Monday, January 25, 2010

Casserole Basics

I've been working out at the gym after work. This means I don't roll in the door of our house until well after 6:30pm each night. It is hard to put a meal on the table, eat and get it all cleaned up before 8pm. It sure doesn't leave much time to do anything else; like read, watch a little TV or shower before it is bedtime. JR really appreciates when I shower after I work out. He's funny that way.

Anyway, I've decided that on the weekends I'm was going to start making up casseroles that I can have JR pop into the oven while I drive home. Isn't that clever? Not!

Casseroles are a no brainer as long as you remember the 4 basics. Vegetables, pasta, or meat (or in our case no meat just veggies and pasta), binder, topping, and the theme. Let's break these down a little.
  1. Vegetables, pasta, meat or all of the above: this is anything that you have cooked up during the week. You know, the stuff that you have put in a container and stuffed in the refrigerator to spend some quality time turning into science projects. Before they turn green and fuzzy re-invent them into a casserole or soup.
  2. Binder: this is soup, some sort of sauce, or eggs. I usually make a bechamel or cheese sauce. Sometimes I'll make creamed soup like celery or mushroom to use in casseroles, then store them in the fridge until needed. You could always use canned soup. I'm not a big fan of canned soup because of monumental amount of salt they put into them but not everyone makes their own. Eggs work well especially when mixed with sour cream or ricotta cheese. Mayonnaise works great also because it is basically just eggs.
  3. Topping: Cheese, bread crumbs, corn chips, mashed potatoes all make really great toppings. Mixing cheese with any of the others just makes the topping that much better but then I love me some cheese. A little melted butter never ever goes amiss.
  4. Theme: You are best to stick with a theme when making casseroles. Think in terms of Italian or Mexican or pizza or nachos. What is your favorite meal? Can you make it into a casserole? If you can't send it to me because I can make casseroles out of anything.
  5. Directions: either combined or layer numbers 1 & 2 into a greased baking dish. Top with number 3. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until all the ingredients are heating through and the topping is golden brown if using bread crumbs or bubbly if using cheese. If you are going to store this for a few days you can either bake it for half the time or just cover and stick in the freezer.
Let me give you an example of using a leftover to make a casserole.

Taco: I made some fresh black bean and corn salsa yesterday. Today I'll turn it into a taco style casserole by combining it with some cooked rice, meatless crumbles and a cheddar cheese sauce as the binder. Then I'll top it with tortilla chips.

Here's my favorite white sauce recipe. It is really simple to make. If you are going to use it for a casserole start it first. Let it cool while you put the rest of the casserole together.

White Sauce

1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk or veggie stock
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

All cream sauces (this includes gravy) start the same way. That is they start out with a 1 to 1 flour and fat blend (a roux). It doesn't have to be butter; though it adds some yummy flavor to the party. Melt the butter on medium heat, add flour and stir until smooth. Cook stirring for a little while, maybe 2 or 3 minutes. You are trying to cook that flour pasty taste out of it. Continue to stir flour mixture while you slowly pour in the milk. Let the mixture come to a boil. This is what makes it thicken. Turn down the heat. Add seasonings. Want to make cheese sauce? Add 1/2 cup of cheese. Cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmesan are all good choices because they melt well.

Trying to make things a little lighter and healthier? Use olive oil as the fat and skim milk or fat-free broth.

Here is the start to tonight's dinner.
Topped with tortilla chips and baked this will be great.

Hope this helps using up all those leftovers.



  1. Schmoop calls me the Casserole King. I have come up with some classics. Looks good, Michele. Cheers to ya!!

  2. It has never occurred to me to make my own sauce. I hate to use the canned stuff; yet always do because I just thought there wasn't another option. The canned stuff just screams unhealthy. Love the different varieties of cheese. Variety of cheeses?

    Meatless crumbles? Can these be purchased in a average grocery store?

    Too many questions? :)

  3. I love to recycle leftovers into a casserole. I always feel so Julia Childish. Looks great.

  4. Beloved loves casseroles; The Young One hates them, because I can (and do) hide "healthy" things in them.

    If I'm in a big hurry, I'll use canned cream soups, although I don't like to for the very reason you stated - there's about 4 pounds of salt in one of those little cans.

  5. That looks pretty tasty. I know a lot of people who make up casseroles and stuff on the weekends to have during the week. It does make it easier to relax and enjoy the evenings.

  6. Great, informative post. I too have shunned “cream of” soups due to learning how to make my own with lots of milk, some chicken stock (or vegetable) and seasonings and flour. I am also learning how to cook a bunch of rice and noodles on Sunday to use during the week.
    P.S. bought spaghetti squash yesterday and thought of you.

  7. I love anything that is easy! Looks wonderful and good for you making it to the gym! Happy Meatless Monday....Denise

  8. This does look very easy. What about whole wheat flour? Can I use that for the white sauce and make it a little off white?

  9. Thematic Casserole?? For some reason that just sounds hilarious. I guess you could have variations on a thematic casserole, like a Pagananini Casserole or maybe even the Goldberg Casserole Variations. Make mine bacon, merci boocups :-)

  10. I liked this post, but the whole time I was reading it I kept thinking "I wish my gang would leave some leftovers so I can experiment with casseroles."

    Although at this time of year we mostly eat salads which I don't think would go too well in a casserole even if there were any leftovers.

  11. I always like to stop by and see what you are cooking! Another recipe just for me...ah! Thanks!


  12. Looks yummy!! I am all about a casserole. Working full time, 3 kids, and the never ending "mom, what is for supper?" or "is supper ready?" means casseroles are a great option!!

  13. My kids will be eating left over spaghetti carbonara tonight. I'll be having... cereal?

  14. Oh that looks yum. And working out? Impressive! Keep it up! Yaaaaaaay! :) Workout some for me too, m'kay?