauliflower enough.  Then it tastes like cardboard.  My mistake.  But the table salt shaker helped me to salvage what otherwise would have been a terrible loss.  Note to self: cauliflower needs salt just as much as potatoes need salt.  Lesson learned.

Cauliflower Gratin
From Staff Meals from Chanterelle by David Waltuck

Course (kosher) salt, to taste
1 large head cauliflower, thick core removed, cut into florets (about 6 cups)
Bechamel sauce (recipe follows)
½ cup grated Gruyére cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the cauliflower florets and cook until just tender but still slightly crunchy, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the florets.  Drain well and arrange in a single layer in a baking or oval gratin dish.

Pour the bechamel over the cauliflower and sprinkle evenly with the grated Gruyére and Parmesan.  Bake until bubbly and browned and the cheeses are melted, about 20 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Bechamel Sauce

5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups half-and-half
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons grated onion
Course (kosher) salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
A few gratings of nutmeg

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking frequently, until the roux develops a nutty aroma, about 10 minutes.  Be careful not to let the flour brown at all.

While the roux is cooking, bring the half-and-half to a simmer in a second small saucepan over high heat.  Immediately remove the half-and-half from the heat and add it to the roux in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until blended and smooth.  After all the liquid is added, continue to cook the bechamel over low heat, whisking frequently, until thickened, about 3 minutes.

Add the bay leaves and grated onion and continue to simmer the bechamel slowly, uncovered, whisking frequently, until the flavors are blended and it's somewhat thicker than heavy cream, about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and strain the bechamel into a heatproof bowl.  Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fried State Fair Food

Today I went to the Texas State Fair and absolutely stuffed myself with the grossest/awesomest fried food concoctions EVER.  I have to admit I had never had a corny dog before this point in time (does that mean I have to give up my adopted Texan status??), but I now must say they are awesome.  I of course procured mine from Fletcher's and smothered it in mustard.  The fried dough was crunchy on the outside, but soft and cornbread-like on the inside.  The hot dog inside was beefy and hot.  I have never been one to put mustard on my hot dog, but this one just seems to cry out for it.  I can't imagine using anything else.

I also decided that I needed to try the fried Frito pie.  It was...underwhelming.  I'm not saying I won't eat it again, but I certainly loved the corny dog more.  Much more.  The corny dog is now my go-to fair staple.  The chili was mixed up in a batter and fried into little nuggets.  Then they give you a little packet of sour cream and a packet of salsa on the side to eat with the Frito pie nuggets.

Later in the afternoon I was talked into trying another fair favorite: the fried Snickers bar.  This thing is evil.  It's so incredibly chewy and melty and sugary and fatty that you almost go into a coma eating it.  You want to keep eating it even though you can feel every artery clogging at the same time.  God bless you, fried Snickers.