Saturday, November 19, 2011

For the love of CASSEROLES

Ok.. with fall here, it makes think about casseroles. I know a lot of people don't really make them anymore and I don't understand why. Its a one pot meal, that is sure to warm anyone up on a fall day with some great flavors!

You will notice a font difference. This post was on my previous blog on myspace and I just brought it over here to share!

This is one of my favorite most flexible casserole recipes. There is lots of different variations you can do. Its it super easy!

1 cup main ingredient
1 cup second ingredient
1-2 cups starchy ingredient
1 1/2 cups binder
1/4 cup “goodie”
 seasoning topping
Main ingredient: tuna, cubed chicken, turkey, ham, seafood, etc.

Second ingredient: thinly sliced celery, mushrooms, peas, chopped hard-boiled eggs, etc
Starchy ingredient: thinly sliced potatoes, cooked noodles, cooked rice, etc.
Binder: cream sauce, sour cream, can of soup, etc.
“Goodie”: pimiento, olives, almonds, water chestnuts, etc.

Topping: cheese, bread crumbs, etc.

The advantage of this recipe structure is the flexibility. All you have to do is have one item in each category that seem to at least reasonably match well in terms of flavor. Cook any uncooked element thoroughly, put all the items in a large pot, and gently cook it over a steady heat, and just ten minutes or so later, you have an original creation on the table - just as healthy or unhealthy as you want it to be.

Here are a few examples of casseroles using this framework that work well for us.
Chicken-Broccoli Casserole
Combine all ingredients except cheese. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until hot. Top with cheese and serve
1 cup diced chicken breast, cooked
1 cup broccoli, cooked
2 cups rice, cooked
1 1/2 cups cream of chicken soup
1/4 cup mushrooms or black olives (purely optional)
pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Tuna-Potato Salad
1 cup tuna
1 cup chopped hard-boiled eggs
1 1/2 cups diced potatoes, cooked
1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup black olives
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup mustard (Dijon is fantastic!)
This one is a great light supper served cold on a warm summer evening, and works great on sandwiches. Just mix all of the ingredients together.
Ham, Apples, and Sweet Potato Casserole
Combine all ingredients except marshmallows, then spread the marshmallows evenly on top. You can either bake this at 350 for about 30 minutes or cook it over medium heat, covered, on the stove top.
1 cup ham, cooked and cubed
2 apples, sliced
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup light brown sugar
1/8 cup marshmallows (seriously!)
Reuben Casserole
1 pound corned beef, chopped into small pieces
2 cups sauerkraut
1 1/2 cup rye bread crumbs (just toast four slices rye bread and chop ‘em)
1/4 cup Thousand Island dressing
2 teaspoons melted butter or margarine
1/2 lb. shredded Swiss cheese
Combine all ingredients and cook on the stove top in a covered pan until thoroughly warm!
As you can see, this framework is really flexible, enabling you to turn out all kinds of different things. The best part is that it’s often easy to make these work based entirely on what you happen to have on hand - I’ll often assemble dinner based solely upon what I find in the cupboard or what I picked up on sale at the grocery store last week.
Here are some additional tips to make meals with these casseroles more well-rounded or to shave some additional spending from these dishes.
Many casseroles are best served with a vegetable on the side.
Depending on the season, we either steam flash-frozen vegetables or fresh ones, or we make a small, simple salad. Usually, this is steered by what vegetables are on sale that week at the grocery store. In other words, let your grocery store’s flyer take the lead here. Use it not only for an ingredient or two that would fit into these casseroles, but also use it for the vegetables on the side
.Potatoes is my favorite constant element, so we’ll buy it in bulk.
I’d be happy to have any kind of potatoes with every meal if I could, and there are many, many casseroles with this framework that a person can make using potatoes as the “starchy” ingredient. Because of that, potatoes is something we’ll always buy in bulk - we can use it in so many things and it’s very flexible. I buy every kind of fresh potato including red, golden, Idaho, purple potatoes and sweet potatoes. Scott does not like sweet potatoes but they are a favorite of mine.
Spicing is key.
Almost any dish will either come out bland or come out spectacular, largely depending on how you spice it. Don’t be afraid to be liberal with the spices when you’re cooking anything. Don’t have any idea how to do this? If you’re just getting started, you really only need ten different spices in your kitchen.
Here they are:
The real secret is almost always herbs and spices, which most beginning cooks seem to forget about, underestimate, or are intimidated by. The truth is that adding a few dashes of an appropriate seasoning to a dish can really make it flavorful - and make you forget about takeout.

Here are ten utilitarian herbs and spices you should have in your cupboard for general use; once you’re familiar with these, you can try expanding your repertoire (knowing my readers, they’ll likely throw up several suggestions in the comments). The dried herb and spice section at your store is the best place to start: most grocery stores sell small containers of each of these for less than a dollar. I’d recommend trying them one at a time in appropriate dishes before mixing them very much, because awkward herb and spice mixes can be atrocious, even if they’re quite good on their own.

Bay Leaves

Get some of these if you grill or prepare stews. Almost every grilled meat is wonderfully accented with some crushed bay leaves pressed into the meat before grilling, and they’re also great in soups and stews.

You can add these to almost any vegetable dish (especially steamed vegetables) to pop a good deal of extra flavors. Unsurprisingly, they’re also great on potatoes, along with sour cream, and can also mix well with eggs.

This is an essential ingredient for making any Mexican dish pop, plus it’s good as a general spice for meats and cheeses.
A healthy dose of marjoram is one of my most vital secret ingredients in my spaghetti sauce. It also adds “Italian” flavor to pretty much any meat or vegetable.
Oregano goes well with any dish that uses a substantial amount of tomato in it, particularly anything Italian. It’s another key ingredient of a great homemade spaghetti sauce, for example.
Pepper (coarsely ground black, preferably)

This stuff is fantastic on almost everything I’ve ever tried, from soups to meats to sauces. Don’t skimp on this, though - get some coarsely ground black pepper to start with and you’ll eventually find yourself wanting your own pepper grinder and making your own pepper mixes.

This is the stuff dreams are made of for both chicken and potatoes. That is all. This is such a favorite of mine. Love it.

This goes good on any poultry and any type of pork, and is also a great ingredient for hearty stuffings. It creates a very rustic and hearty “soul food” flavor.

If you ever eat scrambled or fried eggs, buy a small container of tarragon to add to the mix. It also goes good on salad, on chicken, and on seafood.

It basically goes with just about everything: meats, vegetables, and especially in any soups you might prepare. I use this all the time. It goes on basically everything I make.
I collect spices. I have so many different kinds. It has took a lot of time and for some a lot of money to get them. I splurge on whole vanilla beans, saffron, sea salts, etc. Scott didn't like the spices when we first got together. I am a huge fan of garlic also. I think you should have every kind of garlic they make - garlic salt-garlic powder-fresh garlic bulbs-preminced garlic. In addition to dry herbs, I grow fresh herbs all the time. I have 10+ herb pots that i bring in during the winter and put out in the spring and summer. I don't plant them in the ground because i want fresh herbs in the winter for soups and stews so pots work best for me with herbs.
Try them all. Find out what you like. You might just be surprised!
K Jaggers

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