Food is memory, plain and simple.
Epic Food Memory
And cauliflower with cheese sauce is an epic food with memory, for me.
When I was growing up, we moved house every year. We moved states or countries every two or three years, following my father’s military career. We were five children, and my mother kept us together with her organization.
Constants in a Shifting World
Which included constants in our shifting world. The church. Grace at meals, which were formal in the sense that our presence was always required. And her passion for cooking. She rarely made the same dish twice which was exciting, delicious, part of the whole organized chaos of our lives.
For our birthdays, we chose the meal, whatever we wanted, and mother would prepare it.
Creature of Habit
Because I am a creature of habit, I made the same choice ever year, which was fried chicken wings, cauliflower with cheese sauce, and a multi-layered chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I loved it all, but what I loved best was the cauliflower with cheese sauce.
Best Dish Ever
From my mother’s hands, this was the best dish I ever ate. Smooth as silk, the cauliflower so tender yet not mushy, the sauce spiked with a bit of hot pepper and lots of sharp cheddar. The cheddar made the sauce orange until we moved back to Oregon where Tillamook Sharp Cheddar was white (and gorgeous – you can still find it, and you should).
Birthday Meal Anytime
As long as my mother cooked, whenever I came to visit I got my birthday meal, no matter the season. It always held up to the memory, and here the cauliflower with cheese sauce does still. I called my mother – now 100 years old and bright as a sunflower – to get her secrets to the sauce.
“Secrets?” she asked. “No secrets. Just love and a lot of cheese.”
My Mother’s Recipes – No Secrets
I offer you here my mother’s recipe for Cauliflower with Cheese Sauce. You can serve at any time, at any meal and it will be a favorite. It’s so easy to make, that you’ll find yourself making it all the time.
CAULIFLOWER WITH CHEESE SAUCE - CHOUFLEUR A LA SAUCE FROMAGE
For the Cauliflower:
- 1 medium head cauliflower broken into slightly larger than bite-sized florets
- Fine sea salt
- For the Cheese Sauce:
- 2-1/2 cups (880ml) whole milk
- 1 bay leaf from the Laurus nobilis
- 3 tablespoons (45) unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Fine sea salt
- 4 to 5 cups (200-250g) grated Cheddar cheese (sharp is best), or to taste
- Piment d’Espelette or cayenne pepper to taste
- Set the cauliflower florets in a steamer basket, then place this in a large saucepan with about 2-inches (5cm) water in the bottom. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and steam the cauliflower until it is tender through, which will take 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat; keep the cauliflower warm.
- Pour the milk into a medium-size saucepan. Add the bay leaf and set the pan over medium heat. Scald the milk, remove it from the heat and keep it warm.
- Melt the butter in another medium-size saucepan over medium heat until completely melted. Whisk in the flour and let the mixture foam and cook, whisking occasionally, for at least 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk with the bay leaf and cook, whisking regularly, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. If the sauce isn’t thickening, increase the heat slightly, and whisk occasionally.
- Stir in the cheese, continuing to stir until it melts. Season l to taste , and remove from the heat. The sauce is ready to use immediately.