Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Casserole--A Template and a Recipe

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 learns to eat on $6/day.

Foodies and the food movement have been very good for food in very many ways. They've made it tasty again, fresh again, hip again. These days a feminist can cook if she so chooses without having to hide in the closet. These days men can cook. Even college students can cook. These days you can get foods and ingredients you couldn't get before. You can go local if you wish. Or organic. Or vegan.

But there is one wee side effect of the food movement, which is the sometimes snobbery that comes therewith. Now some people demand you need fancy expensive ingredients. They demand you need lots of time. They demand that you put your food processor away and settle for no pastry less than the lightest, puffiest, butteriest, even if it takes you 4 hours to make and costs you your soul. This is not a good thing. It keeps non-foodies from cooking. Sometimes it even gives foodies an excuse to subside on restaurant meals and fancy organic TV dinners when they don't have time to cook the necessary feast (and how often do we have time for things like phyllo dough, I ask). Sometimes such attitudes even lend themselves to waste or to its fraternal twin, excess. If nothing else, it often leads to extreme fussiness. (Have a look at America's Test Kitchen's recipe for vegetable soup if you don't know what I mean--leeks, porcini mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, celeriac, escarole, baby lima beans, fresh parsley leaves--I mean, I'm sure it's good, but who wants to visit a jillion stores and spend 3 hours cooking for vegetable soup.) Which discourages people from cooking. And eating good foods. And before we know it we're back in the car with a Big Mac in hand.

It's this overly foodie, overly fussy, sometimes snobby and wasteful attitude that has pushed some foods or methods of preparing foods into darkened corners. I believe that casserole is one such dish. Oh sure, it can be gross--bland and overly starchy/cheesy. It can even be expensive if you feel the need to throw a whole bag of chicken breasts, 2 cans of cream of chicken soup, and a 1/2 bag of potato chips into the mix. But if created as what I believe its original conceit was--as a leftover dish combining the best of many previous and delicious dishes, I see no reason for it not to adorn the foodie's plate, as well of course, as the cheapskate's. (Just don't add margarine because it deserves its stint in the corner, with some time to think long and hard about what it's done. Okay okay, you can add it if you want; just don't tell me alright.)

The problem, as I see it, with casserole is that we often have a recipe for casserole. This isn't inherently bad of course. But it can definitely get more expensive as you try to meet the demands an ingredient list imposes. Thus, below I'll start with a template and then add a recipe for those of you who like recipes because I know we all do sometimes.

Casserole--A Template
Makes an 8x8 pan of casserole

2-3 C rice, noodles, or other grain (barley, quinoa, or any combination of what you have sitting around, although I don't think combining noodles and grains would be a good match)
1-1/2 C vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale, tomatoes, corn, beans, peas--whatever you've got)
1/2-1 C grated cheese
1/2-1 C sauce (can be mayo, dressing of some sort, creamy soup, white sauce, broth combined with mayo or white sauce)
1/2-1 C shredded or cubed meat--optional (chicken, fish, beef, meatballs will all work--in theory it's already cooked and seasoned and ready to go. If not, you just need a small amount of meat sauteed in a skillet)
1/4 C crumbs for sprinkling--optional (bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, potato chip crumbs--whatever you find smashed in your kids' lunchboxes--what do you think those foodies would say to that instruction?)

Heat the oven to 400. Combine all ingredients (except a sprinkling of cheese and crumbs if using) in a bowl (or, heck, the pan if you're lazy like me). Mix them up. Sprinke with crumbs and or cheese if you wish.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are browning and possibly bubbling just a bit.

Broccoli Rice Casserole--A recipe
Serves: 4 side dishes or 2 main courses (and probably a lunch left over)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Cost: $2.15
(rice: .15, chicken: .40, cheese: 1.00, sauce: .10, broccoli: .50)

2 C Kalyn's pesto lemon rice (plain rice would work just fine)
1/2 C shredded chicken
3/4 C cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 C mayonnaise
1/4 C chicken broth
1 C cooked broccoli

Combine rice, chicken, broccoli, 1/2 C cheese in a bowl or 8x8 inch pan. Combine mayonnaise and chicken broth to make a sauce. Add the sauce to the other ingredients. Put in pan if you haven't already. Sprinkle with cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.



  1. When I was growing up, my family had a very strong aversion to dinner casseroles (something about newlyweds and tuna with noodles). When I first had chicken and noodle casserole at a friend's in high school I thought it was great! When I tried to recreate something similar as an adult, I was frustrated with the idea of condensed cream of... soup casseroles. I now do something very similar to your method. I would like to add in the interest of tasty and cheap that the meat for this kind of a casserole stays in my freezer. When I make chicken stock for soup I usually have a quite a bit of shredded chicken. I use what I need for the current recipe (chicken and noodles/pot pie/whatever) and freeze the rest. Works great for last minute casseroles (or an unheard of night when we have a sitter and I would like to serve "chicken and rice" to the kids while enjoying a meal that is hot and served to me with other adults around.) It could happen...

  2. Thanks for your comment Kelli. The nice thing about freezing it is that even if you just have a bit, a little meat can go a long way in a casserole or a pasta dish.

  3. Found this post by google. I am glad to have found a casserole "template." (At home) I eat mostly local, vegetarian (although I will eat meat at other people's homes/restaurants). So I am primed to be a "food snob." But I like to think I am not (really.) When we had friends the other night I made lasagna (all from local, organic products) with garlic bread (the bread was a from the farmer's market) and from scratch fondue with high quality chocolate and local, organic, grass-fed whipping cream. However I also served marshmallows and Little Debbie rice crispy treats for dipping (along with out-of season, grocery store fruits). So I like to think I am balanced :) lol ... I really enjoyed reading this post because you had me shaking my head in agreement. :)

    1. It's nice to have a few "non-real" foods to keep us real, right?



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