For those of you who don’t know, I have some kind of massive death-virus of DOOM and hatred on my computer, Carl. Carl has been a wonderful, trustworthy storage unit for several years now, and has every photo I have taken since I started college. Almost 10 years worth of photos are currently inaccessible to me, and might get completely vaporized. I’m trying very hard not to panic, shriek, and throw things until we know more, but at the very least, Carl will have his memory wiped like C-3PO at the end of Star Wars: Episode 3. He won’t have the same personality, but hopefully he’ll come out cleaner, and more efficient. What does all this have to do with casserole? Good question, but that was kind of rude, and definitely impatient. Calm down. Basically, I have to write a bunch of posts that don’t need pictures, and I have a TON of picture-needing posts I was all set to write. So here’s a damn recipe for you insatiable piranhas.
This is a delicious, yet very simple and cheap casserole to make, just in time for Thanksgiving! If you are contributing to a large affair, there is very little chance that anyone else will bring this, or any spinach dish, really. Everyone will really love it, and you can use this as an opportunity to tell everyone you know about my blog, and how wonderful intelligent and creative I am. I’m not putting words in your mouth, just giving you a little push in the right direction.
You will need: 2 16 oz. bags of frozen spinach, 1 of those cardboard things of cream cheese (you can use reduced fat, but it doesn’t taste as good because it’s not as bad for you), and one stick of real salted butter. Optional: one 8 oz. can of water chestnuts, and/or some pine nuts. This fits well into an 8×8 or 9×9 pan.
I leave the spinach out on the counter to thaw completely, and go play video games for a few hours, while congratulating myself for multitasking. If the laundry is running at the same time, I’m doubly smug. Once the spinach is completely thawed, cut a small corner off the bag, and squeeze all the water out you can. I often have Hubby do this so I can continue to “multitask” on the Xbox. Once the spinach is as dry as possible (seriously, squeeze the bejeezus out of it), pour it in a bowl. Put the cream cheese and butter in a separate bowl together, and microwave them in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until it fairly well mixed and liquid-y. There can be small lumps of the cream cheese still, they will bake into the casserole, so no worries. Mix this into your thawed spinach.
At this point, you can drain and add the water chestnuts, if you like the texture of chalk with the flavor of celery in your food. Yuck. But I don’t judge. Well, I do, but I wouldn’t say it to your face. Stir everything really well. You don’t want to come across a plain spot in the casserole. You want every bite to be soaked in fat and butter so everyone thinks you are an amazing chef. Spread this into a baking dish, and bake it at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until the edges are golden and bubbling. I like it when the edges get crispy, so I leave it in a little longer. You don’t even really need to use baking spray in the pan, because all the butter makes it lift right out. When serving, you can use the pine nuts as a garnish on top, but to me they get in the way of the fat/butter/cream cheese flavor, so I don’t bother.
This stuff is almost like spinach dip, without the crackers getting in the way of the deliciousness. This is a great recipe for travel because you can mix everything the night before, then put it into the baking dish and bake it in the morning if you have to leave super early. You can also bake it, travel wherever you’re going, and reheat it when you get there very easily. Just pop it in again at 350 for five minutes, or when the edges are bubbling again. You can even microwave it to reheat it, without any loss of flavor. I usually make double the amount, but in two separate casserole dishes. This stuff is so good, I never come home with any leftovers, so I keep one of them just for us at home. Hubby would survive on this, if I let him. He willingly squeezes all the water out for me, knowing this casserole will be his reward. Damn, now I want some, but I don’t want to go to the store. I hope you all appreciate the sacrifices I make so you can have a better life!
I’m sure most of you have Thanksgiving plans in place by now, and if you’re the one in your family saddled with creating a feast, do I have a treat for you!! I made Christmas dinner for my family last year (albeit just 6 of us), and I would gladly do it again, it was so simple. My trick? Forget the turkey. That’s right!! They take forever to cook, never get even halfway eaten, and are (from what I hear), a pain to make. Why do I need to get up at five a.m. and baste the thing all day, when not much of it will get eaten, and I’ll be stuck with tons of leftovers I’d rather not eat?
Do we have a vegetarian Thanksgiving? Not by any means, but that’s not a bad idea. I just buy a fully cooked ham and heat it up instead. Ham stays moist, and is super popular in my family, plus the leftovers can be used in thousands of ways. Why be chained to tradition? If your family prefers brisket, or tofu, or deer meat, make that. There is no point to wasting a bunch of time and effort to cook something everyone feels obligated to eat, but would prefer not to. Of course, if your family likes turkey, buy a fully cooked turkey, and then follow the rest of my lazy-feast instructions.
There are tons of side dishes that are fantastic for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any pot-luck event, that are simple to make and super popular. If you’re having a vegetarian feast, most of these should still be right up your alley.
1) Green bean casserole: This simplest, yet most iconic Thanksgiving recipe. Go to the store. Buy 2 cans of green beans, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, and one large can of those french fried onions (which will usually have the recipe on the side of the can). Drain the green beans, mix in a bowl with the cream of mushroom, and about 2/3 of the fried onions. Hide remaining fried onions from spouse, as he regards them as a snack food. Buy more fried onions, after spouse has discovered can with blood hound-like accuracy. You can mix in a half cup of shredded cheese also, if spouse has not eaten all cheese in existence. Pour into a baking dish and smooth out with a spatula, then bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Pull the casserole out and scatter about 1/3 of the fried onions on top, and put it back in for 5-10 minutes, so the onions on top get golden. Retain any remaining fried onions to bribe spouse into doing manual labor, such as taking out the trash, or rearranging furniture. (After I read this aloud to Hubby, he laughed and said “Now I want fried onions”).
2) Stuffing – Yes, I use the box stuffing. I make it more realistic by sauteing celery and onions in butter and mixing them in, and using real chicken broth in the recipe. If you’re making it vegetarian, you can buy vegetable broth in the soup section of the grocery store, which will work well instead of chicken broth. If you have one of those family members who is picky about stuffing, ask if they would like to contribute theirs to the meal. These type of family get-togethers are often pot-luck, so it’s not unreasonable to ask someone to bring something. If you’re like me, you probably dread hearing complaints from That Person, so this can be a way to bypass any difficulties.
3) Sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes – to me, these things are kind of redundant, but some people get all antsy about having both. I almost never partake in sweet potato casserole, and I don’t get the point. Why take something as delicious and naturally sweet as sweet potatoes and add marshmallows and brown sugar and all that crap? I mean, sweet is in the name. But, whatever people want. You’re going to have to google that one. Last year, boxed mashed potatoes were requested, so that’s what I made. I love that my family is as accommodating of laziness as I am! You can use real potatoes, heavy cream, and loads of butter, or you can use this healthier alternative I got from the South Beach book. You take a whole head of cauliflower, clean, chop, and boil it until it’s mushy. Drain it well, then blend it smooth in your food processor. Use Land ‘o Lakes fat free creamer, and the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray, salt and pepper to flavor it. It comes out super creamy, and buttery tasting, but is much healthier for you. Hubby even likes this, and he doesn’t like cauliflower. It does not taste exactly like mashed potatoes, but it’s really good, and substitutes just fine for me.
4) Cranberry Sauce – canned is the preferred style in my family, but you can buy the bag of raw cranberries in the produce section at your grocery store, and it has the directions on the bag. This is a very cheap recipe, since it’s mostly just the cranberries, and some sugar, and it can be impressive to see homemade cranberry sauce on the table. Maybe it will distract from the box stuffing? The problem is it makes a LOT of this stuff, and honestly, it’s not all that popular, at least with anyone I know. Be prepared to have cranberry banana smoothies for a week or so after the holiday. The plus side is that cranberries are really good for you.
5) Gravy – If you aren’t making any meat, you probably don’t want gravy anyway. I’m assuming that most of the packet kinds have some meat products in them as well. The way we make gravy here in the south, is with some kind of meat dripping usually, so a ham is the perfect way to start gravy. For southern cream gravy, take the pan you made your ham in, and pour any drippings into a small frying pan. You can also add some pieces of fat from the ham to this, and saute it a little. If you’re making a turkey, I think this is where you use the bag of organs from inside the bird, like the kidneys and stuff. You may have to call an official grandma for that one. Once your drippings are boiling somewhat, scatter some flour into it. You want to scatter it as finely as possible to avoid clumps. I usually dust flour across the pan with my left hand, and stir the pan constantly with a whisk in my right hand. Remember to make the gravy thinner than you’ll want the final product to be, because it will thicken once it cools a bit. Add milk slowly, and continue stirring, letting it boil and thicken again. I usually end up tasting my gravy dozens of times, and adding garlic salt and pepper for flavor. If you don’t have any drippings or fat, you can use beef broth to start off. It’s easiest if you use bullion rather than canned broth, and make it at least double strength, so the flavor will be stronger. I haven’t tried this with vegetable broth yet, but they do make vegetable bullion, so it could be feasible. I’ll have to try it sometime.
6) Rolls – I LOOOOVE homemade bread, but I sadly have no idea how to make anything decent. I do have a recipe for beer bread which is pretty good, but not exactly Thanksgiving-y. I’ll probably write a post for that later. Since that’s the case, you can either rely on your own abilities, pawn it off on a family member, or buy some at the store. I usually get that Mother-o-Mine to make her yeast rolls, but otherwise I get some from the actual bakery at the store. I’m not really a fan of the frozen ones, and the pop cans ones don’t fit in with Thanksgiving, at least in my mind. Most of the people I was feeding last year are fairly carb-conscious, so not providing rolls was the perfect solution. I didn’t have to do extra work, they didn’t have to struggle with the temptation of my fantastic cooking, and I didn’t have tons of leftover bread products that would have led to my pants hating me.
7) Desserts – I know desserts are pretty iconic for this time of year, especially pumpkin pie, and pecan pie in the south. Unfortunately, I am dessert disabled at this time of year. I don’t like either of those things. I know! ME!! Turning down desserts! No, the world is not ending, hell has not frozen over, and pigs are not flying. Pumpkin pie has never tasted like anything but dirt to me, and I don’t like pecans, or really any nuts at all (that’s what she said), so I generally ignore the dessert table at family gatherings. I do like apple pie, which is appropriately traditional, and you can follow my recipe here, substituting apples for peaches. Just make sure to peel your apples, cut them into bite sized pieces, and coat them in cinnamon and sugar, vanilla extract, and maybe a little nutmeg.
Any type of assembly of family can lead to stress, unless your family is super-fantastically-sweet, in which case you are either lying, or too dumb to notice all the drama going on around you (just kidding! You were probably raised by a family of elves). Cooking for any number of people can be stressful by itself, and more so if you’re worried about complaints, or dissatisfied family members. Avoid as much drama as possible by sticking to what you know, and getting other people to contribute. There’s no reason why you should be the only one to shoulder all the cost and stress of the event, plus having to clean and organize your home. Maybe ask people if they want to bring something, without pressuring them, and many people will even offer without prompting. If there’s someone who can’t cook at ALL, maybe they can bring salad, wine, or a veggie tray, or anything your were going to buy at a store anyway. If Grandma always makes her super-delicious stuffing, ask if she’d like to bring it over. One less thing for you to plan and purchase will make a big difference to your stress level, and also prevent any “Where’s Grandma’s stuffing?” type issues. The less stress you have now, the more you can tolerate at Christmas. Or just start drinking now. Don’t forget that if you are going to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving, they would probably appreciate the reduced stress of you bringing something as well. I usually bring lots of alcohol, or just do several shots before arriving. Trust me, it makes life easier. Happy Holidays!