Note: I started this post back in October. I felt like I lived in a different country back then. I knew we were angry at each other and everyone else, but I had no idea how angry. And I didn't know that for so many people, that anger came from hate. I mean, you can be angry at people you love. In fact, we can get angry at the people we love more often, because we care so much. But the anger I see and hear these days is about hate and fear. I hope we make it through to the other side.
What does this have to do with casserole? Not much. Well maybe a little. Casserole feeds a lot of people and you can make it out of just about anything in no time at all. So make one and have some people over. Maybe invite someone who needs help (food, love, friendship, or all of the above), or invite someone you disagree with and don't be shy about telling them your opinion. We're past the point where we shouldn't talk politics over a meal. We've been polite for too long. And everyone listens better with a mouthful of casserole.
And just in case this is your first time here because you searched for "easy casserole," "basic casserole," or "what the hell do I make for dinner tonight," you're in the right place. This really isn't about politics. I write about food, and I'm socially liberal. I'd be happy to tell you why. And you can even disagree, but you might not get invited for casserole again, especially if you're racist or xenophobic in your
dissent casual dinner conversation.
Who's in the mood for casserole? The weather's getting cooler, you've lost half your friends over their offensive Facebook posts, and you just want to wallow a little. Wallowing with food is the best!
Except I'm not wallowing with food, because I already did enough of that this month. I've eaten cheeseburgers, eggplant Parmesan (so good in the slow cooker), potato chips, hearty stews, everything with butter, and cheese. A lot of cheese. I took a little break, drank a bunch of juice, and lost four pounds. Done. Now it's time to get back on the comfort food train. So, casserole.
People say they don't know how to cook, when what they really mean is that recipes are intimidating and it seems easier to get take-out.
If you cook enough, you learn how to use recipes to suit your needs. They're a jumping off point. In my case, that means skipping a ton of steps and substituting whatever I have on hand that's more or less the same color and texture, because it's all about the Instagram, right?
The more you cook, the more you learn to take something basic and turn it into whatever you like, using whatever you have that you need to use up. The best thing about knowing how to cook is that you waste a lot less food.
Cooking meals regularly means you get to invite people over a lot and make them listen politely to your opinions. It's empowering.
When I was in college, my roommate Beth taught me how to cook. Like, really cook. She knew how to make a chicken last for several meals. For that matter, she knew how to cook a chicken, which I did not. Beth was polite enough not to make fun of me. On our student budgets, we made roasted chicken, using the leftovers to make spinach, chicken, and rice casserole, followed by chicken soup. If we were lucky, we may have gotten a little chicken salad out of the bargain. All out of the same chicken.
To those of you who grew up cooking, none of that seems like a big deal. But I didn't really know how to make actual food and roasted chicken straight from the oven, made by someone my age and not an adult, seemed like a miracle. Thanks to Beth, I've never had trouble making good food on a budget.
But casserole. What is a casserole? I play fast and loose with the definition: If it's baked in a dish in the oven and has a mix of stuff in it, it's a casserole, unless it's super-eggy, then it's a frittata or a quiche. Huh. But a "breakfast casserole" is eggy and that's definitely a casserole. Maybe that's the exception. Whatever. Quit with the nosy questions and let's eat.
The first step to making casserole is looking into your fridge and pantry to see what you have. Now, go!
Easy Casserole for Everyone
Obviously, you can mess with the quantities here to fit the size of your crowd or your dish. These quantities fit a standard 9 by 13-inch (3 quart) casserole.
About 8 cups total of stuff like leftover chicken, peppers, pine nuts, water chestnuts, pineapple (pineapple and cheese casserole is one of life's greatest treats, so hush), greens, beans, pickles, or any other food you need to make disappear. Frozen vegetables also work.
Something to fill out your casserole, like rice, pasta, or cubes of stale bread (particularly delightful), if you're short on other ingredients.
1 can of cream of something soup or 1 1/4 cups of DIY Kanned Cream of Mushroom Soup for Dummies.
1/2 cup of something creamy, like mayonnaise (recommended), sour cream, Greek yogurt, whatever. Even silken tofu.
3/4 cup grated cheese, or a mix of bits and pieces of cheese that don't seem to match. It'll be fine.
Salt and pepper to taste, plus any other seasonings you think are appropriate.
1/2 cup or more of something crunchy, like crushed potato chips, bread crumbs, Ritz crackers, saltines, Corn Flakes, or toasted quinoa (but please don't use quinoa, just use the crackers).
Preheat your oven to 350ºF and grease a casserole dish.
Fill your dish 3/4 full with whatever you found in the fridge, as simple as chicken and broccoli, as complicated as literally 1/4 cup of every little bit of food you find. This includes pasta or rice if you need to fill the dish.
Heat the can of mushroom soup (or about 1 1/4 cup DIY Kanned) in a pot on the stove until it's liquid, but not bubbling. Turn off the heat and stir in mayonnaise or other creamy thing, along with cheese, salt, pepper, and other seasoning.
Pour over ingredients in dish and top with crunchy stuff.
Cook at 350ºF for about 30 minutes, and turn it up to 375ºF at the end if you want to top to get a little crunchier.
When adding ingredients to the dish, don't pack them down. The liquid should be able to flow between ingredients to hold them together.
If casserole filling exceeds dish volume, grab another dish and make a second casserole along with the first. (You may need to increase the liquid ingredients to have enough for the second dish.) Freeze it or take it to a friend.
If using pasta, cook al dente before adding to dish, as it will cook a little more as the casserole cooks.
If adding tougher greens to casserole, wilt first to reduce the volume.
So now you can make casserole whenever you want and impress your friends and neighbors! When I posted a recent dish on Instagram, someone mentioned that a Kitchn commenter called this kind of meal a "trasherole." I wish I had thought of that one. Now, tell me your latest trasherole success.