Quarantine calls for food experimentation!
My boyfriend and I were craving a casserole so naturally I was excited to find a good recipe that was veggie style online and get to it! Finding something that sounded and looked delicious, that was also veggie, was not as easy as some other recipes, so I went to the store and winged it. This was actually a really fun experiment if you are looking for cheesy, southern goodness along with a few veggies to make things more interesting! The measurements here are just general guesses of what I used but should be tailored to your liking.
It isn’t the best health-wise, but comfort food is nice from time-to-time.
I started at the specialty cheese section at Kroger. I do not normally buy from the cheese aisle in the dairy department because the cheeses in the specialty section of the deli have SO MUCH MORE FLAVOR! So if you have never ventured there, definitely try it. Call some of you local stores and see who has this section because not all do, and order your groceries online if needed!
So for the cheeses:
I picked out a Parmesan, Gruyère, Colby, and a Gouda.
Just grab a block of each or sub for your fave cheeses but pick three out of 4 creamy ones (The parm is my chosen sharp cheese). The size of them is kinda irrelevant at this point, but my blocks were around 1/2 a pound each.
Next move to the veggies aisle, You will need:
2 Cauliflower heads, a bunch of spinach ( sub out for kale or broccoli if that is your taste), Mushrooms (sub out for black beans if needed), Jalapeños, Parsley, & 1 Large Lemon.
In the baking aisle:
Find your favorite bread crumb breading, I went with Panko, and grab a box of it.
Veggie Broth (If you’d like to skip this, you can use water), Your canned black beans may be located here… check near the corn or canned tomatoes too.
Find your dairy aisle:
Grab heavy whipping cream, a small container is fine.
Move to your packaged cheese section in the dairy area:
Find a small tub of cream cheese.
Either hashed potatoes or tater tots, your choice! I used leftover hashed we had in the freezer.
Optional: Bottle of $10 buttery Chardonnay.
Okay so this recipe was a fun experiment. I channeled Cheesy spinach dip for my inspiration however feel free to modify it to your liking, broccolini could be a green sub for spinach, and for protein you could add black beans instead of mushrooms…
Remember to wash your hands once you get home with your goods, after you put them away, before you start your food experiment, and periodically throughout cooking as necessary.
You will need 2 large sauce pans from the start, add water about 3/4 full in one sauce pan and sprinkle salt in it, place on medium heat, and allow to simmer while you chop! Go ahead and preheat the oven to 400.
Also, make sure to grate the cheeses you’ve bought before you start cooking because this is super time-consuming and will throw off the process if you need to do it while in the middle of something else, I recommend tasting the cheeses as you go so you know what portions of your blocks you want to add to the mixture. You can control what the blend will be like once in the dish by doing this… adding more or less of a cheese as you go. I skimmed on the parmesan for this reason since it tends to be a little bit sharp and bitter. Mix the cheeses well.
*Chop the cauliflower first by pulling the leaves off as much as possible, then using your knife to gut the stem out (If you are using broccoli use this step to cook them too). Do not worry about it being pretty. Then just use your hands to pull apart the individual florets you can see from the top of the bloom. Long stems on the florets can be pulled or cut off and kept in the mixture or tossed. I kept about 1/2 of the stem from the florets. Once all done with the first head, gently drop them in your simmering water to blanch for 5-10 minutes. The water should only be simmering, not boiling.
I did 1 head of cauliflower and let it simmer while I finished the other. After sending the 2nd head in I blanched for an additional 5-10 mins so that the two cauliflowers had varying textures. The first head had about 15 minutes of blanching.
Once the second head of cauliflower has been blanching for 5-10 minutes, immediately drain the water and set the saucepan to the side with the cauliflower in it.
*Add your cheese mix to the other sauce pan on medium heat, along with about 1/8-1/4 stick of butter or about 2-3 tablespoons. I only used about 3/4 of the total amount of cheese we had grated. Once it starts melting together, turn down the heat to just above low and add in your cream cheese (about 6oz), mix well, then plash in 1/2 a cup of broth or water and thoroughly mix (The chardonnay was mostly for my enjoyment while cooking- but I splashed some in at this point too).
Once it is all one mixture, turn the heat back to medium and add in about 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream. Use a whisk to mix this and go gently at first, the quicker you mix the ticker the cheese sauce will be, if you notice it is still too liquid-y, first turn up the heat and whisk some, then check, and whisk faster if needed. The cheese should only slightly be stringy but still mostly liquid form. Once ready simply remove from heat to set it aside, and replace it with a large skillet to start heating for your other veggies.
*On the new medium-heat skillet, prep your spinach or kale by simply throwing them in after rinsing and trimming the stems, you may need to add water to the kale to help it cook faster, or even cover for 5-10 minutes with the water in the skillet. The spinach will cook quickly and fairly easily, however, you may need to go in with a knife and slice up the pieces to make them smaller for either the spinach or the kale.
Once finished sautéing squeeze 1/2 of the lemon onto the spinach/kale and toss. Mix the kale or spinach in with the cheese mixture. You can use the other half for fresh lemonade or for household cleaning purposes.
Once those are done, prep your mushrooms by chopping them only slightly larger than your thumbnail and sauté until most of the water from the mushrooms evaporate. The mushrooms will shrink in the cooking process.
Then just mix the mushrooms in with the cauliflower/broccoli mix.
Alternatively, if you are using beans: drain, rinse, and gently mix with the cauliflower. No need to cook them.
*Line your baking dish with the potatoes to start, spread the cauliflower/mushrooms/beans, then pour the cheese mixture on top. The last step of prep is to coat the top with some of the leftover grated cheese and your bread crumbs, then place the sliced jalapeños. My dish is 13.5 by 9.5 inches.
*Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling up. Then change the stove to broil and broil for about 3-5 minutes or until the bread crumbs are browned. Allow to cool for 10ish minutes and top with the parsley, Enjoy!