The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever

BOOK: The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever
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THE
Best
Casserole
COOKBOOK EVER

With More Than 500 Recipes!

•••••

by
Beatrice Ojakangas
photographs by
Susie Cushner

Dedicated to all lovers of casseroles and hot dishes.

INTRODUCTION
THE CASSEROLE IS BACK

•••••

Casseroles are making a comeback. They are all about home, food, family, and friends, whether you are cooking alone or together, no matter what season. Not only are casseroles fast and easy to make, but they can be healthy as well, with the addition of whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.

The word “casserole” can refer either to the dish that the food is cooked in or to the food itself. In Minnesota, however, the food is called a “hot dish.” In other parts of the country, it might be called a “covered dish.”

Casseroles became popular in the 1950s, mainly because they got the cook in and out of the kitchen fast. This was about the time that canned soups became vastly popular, and cooks were convinced that they, too, saved enormous amounts of time.

Today’s casseroles have a greater variety of flavors, and they’re fresher, too. We have embraced many dishes and ingredients from abroad, and we’re also using more fresh vegetables, many of which are now available in convenient, ready-to-use packages. Ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, brined olives, dried exotic mushrooms, flavored oils, and fresh herbs, which were not readily available in the past, are at our fingertips now.

In this book, there may be an occasional recipe here and there that uses a canned soup. However, my personal preference is to avoid ingredients that we’ve recently found to be unhealthy, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), partially hydrogenated fats, and highfructose corn syrup (a sweetener widely used in beverages and fruits). Read the labels.

It is my hope that you will find more than a few useful recipes in this book, as well as suggestions for those times when what to fix for a meal presents obstacles like (1) “I don’t have time for fancy preparations,” or (2) the opposite, “I really want to serve something special,” or (3) “I want to serve something wonderful but I don’t have the time,” or (4) “I need to make it ahead and leave the baking for the final hour.” Throughout this book there will be information to help you overcome these obstacles.

I love to entertain and usually have dreams of elegance and formality. But when it comes down to it, hospitality and conviviality are more important. As a result, we’ve had a lot of fun with our testing parties. When our guests took a recipe, made it, and offered suggestions, they invested themselves in the process, and proudly presented the results. This happened time and time again as we tested the recipes in this book.

CASSEROLE COOKWARE

•••••

A casserole dish itself can be made of ovenproof glass, porcelain, earthenware, or enameled cast iron. Glass, porcelain, and earthenware do not conduct heat quickly, but they do retain heat, so they are good choices for casseroles. Dishes made from one of these three materials can go from freezer to oven without problems, but they cannot be used for stove-top cooking like cast-iron or enameled cast-iron casseroles can. Most casseroles are attractive enough to go from oven to table.

In some of the recipes, we specify the size of a casserole dish in quarts, rather than giving its dimensions. This is because if you know the volume, you can use a casserole or baking dish with a different shape and dimensions. I have casserole dishes that are round, oval, square, rectangular, and even star-shaped. Any of them would work for most casseroles that call for a shallow casserole dish of a certain volume. To determine the volume of an odd-shaped dish, you can simply measure it using quarts of water. If there is no size indicated on the bottom of a dish, I mark it with a permanent marker. Ovenproof dishes that have the size on the bottom, like a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, often include the volume. Dish dimensions do make a difference in baking time. If the depth of the dish, and therefore the food, is greater, it will need to bake longer than it would in a shallow dish. Some casseroles fare best when they are baked in a deep casserole dish with a cover. The recipes indicate when this type of dish is needed.

FREEZING & THAWING BAKED CASSEROLES

•••••

To successfully freeze foods, there are some simple rules you need to follow. The two most important bits of advice are to make sure you wrap the foods very well and to keep track of what is in your freezer. Freezer burn happens when food becomes dehydrated as a result of improper packing and being held too long.

To freeze casseroles:

Cool completely after baking and cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper, and then with foil. Label the dish with its name, date of preparation, number of servings, and hints on how to reheat the food.

To thaw frozen casseroles:

Remove from the freezer at least 8 hours ahead or defrost overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat in the oven to serving temperature. In a pinch, you can thaw a casserole in the microwave, but be sure it is in a microwave-safe container. Microwaves tend to thaw foods from the outside in. The center may still be frozen while the outside is burning. To avoid this, use a low setting and turn the food often.

ASSEMBLING & REFRIGERATING CASSEROLES BEFORE BAKING

•••••

Many of the recipes that follow can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for several hours, or even a day. If you have chilled a casserole for more than a few hours, remove it from the refrigerator when you preheat the oven. That will give the ingredients and the dish a chance to warm up a bit.

HOSTING A POTLUCK

•••••

Casseroles can be shared with pride. “Can I bring something?” These are words we often hear when we invite friends or family to a party. The idea seems so American, but it is actually done the world over.

Although the term “potluck” suggests a random assortment of dishes, it’s likely to turn out better if the host does a little bit of organizing. The term itself has an old-fashioned ring to it. We might visualize ladies in their Sunday bonnets, teetering on high heels, carrying large dishes covered with checkered cloths. But potluck parties are an ideal form of entertaining for the contemporary host or hostess who would like to gather friends together, but who is too busy to do all of the cooking.

If you are organizing a potluck, you can make a point of asking each person to bring a favorite dish. If you can, be more specific—for example, “Your special turkey-and-stuffing casserole would be perfect,” or “Can you bring your wonderful vegetable casserole?” The more than 500 recipes in this book are all great choices for a potluck, and most of them are very portable, requiring no elaborate last-minute preparation.

A potluck with a theme can be a lot of fun for a group of
friends. Themes like Italian, French, Scandinavian, German, or South American can pique everyone’s imagination. I know of families who, for their annual holiday gatherings, ask people to bring foods that start with the letter “C” or “H” or that are a certain color.

If you choose to organize your potluck, here are some more ideas. (1) ask guests to bring a family favorite dish; or (2) assign each guest to bring either an appetizer, main dish, or dessert; or (3) as the host, you can provide the main dish and ask the guests to bring appetizers and side dishes.

When assigning dishes, be considerate of guests who are traveling a long distance, and recommend they bring nonperishables, such as cookies, bread, or pickles. If you have oven space, suggest a ready-to-bake casserole that can be kept cold until they arrive. At the party, it is always helpful to label dishes. I use 3-inch white ceramic tiles, purchased on sale from a hardware store, and write with a felt-tip pen the names of various dishes. The tiles are easily washed clean for use another time.

It is the host’s responsibility to provide serving utensils, pot holders, dishes, and silverware. It’s also nice to have small disposable containers for leftovers and cards for sharing recipes (ask guests to bring recipes). Be sure to have plenty of spatulas and big spoons for serving.

Put beverages into a large container, such as a barrel, tub, or planter, with ice to keep them cold. Be sure to have nonalcoholic beverages available.

KEEPING FOOD SAFE

•••••

Keep hot foods hot (above 145°F) and cold foods cold (below 45°F) to avoid bacterial growth. Never leave foods at room temperature for more than 2 hours. It is not a good idea to let food sit out all afternoon. Instead, designate the time of serving and keep it to less than 2 hours before; refrigerate leftovers immediately.

If you have a large number of guests, set out small platters of food and replenish them as needed. When replenishing perishable food, replace or wash the platter first to prevent contamination.

To prevent guests from “double dipping” with their eating utensils, put a spoon in each dip or spread so they can drop a small amount on their plates.

Provide adequate places for people to dispose of garbage and deposit used dishes. Keep garbage away from food that will be served. Don’t mix dirty and clean dishes.

TOOLS FOR YOUR KITCHEN

•••••

You don’t need a lot of tools, but there are some that make life much easier for the cook.

BOOK: The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever
4.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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