No matter how much you like to cook, how many recipe books you own or how many hours of Food T.V. you watch, sometimes it’s hard to find new kitchen inspiration. And as the recent holidays approached, such was my sorry state…I was bored to tears with all of my books, most of my favorite chefs and every holiday food.
So when my husband told me he was going on a promotional tour for his new movie, “Jack Reacher,” in mid-December and spouses were (!) invited, I did what any dedicated food blogger (and mom avoiding Christmas shopping) would do: I charged my camera, packed a bag and tagged along.
For 2 weeks, we did some serious “souvenir eating” in London, Stockholm, Madrid and New York. When it was over, I had my inspiration back…and a bucket list (and photos) of amazing dishes I couldn’t wait to take home and “skinny-fy!”
First up, a Super Skinny Cauliflower Gratin inspired by our first stop in London….where “cauliflower cheese” seemed to be on every menu.
At the trendy Hix in Soho we chose it as one of 4 sides we shared as we split an entree of fabulous grilled Torbay Dover Sole.
Once home, I couldn’t wait to re-create it. After all, cauliflower is one of the world’s healthiest foods; loaded phyto-nutrients that cleanse your body of toxins, it’s especially rich in vitamin C and gives you fiber, folate and potassium.
But before I actually made the dish, I did something even more loathsome than unpacking: I did the math. The Barefoot Contessa’s Cauliflower Gratin recipe–which is most like the dishes we had in England– has more than 300 calories per serving! Which is not bad if that’s all you’re eating, but a hefty calorie count for just a side dish.
And as good as cauliflower is for you, drowning it in a fatty cheese sauce isn’t going to do any body any good… (unless you happen to be a heart surgeon looking for extra work..)
But after making just a few skinny substitutions, this new version has the satisfying richness of the original but with a fraction of the fat and calories.
The changes couldn’t be simpler: Instead of 4 tablespoons of butter (480 calories), 3 tablespoons of Smart Balance Light (150 calories) work just as well. The 2 cups of cow’s milk (300 calories) are easily replaced by the same amount of almond milk (60 calories.) By trading in Gruyere for a lesser amount of vegetarian cheese you save another couple hundred calories. And, most importantly, by making those simple changes you all but eliminate the heart clogging saturated fats.
The final tally? Fewer than 80 calories a serving rather than 300! Even Jamie Oliver might agree that kind of fat and calorie savings is worthy of a crown…or at least a place on your dinner table!
SUPER SKINNY CAULIFLOWER GRATIN
2 medium heads cauliflower, cut into florets
1-2 large shallots, sliced thin
3 T Smart Balance Light (A few years ago, my father’s heart surgeon insisted this replace butter in our house if we wanted my dad to live beyond a few years. I didn’t argue..and now use it for most recipes that call for real butter. )
4 T brown rice flour (We don’t keep white processed flour in the house anymore, but whole wheat flour is a bit too textural if you’re trying to make a cream sauce. Brown rice flour is much finer, lighter in color and works better.)
2 c warm plain and unsweetened Almond Milk (Silk brand has 30 calories a cup and Almond Breeze brand has 40. Both work. Just make sure you are NOT using the vanilla almond milk you use in coffee or cereal.)
1/2 c plus 2 T Daiya Brand shredded non-dairy mozzarella (Of all the veggie cheeses we’ve tried, this one wins hands down down for taste and its ability to melt.)
1/2 to 1 t sea salt or kosher salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, drop in cauliflower and cook 7 minutes. Toss in the sliced shallots and cook 1 minute more. Drain in a colander in the sink and set aside.
Place 3 T of Smart Balance Light in a large non-stick frying pan and turn heat on to medium. It will gradually melt and, as soon as it does, sprinkle in the brown rice flour and stir constantly until the flour begins to take on some color without going brown. (I love my Calphalon brand non stick whisk for this. If you don’t have one, use a wooden spoon..a regular whisk will ruin your non stick pan.)
Begin adding the almond milk a bit at a time, stirring constantly, until you’ve incorporated it all and the roux is smooth. (If you still have lumps after you’ve added all the almond milk, just pour in a few tablespoons of hot water and stir until the lumps are gone.)
Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt, stir and taste. You want the sauce to be a bit on the salty side…it needs to be well seasoned to flavor 2 heads of cauliflower. Add pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, add a 1/2 cup of the veggie cheese and stir until smooth.
Put the cauliflower and shallots into the pan with the cheese sauce and gently toss to combine. Load it all into a baking dish that’s been sprayed with cooking spray, sprinkle the remaining 2 T of cheese on top and bake on an upper rack in a 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.
PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD
Because this dish has become a new favorite with my children, I’ve made it 5 times in 3 weeks. But a few days ago, when I had just one cup of almond milk in the house, I substituted a cup of good chicken broth for the second cup of milk… it was slightly more savory but still creamy and just as delicious.
Also, if you’d like to use real cheese instead of the vegetarian type, use Parmesan, Gruyere or a combination. The calorie count for those cheeses isn’t much more than the veggie versions but do know there is more saturated fat and much more cholesterol in animal cheese. If you’re cooking for health, the veggie cheese might be a smarter choice.
You can also play with the oven cooking time and temperature. If baking fish for your entree at a lower heat (like 350), slip the cauliflower in the oven ahead and cook it for an hour. If roasting a chicken at 425, put the cauliflower in 30 minutes before you think the chicken will be done. By the way, 425 is a magic number for roasting veggies; if you pay attention to timing, you can slide in a tray of Brussels sprouts, winter squash, green beans or even garlicky kale and cook the entire meal in the same oven at the same time. As our British friends would say, “Brilliant.”