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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.