Friday, January 23, 2009

Susan's casserole tutorial

Today Susan, a family friend, is sharing with us. Susan hasn't been married too long-16 months. She has an adorable baby boy, Hans, to keep her busy. Thanks for sharing. Pam

Okay, here goes my first submission. It's a tutorial on making casseroles.


Before we got married, my husband told me that casseroles are "an arrow aimed straight at a man's heart". So, needless to say, I've been making a lot of casseroles in the last 16 months, since we've been married! I used to follow set recipes for casseroles, but now I rarely do. It is considerably more fun to make up a casserole recipe as I go along, and I usually make at least one casserole per week, each different than the previous one, though some old standbys do get repeated, with only slight variations. Here's my method for creating a casserole:

A good casserole consists of some type of cooked and cut up meat, a starch (potatoes, rice, or noodles), a sauce, optional additional seasonings, and optional vegetables.

Here is my basic white sauce recipe, which is super-easy to memorize and adapt:

Basic White Sauce

2 T butter, melted in sauce pan.
Stir in 2 T flour. Cook roux for 3 minutes-ish.
Add some salt and pepper.
Stir in 1 cup milk (or other liquid) and cook until thickened, stirring with whisk.

I cut up some type of meat, make up a sauce, add some cooked potatoes, rice, or noodles, stir in a can of vegetables, add a bit of seasoning, and voila! - a casserole. But. . . the key to a good casserole is invention. I'll show you what I mean. Below are a few casseroles I've "invented" from the basic casserole formula:

Casserole #1: Chicken and Brown Rice

This is a basic standby that I make, but I vary it a bit every time. I grab some cooked and cut up chicken from the freezer for this dish. (I boil, debone, and freeze chicken in meal size portions). Maybe 2 or 3 cups of meat? Then I cook up some brown rice, about 1 1/2 - 2 cups dry rice, plus water to cook, which yields 3-4 cups of cooked rice. Meanwhile I make a white sauce, maybe 2 cups or so? Sometimes I just do a regular white sauce, but often after making the sauce, I'll remove it from the burner ("eye" for y'all in the South), and stir in a cup or so of grated cheese; this makes a wonderful cheese sauce! Then I throw the rice, sauce, and chicken (thawed to room temperature) in the casserole dish and call it done. If the meat is room temperature and the sauce and rice are hot, I usually don't even put it in the oven, and it's hot enough after melding. Maybe I'll stir in some corn or green beans, or maybe I'll serve veggies on the side.

Casserole #2: Steak and potato

My husband's company had a holiday party (they were too PC to have a Christmas party. . . ), and there were lots of leftovers that employees were able to take home, so I brought back several seasoned steaks and some cooked, chopped potatoes. A casserole was born!

I cut up and cooked some additional potatoes in my pressure cooker, as I hadn't brought home enough potatoes for a whole casserole. While the potatoes cooked, I started a sauce. I used my basic white sauce recipe times 2 1/2 (to yield 2 1/2 cups sauce), but I substituted in a cup of kefir (a fermented milk product) for some of the milk, to give a buttermilky flavor to the sauce. I also seasoned the sauce with a seasoning blend called "Northwoods Seasoning" that gives a nice rich flavor. I dumped the cooked potatoes (both the leftovers and the new ones) into the casserole dish, added the chopped up steak, and then poured the sauce over all. Mixed. Popped in oven for 20 minutes or so, at 350 degrees. I served leftover vegetables (also snagged at the holiday party) on the side.

Casserole #3: Mushroom and Garlic Chicken Pasta

I pulled out some cooked and chopped chicken from the freezer for this dish. I set a pound of shell pasta to boil while I started a sauce - 3 cups this time. This time I sauteed some minced garlic and fresh mushrooms in the butter before adding the flour (I upped the butter amount a tad for the sautee). For the liquid in the sauce, I used chicken broth instead of milk - makes a wonderful sauce! I microwaved the chicken, as I hadn't gotten it to room temperature yet. Then I put the chicken, the sauce, and the pasta in a casserole dish. Oh yum. This was a scrumptious dish! Hubby agreed. I served green beans on the side.

See? Not hard. Three casseroles from one formula. And I didn't have to patronize Campbell's cream-of-whatever to make them. I could come up with a zillion more variations, but I don't want to bore you. Sometimes if I don't have a lot of meat, I'll stir in some cooked beans (black-eyed peas or whatnot) to up the protein content. The amount of liquid is not a science; it's an art. Have fun!

- Susan


  1. The best part about cooking is not sticking to a recipe but feeling comfortable enough with the food you're working with to take liberty with creativity.

    AND it's fun when you cooking for people who truly appreciate creativity and new ventures in cooking!

  2. I love a good casserole! My husband is on the fence about them, unfortunately, so I don't make them often.

    His favorite casserole is a breakfast variety -- maybe with some croutons or broken pieces of bread, eggs, cheese, crumbled sausage, peppers, whatever.

    For most casseroles, I like to have a bit of crunch on top. I'll sprinkle some bread crumbs, broken crackers, chips, french fried onions, etc. on top.

  3. Thanks for doing this so much! I love a good casserole and you've given me some great ideas.