Friday, April 4, 2014

Snobby food made easy

It's been awhile.  I've had a few new things on my plate since January, so I've spent more time consuming than producing on the internet.  If you're a fan, I'm sorry.  If not, well, then, I'm sorry I'm back

Anyway, I found a NYTimes recipe for beet casserole recently, and vowed to make it come hell or high water.  The major downsides are that there were lots of steps, beets are kind of messy, and I wanted a shortcut or two.  The problem with shortcuts, though, is that folks tend to think adding a can of MSG-laden soup is the way to go, and food snobs cannot tolerate that at all. In fact, there is no way any food snob has ever enjoyed a Veg-All and canned soup casserole with her food-snobbing mother for Thanksgiving. Yup, no way in hell that happened last year.

Moving on. I made different substitutions and solemnly swear there is no soup to be found here.

Thank you, Costco, for having organic, precooked beets ready to go.  They're cute, albeit still a bit messy, and if you look at the package after a drink or two, you might laugh like a 13 year old at all the red balls in the fridge.

The recipe also calls for beet greens, but I decided on this bag of other greens, including kale, chard, and spinach.  I'm actually not a huge kale fan, but baby kale is not unpleasantly chewy like elderly kale can be.

The final change I made could be considered sacrilege.  The original recipe calls for a hazelnut oat topping that seemed fussy, although I'm sure it's fantastic.  So I pulled out an old favorite for casserole topping: Ritz crackers.  

I know!  It's just wrong for food snobs to eat such things.  I should've at least gone to Trader Joe's for the "healthier" version, but that's 20 minutes away, while I could get the Ritz goodness at the Price Chopper mere blocks away.  And I made the crackers a better choice for our hearts by adding a super food: melted butter (grass-fed!!!). 

Wait, another change: I also didn't use "cloth bound" cheddar, opting for this Cheddar Colby mix that I had 10 pounds of.

Ahem.  I swear it's still an adequate copycat of the original. How could it not be!  There are at least three superfoods in there (beets, kale, and butter) as well as CHEESE.  You'll be superman after eating it.

Other notes: If I were to make this again tomorrow, I'd make this ONE thin layer.  But that's because I love crunchy food.  I put chips on almost all my sandwiches and love toppings more than the next guy.  I managed to fit 2 layers in my gratin dish and any more than that would've made the bottom too far away from the crackers on top.  The original recipe claims to make 3-4 layers.

Before I finally get to the recipe, let me tell you that it's not labor free. You will be making a béchamel sauce, which sounds fancier than it is.  I recommend you have all the ingredients for that ready.  And call it all "mise en place" because that solidifies your food snob status.

Puttin' on the Ritz Casserole 
(adapted from the NYTimes recipe linked above)
1 lb cooked beets, sliced 
1.25 lb of greens (that's most of the bag I pictured)
5 T butter plus more for buttery crackers
2/3 c flour
2 c milk
2 c Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 T ground mustard (or more to taste)
A few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce if you wish
One sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed

1. In a large pot, boil a lot of water.  Cook the greens in the water for 2 minutes. I had to do it in two batches.  Drop the greens into a colander that's sitting in an ice water bath. I do that in the sink.  Drain this very well once cooled, and consider squeezing the water out of the greens.  It'll keep the casserole from being runny.

2. (Béchamel Sauce) Melt 5 T of butter in a large pan.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Watch the color--it shouldn't brown.  Carefully whisk in the milk.  It'll thicken pretty quickly.  At this point, turn off the heat, stir in the cheese until combined and then add the mustard, the Worcestershire, and the hot sauce.  Add salt and pepper if necessary.  If the sauce seems too thick, you can add a bit more milk until it's runnier.

3. Melt some more butter in the microwave (your choice on how much. My mother might have used 1 or 2 sticks on her casserole last year, and we didn't complain. I used half a stick).  Add in the crushed crackers and stir.

4. Assemble the casserole.  Pour some béchamel into the bottom of your casserole.  Place a layer of beets and then a layer of greens.  Season this with salt and pepper.  Repeat layers until you run out. Top with buttered crackers. Bake for 45 minutes at 350.  If you feel that's too long for the crackers, cover the casserole with foil for the first 20 minutes or so and then take it off for the remaining time.

When you take this to your next potluck, if anyone asks whether it has cream of mushroom soup in it...just consider your audience. If it's Aunt Hilda who pours the stuff on her morning cereal, say YES.  If it's your hipster friend in the skinny jeans and cruelty-free sunglasses, look back in horror and say BECHAMEL YOU FOOL! And those crackers? Home-crushed of course.
Blogging tips