No matter where you live, it’s a good bet that the cold air has descended with temperatures unlike any previous this season. And, with the coming new year, and ironically all the health goals that come with it, this cold air has left me wanting none other than warm, comfort food. Perhaps it’s more than the cold air, but the anxiety of leaving behind such a tumultuous year and wondering what could be coming next. With natural disasters, a world filled with unrest and for me personally, like many reading today, a year that I’ll remember for both its deep joy and great strife. So, while I’m making New Year’s resolutions like everyone else, I’m also embracing the comforts around me, from warm fires, dinner with friends and cooking sentimental meals in the kitchen.
Growing up, my family loved a buffet. Perhaps it was a sign of the times as the indulgences of the 80s, even when it came to food, helped to contrast this decade from the previous one. Some of my first memories in the 70s are of my mother comparing chicken prices and how much they had risen but deciding to buy it anyway as beef prices had spiked too much that week; discussing if we used more electricity to turn the light off each time you left the room, or to leave it on if you were just leaving for a few minutes; how we needed to use cold water when brushing our teeth instead of warm water, as it saved energy; and sitting in a long line for gasoline, one that stretched into the street, but knowing that we had to wait as we could only get gas on certain days — days decided by the last digit on your licence plate: an odd number meant gas on an odd-numbered day, and an even number on an even-numbered day. Thus, by the mid-80s, when my memories are far more clear, and the pendulum had swung to American excess, the restaurant buffet was at full popularity and my family certainly did partake.
One thing I always looked for in a brunch buffet was anything made with potatoes. There were often mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, scalloped potatoes, and sometimes, much to my delight, hashbrown casserole. This gooey mound of cream, cheese, and shredded potatoes was guaranteed to be delicious. Today, you can find similar renditions of the hashbrown casserole at Cracker Barrel or at favorite meat n’ three restaurants. Oddly, for as adventurous as I am in the kitchen, I never thought of making it at home. But, with the current blast of cold air, and the never-leaving unrest I have worn over the past year, I suddenly wanted to make nothing more than a simple, delicious, cheesy, hashbrown casserole that evoked memories of family, laughter, security and perhaps a time when calories didn’t seem to matter!
The thing that surprised me most in my quest to replicate this food from my memory bank was that it required cream of chicken soup. I think my generation has lost the love for the “cream of” soups that are foundations to casseroles, and that’s likely because casseroles aren’t as popular as they once were. But, after trying to make this recipe without the cream of chicken soup, I confidently say that you need it. There is a reason that when you google “hashbrown casserole” that every recipe is a slight variation of each other, and almost every single one (at least the ones with fabulous reviews!) uses cream of chicken soup.
I hope you enjoy this recipe and cheers to you, to this year that we are closing and to the next one. Life is not easy and with as much as we know about each other with Facebook and Instagram, and our ability to communicate by text message and facetime and everything else, there is so much struggle that goes on in each other’s lives about which we know nothing. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to connect more with people in person, over meals with place settings that won’t win any awards on Instagram but will warm hearts and build the relationships that we all need. Here’s to deeper connections in 2018 … which for some reason put me on the quest for an easy, delicious hashbrown casserole!
- (1) package Simply Potatoes Hash Browns (find in the refrigerated section)
- (1) can (10.75 oz) cream of chicken soup (I use healthy request by Campbell's)
- (2) cups (8 oz) shredded cheddar cheese (I use Kroger brand sharp cheddar)
- 3/4 cup sour cream (I use Daisy low-fat)
- 3/4 cup chopped onions
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- Optional: if you like a little kick, add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl until thoroughly combined.
- Spray a casserole dish (I use an oval one that is approx. 11 x 7 inches) or butter it before adding the mixed ingredients in and spread evenly.
- Cook for 45 minutes to one hour, depending on your dish: the thicker the casserole, the more time it will need to cook. (With my 11 x 7-inch dish, it takes just about an hour to cook).
- Rest for 5-10 minutes and serve.
And, since we are talking about the new year, here are a couple other recipes you may enjoy, perfect for New Year’s Day: