Cauliflower "Mac" N Cheese

The last time I was in Costco shopping, I stumbled across big bags of frozen Cauliflower pearls/rice. Each bag had 4 smaller bags inside so you could use them at different times. I've been intrigued by all the fun things done with Cauliflower for a long time, but just haven't been motivated to do all the grating required. This seemed like a good option to get me started, so I bought a bag and threw it in my freezer. 

A few weeks went by while I ignored it totally. Then today inspiration hit. I wanted to try make something I've seen called Cauliflower Au Gratin or Cauliflower "Mac" N Cheese.  While I went with the 2nd title, honestly no one would mistake this for a Mac N Cheese.  There is a texture and heaviness to pasta that cauliflower doesn't offer. But I learned today there is an upside. Because there was no pasta, you got all that creamy rich cheesy sauce in a lighter dish. I wasn't groaning and bloated afterwards. And my husband - the meat and potatoes guy - said this was thumbs up great. So I'll be making it a gain. 

There were so many recipes to choose from, but I decided to start with one listed on the Taylor Farms website. They sell all kinds of packaged vegetables including stir fry mixes, coleslaw mixes, cauliflower pearls and more. I made minor changes - mostly adding fresh onion and garlic, and I buttered the crumbs on top.  I also didn't have sharp cheddar laying around, so went with what I had which was a shredded Tex Mex blend.  And I didn't have an 8 x 8 pan so went with at 9 x 7ish I had. I used 3% milk and loved it that way, but you could use half & half or cream if you need MORE. 

If you can find Cauliflower Pearls or Rice in the freezer section of your store, this is a great product to get you started. Once I've tried several recipes, I'll probably move to making the cauliflower pearls myself in my food processor.  But while I'm just experimenting, the frozen product makes it so much easier.


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Cauliflower "Mac" N Cheese

4 Servings as a side dish

Ingredients -

1 lb.              Cauliflower pearls or rice (frozen, fresh or you can grate your own)
1/2                Medium size sweet onion, finely diced
1                   Clove Garlic, minced
4 T                Butter, divided
2 T                Flour
1 C                3% Milk (Could go richer with Half & Half or Cream, but I liked the 3%)
1-1/2 C         Shredded Sharp Cheddar or Tex Mex Cheese (or your fav)
Salt and Pepper
1/4 C             Panko Bread Crumbs (I might make more next time. I love a crumb topping)

Instructions -

Preheat Oven to 375 degrees. Prepare an 8" x 8" baking dish (butter, oil or cooking spray).  Cook your grated, riced or pearl cauliflower in the microwave on high for about 5 minutes or as directed on the package. Microwaves vary, and the size of your cauliflower will affect that time.

In a frying pan over medium heat, melt 2 T butter. Add your onion and garlic and sauté until soft.  Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the flour until well combined. Slowly add in the milk stirring constantly until smooth. Return the pan to the stove. Over medium heat, gently cook the sauce stirring constantly until it thickens.  Remove from heat again, add the shredded cheese and mix well.  

Remove the cauliflower from the microwave. Mine was fine just like that - moist but no standing liquid in the bottom. So I added it right into the frying pan. Use your judgement here as different products might come out differently. You can drain off any excess liquid if you are worried, or if you want a dryer dish you can even squeeze it in a dish towel. But I dumped my hot cauliflower right into the pan and it came out great. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then gently keep mixing until the ingrediens are all evenly combined and the is cheese fully melted.  

Pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish and smooth into an even layer.  Melt the last 2 T of butter and mix with the panko crumbs.  Sprinkle the buttered crumbs on top in an even layer.  Place the baking dish in the pre-heated oven and cook for about 15 minutes until bubbly and the crumbs are slightly browned. If you think it's done but the crumbs didn't brown at all you could broil it for a few seconds. 

Remove the casserole from the oven and let rest on the counter for just a couple minutes to firm up. Then serve. If you want you can garnish the dish with parsley, green onion, chives, or ????????? Whatever you like. I served this as a side dish for 4, but it could be a main dish for 2.