Relying on stereotypes when thinking about a cuisine or foodway is too easy, believe me, I know. My first instinct with a vegetable is to batter it or bread it and fry it in a pan because that's how I learned to cook; it's what I observed from watching my mother and her mother and my father's mother (the one who worked as a beloved high school cafeteria lady for a few decades when they still cooked the food fresh, on-site. When I told the head of graduate studies that I wanted to write a history of cafeteria ladies he was unenthusiastic, to say the least, so I took nine more hours and wrote no thesis) as they cooked.
Oh wait, my mother's father was a cook in the Navy circa late 1940s-1950 so he taught me a few tricks, too.
To make a long story longer... Other than frying a vegetable my next "go to" is boring old boiling with a smidge of flavoring. That is until I learned to steam. Love that.
But this is about how Whitney Miller's cookbook Modern Hospitality: Simple Recipes with Southen Charm, taught me to think about vegetables in a new way. One of the first things out of my mouth when I talked to her was an apology for never catching her prowess on the first season of MasterChef on FOX which she won. I explained that with an almost-three-year-old daughter, we don't watch any "real" television. And then I asked her which dish in her shabby chic-styled (lovely photography and styling, too, by the way) cookbook she recommended for children.
The cauliflower casserole. First you roast the cauliflower. It was after that point that I had my roasting epiphany.
The Come to Cauliflower moment. Or Come to Roasting. Roasting is wonderful. Simple. So leave it and it's done. I love it. But you drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, too. So it doesn't burn.
But once I roasted the cauliflower and removed them from my oven I couldn't keep my hands off them, they were manna from Heaven. I didn't want to finish the recipe. I did.
It was gobbilicious good. I was home alone and I ate two or three servings straight out of the serving dish. That was no biggie. It's likely that it wouldn't have tempted either Ian or Elsa.
Besides the cauliflower recipe Modern Hospitality features some of the best mashups of southern dishes that I've seen. They're not the same old recycled recipes that appear in every southern cookbook published each quarter. You know what I mean. If you're as familiar with the southern cookbook genre as I am there's a new southern cookbook Bible out every few months that contains the "standards": grits, red velvet cake, cole slaw, fried chicken. Make your own list. Even if you weren't born in the south or even in a border state I bet you could compile a dang good table of contents.
For example, the Butter Bean Hummus isn't something found in every southern cookbook, neither is Cornbread Crostini. I loved the idea of her Bacon-Wrapped Brussels sprouts, but didn't get around to trying those quick enough. When I got to entrees I was disappointed not to find any game meat recipes, especially since her father is a hunter. He brought home deer, doves, and rabbits. And the deer was made all sorts of ways, the doves simply stuffed with bacon. But those recipes... maybe they aren't for company.
When you think about hospitality, which is the theme of Miller's book, one pulls out the floral tablecloths, dainty china, and heirloom flatware. And so most of the entrees correspond: mini meat loaves, Grandma's Sunday roast, Inside-out chicken pot pies.
As for desserts, Miller pushes all my buttons by including two of my all time favorites: bread pudding and rice pudding. Her renditions are White Chocolate Bread Pudding and Vanilla Rice Pudding. She rounds out the cookbook with drinks, rubs, dressings, a pimento cheese recipe, and a few other tidbits.
So one of the things Miller and I discussed was the effect of Katrina on her family and community. She's a native of Poplarville, Mississippi which lies about 75 miles northeast of New Orleans. I love New Orleans. If I could move anywhere the city is in my top three, easy, for a number of reasons. I love the people: their diversity, their resilience, and their joie de vivre, and I love the food, the culture, and the architecture. I don't love the heat, humidity, or stench, but perhaps I could learn to live with those things.
Poplarville had no water. No electricity. The Millers' neighbors had nothing. Nobody had stocked up or prepared for the worst, except for her parents. And so their home became a refuge,a center of hospitality, a center of hope and comfort during Katrina's aftermath because her parents made sure that every person in need had food and water. What a blessing it is to serve others during a fearful, frustrating, and hopeless time, especially when you have the resources to share.
Cauliflower Mac n Cheese
- 8 cups cauliflower florets (about 1 head)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1⁄2 cups fat-free milk
- 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
- 3⁄8 teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the cauliflower florets in the oil on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the kosher salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the pepper. Roast until fork-tender and lightly browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven but leave the oven on and reduce the temperature to 350°F. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Whisk in the cream and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese, the table salt, and the remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Stir until the cheese melts, then cook, stirring often, until thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Place the cauliflower florets in an 8 x 8-inch glass baking dish or four 10-ounce ramekins. Pour the cheese sauce on top. Sprinkle the top of the cauliflower with the remaining 2 tablespoons cheese. Bake until the cheese is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm. Serves 4
Credit info: Modern Hospitality credit: Reprinted from Modern Hospitality by Whitney Miller. Copyright (c) 2011 by Whitney Miller. By permission of Rodale, Inc.