Texas Chicken Tortilla Casserole - © sixsistersstuff.com

When In Doubt, Throw Together A Casserole!

We’ve all done it, probably more times than we’d like to admit: Looked into a fridge full of food and wondered, ‘What can I make for supper?’ With a little creativity, a few go-to ingredients and a Casserole dish, you’ll always have a ready answer to that immortal question…

Tuna and Noodle Casserole - © eatingwell.comYour basic Tuna and Noodle casserole.
The iconic supper failsafe!

The problem, often times, is that you have a fridge full of leftovers – half an Onion, a few stalks of droopy Celery, one last Carrot in the bag, leftover Rice, a part jar of Pasta Sauce; whatever. You’re loathe to toss them but you can’t wait forever for a prime opportunity to use them. Given a rigid sense of how different ingredients fit into your cooking repertoire, the opportunity may never come. And any food that’s edible deserves to be used! We’re entering a time when food is becoming every more expensive and – soon – maybe scarcer. Wastefullness is a bad habit that could eventually do us all in.

But what to do?

Open your mind to the possibilities of Family Bakes – Casseroles which can transcend the bounds of conventional recipes and ingredient combinations and make the most of every last bit of food you buy.

Stock in some basic ingredients

If you always stock a ‘melting’ Cheese such as Cheddar or Jack, a jar of Pasta Sauce (or, better, a freezer container of your own sauce!), a dozen Eggs, Bread Crumbs, odd Buns or Bread Loaf Heels, and Dry Pasta (Penne, Rotini and Elbow Macaroni are the most versatile), you’ll always have the basis of a quick, foolproof Casserole.

You can always throw together a Mac and Cheese using those basic ingredients plus whatever you have in the way of leftover Protein, cubed or shredded, and maybe a handful of large-diced Green or Red Pepper. And you can always toss in  a handful of frozen Green Peas or Kernel Corn for colour and added flavour.

Think Italian and use up that Red Sauce. Boil up a couple of cups of the short Pasta of your choice, stir together with the the sauce, add shredded or gated Cheese, cubed Eggplant, large-diced Sweet Pepper, and some kind of Protein . You could even use cubes of Firm Tofu in this one, which would make a nice counterpoint, texture-wise, to the Eggplant. And chances are, your ‘customers’ wouldn’t even catch on.

Think about it: A last-minute Lasagna can be as easy as any other Casserole, if you’ve got appropriate ingredients on hand. A great way to use up wilted Spinach and odds-and-ends of various Cheeses you can just shred and mix together. And you don’t have to layer it. Just toss all the ingredients in a big bowl with cooked Pasta of your choice and gently combine with a wooden spoon. In a well-greased Casserole dish, top with Cheese, and and let nature take her impartial and majestic course…

There’s an entire wholly-owned subsidiary of the Casserole empire that’s based on Cream Sauce. If you can make a simple Béchamel Sauce, you can use it as a springboard to a wide variety of dishes. The great thing is, a nice, velvety Béchamel gives you a wonderful neutral-flavoured base that complements almost any ‘leading role’ ingredient you want to feature. Could be as simple as Green Beans or Asparagus with Pasta topped with a blend of Bread Crumbs and grated Cheese. Toss in a can of Tuna and you’ve got a major meal! And it’s not really cheating if you keep a couple of cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup in the back of the Pantry for those days when time is of the essence and making a Béchamel is a bother.

A Scalloped Potato Casserole can be a whole meal with added Protein and some Veggie garnishes.

Not just for supper, either…

We’ve posted recipes for Breakfast Bakes here at the FFB before. And I stick by my original assessment that they’re the best way to feed a crowd at brunch.

But I want to point out that the Breakfast Bake concept – relying on a foundation of Bread Cubes and Egg Custard Mix – can also be enjoyed for lunch or supper. I’ve even gone into the fridge for a leftover serving of one of these late at night, when I needed something to settle my stomach before going to bed.

What you’ve got, in its simplest form, is a Bread Pudding. And you can enhance it as much as you want with Veggie and Protein additions.

And… You can also use up leftover Turkey Stuffing in a simple casserole. Just add shredded or cubed leftover Turkey (or other complementary Protein) press lightly into the Casserole dish and top with whatever melting Cheese you have on hand.

Or how about a Texas Chicken Tortilla Bake? (See image top of page.)

Prep procedures in common

Regardless of what kind of Casserole you end up making, some key preparation procedures apply to for all.

First, you want to grease the casserole dish generously to ensure that the food doesn’t stick. That goes for any kind of Casserole.

You’re almost certainly going to top your creation with Bread Crumbs or shredded Cheese, or both. So you’re going to want to bake it until the topping turns golden brown or melts, or both.

When timing your Casserole meal, you can usually rely on a baking time of around 45 minutes at 375 F. It might take longer if you’re using a lot of raw ingredients, or a deep casserole dish. The usual indicator that a Casserole is cooked through in the centre is that it’s bubbling around the edges. If that happens before the topping is right, no problem. Just leave it in the oven another 5-10 minutes. That’ll just make the Casserole yummier.

It’s always a good idea to let any Casserole rest for 5-10 minutes after it comes out of the oven. This gives it the centre a chance to set. That lets you serve it more easily, and it’ll also look more attractive on the plate.

And that’s it…

Put some variety in your family’s usual menu with Casseroles. And use up leftovers and tag-ends of foods that might otherwise go into the garbage!

~ Maggie J.