Sides_Cauliflower_casserole

Cauliflower Casserole with Cheese and Bacon. (Susan Selasky/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

There’s a lot at stake when you put together a Thanksgiving meal. For starters, you need to be a multitasker. There’s a turkey to roast and stuffing and gravy to make. Count on making that green bean casserole, too.

Thanksgiving is also a holiday of side dishes. It’s not enough to have just mashed potatoes and a single side 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 today’s Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole. It’s creamy, and it’s pure comfort food.

For this recipe, I used a blend of cheddar and colby jack cheese, but any good melting cheese will work. Cauliflower is mild in flavor, so you can be daring and spice the dish up a bit. Use a mix of pepper jack with the cheddar or add a few pinches of cayenne.

Blanching the cauliflower shortens the baking time and rids it of excess water. Don’t skip the step of draining the cauliflower and pressing on it with a towel to soak up the moisture after it’s blanched. Excess moisture will make the dish soupy.

Here’s some more advice to keep in mind as you prepare your Thanksgiving side dishes:

Potatoes

When making mashed potatoes, peel them in the morning or several hours in advance and put them in a bowl of cold water and refrigerate.

Take mashed potatoes to another level. Add cooked and mashed parsnips for a sweet flavor or rutabaga for a heartier flavor. For seasoning, add your favorite fresh chopped herbs to the potatoes.

Once you cook the potatoes, let them drain. Always use warm milk, cream or half-and-half and softened butter when mashing the potatoes. Cold liquids will make the potatoes tough and gluey.

Other vegetables

Clean and prep any vegetables you plan on using in casseroles or in side dishes the day before.

Chop, slice or dice vegetables and store in plastic sealable bags. Stack the bags in the refrigerator.

If your recipe calls for it, you can, blanch (slightly precook) vegetables a day before using. Pat them dry before storing in bags.

Casseroles and stuffing

Make any dish in advance that will reheat well, but remember: Dishes that have lots of cream or a sauce don’t always reheat well.

Assemble any casserole dishes you can the day before baking. Let the casserole sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before baking.

Prep all your ingredients for stuffing in advance. Sauté onions, celery and any meats you are using the night before. Cool and store in the refrigerator.

Dry the bread for stuffing by cutting into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes. Set it out overnight to dry. You can also dry in the oven at a low (200 degrees) temperature.

Don’t forget about your outdoor grill. It’s like having an extra oven. You can keep the grill on its lowest setting (about 200 degrees) to keep things warm. Side dishes made in foil trays are best for the grill. If you’re using metal dishes or casserole dishes, place them on a sided baking sheet. Make sure the heat is low. Also, cover whatever you’re keeping warm so it doesn’t dry out.

Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Total time: 50 minutes

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar or cheddar blend, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled, divided
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions, divided

Remove the core of the cauliflower. Separate the cauliflower into florets.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot half filled with water to a boil. Blanch the cauliflower for 3 minutes. Drain and press a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth) gently on the cauliflower to soak up excess water.

Make cheese sauce: In a large skillet, melt butter. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the flour and stir until the it turns lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk while stirring and bring to a low simmer. Whisk in the cream cheese until it melts. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup cheddar cheese until melted. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Place the drained cauliflower in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the cheese sauce over and stir until combined. Set aside about 2 tablespoons of the cooked bacon and green onions. Stir in the remaining bacon and green onions to the cauliflower until combined. Top with remaining cheddar, bacon, and green onions.

Bake until cauliflower is tender and the cheese on top has melted, about 30 minutes.

Makes 10 servings.

Recipe adapted from: www.delish.com

Susan Selasky is the food writer and Test Kitchen director for the Detroit Free Press, where she develops and tests recipes and answers readers’ questions about all things food. Contact her at sselasky@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanMariecooks

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