There are moments when anyone who cooks five or more night a week just wants to run screaming from the kitchen. Whether it's making grilled chicken breasts for the 100,000th time, trying to put a balanced meal on the table, or the tail end of a bad day at work, the desire to escape from the stove is, let's face it, inevitable.
So, we pack everyone up and go out to eat; that's one way to deal with this culinary ennui. Also an expensive one.
Turning six nights of cooking into three by doubling recipes and making casseroles isn't something that will make us kick up our heels and squeal in delight, but it will prevent heads from exploding as we stand in front of the stove and wrack our brains for ideas.
For decades, casseroles have been a cook's way to extend a small amount of food to feed a family. In the 21st century, they also are a way to keep us sane. But, we have to plan ahead, and therein lies the rub: Spend a little extra time one night and reap the benefits another night down the road.
These casserole recipe won't break any new ground for creativity or inventiveness, but they aren't terribly complicated. Most are for dinner's main meal; a few others are for side dishes.
THE ULTIMATE CHICKEN CASSEROLE
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds chicken breast tenders (not breaded)
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen broccoli spears, thawed and drained
1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) condensed cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon curry powder, if desired
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (2 ounces)
1/3 to 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 can (2.8 ounces) french-fried onions
1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken tenders, working in batches if necessary, and cook chicken 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is lightly browned and no longer pink in the center.
In an ungreased 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish, layer broccoli spears, water chestnuts and browned chicken.
In a mixing bowl, combine soup, mayonnaise, lemon juice, milk and curry powder. Pour mixture over chicken and broccoli. Sprinkle with cheese, bread crumbs, onions and almonds.
Cover and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake about 15 minutes longer, or until broccoli is tender.
Serves 10, each with 380 calories, 19 grams fat, 22 grams carbohydrates, 33 grams protein, 660 mg sodium, 75 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber.
Cook's note: To make ahead, cover baked casserole with aluminum foil. Freeze no longer than 2 months. To reheat, remove the casserole from the freezer one hour before baking. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake in covered baking dish 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer or until hot.
Betty Crocker's "Living with Cancer Cookbook" (*29*)
Beef Macaroni and Cheese Casserole Recipe
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup onion (finely chopped)
1 can tomato sauce (15 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 box store-bought macaroni and cheese (7.5 ounces)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cup milk
2 eggs (beaten)
1. In a large skillet, brown the burger and onions together until burger is no longer pink. Drain if needed.
2. Stir in the tomato sauce and basil; simmer 10 minutes.
3. While the meat mixture is cooking, prepare the box of macaroni and cheese according to package directions.
4. In an 8-by-8-inch casserole or baking dish lightly sprayed with cooking spray, spread 1/2 of the macaroni and cheese on the bottom. Top with the meat mixture and then half of the Parmesan cheese, and then spread the rest of the macaroni and cheese on top.
5. In a medium sauce pan, melt the margarine and whisk in the flour until a smooth paste forms. Gradually stir in the milk, cook and stir constantly until mixture thickens. Mix a little of the hot milk mixture into the beaten eggs, and then add the eggs into the sauce; stir until smooth. Pour the mixture over the top of the casserole and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
6. Bake at 350 degrees 45-50 minutes, or until mixture is light brown.
KATHY'S TACO CASSEROLE
1/2 pound 96 percent lean ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
1 (15-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
6 cups cooked white rice
1 cup salsa
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese made with 2 percent milk
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large saucepan, brown the ground beef over medium heat until meat is browned and crumbly.
Add the taco seasoning, beans, tomatoes and onion to the saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes to combine flavors. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, combine the meat and bean mixture with the rice and salsa. Mix well and transfer mixture to the baking dish.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until casserole is heated through. Remove from oven and sprinkle the cheese over the casserole. Bake for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Serve hot.
Makes 8 (1 1/2-cup) servings, each with 279 calories, 3 grams fat, 48 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 610 mg sodium, 8 mg cholesterol, 23 grams protein.
Spinach and Feta Casserole
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups cream-style cottage cheese
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dried minced onion
Dash ground nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 1 1/2-quart casserole; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine ingredients and transfer mixture to the prepared casserole.
2. Bake, uncovered, about 45 minutes or until center is nearly set (160 degrees).
Makes 4 servings, each with 172 calories, 12 grams fat, 109 mg cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 392 mg sodium.
Editor's note: One way to turn this recipe into a meal would be to add protein. For example, add some cooked Italian sausage, precooked chicken strips or slices of turkey smoked sausage.
Better Homes & Gardens
PASTA (FAUX) CASSEROLE
1 package (16 ounces) medium pasta shells
1 jar (24 ounces) marinara sauce
1 package (8 ounces) sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup Chianti or other dry red wine
1 bag (6 ounces) baby spinach or baby arugula
2 tablespoons chopped basil or to taste
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, optional
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat stockpot of water to a boil; cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain; set aside.
2. Meanwhile, combine the marinara sauce, mushrooms and Chianti in a large, deep skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
3. Pour the pasta into a large baking dish add the sauce mixture, stirring to combine. Distribute spinach over mixture; sprinkle basil over spinach. Sprinkle cheese over greens. Place pan in oven until cheese melts, about 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.
Yield: 8 servings, each with 333 calories, 6 grams fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 56 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein, 469 mg sodium, 5 grams fiber.
BETTER BEAN CASSEROLE
1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
5 cups chopped cremini or button mushrooms
1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, divided
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the beans and cook them until they're bright green and just tender, about four to five minutes. Drain and rinse the beans well under running cold water, drain them again, then transfer them to a large bowl.
2. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring often, until it just begins to soften, about four minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute until they've softened and most of their liquid has evaporated, about eight minutes. Season the mixture with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, then set it aside to cool, about 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, still stirring, for two minutes. Whisk in the milk, and continue cooking and whisking until the mixture has thickened, about three minutes. Stir in the cayenne and the remaining salt and pepper. Remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms and onion to the beans and toss to mix them together. When the sauce has cooled, pour it over the vegetables and toss to combine.
4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking pan. Spread the green bean mixture in the prepared dish. Combine the Parmesan and bread crumbs and sprinkle them over the casserole (if you are transporting the dish, see note, below). Cover it with foil.
5. Bake the casserole, covered, until it is heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover, and bake until the top is golden brown, about 10 minutes more. Note: If you are transporting the dish, reserve the Parmesan-bread crumb mixture. Bake the dish at home, covered, for the first 15 to 20 minutes only; at your destination, add the topping and bake the dish for the remaining 10 minutes. Serves: 10.
Family Fun Magazine
Sausage & Pepperoni Pizza Casserole
8 ounces (about 3 cups) uncooked spiral pasta
1 pound Italian sausage or pizza sausage
4 cups spaghetti sauce
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 ounces sliced pepperoni
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain. Return the pasta to the pot.
3. Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage; drain.
4. Add the sausage and spaghetti sauce to the pasta and stir to combine. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and half of the pepperoni slices.
5. Spread pasta mixture into a lightly greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Top with the mozzarella cheese. Arrange remaining half of pepperoni slices over top. Bake for 20 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.