If you’re tired of the same old casserole recipes or if you swear you’ve never had a good one, it’s time to get creative. Beatrice Ojakangas has written over 20 cookbooks, and her take on casseroles just may change the way you think about these comforting standbys. “Today’s casseroles have a greater variety of flavors,” she says, “and they’re fresher, too. We’ve embraced many dishes and ingredients from abroad which were not available in the past.”
In her new book, “The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever” (Chronicle Books, 2008), Beatrice has put together 500 creative casseroles for any occasion. “Not only are casseroles fast and easy to make,” she says, “but they can be healthy as well, with the addition of whole grains, legumes and vegetables.”
She encourages home cooks to make their own fresh sauces when they can. “While ‘cream of’ soups offer convenience, they are high in sodium, have MSG, trans fats and various chemical flavor enhancers. Making your own sauces gives you more control over what you’re feeding your family — and they’re easy to make, too!”
Healthier, deliciously creative, easy-to-make comfort foods — what could be better than that?
To freeze casseroles, cool completely after baking and cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper, then with foil. Label the dish with its name, date of preparation, number of servings and hints on how to reheat the food.
To thaw frozen casseroles, remove from freezer at least eight hours ahead or defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Then reheat in the oven to serving temperature. (Remove plastic wrap or waxed paper first.)
Many of the recipes in the book can be assem – bled, covered and refrigerated for several hours or even a day before cooking. If you have chilled a casserole for more than a few hours, remove it from the refrigerator when you preheat the oven. That will give the ingre dients and the dish a chance to warm up a bit.
Tips courtesy of Beatrice Ojakangas, “The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever” (Chronicle Books, 2008. Available now wherever books are sold).
Puffy Oven Apple Pancake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 large Golden Delicious or
Granny Smith Apples, peeled
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
Whipped cream for serving
To make pancake: In a bowl, whisk together flour, milk, eggs, sugar and salt until no lumps remain. Let stand for 30 minutes. (You can mix batter the night before, cover and refrigerate. Remove from refrigerator when you begin preheating oven.)
Preheat oven to 450°F. While oven preheats, place a large slope-sided baking pan or ovenproof skillet into oven and add butter. When butter is melted, remove from oven.
Pour pancake mixture into heated pan and return to oven. Bake pancake for 15 to 20 minutes, until edges are puffed high and golden.
To make apple filling: While pancake bakes, in medium skillet, sauté apples in butter until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Add brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Trans fer to serving bowl.
To serve pancake, be sure guests are at the table when you bring it in, as it will slump quickly. Cut pancake into quarters, and fill each serving with sautéed apples. Pass the whipped cream on the side, if desired.
Pasta and Chicken Alfredo
2 jars (10 ounces each)
prepared sauce or
recipe Quick Alfredo
Sauce (from book)
8 ounces farfalle or your
2 cups diced cooked
chicken or turkey,
or 1 can (13 ounces)
chicken or turkey breast,
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
(white and green parts)
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 cup seasoned fine dry
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a deep 3-quart casserole. Prepare Alfredo sauce and have it ready.
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling water for 12 minutes, or until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain and transfer to large bowl. Mix in Alfredo sauce, chicken, green onions, peas and poultry seasoning.
In small bowl, mix breadcrumbs, Parmesan and melted butter.
Transfer pasta mixture to baking dish. Sprinkle with crumb mixture. (At this point casserole can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Add about 10 extra minutes to oven time.) Bake, uncovered, until pasta is hot and topping is golden brown, about 25 minutes.
Greek Beef Casserole With Onions
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 pounds top round beefsteak, cut into
1 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup water
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole allspice berries
4 to 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 pound small white onions, peeled (see Note)
1 teaspoon sugar
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Preheat oven to 325°F. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add beef chunks, a few at a time, and brown quickly on both sides. Remove beef to a heavy Dutch oven.
Pour vinegar and wine over beef. Add water, rosemary, tomato puree, salt, pepper, cinnamon stick and allspice berries. Cover and bake for 1 hour, or until meat is tender.
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet and add onions in one layer. Sauté gently for about 15 minutes, shaking and turning them over until they brown lightly. Sprinkle sugar over onions, cover, and cook very gently for 30 minutes, until onions are soft but not disintegrating. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and spread them over meat, distributing them evenly. Do not stir once the onions have been added to casserole.
Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley just before serving.
Note: To peel small onions, trim them and cut an X in the bottom of each one. Drop into boiling water for 1 minute. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skin.