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When Casseroles Attack

If you know me, then you know a "casserole" is usually the last thing in the world I think to make. It's not that they taste bad, but usually they're not seen as the mark of a great cook and more often than not, they're just not that challenging to prepare. Now, I don't mean to offend anyone with that comment because I know that there are many of you out there that don't necessarily WANT a challenge in the kitchen every night. I also admit that many casseroles I've tasted in my life have been very tasty indeed. This bring me to the tradition I now share with millions of other people in this country during the Thanksgiving holiday. That's right folks, it's Green Bean Casserole.

Now admit it - you've had this before and it tasted good, right? Now maybe the texture of it wasn't your favorite because the original recipe tends to be a bit mushy. However, with a couple of very slight tweaks - and I mean very slight - this tradition will live on in my family for a long time because it actually tastes really good. Especially alongside some delicious slow roasted turkey, gravy, stuffing, and sweet potatoes. Yummmmmm........

So yes, every year at Thanksgiving time, I do a 180 and dive straight into casserole mania. They are crowd pleasers, universally liked, and they feed a lot of people. Some day when I have full-on Thanksgiving dinner at my house, I'll probably do a few fancy-showy-gourmet type side dishes and appetizers, but when we're traveling almost two hundred miles to a couple different houses during this holiday, as it stands now: casseroles are king.

So how do I do it you ask? Well....

First thing's first. The key to this casserole is roasted garlic. Roast one head of garlic per casserole. I made two big casseroles (both were double recipes), so I roasted two heads of garlic in my little toaster oven for an hour. After they were cool enough to squeeze out that sticky ooey-gooey gold that is roasted garlic, I combined that with two cans of cream of mushroom soup, 1 cup of milk (skim worked fine), 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 2 small cans of mushrooms, and fresh ground pepper to taste.

In a large casserole dish, I emptied the contents of two bags of frozen french-cut green beans. Next, I poured the mushroom soup mixture over the beans and stirred everything together. I then gave the dish a few shakes side to side to settle the mixture evenly.

I finished by topping the perimeter of the dish with the rest of the french-fried onions. Into a 350 degree oven it went for about 35 minutes. The recipe calls for a cook time of 25 minutes, but the onions weren't quite browned enough by then. You know this casserole is done when the filling is still bubbly, but thickened and the onions are browned on top. Casserole #1 complete!

Next, I decided to go a different route and make a variation on mac and cheese that would use up the swiss cheese and asparagus we had in our fridge. I found this recipe on the internet and I don't quite remember where. I searched for it again and it's posted on a million different sites, so I guess it'll remain a mystery. Anyway, this next casserole is called Swiss Mac and Cheese with Bacon, Asparagus and Scallions. Ok, that's not its official name and I realize it's kinda long, but the original recipe was just called "Macaroni and Cheese" and well, that just wasn't gonna cut it. Oh and one more thing about this recipe: I added the asparagus. The original recipe doesn't have it, but I thought since we're using Swiss cheese, it would probably be a nice addition. I would think replacing the bacon with pancetta or prosciutto would also be a good idea. Anyway...

This recipe is already guaranteed to be good. Why? Because it starts with this:

Yes folks, bacon makes everything better. So, you start out by frying up 3/4 lb. of real pork bacon. I say that because we normally eat turkey bacon for breakfast, but in a recipe like this, you really need the real thing. After the bacon is fried, dry it on paper towels until it's completely dry and easy to chop up and/or crumble.

Next, heat up some olive oil in a pan and saute some chopped fresh asparagus seasoned with salt and pepper. Cook it on medium-high heat for just couple minutes so it's only half done and very bright green. Remove from heat and set aside.

Shred up 1 1/2 lbs. swiss cheese and chop up 4 or 5 scallions. Oh yeah, you should have boiled a 1b. of elbow macaroni (or Cellentani like I did) ahead of time as well. Now we're ready to do some layering.

This recipe is actually very very very easy to make because all it basically is, is layering good things in a pan and melting it all together. Whatever could be wrong with that? So you start with a layer of pasta, then top that with some cheese, bacon, scallions, and asparagus.

Next, just repeat the last step until you're out of ingredients and your pan is full. The last step to this casserole is adding the crunchy topping.

To make the topping, simply melt a 1/2 cup butter in a pan and add 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs and saute until golden brown.

Take the bread crumb topping and sprinkle it all over the top of this casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the bread crumbs are a little more browned and the cheese is melted.

Casserole #2 complete and there you have it, folks. A casserole bonanza straight outta my kitchen. Both tasted good and had that comfort-food quality to them. Everyone seemed to like them.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and I'll leave you with some images from my Turkey day at my mom's house - it was delicious!