Tonawanda News

December 21, 2011

HAYNES: Eliminating the Cheez Whiz from a favorite Christmas dish

The Tonawanda News

— — Ah, it’s nearly time for round two of holiday dinners and as you read this, I’ll be sitting down to enjoy my annual family Christmas feast in Texas.

I don’t know why it is that certain recipes are reserved for just Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, but in my family, there’s a handful that I only ever see once, maybe twice a year.

Some are so delicious though, I decided to work them into my cooking repertoire, which is how I came to start meddling with a holiday classic for my family: broccoli rice casserole.

I think there must be half a dozen recipes for this cheesy dish floating among family members and while some things may be different — one calls for cream of chicken, another for cream of mushroom — they all have one thing in common: Cheez Whiz.

That’s right, this nearly fluorescent, orange, let’s call it dairy product, is the thing that makes this side dish so ooey gooey good. It’s also the stuff that makes me cringe and look away with embarrassment every time I bring it up to the check-out counter at the grocery store.

Call me snobby, fine, but who seriously wants to eat anything with the word “Whiz” in its name? Wired magazine dubbed the processed cheese the least natural food ever, though why a technology publication has anything to say about the matter is beyond me.

Right! Time to find a substitute. And while we’re at it, let’s find an alternative to the high sodium found in the can of cream of chicken required to make this recipe.

The cheese substitution is actually pretty straight forward: Use eight ounces of shredded cheddar or colby cheese instead of eight ounces of Cheez Whiz. To make sure things get all creamy and not stringy, I added a little more milk than is required as well.

I used the recipe below for cream of chicken, swapped out “minute” rice with long-grain brown rice and fresh broccoli from my community-supported agriculture share and I felt pretty good about my new creation.

It’s not going to save you any calories, but at least you can feel a little better knowing exactly what you’re putting in your body.

I’ve also included some other family Christmas favorites ... though  be warned, some of them might have you reaching for the overly processed stuff. I’ll tinker with them next ...

Broccoli rice casserole

10 ounces chopped broccoli (if frozen, thaw)

1⁄2 cup chopped onion

1⁄2 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups cooked rice (any variety is fine)

8 ounces shredded cheddar or colby cheese (or 8 ounces Cheez Whiz)

1 10.5-ounce can cream of chicken, mushroom or celery soup, or use substitute recipe for cream of chicken below

1 cup milk

Cook rice according to directions and set aside. For long-grain brown rice, put about a cup of dried rice into pot, fill with water until it covers rice by about 3⁄4 of an inch and bring to boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until the water has been soaked up. Set aside.

Sautee onion, celery and broccoli in oil in skillet until cooked through. You don’t want to brown the vegetables too much.

Combine rice, cheese, cream soup and milk. Add cooked vegetables to mixture.

Pour mixture into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees in the oven until the dish is bubbly and slightly brown on the top.

Cream of chicken

soup from scratch

1 tablespoon flour

3 tablespoons butter

1⁄2 cup chicken broth

1⁄2 cup milk

salt and pepper, to taste

Melt the butter over medium-low heat. When melted, whisk in the flour and continue whisking until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat and whisk in the chicken broth and milk. Return to heat and bring to a gentle boil, whisking constantly, until the soup thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste. Equivalent to one can of soup.

— adapted from recipe at

see haynes on page 4c

haynes ...

continued from page 1c

Sausage biscuit balls

1 pound ground sausage (like Bob Evans brand)

10 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup Bisquick mix

1⁄2 teaspoon salt.

Mix all ingredients together and form into 1 to 11⁄2-inch balls.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden.

Sausage cherry balls

1 pounds ground sausage (like Bob Evans brand)

1⁄2 cup Italian bread crumbs

Jar of maraschino cherries (about 25)

Mix sausage and bread crumbs.

Shape some of the mixture around each cherry to completely cover it.

Bake at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until sausage is fully cooked.

Lime gelatin salad

One small package lime gelatin

2 cups boiling water

4 cups small marshmallows

8 ounces cream cheese

1⁄2 cup pecans

2 cups crushed pineapple

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water.

Add two cups marshmallows and let dissolve.

Spoon small amounts of gelatin mixture into cream cheese, beating all the time.

Add the rest of the marshmallows, pecans and pineapple and pour mixture into a Pyrex casserole dish or any dish of