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When folks “talk turkey” about holiday dinners, they, in fact, don’t talk much about turkey. Or ham. (Though they might if it’s roast beef.) They instead remember sides or desserts. Nonna’s baked ziti. Oma’s sauerkraut. Dad’s gravy. Aunt Susan’s pumpkin pie. Because of that, the menu is often a done deal. Who can fight history? As a longtime Thanksgiving cook (I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner at 24 hugely pregnant with my first child), I pore over each year’s November magazines and keep Thanksgiving cookbooks on my coffee table from September on–always interested in finding something new to dream about. You can well imagine it’s my favorite holiday.Jump to Recipe
But sometimes even I return to old favorites again and again. I’ve been making this meal so very long that there are actually a few groups of favorites from different eras. At the beginning, there was still mostaccioli because my Aunt Georgia always brought it and if she was missing, I made it. (She had, as a bride, lived above an Italian couple with a restaurant and you get the rest of the story.) There were the years my oldest son, Sean (himself a great cook these days) had to have my spinach casserole. And yes, it was made with Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix and beau-coup sour cream. Early on, I learned how to make a mean pumpkin pie from Betty Crocker and wherever I went, that pie had to come along on the trip. Since we lived all over the country and even in Germany as a military family, that pie got around. For years, there was a cranberry jello on the table every November, but only until youngest daughter Emily barfed that up one memorable holiday afternoon. As time went by, kids grew up and created their own traditions in their own homes, and I — inviting foodie friends or neighbors or traveling to see good friends — was able to throw in something new, tastier?!, spicy, or just fun. Appetizers and first course soups made several appearances when the meal looked for all intents and purposes like a dinner party instead of a family feast. A fresh salad or two (WHAT?!) and new, original desserts came next and some of those have hung around a while. The blog itself is the impetus for new and different dishes because… just because. I thank you for that. You keep me inspired. Who knows what’s next?
This year, looking for recipes to take along on a trip where we’ll make Thanksgiving in an airbnb (what will be in that kitchen?!), I came across an old sooooo cheesy broccoli casserole I barely remembered, but there’s a note on it that reads, “Thanksgiving staple.” And the more I thought about it, the more it rang a bell. Just for fun, I’d make one ahead to see what I thought and whether it really might work for this year. Reading the recipe over a few times, I began to make changes in my head. With one exception, I had all of the ingredients I wanted in the house — a real boon. Broccoli turned into broccoli AND cauliflower. A creamy sauce ramped up to one laced with not too much, but a certain amount of perky garlic and even some ground cayenne for a soft punch. The ubiquitous yellow Cheddar was replaced with a much lesser amount of silky-salty Parmigiano-Reggiano, and so on. I made it to accompany humongous pork chops Dave first smoked on the Traeger and then seared on our gas grill and, after two big helpings, Dave asked, “Why would we have anything else this Thanksgiving?” While it’s much like other veggie casseroles most cooks make this time of year, we found it a total upgrade and the flavors are smack on. And so it will be part of our smaller meal this year, cozying up to a charcoal grilled turkey breast and some whole roasted sweet potatoes. Of course the pumpkin pie is along for the ride. I’ve got the recipe, a pie plate, a pastry cutter, a whisk, the rolling pin, two cans of pumpkin (I need last year’s pumpkin, you see–it makes the best pie), and my spices all packed in their own special suitcase ready to hit the road at 6:30 tomorrow morning. Where I go, the pie follows.
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Garlic Cream Broccoli-Cauliflower Casserole
- 1 pound broccoli florets
- Medium head of cauliflower cut into florets -about 1 ¼ pounds
- 2 cups frozen pearl onions-can sub 3 medium onions, quartered
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 5 tablespoons salted butter-divided (4 for sauce and 1 melted for breadcrumbs)
- 1 large plump clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
- 1 ¼ cups warm milk
- 4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 cup soft breadcrumbs (I like whole wheat.)
- ½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese-about an ounce
- BEFORE YOU COOK: Butter a 3-quart casserole and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and set rack at center.
- COOK THE BROCCOLI, CAULIFLOWER, AND ONIONS: Bring a large pot of well-salted and peppered water to boil; add the broccoli, cauliflower, and onions. Reduce heat and cook at a low boil, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are nearly tender – between 5 and 10 minutes. Drain well and pour into the greased casserole dish. Set aside.
- MAKE THE GARLIC CREAM SAUCE: In a small cup, stir together the 2 tablespoons of flour, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and the 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne. Set aside. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a 2 or 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute. Whisk in the flour mixture and cook a minute or two to make a light roux. Whisk the warm milk in slowly and cook until thickened, continually whisking. Remove from heat and add the pieces of cream cheese. Cover for a few minutes. Whisk until smooth.
- ADD THE SAUCE TO THE VEGETABLES/TOP WITH BREADCRUMBS, CHEESE, AND PEPPER/ BAKE/SERVE. Pour the sauce evenly over the vegetables in the casserole dish and mix lightly. Mix the melted tablespoon of butter into the breadcrumbs and sprinkle on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and a few last grinds of pepper. Bake 30 minutes or until hot, bubbly, and crispy at edges. Serve hot or warm.Store leftovers well-wrapped for 3 days in the refrigerator. Do not freeze.
Need more Thanksgiving ideas? There are so many here on More Time. If you type “Thanksgiving” into the search box or click on “Thanksgiving” in the word cloud, lots will appear. You can also search under individual topics such as, “Green Beans,” “Pumpkin Soup,” and so on. Here are just a few to give you an idea: One-Pan Thanksgiving Sides, Appetizer, First Course, and Side: Old Stars Shine Anew for Thanksgiving, Kids Baking Thanksgiving: Cheddar-Cornmeal Muffins (GF).
CHANGE IT UP:
- Use all broccoli or all cauliflower.
- Skip the onion if you must (I just couldn’t); increase the other vegetables or add some sautéed sliced celery or fennel.
- Lower fat and calories by using skim milk (I did) and lower-fat cream cheese (I did that, too.) You could use less Parmigiano-Reggiano, too, if you’re really needing to get the fat level down. I’d make that a last ditch effort.
- Homemade Breadcrumbs/BBC GOOD FOOD
- How to Floret Broccoli/FOOD52
- How to Cut and Core Cauliflower/SIMPLYRECIPES
- How to Make a Roux/TASTEOFHOME
- Cut this recipe in half if need be.
- Share half with a neighbor.
- Peel and slice broccoli stems. Cook or make a little broccoli slaw.
- Are All Parts of Cauliflower Edible/GARDENING CHANNEL (spoiler: Yes!)
- If you bought an 8-ounce package of cream cheese, make one of my cheese spreads with the other 4 ounces.Try Ham and Blue Cheese Spread, Herbed Goat Cheese, or Salmon Cheese Spread. Other ideas: use on toast in place of butter, spread on crackers for a quick snack, or fill pieces of celery with it.
LIFE GOES ON:
Thanksgiving Prayer “That We May Be Renewed” Loving God, bless our food and drink our friendship and our laughter that we may be renewed in body, mind, and spirit to work together for the coming of your kingdom of justice, love, and peace. Amen. (Maureen Edwards, printed in Blessed be our Table, Wild Goose 2003)
Thanks for keeping me company in the kitchen. I think of you often as I cook and you are very much appreciated.
Be well and cook on,