I can't tell you how much I appreciate these cool, greyish mornings here in Southern California during this time of year when the warmish-hot, dry weather is desperately trying to take over and cement its place.
The older I get, the less of a fan of the high-pressure, dry and hot climate I become; and so I very much enjoy being a spectator to the sparing match between the two opposing weather “forces”, and seeing the briskness still have a bit of an upper hand for the time being.
You see, I tend to like a lingering coolness in the air, and a slightly overcast “fuzzy blanket” that keeps me feeling like I'm tucked in, in my very own private fort made of puffy pillows and large comforters, rather than being tormented and baked in a proverbial oven.
And even when the “fuzzy blanket” that is the morning cloud cover does begin to dissipate and part slightly as the afternoon approaches, there's still a softness to the sun's strength, a filtered haziness created by that cooler, thicker air that keeps the light diffused and not as blinding—keeps it perfect for a dreamy day, a day that somehow suspends the stress of life's requirements just above my head and out of my reach.
And I love that.
My soul is caressed by the fragrance and the feeling of the green grass-scented breeze that blows through my slightly open window as I write; and I am cheered to be able to admire the busy and buzzing little bees as they work so diligently on those sweetly perfumed orange blossoms, just a pebble's throw from my window, on this perfectly comfortable spring day.
Today is a cauliflower mac n cheese kind of day. It's a day that is open for a little richness, a little softness, and a bit of chewiness from a tender, twisty noodle. It's a day when the sharpness of a creamy cheese sauce is truly appreciated, when the toothsome bite of a bit of cauliflower, and the salty and smokey crisp from a morsel of bacon, is deeply longed for.
It's a day when I search my heart for what it's truly craving, search it for what I can provide it with in order to deepen, if ever-so slightly, the crimson color of the love that it contains. For me, finding that scrumptious bit of joy in a day as a whole—from it's weather, to it's light, to it's quietness, to it's food—is something that I love to relish and get lost in, because it's in those simple and not-so-obvious things that I find the genuine richness and peace of life.
And now, as I look up, I find that the “fuzzy blanket” has returned to cover all that is below it, as the shy sun plays its little game of peek-a-boo.
Even the flowers and the little creatures seem content today to be swayed and moved to and fro by the spring breeze, pushed along from tree to tree, flower to flower, and blade of grass to blade of grass. And I find myself feeling relaxed in my own skin, content to just be, and watch all that is happening before my eyes, drinking it all in.
After all, what can one do but simply sink into it all and relent when it's a cauliflower mac n cheese kind of day?
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Cauliflower Mac n Cheese
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves about 6
• Two-Cheddar Cheese Sauce (recipe below)
• 12 ounces corkscrew pasta, uncooked
• 12 ounce bag cauliflower florets, chopped into small pieces
• 12 ounces apple-smoked bacon, cooked and chopped
• 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• ¼ teaspoon black pepper
• 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
• 1 cup sharp yellow cheddar, grated
• 1 cups sharp white cheddar, grated
• 2 tablespoons chopped green onion, for garnish
• Love, sprinkled generously
-Preheat the oven to 400°, and lightly butter a large baking dish.
-Prepare the Two-Cheddar Cheese Sauce, and keep warm.
-Cook the pasta according to package instruction, drain, and keep warm.
-Blanch the cauliflower pieces by adding them to simmering water for about 3-4 minutes, or until crisp-tender; drain, and pat dry; set aside.
-Prepare your breadcrumb topping by mixing together the panko, the paprika, the black pepper and the melted butter; set aside.
-To combine the ingredients, add the warm, cooked pasta directly to the warm, Two-Cheddar Cheese sauce; also add in the cauliflower pieces, about ¾ of the chopped bacon, and the 1 cup of yellow and 1 cup of white sharp cheddars; mix the ingredients together with a large spoon until everything is well coated in the sauce; turn out into the buttered baking dish.
-Top the mac n' cheese with the seasoned panko mixture, and place into the oven, uncovered, to bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and crisp (you can also broil the topping for a moment or two, if not golden enough from baking).
-Finish by garnishing with the remainder of the chopped bacon, and the chopped green onion; serve hot.
Two-Cheddar Cheese Sauce Ingredients:
• 5 cups whole milk
• 1½ tablespoons natural chicken base (I use “Better Than Bouillon” reduced sodium chicken base)
• 1 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
• 2 ½ ounces unsalted butter (or 5 tablespoons)
• 2 ½ ounces flour (or about 8 ½ tablespoons)
• ½ teaspoon granulated onion
• ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
• ¼ teaspoon black pepper
• Pinch cayenne pepper
• Pinch nutmeg
• 2 ½ cups sharp yellow cheddar, grated
• 2 ½ cups sharp white cheddar, grated
• 1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
• Pinch salt
-Place the milk into a small pot along with the chicken base and pressed garlic clove, whisk, and bring to a gentle simmer.
-While the milk comes to a simmer, place another medium-size pot over medium-low heat, and add in the butter; once the butter is melted, sprinkle in the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon to combine and to cook out the raw flavor of the flour, about 1-2 minutes; this is your “roux”.
-Next, slowly pour the hot milk into butter/flour “roux”, whisking the whole time to avoid lumps from forming; allow the sauce to simmer very gently for 2-3 minutes, to allow it to “tighten up” a bit; turn off the heat, and add in the grated cheeses, and whisk to blend the cheeses in completely until they melt; add in the lemon juice, and check the seasoning and add a pinch of salt, if needed.
-Keep warm if making immediately, or allow to cool and keep in a container in the fridge until ready to use, at which point you can gently re-heat it.