I’m one of those “I don’t have time to cook between coming home from Obligation A and leaving for Obligation B” people. Luckily, I was raised by a mother with the same issue, who prioritized keeping us kids healthy, so she figured out life hacks (and passed them along to us). My favorite of these is the secret of the casserole.
Oh sure, you could follow a recipe, but isn’t it easier to make your own, and use things you already have on hand? Every casserole follows the same basic schematic. And once you know that, you can use it to get rid of leftovers, get more greens into your diet, experiment with flavor profiles, and generally be a dinner genius.
You can make a casserole fresh, or cover it and freeze it indefinitely (as long as the meat in it is pre-cooked), for a fast dinner throughout the year.
Any basic casserole (for a 13″ x 9″ dish) requires the following:
One of these sauce bases:
- 10 ounces undiluted “cream of”-style soup + 8 ounces milk (dairy or otherwise)/mayonnaise/sour cream
- 8 ounces plain cream cheese/Unflavored yogurt/Sour cream + 4 ounces milk (dairy or otherwise)
- 28 ounces diced tomatoes, undrained
- 12 ounces broth-style soup/stock
- 12 ounces milk (dairy or otherwise)
- 12 ounces actual sauce (enchilada sauce, salsa, gravy, BBQ sauce, etc)
One of these protein option, if desired:
- 12 solid white tuna, drained and flaked
- 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
- 2 cups chopped cooked ham
- 2 cups chopped cooked turkey
- 1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
- 2 cups beans (drained)
One of these “dry bases” to absorb liquid (preferably pre-cooked al denti):
- 2 cups elbow macaroni,
- 1 cup cooked rice (white works best, but you can use other types)
- 4 cups wide egg noodles
- 3 cups medium pasta shells
One of these veggie:
- 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed (or fresh, cooked and gently squeezed to a less-moist consistency)
- 1 (10-ounce) package frozen cut broccoli (or fresh, cooked)
- 1 (10-ounce) package frozen English peas (or fresh, cooked)
- 1 (16-ounce) package frozen sliced yellow squash (or fresh, baked until tender)
- 1 (10-ounce) package frozen whole kernel corn (or fresh, cooked)
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
One extra (optional, can combine as desired):
- 1 (3-ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained (or fresh, sliced and sauteed just until tender)
- 1/4 cup sliced ripe olives
- 1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles (or fresh, diced and cooked just until tender)
One of these seasonings:
- 1 envelope taco seasoning mix
- 1 envelope ranch dressing seasoning
- 2 tsp salt + 2 tsp pepper
- Really, whatever you want, to taste
One topping (optional):
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese
- 1/2 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs, or panko
- 1/2 cup crumbled dehydrated vegetable
- Crushed potato chips (or go super simple and use something like flavored Doritos)
- Combine everything except the topping and stir until well combined.
- If you go the riskier route and layer each ingredient type instead, make sure the dry base is on the bottom, and the sauce base is poured over everything just before added the topping.
- Spoon the casserole mixture into a lightly greased 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.
- Sprinkle the topping evenly over the casserole.
- Cover and bake casserole at 350 degrees Farenheit for 20-30 minutes. Then uncover and bake 8-10 additional minutes.
If you prefer to make the casserole ahead of time and freeze it, do so before the baking step.
No time to thaw the dish before baking? If you have a sturdy enough casserole dish (like a Pyrex), you can just put it into the oven. Be aware that you may need to increase the baking time by an additional 10-20 minutes to compensate. (I like to put it in the oven as it pre-heats, personally, so the temperature change isn’t too dramatic).
Need some ideas for starters?
- Cream cheese/milk sauce base + Beef + Cooked pasta + Onion + Taco seasoning packet + Shredded cheddar cheese topping
- Diced tomato sauce base + Beans + Cooked pasta + Kale + Mushrooms + Garlic + seasoning
- Fish stock soup base + Cooked rice + Broccoli + Mushroom + Water chestnuts (drained) + Peppery Asian spices + Panko topping
- Cream of mushroom soup sauce base + Shredded chicken + Cooked rice + Squash + Onion + Ranch packet seasoning + Bread crumb topping