Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cauliflower Concoctions

I have so many ideas for blog posts, and so few days when I'm feeling articulate enough to really write more than just a bald step-by-step. At some point I am going to delve into palates and how they can change and expand as you grow up and have more varied experiences. Along those lines, there are foods I would not touch with a ten foot pole when I was a child, and now I eat them with relish.
And no, I don't mean that pickled crap people put on sausages and hot dogs.
I still won't touch that stuff.

My most recent experiment in palate expansion involved cauliflower.
Even tho I just ate it, my knee-jerk reaction is still, ''blech!"
I can't help it.
It probably didn't help that in college I did a play in which there had to be a brain in formaldehyde on a doctor's desk, and to create the "brain" the prop master (hi Krainin!) used a head of cauliflower in a large jar of water colored with a yellow highlighter, and MAN did that thing start to stink after a couple days. The Green Room had that funk for weeks.

A lot of people equate broccoli with cauliflower, and I just have to say, they are wrong. That is like saying carrots and parsnips taste the same. They don't! (But they are both delicious.)
As a child I always ate broccoli, whether raw in a crudité platter, steamed or grilled, roasted, whatever. My mother still won't touch the stuff, but I love it. However, you could not get me to eat cauliflower. It was bland, it was icky, it was white!! Everyone knows that nothing healthy is ever white! So why make me eat it? 
(No one actually did force me to eat it, since no one in my family ate the stuff. I'm just making a point.)

So WHY I got it in my head to try eating cauliflower again is beyond me, but I decided to give it a go. And you know what? With the right preparation, it's not bad. It's not my favorite, but I can make it perfectly edible.
I prepared it two really really basic ways, and sneakily fed it to the hubs to see if he'd eat it, without telling him what I was doing. (So trusting!) He seemed to find it perfectly tasty.

Image borrowed from cuz I didn't take a pic of mine...
Method One - standard roasting in the oven.
I cut up some of the florets (damn does that stuff grow tightly packed!) and drizzled them with olive oil and salt, threw them in a 400º oven for 20 minutes. They came out browned and crispy, and perfectly tasty. I popped a piece in Mike's mouth, sort of without him seeing what I was giving him, and his response? "Tastes like broccoli."
Not exactly what I thought, but good enough, considering that that style of preparation is the only way I get the hubs to eat broccoli. And he actually likes it that way. Not just "will eat" it.
My own thoughts? Nice light char taste, the salt helps, and the only thing that gets me is the texture. Cauliflower just has such a weird texture. That right there may have been 50% of why I never liked it before.

Method Two - mash that sucker up with a bunch of potatoes and cheese. Oh yes.

I sliced up two yukon gold potatoes, put them in cold water and brought it up to a boil until fork-tender. For the cauliflower, I did not like the idea of boiling. The only vegetable I will actually boil IS a potato that is being prepped for mashing. So, I steamed the cauliflower for 15 minutes on the stovetop, until tender.

Giant bowl of steaming-hot white vegetables.
To this I added about 1/4 cup of fresh ricotta cheese, some salt, and later a decent handful of grated pecorino romano cheese. (Instead I might have used some garlic salt, but I only thought of that after I'd added the cheese, and that would have been too much salt. Maybe next time. But it needed something with flavor to it. Like a small head of mashed roasted garlic!)

Mashed all together it looked like this. 
Had I been worried about presentation, I would have snipped some fresh chives on top for both color and flavor.
Clearly, I was lazy.
Looks aside, it tasted pretty good. Creamy and cheesy and potato-y, tho I could still sense the texture of the cauliflower. I was just too lazy to haul out (and then clean) the food processor, which would have eliminated the texture of the cauliflower.

Note: good way to hide your vegetables from finicky kids - mashed potato purées like this one. Of course, it only works with other white foods like cauliflower, turnips, parsnips, and celery root. 
But the best ways to fool a finicky kid into eating veggies is to add them to mashed potatoes, cover them in cheese (neither of which is terribly healthy...) or purée them into tomato sauce over pasta.

If I wasn't trying to serve this to the hubs as well, I might have used sour cream to create a similarly tasty and creamy side dish with a slightly different flair, but sour cream is on the list of Things Mike Won't Eat, so I'll have to store up that idea for some time I have chosen to make this for just myself.
Which I so don't see happening... too much food for little ol' me.
But maybe one of you will want to try it that way.

Ah, the ubiquitous photo of sautéing shallot.
To go along with our cauliflower experiments, I made a super simple chicken cutlet. 
(Totally didn't realize I was defrosting cutlets instead of breasts when I took them out of the freezer yesterday... whoops.) 
(I don't even know why I bought cutlets in the first place... must have been on sale.)

Super fast pan gravy using the browned shallots and garlic, a little flour whisked in, salt, and a splash of white wine & lemon. If you care enough, crush some dried thyme in there as well. Crank on high until it comes together.
(Sounds remarkably close to Picatta, doesn't it? I didn't realize I'd essentially been making a version of Chicken Picatta as my go-to pan sauce all these years...)

Dinner done.
And I totally ate all the (not pictured) roasted cauliflower as a snack while cooking the rest of dinner.
The reason for the slap-dash chicken is that I cooked this the same day that I made another successful batch of the Julia Child version of French Onion Soup. So I was exhausted from cooking that for 2+ hrs, and then experimenting with cauliflower. The chicken was a total cop-out protein.
But it was still tasty :)

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