Casserole Time!

Make life easier with casseroles.

By FamilyTime

 Casseroles are every home cook's salvation. And yet, a lot of us think of them as boring and stodgy. Not so! They are warm and comforting and sure to please everyone.

A casserole is at once a preparation and the dish in which it's served. The preparation is made with at least two ingredients and usually several more, while the container is an ovenproof dish with a tight-fitting lid that can be carried to the table.

Casseroles are favorites with busy moms - particularly those who like to prepare food ahead of time. Many casseroles freeze well and the organized home cook may have two or three stashed in the freezer at any given time, ready to defrost and heat with no fuss.

Classic Casseroles
Everyone loves macaroni and cheese, lasagna, and tuna-noodle casseroles. These classics exemplify what makes a good casserole: easy to prepare, full of warm, familiar flavors, blessed with creamy, smooth textures, and requiring nothing more than a fork to eat.

Noodles and rice are commonly used to bind the ingredients in casseroles. Other typical ingredients are ground meat, chopped chicken, canned tuna, cheese, and sturdy veggies such as broccoli and beans.

Casseroles have far less liquid than stews. The sauce is often a creamy white sauce (made from butter, milk, and flour), cheese sauce, tomato sauce, a simple mixture of milk and sour cream, or a can of undiluted cream soup. Yogurt, which curdles at high temperatures, is not recommended unless a specific recipe calls for it.

Casseroles may be topped with buttered bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, or crunchy dried onions, crumbled potato chips or taco shells, or dry cereal. These toppings brown in the oven for added texture.

Casserole Savvy
Assemble the casserole ahead of time, cover it with the lid that comes with the dish or plastic wrap, refrigerate, and then heat it just before serving. It will hold in the refrigerator overnight or during the day while you are at work.

In most instances, the ground meat, chicken, or fish should be cooked first. Don't overcook them — remember they will continue to cook a little as the casserole heats in the oven.

This same logic applies to pasta and rice. Cook them until just tender and then toss with the other ingredients.

If you plan to freeze the casserole, cook it until nearly done, almost as though you were going to serve it. Let it cool to room temperature in its dish. If it seems dry, add a little of the dominent liquid. Cover the dish, which should be freezer-safe, tightly with aluminum foil and then freeze it for up to a month. If the dish is not freezer-safe, transfer the cooked casserole to another container. Don’t forget to date the casserole.

Most casseroles can be reheated directly from the freezer. If the container holding the casserole is freezer-to-oven safe, put the covered casserole in a moderate oven (350°F.) and heat it until hot and bubbling, about an hour. The time will vary depending on how solidly frozen the casserole was. If you let it thaw a little in the refrigerator, it may not take as long.

Remove the lid or foil for the final 10 minutes to brown the top of the casserole.

A successful casserole, served in the dish in which it's cooked, needs only a green salad and perhaps a loaf of bread for a filling, satisfying meal — and one that was easy to prepare and serve. Clean up is pretty painless, too!