Spinach Madeline

I don’t love everything about living in the South. August, for instance, is truly terrible. And every time I go over when to use “good” and when to use “well” in my ACT prep class, at least one student says “That just doesn’t sound right!”

My standard answer: “You live in northeast Louisiana. You probably shouldn’t rely on your ear for grammar.”

But when it comes to food? Well, we may not be able to make it all sound right, but we can make it taste just fine.

Case in point? Spinach Madeline.

All my favorite food bloggers and cookbook writers say that you need a cheesy, creamy side on Thanksgiving. And a green vegetable. Spinach Madeline fills both requirements, and I can’t imagine Thanksgiving without it.

Invented by a housewife who also ran a bed and breakfast in Baton Rouge, it spread in popularity across the South. I found recipes for it all over the internet. It’s just that good.

But a decade or so ago, Kraft did something unforgivable. It discontinued the “Garlic Cheese Roll” that was a central ingredient in Spinach Madeline (not to mention another family favorite, my grandmother’s “pea goo.”) My mother and her friends wrote letters to Kraft, begging that it be returned to shelves. They were not successful.

So, what to do? Over years of trial and error, I’ve come up with two options.

Option 1: Replace the full 8 oz. of cheese with another processed cheese. The most popular one seems to be Velveeta, but I don’t like the almost plasticky aftertaste I can usually detect. My grocery store stocks some other brands in the specialty cheese bin. My favorite, when they have it, is Dutch Garden. Basically, anything that melts easily will work.

Option 2: Use a blend of Monterey Jack (or pepper jack) and cream cheese to get the proper consistency.

Ingredients:

  • 30 ounces frozen, chopped spinach
  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup vegetable liquor, from the spinach
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon cayenne*
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder*
  • 5 ounces pepper jack cheese**
  • 3 ounces cream cheese**
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (leave this out if you want it to be vegetarian)

*Note that if you are using either a garlic or a spicy cheese, you may want to adjust either the garlic or the spice in the recipe.

** You may also use 8 oz. of Velveta Mexican Blend; 8 oz. of pepper jack cheese; or 8 oz. of any garlic or spicy processed cheese — just make sure it melts smoothly and doesn’t get stringy!

Procedure:

  • Cook the spinach according to the packet directions. Mine just steamed in the plastic bag.
  • Place a strainer over a bowl or measuring cup. Squeeze the spinach, using the cup to catch the vegetable liquor. You will need 3/4 cup.
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan.
  • Add the chopped onion and sauté until soft, but not brown (about 8-10 minutes)
  • Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the vegetable liquor, pouring in a little at a time and stirring well to avoid lumps.
  • Add the milk slowly, stirring until combined.
  • Add the seasonings, Worcestershire, and cheeses. Stir until completely melted and smooth.
  • Add the spinach and stir until combined.
  • Heat until bubbly.

Notes:

  • We serve this at Thanksgiving with the turkey, but it is also delicious with steaks or any grilled meat.
  • This is amazing directly from the stove, but for Thanksgiving, we pour it into a casserole dish. Place in a 350 degree oven to warm with other Thanksgiving sides. It usually takes about 30 minutes when it is refrigerated.
  • This can be made in advance and frozen.
  • I always double this. It will still fit in a standard casserole dish — it will just be deeper and take a little longer in the oven to reheat.
  • My FAVORITE thing to do with leftovers is to make an omelet and spoon warmed Spinach Madeline down the center before folding it over.
  • Happy Turkey Day!

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