Saturday, April 14, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese with a Balsamic Bacon Topping

Daring Cooks: Create Your Own Recipe

This month's Daring Cooks Challenge felt like round two of Chopped, the TV program where contestants create a dish using items from a basket of unrelated ingredients. Our nine choices were familiar food products, many routinely stocked in the pantry, but combining them took some thought.  

Mandatory Items: You must create an original main course that uses at least one ingredient from each of the three lists below.

List 1: Vegetables
Parsnips, Eggplant (aubergine), Cauliflower
List 2: Strong Flavor
Balsamic Vinegar, Goat Cheese, Chipotle peppers
List 3: Weird!
Maple Syrup, Instant Coffee, Bananas
I procrastinated for days, waiting for my subconscious to be creative and produce something unique. No help there, my culinary brain was either napping or on vacation. Fine! start with something, anything, and get cooking. Parsnips? too sweet. Eggplant? not my favorite. Cauliflower? yes, spiced and roasted cauliflower would be the base of an entree or two. 

I cut four thin fan-shaped slices from the center of the head, seasoned both sides, and pan-roasted them in a skillet until both sides were toasted and colorful. Ooh, they were pretty. Drizzle them with a sauce for my entree? Use them to top a pizza or tartine? Stack them with goat cheese, dressed greens and other roasted vegetables for lunch? I saw some recipe possibilities here. 

The remaining florets were sliced, tossed with a bit of olive oil, salt and bold seasonings, then oven-roasted until browned. Cumin and smokey chipotle perfumed the kitchen as the cauliflower roasted, I couldn't wait to sample a few.

I was ready to stop here, to grab a fork, forget the challenge and finish the entire plate of spicy vegetables. I didn't, but oh my! it was tempting. I still had to deal with the List 3 "weird" ingredients and declared bananas just too weird to work with. Instead I selected maple syrup to pair with balsamic vinegar in a reduction to coat bacon and create a topping for Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese. 

The dish held an interesting mix of flavors, sweet, salty, spicy and rich. How could anyone resist chipotle, two cheeses, a balsamic reduction and bacon? I'm still partial to the roasted spicy cauliflower florets all by themselves. Cumin, Spanish paprika, mixed Italian spices and a generous dash of salt jazzed up this rather plain vegetable. I'll keep future Mac 'n Cheese dishes cauliflower-free, but it was fun to "mess around" and think outside the box this month with flavor and ingredient combinations.

What? no recipe? Nope, this was a fun experiment, but definitely not a keeper.

Blog-checking lines: Our April 2012 Daring Cooks hosts were David & Karen from Twenty-Fingered Cooking. They presented us with a very daring and unique challenge of forming our own recipes by using a set list of ingredients!


  1. The roasted cauliflower looks fantastic!

  2. Great job for this month's challenge, I'm not too keen on cauliflower but your recipe looks delicious !

  3. I love roasted cauliflower too!
    I think the combination you used is really tempting!
    great job on this challenge

  4. I swear, Mac'n'cheese is the most versatile meal ever. I've seen more variations on it than I can count -- this one looks great! Nice job on this challenge.


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