Okay. It’s confession time. I hate raw spinach. I don’t like my lettuces to be sweet…unless I am adding something sweet (dressing-wise or add-on wise) to them.
That being said…I love frozen chopped spinach (once it’s heated, of course). I absolutely adore (formerly) frozen spinach sauteed in lightly browned and golden garlic and olive oil. I could bathe in (and devour) a tub of creamed spinach.
My love affair with cooked spinach began well before my teen years when my mom decided to make again an old family favorite from River Road Recipes (the official cookbook of the Junior League of Baton Rouge) for Thanksgiving. Being a child, I turned up my nose at the idea of anything called “spinach casserole.” Forget the fact it had jalapeno cheese in it.
And then I ate at least half of the offering. (Keep in mind: Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners have one purpose in mind: who cares how much you eat day of…it’s the leftovers that matter. And I’m not talking about let’s stack all of the leftovers between two slices of bread. I’m talking about reliving the day of with a recap of the meal…leftovers-style…for as many days as possible…if possible three times a day.) I think, if I remember right, leftovers lasted four days. So four days of eating spinach casserole breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Yup. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
It’s that good.
In recent years, it’s become a toss-up between the kicked up green bean casserole from Vintage Vicksburg which will probably be on the table at American Thanksgiving at my sister’s and making the spinach casserole (referred to formally as Spinach Madeleine). Both are labor intensive; and the spinach casserole is a bit pricey to make. Worth every penny as every morsel of food will be gone from the pan (in this case, a Pyrex loaf pan), but still pricey.
It all boiled down to one very key ingredient whose discontinuance almost led to the end of Spinach Madeleine (or at least a hiatus that lasted a few years)…Kraft’s Jalapeno Cheese Roll. You see, Kraft used to make a jalapeno cheese roll with a black wrapper and a garlic cheese roll with a green wrapper. A while back, they discontinued both…first the jalapeno cheese log and then the garlic one.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I noticed (after pouting for years about the demise of the jalapeno cheese roll) that Kraft began making a Mexican Velveeta (insanely pricey, like most of their Velveeta has become recently).
So, I went about attempting a substitution. And it worked…it was doable…but, it wasn’t the same. I keep hoping the bigwigs at Kraft will hear the collective cry of those who love the recipe and bring the cheese roll back.
In making the list for Canadian Thanksgiving, I decided I needed to add it to the list. Have you ever noticed how starchy Thanksgiving meals tend to be: dressing or stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes of some kind, rolls of some kind, and possibly even other starches. Yes, we always serve broccoli and cauliflower with cheese sauce (as well as the raw crudites…called relishes), but I wanted…well…I wanted an excuse to make spinach casserole.
But, here’s what I did this time:
20 ounces frozen spinach (I ended up with 12 ounce package bags…so I ended up with 24 ounces)–Make sure you get chopped!
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup white onion, chopped finely
1/2 cup whipping cream (I still had some left over from truffle making a bit ago. The original recipe calls for evaporated milk)
1/2 cup “pot likker” (made from preparing the spinach–I microwaved mine sans extra water and ended up with exactly 1/2 cup–once I squeezed the spinach in a wire mesh strainer bone dry)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
3/4 tablespoon garlic salt
3/4 tablespoon celery salt
a dash of cayenne or red pepper, or to taste (optional)
6 ounces Mexican Velveeta, cubed
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Cook spinach according to package directions, drain, and reserve liquid. Pour spinach into greased final baking dish (I used a loaf pan). I microwaved two packages’ worth for 8 minutes. In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add onion and cook slowly until softened. While the onion is cooking, pour the cream/milk into the pot likker. Add flour to the butter and onion, blending until smooth, and cook about 1 minute.
Slowly add creamy pot likker, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened and smooth (think Alfredo sauce consistency or a bit thicker). Add seasonings and cheese. Stir. Pour over drained spinach into appropriate casserole dish (I used the loaf pan). Stir to blend completely.
*At this point you would want to refrigerate for at least one day or freeze, covered in foil. On the cooking day, bring to room temperature before baking in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes (or until hot and bubbly).
Note: I have seen several post-Kraft-catastrophe recipe substitutions for the cheese roll. Some use Velveeta or Cheez Whiz with cut up pickled jalapeno peppers. Some use pepper jack. I haven’t tried either. In some places, a company is producing a jalapeno cheese roll clone, but it looks wrong to me, somehow. Maybe one day I’ll try it, though.
I serve this as a big meal side dish. I refuse to do what one of my mom’s coworkers once suggested when Mom brought the casserole to a work holiday potluck: use it as a spinach dip for chips or crackers.
That still causes my stomach to curl in on itself. Almost as the thought of the newest Pinterest pumpkin monstrosity does: pumpkin rice.
Here was the casserole (before baking):
It’s all I can do not to go invade and conquer the loaf pan in the fridge right now.
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone! 🙂