Thursday, February 18, 2010

Time, it is a-sailing!

So much seems to have happened these past few weeks. Not only did I turn 31 and am now knee deep in my thirties, but our house is officially green trim free, tile has been laid, I've read a book (well, almost), been on a carriage ride in beautiful Niagara on the Lake, have been out to dinner with friends, have cooked with other friends and enjoyed dinner at anothers home. Of coarse this is only a very quick skim of the things that have "kept" me from my studies. My camera has enjoyed a little rest on the shelf, and so some of the things I have thrown together lately have not been eternally documented. Something that stood out in my mind was a pesto pizza I made, for which I used the sponge dough method - it simply is the best. Pesto is a wonderfully easy, but amazingly luscious thing to make. As soon as the dough is rolled out and ready for the oven, spread a generous amount of Basil Pesto on it and top with a mixture of finely grated Italian cheeses. I used a trio of fresh Parmesan, Asiago and Mozzarella. They complement each other quite well, and since the first two of the three are strong in flavour, not much is needed to adequately cover the pizza.

I feel the need to confess that I purchased a very large box of Chicken Fingers during one of my grocery runs. Having said this, I loving wrapped these in whole wheat tortillas, along side tomato, lettuce and steamed asparagus and added a drizzle of homemade thousand island dressing. To which my husband said with a surprised tone to his voice, "you know, these are actually pretty good"! And they were. I do love chicken fingers.

I decided to dust my camera off today even though dinner was in the comforting category - not overly beautiful in presentation, but it was a soul warming hug I needed on this snowy February day. I've been pretty good at dealing with winter this year, I've hardly caught myself complaining about it at all! But nearing the end of this month, I think we have all had enough as our bodies long for a warmth only the sun can provide.
Not only do I enjoy roasted cauliflower, I love (homemade !) macaroni and cheese, although I hardly ever use elbow pasta, but much prefer a rotini or penne. If you are up for a little stirring and a whole lot of creaminess infused with tender cauliflower, this might be something for you, too. It's a recipe in the works, which means it can be tweaked to your own liking. What I have here for you is the way I love it - it's creamy, a lightly gooey, but still holding it's texture through the al dente pasta. It has a little zip too - add as much or as little Tabasco as you like. I used marble cheese today, but any smooth melting cheese would work. Cheddar is a given, but a cheese like Gruyere would really stand out.

Moni's Super Creamy "Macaroni" and Cheese
Serves 6 - 8

3 cups pasta Use any shape you like, and go up to 4 cups if you prefer a little less creaminess
1/3 cup each butter and flour
3 cups whole milk
1 bouillon cube (big grocery stores carry organic brands, and are filled with real ingredients, however, salt and pepper can be used instead of a cube)
half a head of cauliflower, roughly chopped - about 3 - 4 cups
2 cups finely shredded cheese
1/2 tsp dry mustard
dash or two of Tabasco
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (zip a slice or two of bread in the blender into fine crumbs)
1/2 - 1 tsp paprika

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Place in a casserole dish, and stir in the shredded cheese. Set aside.
Meanwhile, make a roux with the butter and flour: melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the flour. Cook, stirring with a whisk, for a minute or two. Add the bouillon cube or salt and pepper and all the milk to the roux. Whisk quickly to dissolve it. Add the cauliflower, and cook over medium or medium-high heat until cauliflower is cooked soft and the sauce has thickened. (Cooking it right in the milk infuses all the flavour and the nutrients from the vegetable into your sauce, rather than losing it in cooking water.) Depending on the size of your florets, this will take between 10 and 20 minutes.
Take the sauce off the heat. Add dry mustard and Tabasco.
Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the sauce until perfectly smooth. Or you may decide you would like a more chunky version - then no blending is needed!
Add this to the noodles in the casserole dish. Stir to combine. (It seems like a ton of sauce, but after baking it's just right!) Top with bread crumbs and paprika.
Bake, uncovered, in a 350 F oven for 30 minutes.
Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

I made a quick honey mustard vinaigrette, which I think works amazing well with a heavy cheese dish, for my baby greens salad.

Mustard Vinaigrette
60 ml olive oil
20 ml cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 - 2 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

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