Monday, September 5, 2011

Developing Recipes and Learning to Cook

It is hard for me to believe that just six years ago, I had no idea how to cook. There were two things I could make: toast and ice cubes. When I got married, I figured I needed to learn, fast. So learn I did, by watching The Food Network endlessly and buying cookbooks. Like so many new cooks, I followed each recipe to the letter, since I didn't trust myself enough to make deviations. I believe this is a great way to learn, getting the basics down and following somebody else's rules until you get a good grasp on how ingredients work together (or not), and not making adjustments until you are more confident in the kitchen. Eventually, I was able to make changes that suited me, and even came up with a few recipes of my own.
I have always admired those who are able to write cookbooks, since I only have a few recipes in my repertoire that have been created solely by little old me. Despite the fact that I consider myself an intermediate to advanced cook, creating recipes intimidates me.
Then came the Real Women of Philadelphia contest. It is a recipe contest from Philadelphia Cream Cheese, with a weekly theme, time and ingredient restriction, and a 500.00 prize. I can almost picture that copper kitchenaid stand mixer in my pretty little hands. When I looked it up, something amazing happened - I started thinking about actually composing recipes of my own, and since I had been given an ingredient limit, a theme (appetizer, side dish, etc.), and a deadline, I was able to come up with some ideas. Now I cannot wait to come up with more! Because there are guidelines to get me started, I have gained so much confidence in myself and my ability to create recipes.
Here is one recipe that didn't make it into the contest, since I made it, photographed it, and ate it before I realized that I didn't put the package of Philadelphia cream cheese in the picture. I had every intention of re-making it, but life got in the way. It may not be healthy, but it tastes so good I had to share!

Creamy bacon cauliflower bake
One head of cauliflower, cut into chunks
4 oz bacon or pancetta, diced
2 Tbs flour
1 cup whole milk
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
8oz (one brick) Philadelphia Cream Cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 tbs olive oil
2 oz shredded Gruyere cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Pre- heat oven to 375
In large pot, boil water and cook cauliflower for about 5 minutes. In addition to the regular cauliflower, I bought a few colorful purple and orange baby cauliflower heads to add to the presentation. When cooked, drain and set aside.
While cauliflower is cooking, render the bacon or pancetta over low to medium heat until crispy (about ten minutes). Remove bacon with slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels, leaving the fat in the pan.
Stir the flour into the hot bacon fat, and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add milk, and let it come to a bubble, stirring occasionally.
Stir in room temperature cream cheese and nutmeg, cook until it is melted and incorporated.
Remove from heat and add parmesan cheese,salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate.

Grease a medium sized baking dish with the olive oil (or cooking spray if you prefer), and place the cauliflower in it. Top with the cream sauce and shredded gruyere cheese. Bake for 20-30 minutes and serve.

Here's a money saving tip: Go to the deli counter for the pancetta and gruyere cheese. You can get the exact amount you need for so much less than if you buy it pre-packaged. I prefer Boar's head brand, but that's just me.