I'M SURPRISED every year how quickly the days draw in by November. As dark and gloomy as it can be, it is also exciting with the festivals of bonfire night and the Christmas season.

Not to forget Halloween, in the American version with pumpkins and ghouls it has become very commercial, but the history is fun to share with your younger family members.

Halloween is the start of the Allhallowtide festival when the veil between this world and the next thins and we don masks and play tricks to confuse the souls looking at us from the other side.

It is also a celebration of those lives past and we celebrate with food and gifts given and received. There is a wonderful old English tradition to bake a soul cake, which is a spiced fruit cake topped with a cross, similar but heavier to a Hot Cross bun, to share with the children who come door knocking.

At Bramble cafe we now see people eating more comfort foods and less salads and one of the favourites is our Cauliflower Cheese with Broccoli and Leek.

I've included a recipe for a family feast of Cauliflower Cheese for you, the steaks of cauliflower are char-grilled to give a smokiness to the dish that just fits particularly well with this season, its a nice alternative to a heavy meat roast while still being a heart comfort food meal.

Cauliflower Cheese

Prepare 30 minutes

Cook 20 minutes 

Serves four

  • 2 large cauliflower heads olive oil, to coat
  • 100g strong Cheddar cheese
  • 100g Gruyère cheese
  • 50g Parmesan cheese (or vegetarian Italian-style hard cheese)
  • 120g mozzarella cheese
  • 30g plain/all-purpose flour
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 500ml whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon English mustard
  • Tabasco sauce, to taste
  • Table salt, to taste
  • Apinch of smoked paprika

Cauliflower Prepare your cauliflower by trimming the leaves off, then slicing across the entire cauliflower in 2cm slices, like slicing a loaf of bread.

Lightly oil the cauliflower slices on both sides and season with a little salt. Cook on a griddle pan for 2-3 minutes a side, to just char and par-cook them. This should leave the cauliflower cooked 1/3 of the way through on each side.

Lay the cauliflower slices in an oven tray, overlapping to fit them all in.

Sauce Begin by making a roux. Put the butter and flour in a dry saucepan and heat until they form crumbs and are just starting to colour. Slowly, add about a quarter of the milk and whisk to combine into a smooth, thick paste. With the pan still on the heat, keep adding a quarter of the milk and whisking together to combine until all of the milk has been added to the sauce and it is thin and smooth.

Reduce to a low heat, grate the cheddar, gruyere and parmesan and add 2/3 of it to the sauce. Whisk gently until the sauce is smooth, then cut the mozzarella into thin slices and add them too. Whisk until the cheese has melted and you have a smooth sauce.

Add a large teaspoon of English mustard, a generous splash of tabasco and a pinch of salt to the sauce and whisk together. Taste the sauce and add more mustard, tabasco or salt as you like it.

Pour the sauce over the cauliflower, then sprinkle the remaining cheese over and finish with a pinch of smoked paprika to decorate and add a hint of smoke. (At this stage, you can store the cauliflower cheese in a fridge for a couple of days).

Place in a preheated oven at 160°C for 15 minutes (20 min if it has been chilled in the fridge). Check that it is cooked by probing with a fork to ensure there is no hard centre. Turn the oven up to 200°C for 5 minutes to brown the cheese topping.