Friday, January 20, 2012

CAULIFLOWER AND POTATO GRATIN

THE MAN COOKS… AGAIN AND AGAIN!


My men are a unique bunch: they are handsome, wickedly funny, bright as all get-out, über talented and creative. But if they are anything at all, they are discreet. Not so much shy as shunning the limelight; they loathe being talked about, are uncomfortable being shown off; they are wary of my verbosity in front of my blog and social media accounts, mistrustful of how much I talk about them to my friends; they don’t appreciate being mentioned nor do they want their photos splashed across Life’s a Feast or my Facebook page; they simply do not want their private lives bared to the world. I am woman and they are man and rarely the twain shall meet, yet as I try and understand their vagaries and respect their wishes, I sometimes, well, let’s admit it, I slip up. Ooops! But how does one such as I write something as personal as a blog or even write at all without talking about the three most basic elements, the most important components of my life?




As winter rages outside…. Okay, I will admit that rages is a bit farfetched, for the temperature bounces up a few notches, then down a few, neither settling on frosty nor on balmy, less raging than hovering around some wishy-washy in between and the snow still eludes my every request – okay, let’s start again... As winter settles in gray and desolate, teasing me with much-yearned-for glacial weather and the promise of snow in her steely glance and misty afternoons, my husband and I spend most of our time huddled together in the apartment. So face to face, with him part of my every waking moment, I find it close to impossible not to talk about him. Especially when he is doing all of the cooking.

As you may know, we are Starting Over. After the long, arduous conversations, the hashing and rehashing, tossing ideas, thoughts, fears and dreams back and forth like two kids playing ball in the street on a dull summer afternoon, we came to the decision – and not for the first time in our many years together – that husband should leave his job (for a quantity of reasons) and it was time for us to recreate ourselves yet once again. Adventure awaits, the world opens before us in a multitude of possibilities. The lure of pleasure and the fulfillment of dreams enchants as a Siren’s song, seduces us with their dangerous, mesmerizing beauty. Galvanized by our various projects and simply delighted at having the time we aren’t each sitting in front of our separate computers to be together, we seem to be possessed by some reckless, crazy Utopia of an ideal world where we can get by doing just what we love doing and maybe, just maybe, have a positive effect on someone, somewhere. We may be deluding ourselves, it is true, but when have hard work and passion not come together to create something perfect? Or something close to it?


But back to the food. My husband has always loved to cook from his earliest years, and now that he is home he has been more than happy to take over the kitchen at mealtimes. Raised on hearty, wholesome, traditional French family cooking kicked up with his two years living in Morocco and enriched with the food he experienced during his travels across Europe, he has built up an incredibly rich repertoire of favorites. He saunters through the market choosing his purchases carefully, studiously, selecting only local, seasonal fruits and vegetables, planning dishes compatible with the weather and our mood. Poached whole sea bass or choucroute laden either with Alsatian sausages or seafood, a spicy couscous or exotic tagine, mussels marinière served with sizzling frites or an herbed côte de boeuf, lasagnas meaty and traditional or layered with smoked salmon, his talents are endless, his taste impeccable! Onions chopped, herbs ripped, meat sautéed, potatoes puréed, he has kept me happily fed for 25 years and he still never ceases to amaze me. Granted, his menu choices often defy my diet, but diet is a word that just isn’t in his vocabulary and any mention of that dreaded concept can work him into a fury. Raised on pot au feu, guinea fowl wrapped in tender green cabbage, creamy, cheesy potato gratin dauphinois and blanquette à l’ancienne, food is meant to comfort and soothe, fill one up and carry one through the rest of the working day. Salad is to end the meal not replace it, fruit accompanies a platter of cheese and a loaf of bread and wine is served at every meal. Yes, many a meal nowadays chez nous is made up of a large mixed salad or a healthy, light bowl of vegetable soup, but when one desires to cook a meal, well, one cooks.


So I pull up my chair to the table, tuck a napkin under my chin and dig in. The first mouthful a revelation, the second, a confirmation, the third and each after pure pleasure. I close my eyes and savor yet another marvelous dish and wonder that he can take the most humble of ingredients, toss in a handful of seemingly random this or that, sautée, simmer or bake and create such flavorful, inspiring, delectable dishes. And today’s is simple indeed: Cauliflower and Potato Gratin. This is the man who refuses to allow a cauliflower or a broccoli to cross the threshold into our home, bans each from the kitchen, forbids the cooking in any way, shape or form of such two who leave an acrid, pungent odor behind, trailing a whip of cabbage stench from livingroom to bedroom. Yet he loves the humble, elegant cauliflower, so excuses are made, reasons found for the occasional foray into cauliflower love. When he is feeling admirable, exemplary in his sense of responsibility, he will steam the flowerets and serve them in a chaud-froid style simply tossed still warm from the pot with a tart vinaigrette studded with finely minced shallots, lovely pale purple dots against the pristine white of the cauliflower, the vinaigrette giving a sparkling, clean bite to the mild vegetable. But when he is feeling decadent or when the weather is chilling us to the bone, he opts for something richer, creamier, more filling, a dish that leaves us content and replenished, protected against the harsh elements and the mad, mad world outside.


So, at the risk of making him upset or having him ask me once again to never speak of him on my blog, of being reprimanded for opening up our intimate details for all the world to ogle and dissect, I will say that I am married to an incredible cook, an incredible man. He began cooking when merely a boy in his maman’s kitchen while she worked, taking over entire meals while others of his age were going through their adolescent woes and rebellions. His passion for food has never stopped growing and lucky am I to have him cooking for me! Ah, but we were talking about a Cauliflower and Potato Gratin, weren’t we? Simply steamed potatoes and cauliflower, tossed in a luscious, thick, creamy béchamel and topped with both Parmesan and nutty Gruyère or Comté cheeses then popped in a hot oven to bubble and brown… nothing, dear reader, says Winter Comfort Food better than this.


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CAULIFLOWER AND POTATO GRATIN
Jamie & JP team up in the kitchen


1 head cauliflower, trimmed and broken into large flowerets *
Several potatoes that stay firm while boiling **

About 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
About 2 or 3 cups grated Gruyère or Comté cheese

* Flowerets broken into small, bite-sized pieces will fall apart or crumble when being blanched or steamed. Pre-cook them in larger pieces and cut into smaller bites before tossing in the béchamel.

** How many potatoes, you ask? I did not see how many JP peeled and cooked, but maybe about half to ¾ the quantity of cauliflower you use. Combined, the vegetables blended with the béchamel should fill a 13 x 9-inch baking dish or slightly bigger. Read this post about JP cooking au pif

Béchamel
4 Tbs (60 g) butter
4 Tbs flour
3 cups (700 ml) whole milk
1 small to medium onion trimmed and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp fresh leaves
Large pinch nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the vegetables by simply cleaning and trimming the cauliflower and cutting into large sections and steaming or simmering in salted water until tender but not too soft or mushy; they will continue to cook in the oven, and peeling the potatoes and simmering in salted water until tender but not too soft. Drain.

Once well drained, cut into smaller pieces and toss together.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Butter a large baking dish.

Prepare the Béchamel:

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until bubbly. Add the chopped onion and toss to coat. Lower the heat slightly and cook, stirring, for about 3 or 4 minutes until the onion is soft and transparent and just beginning to turn golden on the edges.

Add the flour all at once and stir or whisk until the flour is well blended into the butter. Cook, stirring, for a minute 2 to 3 minutes. Then begin adding the milk, a little at a time, whisking to blend and allow each addition to thicken. As it thickens, add more milk and repeat until all the milk has been added and the sauce is beginning to thicken. Add the herbs, salt and pepper generously and allow to simmer very gently, stirring continuously, for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Remove the bay leaf.

Pour the hot béchamel over the prepared cauliflower and potatoes and gently toss until the sauce is evenly distributed. Pour into the gratin or baking dish and spread out evenly. Sprinkle the Parmesan and then the Gruyère/Comté evenly over the top of the vegetables all the way to the edge of the dish.

Bake in the hot oven for about 20 minutes or until bubbly and the cheese is a deep golden and browning as you like.


Serve as a side dish with roasted meat or chicken or with cold cuts or sausages or as a main course for lunch simply with a large mixed salad. And a glass of wine.

29 comments:

Gail said...

This is going in my recipe file, Jamie. LOVE the story and love the recipe!! xoxo

Cookin' Canuck said...

It sounds as though you and your husband have plenty of adventure waiting around the corner for you. I'm looking forward to reading about it. In the meantime, I will be more than satisfied to make this lovely, comforting gratin.

Maureen said...

I envy your adventure and if you head down under, could I borrow him for a dinner or two? My darling husband is a fantastic programmer but as a cook he'd order out rather than do it. Thankfully I love cooking or we'd both starve.

This cauliflower and potato gratin speaks to me with big words... cook me! It looks delicious.

Jamie said...

@Maureen: Your comment made me laugh out loud! Thanks! And this is one yummy gratin!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

That gratin looks succulent! A great winter dish. So warming and comforting.

I wish my BF would cook... Anyway, I must say that even if he doesn't cook for me, he is always ready to help me with the cleaning. You can't have everything, can you!

Cheers,

Rosa

tasteofbeirut said...

My mouth is watering! Why did I never think of combining the two for a gratin? This is so comforting and delicious, hurray for husbands who cook!

Jamie said...

@Rosa's Yummy Yums: JP and I have a deal, one cooks the other washes which is great except I clean as I cook so there is little for him to do while when he cooks...disaster awaits me. Lucky for him he is such a great cook!

Priya said...

Mouthwatering here, wat a terrific and super tempting gratin..

Deeba PAB said...

I LURVE this. There is something comforting {and delicious} about the way you write, and this dish! Gratin cannot get better than this my lovely! Woohoo!!

Maia said...

This sounds fantastic. Love how the addition of cauliflower will assuage my guilt over the copious amounts of wonderful dairy!

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

I am now seriously regretting I did not pick up cauliflower last night but maybe it's just as well. A dish like this made without someone coming for dinner means I run the risk of having to say "I ate the whole thing."

It would be all your fault but on my hips. :)

Barbara said...

I am envious of women who have a husband that cooks. Mine doesn't. But I did teach him to make cauliflower gratin this week. Fortunately it's isn;t difficult to make bechamel sauce with a Thermomix.

Nisrine M. said...

I'm so into cauliflower lately and the sight of this gratin is making me daydream of eating it. Délicieux!

Maria said...

Love this comforting dish!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

I'm envious that your husband cooks! Seems we have a similar love of eating cauliflower just simply steamed and tossed with a vinaigrette.

katiez said...

Cauliflower Cheese with potatoes.... and lots more cheese. I love it - and love it that your hubs did it. Mine only does summer cooking LOL

Suzi said...

I certainly wish my husband could make a dish as scrumptious as this. It looks wonderfully tasty. Great job. Lucky you.

Lisa said...

Why is it French men enjoy cooking so much more than American men? They get so into it, and do it with such flair. I think all French Mom's school their sons in the kitchen from a very early age, or the food they cook them is so extraordinary, the sons want to create it as adults!

Also, I'm similar to your sons and JP when it comes to sharing myself and social media..I shy away from it. People in my real life are shocked that I now tweet. LOL

In any event - what a dish by JP. I can't wait to try it...all that bechamel and cheese mmmm. What a lovely way to reconnect with him..you're the baker, he's the cook, the kitchen is now the shared sanctuary of love :)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a team you make Jamie and JP! Him cooking this dish and you describing it in such drool worthy detail :)

Maris (In Good taste) said...

Ok, cauliflower now on today's shopping list. I think you guys have worked out a very fair arrangement!

Jenny @ Ichigo Shortcake said...

I adore cauliflower...I've had this dish at a restaurant once and fell in love with it, so glad you shared your recipe :D

My boyfriend loves to cook and is fantastic at it too which I'm so thankful for. He's way better a cook than me!

Cake Duchess said...

Luckily my kids love cauliflower and this is something I need to make this month. Delizioso! It is lovely to have a hubby that knows his way around the kitchen. :P

Jamie said...

@Cake Duchess: and you should know! :-)

@Lisa: I don't think Frenchman in general cook. Not more than American men. I just found the one who does :-)

Ivy said...

I see a lot of similarities with my family Jamie as well. I rarely talk about them and have only once posted a picture of my daughter and if she ever finds out she will kill me:)
I love cauliflower as well as broccoli but my children hate it so I avoid cooking it. I once made broccoli au gratin and most of it was eaten by me and the remaining went in the garbage bin. I am very lucky that my husband also cooks when I am busy.

bunkycooks said...

I know that some wonderful new adventures are awaiting you and JP! I look forward to following them as they unfold. You are very lucky to have a man who is so talented in the kitchen and I can only imagine how incredibly good this gratin is with all the sauce and cheese. Oh, my...

Nancy said...

I love new adventures and can't wait to hear what you discover on this one! Lucky you to have a husband who cooks - mine is allowed to grill and that is all - which does work for us since he is a master dishwasher!!
This gratin looks amazing... I'll be adding cauliflower to my next shopping list!

Meeta K. Wolff said...

I need JP to come over more often. It's something special when a man cooks for a woman and I love hearing all about what he cooked for you. Love cauliflower and love gratin!

marla said...

Love that you have all of the cauliflower in there too!

Mairi @ Toast said...

This one is being saved for the first days of Autumn :)

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