By Carolina Santos-Neves, Epicurious.com
Comforting, delicious, and simple-what's not to love about one-pot meals like lasagna, gratins, eggplant Parmesan, and mac and cheese? Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock love them so much they were inspired to write The Casserole Queens: Put Some Lovin' in Your Oven with 100 Easy One-Dish Recipes. "Casseroles are a nice way to share a piece of yourself with someone, and they make the dinner table a little more colorful," says Cook. The authors admit to having a fairly loose definition of what constitutes a casserole, taking the old-school, retro deep-dish concept and revamping it to fit the modern-day palate and busy schedules of today's families: "If it all goes in one dish, then it's a casserole. From the old-school 9x10-inch glass Pyrex, to the highly decorated soufflé dish, Dutch oven, ramekin, or pie pan, it's all comfort-it's all casserole."
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According to the Casserole Queens, to make a tasty casserole you'll need not only an amazing recipe but also passion and a well-stocked pantry-and don't forget a glass of wine for the cook! The authors' essential casserole-making ingredients include chicken, meat, and fish, frozen veggies, grains, starches, eggs and dairy, spices, garlic, onions, condiments, and canned goods like tomatoes, beans, tuna, and yes, even cream soups. Having these on hand will guarantee a speedy family dinner that will look-and taste-like it took hours to make.
Casseroles to Start the Day
• Frenchy Toast Casserole
• Baked Oatmeal
• Smoked Salmon and Potato Breakfast Casserole
• Sausage and Egg Casserole with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella
• Hash Brown Brunch Casserole
• Confetti Corn Bread-Crusted Shrimp in Creole Filling
Tip: Time Is on Your Side
Cook and Pollock have several tips for how to save your most precious commodity, time. Because so many flavors go into these dishes, you might consider swapping in frozen veggies if you don't have fresh on hand, or use a food processor to speed up the slicing process. Making dishes like coq au vin, tajine, and stews a day or two before allows the flavors to mingle and settle down, yielding a better-tasting product.
Tip:Prep, Freeze & Serve
One of the biggest selling points of casseroles is that you can plan, prep, and then freeze them for another time. Delayed gratification never tasted so good. A few rules to live by: • All starchy ingredients, like beans, pasta, and rice should be cooked al dente to prevent them from becoming mushy. •Hold off on the crunchy toppings until serving day. •Cover with freezer paper or heavy-duty foil, not plastic wrap. •When you're ready to serve the casserole, let it thaw overnight and then bake as directed.
• Red Snapper Veracruz
• Michael Lewis's Cassoulet de Canard
• Valley-Style Arroz con Pollo
• Swiss Chard Lasagna with Ricotta and Mushroom
• Hearty Moussaka with Low-Fat White Sauce
• Roasted Beet and Feta Gratin with Fresh Mint
• Bean Burrito Casserole
Tip:Don't Skimp on the Dairy
Watching your waistline shouldn't stop you from enjoying a casserole. "We cook from a place of love," the authors share, "so casseroles are generally not an area where we restrict our diet, but we've gotten a lot of requests to lighten up these hearty dishes." For the richest, creamiest dishes, Cook and Pollock recommend using full-fat milk and cheese. To cut back on calories but not taste, the duo advise combining low-fat grated cheeses with whole-wheat bread crumbs. Fat-free cheese products tend not to melt well and taste rubbery. Another option: Simply use a little less than what is called for in the recipe.
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Tip:No Need to Go Dutch
Even though casseroles can be made in any deep dish, the Casserole Queens suggest using glass or metal instead of cast iron, which can be extremely heavy and unwieldy. "In our own catering business, we use disposable aluminum pans. Those work like a charm and the heat conducts just beautifully," say the Queens.
• Apple-Matzoh Kugel
• Bread-and-Butter Pudding
• Wild Blueberry Pie with Almond Crumble Topping
• Double Chocolate Mocha Brownies
Tip:As You Wish
With that in mind, feel empowered to add your own ingredients. What's great about casseroles is that they're forgiving, allowing you the freedom to add or subtract ingredients as you deem fit. It can seem as if there are an overwhelming number of casserole recipes out there (we have more than 300 recipes on Epicurious), but don't stress or feel like you have to follow recipes to the letter all the time. If you really like cinnamon, add more to taste to your Frenchy Toast Casserole. If you want more protein in your Arroz con Pollo, increase the chicken and use less rice.
Tip:Live It Up
Cook and Pollock recommend "dressing the part" and "getting in the groove" before beginning your casserole. "The Kitchen is our kingdom-and in our land, we sing and dance just as well as Beyoncé." They are also big believers of wearing fun and flirty aprons.
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