The year-long onslaught of political advertisements, maligned mudslinging, and political commentary is finally coming to an end. Please VOTE and put your two cents in! The Don and I join the millions of Americans who participate in early voting or vote by absentee ballot because we prefer to cast our votes in the comfort of our home while referring to the voting guide to read the arguments and rebuttals for each measure. And this is the first presidential election for College Girl who mailed her ballot from Japan. According to ABC News, more than 29.8 million ballots have already been cast via early and absentee voting, with the early vote expected to make up about 35 percent of the total votes cast, an increase from 2008, when 30 percent of the total vote was cast before Election Day.
Tonight would be a good night for a casserole that you can put together rather quickly and let the oven do the cooking while you listen to the election returns – if nothing else, the tally of 2012 returns will keep you on the edge of your seat while the future of our country’s leadership is decided. I’m curious about how the voting process is going to play out on the East Coast where the devastation of Sandy has left millions more concerned with their livelihoods than where to vote. CNN reports that voters in some New York counties may get an extra day to cast ballots if disruptions caused by Sandy prevent enough citizens from voting, a state official said Sunday. New Jersey announced that residents displaced by Sandy can vote in today’s elections via e-mail or fax, the first time civilians in the state have been allowed to vote remotely.
I can offer some comfort food to get you through it all and wish I could send a truckload of it to the victims of Sandy… Shifting from voting to food (why not), this creamy cauliflower gratin is lower calorie than typical versions – less milk and flour, and half the amount of butter and cheese – but guaranteed to satisfy your craving for rich, cheesy goodness and is a guilt-less alternative for macaroni and cheese addicts. Also, I developed this recipe as a guilt-less Thanksgiving side dish which can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the pancetta. Come back next week for a round-up of easy Thanksgiving recipes for stress-less side dishes from some of the best food bloggers/friends around.
Cauliflower Gratin with Manchego and Pancetta
Cauliflower is the star in this guilt-less casserole with a barely-there creamy cheese sauce and a touch of salty pancetta for a lower calorie version of a cauliflower gratin.
Ingredients: Yield: 4-6 servings
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 5-6 cups)
2 ounces pancetta, diced (omit for vegetarian)
1 shallot, diced
1 T. unsalted butter
2 T. all purpose flour (or Wondra*)
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup mlk
1/2 cup finely grated, Manchego (or Parmesan)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup Panko crumbs (or fresh-made bread crumbs)
Note: *Wondra can be a life-saver when it comes to making gravy and sauces.
Preheat ove to 350 degrees F.
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Blanch the cauliflower for 2 minutes. Drain the cauliflower in a colander and transfer to a buttered 9×13 baking dish.
2. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta until browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a small bowl. Lower the heat to medium. Add the shallots to the rendered pancetta fat and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.. Stir in the garlic slices and red pepper flakes cook for another minute. Remove from heat and add to the bowl of pancetta.
3. Melt the butter in the same skillet over low heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine. Continue whisking for 2 minutes to cook the flour. Slowly add the milk (I used 2%), using the whisk to stir continuously until the milk is incorporate and there are no lumps. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the bak of a wooden spoon. Stir in the manchego, pepper, nutmeg. Then add the pancetta mixture, stirring to combine.
4. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower, stir gently to evenly coat. Sprinkle with panko. Bake about 25 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.