A homely cauliflower cheese for a late night

On Wednesday I went for lunch at The Mercer, a restaurant right in the heart of the City of London. It was a goodbye lunch with some lovely Clients as I started maternity leave today. I felt rather sad. I like these Clients a lot. I also like going for nice lunches without having to pay for them. One day three courses at The Mercer with intelligent conversation, the next carrot sticks and egg mayo wraps at the kitchen table with a young man who mostly points to articulate what he wants. Thinking about it, there might be a career waiting for him in the City. He is also prone to tantrums and thinks it's funny to burp and wave his willy about. No need to see the Careers Advisor at school.

The Mercer is a proper restaurant, part of the white table cloth brigade. High ceilings, leather bound menus, professional, wonderful waiters and not surprisingly for the City, the clientele are almost entirely men, dressed in light pink or blue shirts and expensive, slightly non-descript suits.

The Mercer know their punters. With 95% being ex public school boys they cater accordingly. Out with the salads (well, there was one I think, maybe two) and in with the nursery classics and man food. Shepherd's pie, potted shrimps, black pudding, corned beef hash, hot salt beef, fish and chips, pies, venison, steak... you get the idea. And to finish - steamed puds, jelly and ice cream or trifle. Just like Mummy (or rather Nanny) used to make.

I fully embraced the Man-Menu, mustering all my testosterone to order potted shrimps, hot salt beef with dumplings, creamed mash, cabbage with bacon and to finish jelly, cake and ice cream. The mint tea gave me away a little at the end, it has to be said. It was all delicious. I fully recommend visiting though be warned that it's a little hot in there. Well, it was when we visited.

Back at Bell Towers we don't have time for three courses but we do love a nursery classic. Poor Mr B is working very hard at the moment. He informed me this morning that he'd be working very late this evening which got me thinking to what might cheer him up when he got back home. Why, cauliflower cheese of course! He loves the stuff and it reheats pretty well too. Perfect.

If it were left to me I'd eat cauliflower cheese by itself but I know Mr B feels cheated if there's no meat in a meal. He hunts for it, inspecting under every component until he's identified it, speared it and devoured it.

- cauliflower (As much as you think you'll eat, though does reheat well and is a good freezer standby.)
- plain flour, about 3 tablespoons
- a lump of butter, about a third of a pack
- milk, semi or full
- cheese, grated (I love strong cheddar but any will do from blue to Edam, just use what's in the fridge.)
- a pinch of grated nutmeg if you have it but not essential
- salt
- ground black pepper
- a spoonful of English mustard (Coleman's is nice and hot and I like the jar but any will do.)

First thing's first, boil a pan of slightly salted water and preheat the oven to Gas 6. In the meantime, cut the cauliflower into 'florets' (very very silly word) and once the water is boiling drop them in. Boil for about 5 mins until the stalks are still tough but starting to give a little. The cauliflower will carry on cooking in the oven later. You could also boil up some broccoli if you fancy it too. Be careful to only slightly boil though as seems to go mushy very easily.

If you're being careful to save on washing up then drain the veg and once all the water has steamed away as it stands, pop into an oven proof dish. You can mess about with the florets until they are standing like trees if you want the dish to look pretty, but it doesn't matter.

Take the same pan, empty any drops of water out and then put the butter in. Melt the butter on the hob on a medium heat until all melted but not bubbling too much. Add the flour and whisk until it looks like play dough. Then add about half a pint of milk and whisk furiously with the heat turned up a little. As it thickens add more milk until it's thick but pourable. Turn the heat down and add the nutmeg, mustard, salt, pepper and grated cheese. Whisk until smooth.

You can add bits of cooked bacon at this point or chopped up frankfurters but if you're a purist this is just about it. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and put the whole dish into the oven on a high shelf for about 20 mins. Once it's starting to bubble and go a bit brown on top take out of the oven and serve.

I like it by itself but Mr B enjoys it with everything, even a roast. Though the cheese sauce mixes with the gravy and is not very aesthetically pleasing, it has to be said. Tonight he is having it with pork chops, a wholegrain mustard sauce and mushrooms.
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