Christmas isn’t about food like Thanksgiving is. There aren’t so many must-have foods. Perhaps we’re all too tired from staying up late the night before to be hungry. The little kids, because they were excited to catch a glimpse of Santa, or just too focused on guessing what would be under the tree for them. The grownups, because they had to put together the craziest toy imaginable, wrap all of the last-minute gifts, and eat all of those cookies left for Santa. Which is better? I’m not sure. As a grownup I think it’s just as much fun to watch the look on children’s faces as they tear open gifts, as it was to be the child carefully opening the gifts. I was never a “ripper.” Somehow I always thought it was important to let the person who gave you a gift know that you appreciated it, and ripping into it always seemed so greedy in my opinion. Yes, I actually did think about these things as a child. I never claimed to be normal.
Instead of slaving the day away in a hot kitchen this Christmas, consider making most of the meal the day before. This Cauliflower Au Gratin dish is just perfect for that, because it will taste even better after sitting in the fridge overnight. It makes a ton too, so you’ll have plenty of leftovers to go with all of the ham, roast beef, or even fish that you have left over from Christmas dinner. In our family it’s usually ham, although an occasional turkey still somehow makes it onto the table some years. This vegetable side-dish is also a blank canvas, making it perfect for children who are picky eaters. I made this particular one for Thanksgiving, with my family in mind. They aren’t big on spice, so I left it out, and then just added it into the leftovers I returned home with. There’s still a container of this sitting in my freezer. When I tell you that it makes a lot, it makes a lot. Enough to enjoy, enough to eat the next day, perhaps the day after that, and even enough to eventually freeze because you just can’t take one more bite of it, and just want to order a pizza for dinner instead. Pizza..maybe that should become the new Christmas Dinner family tradition.
- 8 Slices Thick-Cut Bacon, Chopped
- 2 Heads of Cauliflower, Cut into Small Pieces
- 1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
- 6 1/2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- 1 Sweet Onion, Finely Chopped
- 7 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
- 1/2 Teaspoon Dry Mustard
- 1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 4 Cups Milk
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 3 Generous Cups Freshly Grated White Cheddar Cheese
- 1/3 Cup Panko Breadcrumbs
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Cook the bacon until crispy, and set aside to drain on paper towels.
- Fill a large pot 3/4 full with water, add salt, and then bring to a rolling boil.
- Place half of the cauliflower into the salted water and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cauliflower from the water, and place it into a colander to drain. Repeat with the remaining cauliflower. You can pour the entire contents of the pot into the colander the second time around, because you will no longer need the boiling water.
- Return the empty pot to the stove, over medium-high heat. Place the butter and finely chopped onions in the pot and sauté for five minutes.
- Sprinkle in the flour, mustard, and black pepper. Stir constantly for 3 minutes.
- Pour in the milk, add the bay leaf, and continue stirring constantly for 8 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and stir in all but a handful of the cheddar cheese.
- Stir in the cauliflower and crispy bacon.
- Empty into a 9×13 glass baking dish, and then sprinkle the top with panko, parsley, and the remaining cheese.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.
- This is a large recipe, perfect for taking to a pot luck or feeding a large family.
- I used garlic bacon in this recipe, which really resulted in a wonderful flavor. If using normal bacon, consider adding a clove or two of garlic during the final minute of sautéing the onions, or add a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder when adding the flour.
- Add additional salt, pepper, or seasonings to this dish to make it your own. I kept my recipe very basic due to picky eaters. If I were to make it for myself I would add salt, additional pepper, horseradish, and perhaps use a blend of cheeses.
- Add 10 dashes of hot sauce to the cheese mixture before adding in the cauliflower and bacon.
- Grate 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg into the cheese sauce.
- Use a tablespoon or two of the rendered bacon grease in lieu of a tablespoon or two of butter.
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