Thanksgiving is probably going to look a little different for a lot of us this year, but we can still celebrate, enjoy good food and each other’s company in new and creative ways. Since a lot of Thanksgiving gatherings will be a bit smaller this year, I’m going to take advantage of cooking less volume by adding a little more flair. Maybe go for that fancy cheese. Add that extra topping. Cook a sauce from scratch. It’s all easier and more affordable when you’re cooking for a smaller crowd. So that’s what I did with this super cheesy, Loaded Cauliflower Casserole. It’s a rich and indulgent side dish with tons of fun toppings and a smaller batch size, fit for a smaller 2020 Thanksgiving feast.
Adding that extra flair is also more affordable thanks to the awesome selection at my local ALDI store. They have everything I need for a traditional Thanksgiving feast, plus those fun specialty ingredients that can take your meal to the next level, all for unbeatable prices. And their cheese selection? Ah-maz-ing. So, I had a little fun with the cheese in this dish and used two different varieties of cheddar. #noregrets
What Kind of Cheese is Best?
Cheddar is definitely the best choice for this Cheesy Loaded Cauliflower Casserole because it melts smoothly and has a rich and creamy flavor. But you can play around with different flavors of cheddar to give the dish more flair. I used Emporium Selection Vintage Selection White Cheddar from ALDI for the cheese sauce, and their classic Happy Farms Mild Cheddar for the topping. If you want to try something more fun, they have tons of seasonal flavored cheddars like smoked cheddar, hatch pepper cheddar, or Cajun spice cheddar, all of which would all be incredible in this casserole.
Use the ALDI store finder here to find a store near you, then tell me in the comments below what kind of cheese you tried, so I can go try it too. ;)
What Else Can I Add?
If you want to add even more to your already “loaded” cauliflower casserole, I have some ideas. I tend to like things spicy, so a few thinly sliced jalapeños would be awesome, especially if coupled with a few small dollops of cooling sour cream. Slices of avocado might also be nice. Or, if you want to take this a different direction, a light drizzle of sweet and tangy BBQ sauce would be an amazing compliment to the creamy, cheesy sauce.
Want to turn it into a meal casserole? Add some shredded chicken or browned Italian sausage before drenching the cauliflower with sauce.
What is the Serving Size?
While I could probably easily eat half of this myself, I don’t think that would be a reasonable serving size, considering how rich this casserole is. This recipe makes about six smaller Thanksgiving sized servings (serving sizes tend to shrink when you’re trying to fit more items on one plate), or maybe four regular weeknight-dinner-sized side dish servings. It all depends on how many other items you’re serving with your meal.
Can the Recipe be Doubled?
Yes, absolutely! I purposely made this a smaller batch size recipe, but if you do have more mouths to feed this recipe is easily doubled. As long as you use a 9×13″ casserole dish so that everything is still evenly spread out, the cook times should all remain the same.
Cheesy Loaded Cauliflower Casserole
- 4 oz. Appleton Farms Hickory Bacon ($1.63)
- 1 head cauliflower ($2.29)
- 3 Tbsp Countryside Creamery Salted Butter (0.42)
- 3 Tbsp Baker's Corner All-Purpose Flour ($0.03)
- 2 cups Simply Nature Organic Whole Milk ($0.75)
- 1/4 tsp salt ($0.02)
- 1/4 tsp Simply Nature Organic Garlic Powder ($0.02)
- 1/4 tsp Stonemill Black Pepper ($0.02)
- 6 oz. Emporium Selection Vintage Cheddar, shredded ($3.16)
- 2 oz. Happy Farms Mild Cheddar, shredded ($0.42)
- 1/4 cup Chef's Cupboard French Fried Onions ($0.16)
- 2 green onions, sliced ($0.11)
- Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon from the grease in the pan and let it drain on a paper towel lined plate while you prepare the rest of the dish.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the leaves and stem from the cauliflower, then cut it into small florets. Add the cauliflower florets to a pot and cover with water. Place a lid on the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Let the cauliflower boil for about 5 minutes, or until it is fork tender. Drain the cauliflower well in a colander.
- While the cauliflower is draining, prepare the cheese sauce. Add the butter and flour to a sauce pot. Melt the butter over medium heat, then continue to cook and stir the flour and butter for about two minutes more.
- Whisk the milk into the flour and butter until it is fully dissolved, and no lumps remain. Continue to heat and stir over medium until the milk reaches a gentle simmer, at which point it will thicken to the consistency of heavy cream.
- Season the white sauce with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Remove the sauce from the heat, then begin adding the shredded vintage cheddar, one handful at a time, making sure it has fully melted in before adding the next handful. If the sauce becomes too cold to melt the cheese, place it over low heat only until all the cheese has melted into the sauce.
- Place the boiled and drained cauliflower in a 2-quart casserole dish. Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower, making sure it is fully covered. Top with the remaining 2 oz. shredded mild cheddar and the French Fried onions.
- Bake the cauliflower for only ten minutes, then switch the oven from bake to broil and broil for 3-5 minutes, or just until the top is slightly browned (broiling is optional). Do not over bake the casserole, or the cheese sauce will split.
- Remove the casserole from the oven and top with the cooked bacon and sliced green onions. Serve hot.
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How to Make Cheesy Loaded Cauliflower Casserole – Step by Step Photos
Cook about 4oz. bacon in a skillet over medium heat until brown and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the grease in the pan and let it drain on a paper towel lined plate while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the leaves and stem from one head cauliflower, then cut it into florets. Add the florets to a large pot, cover with water, place a lid on top, then bring it up to a boil over high heat. Let the cauliflower boil until fork tender (about 5 minutes). Drain the cauliflower in colander.
Melt 3 Tbsp butter in a pot over medium heat (I used the same pot from the cauliflower to avoid dirtying another pot). Add 3 Tbsp flour and continue to cook and stir for about two minutes.
Whisk two cups of milk into the butter and flour mixture until it is fully dissolved, and no lumps remain. Continue to cook and stir the milk over medium heat until it comes to a gentle simmer, at which point it will thicken to about the same consistency as heavy cream.
Season the sauce with ¼ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp pepper, and ¼ tsp salt.
Remove the sauce from the heat and begin adding the shredded cheddar, one handful at a time, making sure it is fully melted in before adding more. If the sauce becomes too cold to continue melting the cheese, place it over low heat only as you melt in the rest of the cheese.
When all of the cheese has been melted into the sauce it will be thick and cheesy.
Place the cooked and drained cauliflower in a 2-quart casserole dish, then pour the cheese sauce over top, making sure to fully cover the cauliflower.
Add the final 2oz. shredded mild cheddar and ¼ cup French fried onions on top. Bake the casserole for ten minutes, then switch the setting on the oven from bake to broil. Broil for 3-5 minutes, or just until you get some slightly browning on top.
After baking, add the final toppings: cooked bacon and sliced green onions. Serve hot and enjoy the creamy, cheesy goodness!