Cheesy Cauliflower and Rice Bake

Cheesy Cauliflower & Rice Bake
I always look for interesting sides to put with lunch and dinner every day.  It has been a challenge for me as the typical American cook to think of vegetables as a main component to meals.  For most of us, vegetables are exactly as we call them – a side dish (a side thought!) and we obligingly scrounge a bag of vegetables from the freezer to make our meals “complete” when we very rarely enjoy those components and most of them, if we are honest, get put in a leftover container and saved until we no longer have guilt about throwing them away.

Maybe this is just me.  I’ve wanted and tried this year to think of vegetables as the main component and meats and carbs as a side dish.  To balance the plate in the opposite direction.  This. Is. Hard.  I will be the first to admit that I know how to cook meats, starches and carbs MUCH better than I know how to cook a vegetable.  But I’m trying!  And I’ve looked to cuisines that tend to focus on vegetables as main dishes for inspiration.  Indian cuisine is wonderful for this approach, but even I tire of the cumin/cardamom/curry combination of flavors pretty quick.  There needs to be a balance to the approach of getting more vegetables on your dinner plate, and so for me, I’m taking winter as a wonderful excuse to make some slightly more indulgent and comforting vegetable dishes to get me in the habit of seeing them as the star of the show, instead of a side act.

Speaking of winter: I am in love with a new cookbook.  Well, I suppose it isn’t exactly new, but it’s new to me, and it’s called Homemade Winter by Yvette Van Boven.  I absolutely love when a cookbook has recipes listed by seasonal availability.  This cookbook is ALL about winter – sure, winter in Holland, but STILL!  Most winter vegetables in this hemisphere are available and relatively fresh no matter where you reside, and so this cookbook has introduced me to a season of cooking that has previously been nothing but soups and stews and squash.  Goodness, how many times can I eat squash?!

Enter: cauliflower and rice baked with swiss into a creamy but not-too-heavy dish.  I made this yesterday for our lunch and it was the main component.  In her cookbook, Yvette calls it a risotto, but I didn’t have arborio rice and so I made it with what I had – plain ol’ white, short-grain rice – and it worked beautifully.  I love a recipe that is accessible and works, no matter what you have on hand.  A lot of home cooks don’t have arborio in the pantry, yet most people have regular white rice!  The only splurge for this dish was some good Comte cheese, but I believe it could be just as flavorful with nearly any cheese you have in the fridge.

We loved it – it was warm, filling and satisfying as a main dish and perfect for a freezing day like today.  In fact, I turned the leftovers into cauliflower rice fritters today for lunch and served them along side a white bean soup I will blog about very soon, and it was an awesome lunch!  Hope you all stay warm, today and have an extra cup of coffee with me!

Cauliflower & Rice Bake

Cheesy Cauliflower Rice Bake
serves 6-8 as a side or 4-6 as a main

1 small head cauliflower
1 TBS olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup shredded cheese such as Comte, Emmentaler or Gruyere – would work with any hard cheese, though
1 cup of white, short-grain rice
2 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup panko or plain bread crumbs
drizzle of olive oil

Boil the cauliflower for 10 minutes until tender.  Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat the oil in a large skillet (12″ at least). Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute more, then add the rice and stir to combine.  Saute all this for another 2 minutes or so.  Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Stir in the cauliflower and cheese and cover the skillet with a lid and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until all liquid has absorbed.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before uncovering.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs and drizzle the top with olive oil and bake until the breadcrumbs are toasted, or just stick it under the broiler for 5 minutes.

Serve in bowls with lots of cracked pepper!

Chicken Saute with Sweet Potatoes and Rosemary

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My little eater is back.  She had a week of not wanting to eat much at all and being rather scared of texture and new things, but we are officially back in the game.  It’s a relief, really.  I spend the majority of my days figuring out what to cook next.  I will clean up from breakfast and think about what I need to do for lunch.  After Olive’s afternoon snack, I clean up and think of what I need to start for dinner.  I really love it (thank goodness), but when you spend that much time preparing food, you naturally want everyone at the table to consume it.

Our food structure in the day is this:  Breakfast (usually oatmeal with some kind of fruit and milk), Lunch, snack around 3:30-4, Dinner, a little milk at bedtime.  That’s the only times Olive eats.  She doesn’t snack on anything between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and 4 or between 4 and 7ish.  I really think that when you’re trying your best to get your children to eat a variety of good foods, it’s just shooting yourself in the foot if you let them snack around the clock.  In my (very short) experience so far, when Olive is hungry at meal times, there is rarely a fight over what is served.  She is rarely picky.  I think if she’d had a snack an hour before sitting down, it would be a lot easier for her to reject something new (tonight was roasted beets, pan fried fish and a tomato/bell pepper sauce).  And it’s happened before when she’s had a TON of milk before a meal.  Won’t eat.  Personally, I can’t handle going to the trouble of  cooking and having someone at the table refuse it and then beg for a snack 30 minutes after dinner is over.  The master chef, Fernand Pointe said, “Hunger is the best sauce” and I really love that imagery.  A sauce is a finishing touch – usually the part of the dish that makes it a little indulgent, a little special.  If you are hungry for a meal, everything is just a little more delicious than if you were merely eating because it was mealtime.  I’m not afraid of Olive being hungry.  I think it’s one of the very first lessons in delayed gratification that desperately needs to be instilled at an early age.  So many life lessons are learned by cooking and eating together, and this in my opinion, is one of the most basic.  Wait.  And how wonderful that you have at least 3 times a day to reiterate that important rule.  You wait to be served.  You wait on others before you start eating.  You wait and ask before getting down from the table.  You wait while others are talking before you talk.  It’s beautiful to me how sharing food can teach so much, and not only to children, but to adults as well.

This simple meal comes, once again, from Wini Moranville’s book, The Bonne Femme Cookbook.  A simple chicken dish and the sweet potatoes are an excellent finger food for little eaters.  I choose a baked tomato dish from the book as an extra side for this meal.  Everyone at the table enjoyed it all.  Olive liked the baked tomatoes the least and the chicken the most (but she tried everything) 🙂

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Chicken Saute with Sweet Potatoes and Rosemary
serves 4

2 slices thick-cut bacon
Vegetable oil
2 1/2 tbs unsalted butter
2 to 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice (4 cups)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large shallot, sliced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tbs chopped fresh rosemary
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy – can be found at most liquor stores) or 1/4 cup apple juice and 1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Cook the bacon in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Measure the drippings from the skillet and add enough vetetable oil to equal 1 1/2 tablespoons.  Reduce the heat to medium and melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter with the drippings and oil.  Add the sweet potatoes and salt and pepper.  Cook the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened, about 15 minutes; add the shallot and rosemary to the pan after 5 minutes.  Transfer the skillet to the oven to keep warm.

Meanwhile, place the chicken breasts, one at a time, between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4 inch thickness.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.

In another large skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over medium high heat.  Add the chicken in batches and cook, turning once, until no longer pink inside, 6-8 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a large platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chicken broth and Calvados, taking care not to let the liquid splatter.  Stir with a whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Return the pan to the heat, bring to a boil, and boil until the liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup – this should take about 2 minutes, depending on the heat and your pan size; it will take closer to 4 minutes if you’ve substituted apple juice and wine for the Calvados.  Whisk in the cream and cook to a desired consistency.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Crumble the bacon and stir it into the sweet potatoes.  Arrange the chicken on four dinner plates, arrange the potatoes around the chicken, spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with Tomatoes au Four (recipe below).

Tomatoes au Four

Tomatoes au Four
makes 4 to 8 servings

4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, cored, halved and seeded
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 small shallot, finely minced (about 2 tbs)
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried thyme, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold the tomatoes without too much crowding.  Place the tomatoes, cut sides up, in the baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, shallow, garlic, parsley, thyme and salt and pepper.  Stir in the olive oil.  Spoon this mixture evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake until the tomatoes are hot and the bread crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.