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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Year End Gluttony

The holidays are good for no one I've ever met, and I'm certainly no exception.  What's the deal with all the candy and cookies  I don't even like cookies that much, yet during the holidays there's hardly a cookie that doesn't look appealing.  Even the broken ones that I would usually chuck into the trash because they're defective.

The end of the year represents two things for me: too much eating and too much time spent in stores.  Buying things.  And not just for other people.  Unfortunately,  I"m sort of a one for you, one for me holiday shopper. I don't think I'm all that unique.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that there are a lot of you out there in cyber-land who fit this description.  I'm just admitting it.  On the internet.

But here we are.  The dawn of a new year.  A chance to start anew.  An opportunity to throw all the broken cookies into the trash and not retrieve them.  A chance to use all the stuff I brought for myself when buying for others.  Yup.  It's my annual opportunity to be a better person.

I'm starting small.  This recipe looks a lot more fattening and decadent than it is because there's a secret ingredient.  Instead of a really heavy béchamel based cheese sauce, this mac and cheese is light on the cheese and heavy on the... cauliflower.

Yup.  Cauliflower.  Pretty revolutionary, if cauliflower can be considered revolutionary.

But more than all that, this mac and cheese is really quite tasty.  At least we all thought it was good.  And it was light, which is really welcome after all the gluttony of the holidays.  All in all, a win.

Don't you just feel the good health and virtue oozing off the page?

I thought so.

Recipe:  Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Cheese
(Adapted from Fine Cooking: Cook Fresh, Winter, 2014)


4 cups 1-1/2-inch cauliflower florets (about 1 lb.; from 1/2 head)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Fine sea salt or table salt
12 oz. whole wheat dried penne
2 cups 1% milk
1 tsp. dry mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 oz. coarsely grated sharp white Cheddar (about 1/2 cup)
1-1/2 oz. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1-1/2 cups using a rasp grater)


Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.

Put the cauliflower, onion, and garlic in a steamer basket set over 1 inch of boiling water in a 6- to 8-quart pot. Cover and steam until the cauliflower is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the cauliflower, onion, and garlic to a blender.

Fill the pot three-quarters full of salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for 3 minutes less than the package timing. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.

While the pasta cooks, add 1 cup of the milk, the dry mustard, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper to the vegetables in the blender and purée until smooth. Transfer to a 3-quart saucepan and stir in the remaining 1 cup of milk and the thyme. Heat over medium-low heat until hot but not boiling, about 3 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the Cheddar and Parmigiano. Add all but 1/2 cup of the cheese to the sauce and stir until the cheese is melted. Add the sauce to the pasta and stir to combine. Transfer the pasta and sauce to an 8-inch square baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake until heated through and the cheese is beginning to brown, 20 to 30 minutes.

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