What, you’ve never had cauliflower cheese before? Why, it’s right up there on the American Heart Association’s recommended diet, above the kale and below the oat bran. Okay, well, maybe just the cauliflower is. I realize this dish may sound strange if you’ve never heard of it. The first time I saw it on a menu in the UK last fall, I thought a word was missing, perhaps “with” or “and.” I mean, you cannot make cheese out of cauliflower or vice-versa, or at least I hope not.* And then I tried it, bubbling and brown in a small ramekin aside my roast** at a tiny Inn in the middle of nowhere that looks like something you’d see in a Bridget Jones Diary (basically where I learned everything I knew about the UK before I got there, well, that and Morrissey songs) and I stopped talking. I stopped thinking. My heart may or may not have stopped beating for a moment, though I’m sure it was love, not fibrillations. How could it be anything but, when cauliflower florets are draped with a sharp cheddar cheese sauce spiked with mustard and a bit of cayenne and then baked in the oven until bronzed and, wait, what were we talking about again?
Given my druthers, a word I’ve been looking for an excuse to type in a sentence for at least eight years, I would never choose a salad with lettuce in it over one that’s mostly shaved or shredded raw vegetables. I mean, lettuce — the dewy, freshly-plucked-from-the-earth stuff that spends a couple months a year gracing local farmer’s markets — can be absolutely delicious, but nine times out of ten, the same word is used to refer to that packaged stuff that doesn’t taste like a whole lot. And can we talk for just a second about that prematurely rotten red leaf that no bag of mesclun is ever without? Clearly I have spent an unnatural amount of time thinking about this. But in a world filled with avocado cup salads, broccoli slaw, butternut squash, carrot salads with harissa, feta and mint or tahini and crisped chickpeas, chopped salads with lime, sunflower seeds and radishes, crushed peas with sesame dressing and fennel with blood oranges* I’ve found little reason to worship solely at the salad altar of baby field greens.
I hope you don’t mind me going briefly off-topic here. I know that the holiday week demands exclusive chatter about giblets and squash and all the things we can pour butter and cream into, but I had the best revelation this week and even though it’s about as revolutionary of a concept as, brr, it’s cold outside in November, I’m going to tell you about it anyway because that’s what I do here.
As you may have noticed, as the week’s progressed, things have gotten simpler. We started with great ambitions — we will make a green bean casserole from scratch! We will trim the beans! make a roux! sauté the mushrooms! coat and deep-fry the onions! We moved onto my favorite stuffing made from torn baguettes, diced apples and onions and celery, three herbs, sometimes cornbread, sometimes sausage; it’s a two-pan ordeal. We slipped quietly into the simple weeknight savior, cauliflower and brown butter breadcrumbs. At the rate we’re going, I’ll have a boiled water recipe on the site by Monday. But somewhere between five-ingredient breadcrumbs and recipes that don’t need to be spelled out, there’s this, a potato recipe with only salt, butter and parsley.
This site is 7 years, 4 months and 5 days old, which is exactly how long I’ve been meaning to tell you about one of my favorite ways to make cauliflower. You think I would have gotten around to it already, as it’s the very cauliflower dish I ever knew, but instead I’ve been distracting us with quiches* and soups, and pasta and fritters. It’s a shame, as this is so much easier to make.
I have several stuffing-related confessions to unload today:
My first stuffing love was found at a friend’s house, when her mother served us an apple stuffing from a Pepperidge Farm mix that is no longer made, I presume because it’s not 1989. My god, did I nag my mother (who wasn’t terribly keen on packaged foods, meanie) to make it too. Sometimes she’d cave, though never often enough, but it didn’t stop me from growing up thinking that the dreamiest stuffing includes tart apples, celery, lightly caramelized onions and herbs, a dream I was repeatedly denied as a child and yes, I’m requesting a very tiny violin.
One of the best food books I read last year but rudely never got around to telling you about (in my defense, this time last year was a little nuts) was a 135-page, photo-free and straightforward guide called Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well by the New York Times former restaurant critic and sometimes newsroom editor Sam Sifton. And although I realize there is barely a page on the internet or of printed matter near you right now not currently angling to be the one that gets to walk you through the biggest home cooking holiday of the year next week, I like this one more. Maybe it’s because one of the earliest lines in the book is “You can go your whole life and then wake up one morning and look in the refrigerator at this animal carcass the size of a toddler and think: I have to cook that today. There is no need to worry. Thanksgiving does not have to be a drag,” and continues in that empathetic but not remotely patronizing tone for the remainder of the book, cheering you on through turkey purchases and homemade stock, classic sides and newer ones worthy of consideration, game plans and even tidbits on seating, such as whether it’s okay to separately seat the Republican, Marxist and Free Spirit factions of your extended family (in short: yes, absolutely yes).