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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Carolyn's Faux Cracker Barrel Hashbrown Casserole

I grew up in Los Angeles so I never knew a thing about Cracker Barrel. It wasn't until I moved to Florida and we started driving up the East Coast on vacation or to visit Tom's family in Cleveland that I ate at a Cracker Barrel. I know you are all thinking: why the hell is she talking about Cracker Barrel.

One simple reason, I love the food there. Well, not all their food but most of it is pretty darn good after being stuck in a car for hours. It is also like a wonderland when you walk into the store and there is all types of candy and funky crafty stuff. But my favorite thing about Cracker Barrel is the hash brown casserole. I love it.

For years I pined for that stupid casserole but would never have it unless we took a driving trip. Then one day, I decided that I could try and recreate the recipe with a little creativity. I racked my brain trying to figure out how they make it and why it tastes so good. Then one day: Eureka! I hit upon the magic formula.

I had a little help from Rachel Ray and The Melting Pot. From Rachel Ray, I learned to make the perfect cheese sauce. In the end, I ended up taking her recipe and adding a few things I learned from visiting The Melting Pot. Rachel made a cheese sauce on her show and used it for mac & cheese. I realized that this cheese sauce wold also work for scalloped potatoes and if it worked for scalloped potatoes, it would work for hash browns as well. Rachel's cheese sauce was like a fondue so I figured, hey I could add flavors and change it around.

When we would go eat at The Melting Pot, the servers would make the cheese fondue at the table. They often used beer, garlic and other spices and it was tasty. So I decided I would willy-nilly make my cheese sauce doing what they did.

To make my cheese sauce, I start with equal parts flour and butter to make a roux. Now I usually use 3 tablespoons each but you can use 2 or 4 or as many as you want as long as it is equal parts. You melt the butter, add the flour and cook it off so it loses the floury taste. Then I add some ground mustard, salt, pepper, garlic powder and some onion powder. That is the basic recipe but I have also added fresh herbs like thyme or sage when I want a different taste. I have added paprika or green chile powder to shake it up. The beauty of this cheese sauce is that it can be changed up. This time I added some fresh thyme I had lying around. Yum!

Once the you have the roux, you add milk. Since I am all willy-nilly, I can't tell you how much because I eyeball it. But I would say start with a 1/4 cup of milk and then a 1/4 cup of beer. You can use any beer but I have found that a darker hearty beer makes a richer cheese sauce. Then you just add a little more milk or beer as it thickens up. Since I am lazy, I buy already shredded cheese and use the Simply Potatoes hash browns because who the heck has time to grate potatoes?

Once the mixture thickens a little take it off the heat and add the cheese. I usually use one pack of cheese. I prefer a cheddar cheese when making the hash brown casserole but you can change that up and use any type of cheese. I have used Monterrey Jack and Gouda. Trust me, you can get very creative. Mix the cheese in. Now if the sauce gets too thick start adding a tablespoon of milk or beer to loosen it up a little. Taste and spice it up more if needed and it is done.

Chop up an onion. Take some Pam and spray the backing dish. I like using a deep round baking dish for this recipe but you can use any you have. Open the Simply Potatoes and start layering the potatoes, onions and a little bit of cheese sauce. I like salting each layer just a little. Continue doing this until the ingredients are all in there. Add any remaining sauce on top. Now if you want a brown crusty top you can some shredded cheese on top.

Again, I can't tell you how long I cook it for because I have never timed it but if I had to give an answer, I would say cook it at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. But I have left it in longer with no problems.

I have to tell that the first time I tried this recipe, I wasn't sure what to expect. But let me tell you it is better than the Cracker Barrel Hash brown Casserole but that's just me. It is also a dish you can eat as a side dish or entree. You serve this with a salad and you have a veggie dinner in a jiffy! You can serve this with chicken, beef, pork and hubby loves the leftovers for breakfast with some eggs.

There you have. It is quick and easy. You can also make the cheese sauce and make Mac & Cheese or Scalloped Potatoes or just use it as a fondue. Yummo!!




6 comments:

  1. Yum...sounds delicious. It took me years and years to make the perfect cheese sauce.

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  2. That sounds so stinkin' good! I think theirs is ok, but I believe you when you say yours is better! :)

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  3. I still haven't tried this recipe, but I haven't stopped thinking about it...gotta do it soon!

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  4. I LOVE Cracker Barrel's hashbrown casserole too. So yea, guess I should try to make this so that I can wow the hubs with my awesome skills. :)

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  5. This recipe looks delish!

    Nancy
    allibrary (at) aol (dot) com

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