Macaroni vs. Guilt: Macaroni wins

It's been over a month since my last post, and in spite of feeling more than a bit neglectful of my little corner of the interwebs, I've been making good use of my time away.

Firstly, we are still here with family, tending to all the details that families must work through when a loved one passes away.  We'll be returning home within the week, which will bring our stay to almost exactly a month.  We promised ourselves and the family that we would stay as long as we were needed and that time is about wrapped up, with a few extra days thrown in for some R and R.

What cooking I have done during this time has been simple, comforting foods from our "favorites" file, supplemented by a little takeout here and some dinners out there.  I haven't pushed myself to do any recipe testing or photography, but have instead, when not otherwise occupied, taken on the monumental task of recipe organization, which sounds fairly straightforward, but happens to be a ridiculously huge undertaking, with thousands of recipes scattered between Evernote, Microsoft Word and hardcopy files in my office.  My New Years resolution is to get ALL of them into ONE place.  I'll tell you more about that in a bit.

As I mentioned, I've mostly been cooking favorite, comforting dishes, not only because this has been a hard, sad time in our family, but the grief and sadness engendered by national and world news these days also cries out for some serious consolation.  We have found that in our long walks together every morning, in the inspirational marches occurring all over the world, and yes, sometimes in familiar, comforting meals.

And when I talk about comfort food, you can just go ahead and assume there will be pasta involved.  It might be an Asian noodle bowl, it could maybe be a simple pasta with cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), but the mac daddy of them all (in my personal comfort food bubble) will always be mac n cheese.  Which I never make.  Ever.  Except for the grandkids; yes I will make it for them, but never ever for me.  Ever.  I'm afraid that the guilt of all of those carbs and fat have overtaken my pleasure center so that more than 2 bites of the stuff will send me careening over the ledge of regret and self loathing.

But now I'm excited about it.  I mean really excited.  Last night I made it for us and I had seconds and I was happy.  No, I was beyond happy.  I was ecstatic.  Mac n cheese is back in my life, baby. And we have cauliflower to thank for it.

If you were to ask me what my favorite veggie is, the answer always has been and always will be cauliflower.  In any of its forms and incarnations.  So it really is only fitting that it should be cauliflower to come to my rescue and return my beloved mac n cheese to me.

I know, this isn't anything you haven't heard about already, and actually, it's so 2015.  But as in most food trends, I probably won't be hopping on the trendy bus until everyone's already off and boarded the next one.

So now that you're all already making couscous and cream sauces out of cauliflower and have been for like 2 years, I'm going to be over here hopping up and down in my little corner, saying "oh cool! Yay!  This really IS awesome!"  Good grief.

If you're still with me, I'll tell you how this all came down....  As I mentioned previously, I had no plans to test recipes while I was here.  I didn't bring my camera, so these photos were taken with my phone (except the cauliflower photo up there that I took at home with my real camera).  I didn't have any idea this was going to be as good as it turned out, so I took no process photos.  But it was so good I just had to share.

We're coming to the last few days here and at this point my focus always turns to using up every last bit of food in the fridge before we leave.  And there in the fridge sat this beautiful little head of cauliflower that I brought home from the farmer's market the previous week.  I spied a knob of cheddar and several containers of milk and I knew I had some macaroni in the cupboard, so it seemed a perfect time to give this a try.  


Long story short, said cauliflower was broken into little florets and steamed until quite soft, cheese was grated, macaroni was cooked, milk was heated.  Cauliflower was drained and placed in a large bowl and pureed using an immersion blender, adding a little of the cauliflower cooking liquid and some nonfat milk until a silky, smooth sauce was achieved.  Cheese was added, macaroni and seasonings stirred in, and then the whole shebang was turned into a baking dish, sprinkled with parmesan and baked until brown and bubbly.

It was glorious.  We ate it along with some beautiful chicken they grill at the farmer's market here and can I just tell you that my culinary life may never be the same?  OK, my new favorite mac n cheese still has some carbs, but I made enough for a 2-quart casserole dish using only 6 oz of macaroni.  That's not too bad, right?  Whole milk (and cream) were replaced with nonfat milk and cheese was still there in all of it's cheddar glory.  But I'm very likely to try this next time with Gouda or fontina.  Smoked Gouda would be oh so lovely.  

This recipe has now taken its rightful place in the "favorites" file, which brings me back to my earlier topic in regards to recipe organization.  It's going fabulously well thanks to the Paprika app. Yes, I know, you guys have been using it for a long time now, but I'm so in love with it, and I hate sitting here on the 2015 trendy bus all by myself.  So just in case you missed out and are in need of a little culinary organization in your life, you might want to check it out.  So glad I did.  And if you haven't yet used your cauliflower for mac n cheese, here's the recipe...

Cauliflower Mac n Cheese

Click here for a printable recipe

Serves 4 as a side dish; 2 or 3 as a main course

6 oz large elbow macaroni
1 smallish head of cauliflower, cut into smallish flowerets
2/3 cups of milk (I used nonfat)
2-3 cups of grated cheddar cheese
2 T butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper (more or less according to taste)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook the macaroni for a couple minutes less than the package instructions. Drain.

Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil and then add the cauliflower florets.  Bring the water back to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and let the cauliflower cook for about 7-8 minutes or until fork tender.  Alternately, you can steam the cauliflower.

Strain the cauliflower and place in a blender along with the milk or you can use an immersion blender for this.

Blend until the cauliflower is really smooth and silky, adding a little more milk as needed to make a smooth, creamy sauce.  You can also use some of the cauliflower cooking water in place of the milk.

In a medium-large saucepan, melt the butter and then add the cauliflower puree.  Stir in the grated cheddar until well blended and then stir in the macaroni.  Taste for salt and pepper, adjusting the seasoning as needed.

Grease a 2 quart baking dish and then spoon the macaroni into the pan.  Sprinkle the top with the grated parmesan cheese.

Place the pan under the broiler until the top is golden brown and bubbly.  Serve while still warm from the oven.