There’s a lot at stake when you put together a Thanksgiving meal, with the turkey to roast and stuffing and gravy to make.
But Thanksgiving is also a holiday of side dishes. And it’s not enough to have just mashed potatoes and a single vegetable. Folks look forward all year long to some of those holiday sides.
When making them, it’s best to pace yourself. Do as much of the prep work as possible in advance.
Plenty of those side dishes come in the form of casseroles and gratins, including this Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole. It’s creamy and pure comfort food.
Before we get to that, here’s some advice to keep in mind as you prepare your Thanksgiving sides:
Peel the potatoes several hours in advance, put them in a bowl of cold water and refrigerate.
Once you cook the potatoes, let them drain. Always use warm milk, cream or half-and-half, plus softened butter when mashing the potatoes. Cold liquids will make the potatoes tough and gluey.
Take your mashed potatoes to another level by adding cooked and mashed parsnips for a sweet flavor or rutabaga for a heartier flavor. Add your favorite fresh chopped herbs.
Clean and prep any vegetables you need for casseroles or in side dishes in advance.
Chop, slice or dice vegetables and store in sealed plastic bags. This saves room in the refrigerator as you can stack the bags.
If your recipe calls for it, blanch vegetables a day before using. Pat them dry, then bag.
CASSEROLES AND STUFFING
Many dishes can be made in advance, but remember: Dishes that have lots of cream or a sauce don’t always reheat well.
Assemble casserole dishes the day before baking, then let sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before baking.
Prep stuffing ingredients in advance: saute onions, celery and any meats the night before. Cool and refrigerate.
Dry bread for stuffing by cutting into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes and set out overnight to dry. You can also dry bread in an oven at a low (200 degrees) temperature.
KEEPING THINGS WARM
Your outdoor grill can be like having a warming oven. Keep it on its lowest setting (about 200 degrees). Place side dishes in foil trays (if you know you’re going to use your grill for this purpose, bake the dishes in foil trays to begin with). Cover them well so they don’t dry out.
I USED a blend of cheddar and colby jack cheese to make this casserole, but any good melting cheese will work. Cauliflower is mild in flavor, so you can be daring and spice the dish up a bit. Add a few pinches of cayenne, for example.
Blanching the cauliflower shortens the baking time and rids it of excess water. But don’t skip the step of draining and pressing the cauliflower to soak up the moisture after blanching. Excess moisture will make the dish soupy.
CHEESY CAULIFLOWER CASSEROLE
Adapted from delish.com
- 1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets
- 6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled, divided
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions, divided
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or other cheese
- >> Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot half-filled with water to a boil. Blanch cauliflower 3 minutes. Drain, then press a clean kitchen towel gently on the cauliflower to soak up excess water.
Make sauce: Melt butter in large skillet. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and stir until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Slowly stir in milk and bring to a low simmer. Whisk in cream cheese until it melts. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese until melted. Season with salt and pepper.
Place drained cauliflower in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Stir in cheese sauce. Set aside about 2 tablespoons of cooked bacon and green onions; stir the rest into the cauliflower. Top with remaining bacon, green onions and cheddar.
Bake 30 minutes, until cauliflower is tender and cheese on top has melted. Serves 10.
Nutritional information unavailable.