Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holiday Leftover Casserole

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The Christmas fake meats
Can boldly furnish forth the next day's table!

The title of today's post is really a misnomer, since I actually conceived of and made this casserole as itself, rather than a way to use up food that had been cooked for another occasion. But it imparts exactly the same feeling as those old-school, retro-housewifey recipes you find on the back of soup cans and packaged stuffing mix, so the name seems like a handy and accurate descriptor of the dish's spirit, if not its literal substance.

Of course, you could make it with leftovers, especially if you have a ton of stuffing - often the case at our house - and/or extra cooked veggies, etc. cluttering up your refrigerator in the days after a big feast. Talking of holidays, I make my own (admittedly delicious) sage and onion stuffing from scratch on such occasions, but packaged stuffing cubes work perfectly well here, and in fact their presence in my cupboard on an ordinary, uninspired evening proved the starting point for the recipe below.

My main caveat when buying stuffing mix is to read the label closely, because animal products lurk in the weirdest places; the Arnold variety in the hyperlink above is fine as of this writing, but companies do change formulas so be careful. I'd also suggest a pretty bare bones preparation of the stuff, since the casserole itself is amply seasoned: just mix with enough broth and fat to suit package directions, and don't worry about adding herbs, onions, etc, as you might do if you were serving it as a side dish.

The end result was trashily delicious in the most satisfactory way, and the whole business only took about an hour from conception to completion (yet more proof - if any were needed - that cooking is preferable to gestation). We had ours with mashed potatoes and leafy greens on the side, but this "leftover" casserole could easily serve as a one-dish meal on a busy weeknight, and it makes excellent leftovers itself, should you be lucky enough to have any.

Holiday Leftover Casserole
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 large carrot, diced
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 tsp. each: sage, parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. each: thyme, marjoram, rosemary, white pepper
~ Dash mace
~ 2 tbsp. each: all purpose flour, nutritional yeast
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk, heated and mixed with 2 tsp. no chicken bouillon
~ 1/2 lb. vegan poultry substitute of choice, diced (I used TJ's chickenless strips), or 1 15 oz. can of drained cannellini beans or chickpeas (both excellent)
~ 1/2 cup frozen peas
~ 1/2 14 oz. bag stuffing mix, prepared according to package directions (subbing vegetable broth for chicken, oil or margarine for butter, etc., obviously)

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray.
~ In a large, deep skillet, saute the onion in the oil over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and continue cooking 5 minutes more, until they begin to soften.
~ Add the garlic, mushrooms, bay leaves, and dried seasonings and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms are giving up some of their liquid.
~ Stir in the cubed "chicken" or beans and cook another minute or two.
~ Sprinkle in the flour and nutritional yeast and stir to coat. Gradually begin adding the warm milk/bouillon mixture, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken a bit.
~ Add the frozen peas, mix well, and continue cooking over low-medium heat for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Remove the bay leaves, transfer the mixture to your greased casserole, and distribute the prepared stuffing mix evenly over the filling, making sure it's entirely covered.
~ Drizzle a little melted margarine over the top (or just give it a good shot of cooking spray) and sprinkle on a little paprika and parsley to make it pretty.
~ Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, then raise the heat to 425 and give it another 10-15 minutes, until the topping is crispy and golden-brown (ovens vary wildly, so keep an eye on things to be sure it doesn't burn).
~ Allow to rest about 5 minutes before serving.

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