If you’re going to tart up your veggies with cheese sauce, do it with this cheese sauce.

Important news: Paul is back.

Last night, the team (Grace, Paul, Nick, and I) reconvened for our first dinner since Paul returned from Montreal, and we pretty much picked up where we left off.  Though it’s probably a fairly normal thing for most people, I thought we’d do something novel and have a dinner of meat, potatoes, and a vegetable – I called it a Dad meal, because it reminds me of the kind of meal you’d serve to a Dad, yours or otherwise.

It’s hard to have this many things for dinner when it’s just me and Nick, but with Grace and Paul in attendance, there were fewer leftovers and it was like a family dinner that didn’t involve any actual relatives. I made Hank Shaw’s Easy Duck Confit, a big dish of fluffy mashed potatoes, and broccoflower – straight out of 1992 – covered in cheese sauce.

As we’re heading into fall now, the temptation to cover everything in cheese is probably growing for you too. As hardier veggies start popping up in markets, I suggest bringing them home and covering them in this sauce. The sauce is most conducive to broccoli or cauliflower (or the weird genetic hybrid that is broccoflower), but you could put this over carrots, asparagus, spinach – whatever you’ve got. Also, this is pretty much the base I use when I make baked macaroni and cheese – obviously you’d add more cheese to that (obviously), but there you go. Look how versatile!

Cheese sauce

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups half and half (or cereal cream – aim for about 10% milk fat)
  • 1 tsp. grainy Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded Gruyere, sharp Cheddar, or other delicious, bold-tasting cheese (lightly packed – not pressed into a wad)
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat until it foams. Add garlic, then add flour, and whisk until the three ingredients form a paste.

Whisk in wine, then half and half, then mustard, pepper, and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium, and whisk frequently until thickened, about three to five minutes.

Add cheese and Worcestershire sauce, and taste at this point. Is it good? Does it need salt? Add salt if you need to. Is it too thick for your liking? Add more wine or dairy. You get the idea. Whisk in the parsley right before you’re done.

Pour into a pitcher and then serve, dousing your veggies as much as you like. It will be just like you remember, only better, because now you can have as much sauce as you want. 

Enjoy, and may the cheese-sauce season bring you warmth and please you.

Beurre blanc: A tasty conclusion to a very good day.

Yesterday was one of those very good days that required no vehicle and no long trips away from home. The day started groggily, and with starvation, so we walked over to Szechuan Chongqing for spicy green beans and siu mai and king crab with garlic, among other things, and to meet up with Theresa, Mick, and Corinne.

We ate until we were sure we were sure we’d explode, which is how you’re supposed to do dim sum, and then waddled our separate ways, with Nick and I headed for Granville Island and patio beer.

While there, we grabbed spices and vegetables, and two thin pieces of fish, and wine. Always wine, because if you’re going to eat white fish you need white wine to go with. Everyone in the entire market was smiling, Nick noted, and why wouldn’t they be? The sun was trying harder than it has in a long time, and there was a man with an accordion, and everything smelled fresh and all together the fragrance of ocean and roses and bread and fudge and smoked meats and maple and fruit musk was invigorating. In this city that’s smelled like wet pavement for a week, things were looking up. With the late afternoon to spare, we headed home, intent on writing and napping and that wine.

And dinner was just as easy and low-key. Nick chose the ingredients at the market – the fish and some asparagus, and in the time it took to roast the asparagus in the oven – twelve minutes – I made Julia Child’s beurre blanc, two poached eggs, and the fish, pan-fried very gently in a film of melted butter. It was the kind of meal you could eat any night of the week, easy and fast, but also so delicate and elegant that you could serve it to good-quality company. The secret, of course, is the beurre blanc, which is basically an emulsion of butter and acids, lemon and/or vinegar (or wine!), some shallots, a little bit of salt, and, if you’ve got it, white pepper.

You can make up to a cup of this by using a bit more butter, but since it’s just the two of us, I use 3/4 cup. You’ll have enough for four people with the recipe below.

Beurre blanc

(From Julia Child’s My Life in France)

  • 3/4 to 1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces about 1 tbsp. each
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced shallot

In a heavy bottomed sauce-pan, place salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, and shallot over high heat, and reduce quickly until only about a tablespoon of the liquid remains.

Remove from heat, and turn heat down to low. Whisk in the first cube of cold butter, and then the second, until a cream forms. Return the pot to low heat, and continue whisking in cubes of butter, adding a new pat just as the last piece has melted into the sauce. Serve immediately, spooned over fish or vegetables. All in all, this takes about five minutes. Less, maybe, and you can do it as your fish cooks and your asparagus roasts and it will all be done together.

Serve with dry white wine. On a patio, if you’ve got one.

The acidity combined with the butter makes this a bright, surprising sauce that works well over a thin slip of fish, sole or trout, or even salmon or halibut. Also, it’s fun to say. Beurre blanc. It’s even more fun to eat.