Savoring the Ease of a Casserole Meal

Casseroles are all about efficiency. Making a meal in one pot means you do everything at the same time. There's less cleanup and, in many cases, you can do the prep work in advance. 

In our busy society, any time we can get in and out of the kitchen with as little fuss as possible, we do it. 

One-dish meals are especially good. It's a meal that's thrown together, but seasoning everything at once can give flavors a chance to mix and make the dish particularly tasty. 

Making more than one meal at a time is also efficient. You don't simply have leftovers—you have a future lunch or dinner. 

Turkey, for instance, isn't just for Thanksgiving. And it doesn't have to be whole, stuffed, and cooked all day. A five-pound turkey breast can offer turkey with gravy one night, sandwiches for lunch, and a great casserole later in the week. 

A one-dish meal can also help fight fat. You can use less meat or fish if you use more vegetables and grains. 

What if you loved Mom's ground beef casserole, heavy on cheese and red meat? You can make smaller portions, use leaner meat than Mom did, add more vegetables, and try a low-fat cheese. Keep Mom's seasonings and thickeners so you still have the delicious flavor. 

Go for twos

If you're making a casserole, there's little effort in cooking a second one. The same goes for rice, pasta, and potatoes, which reheat well too. 

Keep it safe

It's okay to combine refrigerated, uncooked meat and poultry with other uncooked ingredients. But refrigerate right away and cook within a day or two, or freeze. When you do cook it, you're relying on heat to kill bacteria, so make sure you reach at least 165 degrees Fahreinheit (74 degrees Celsius). Check with a thermometer. 

Cut up fresh vegetables

They'll stay tender in one-dish oven dinners with short cooking times. Raw potatoes take longest. Use smaller pieces to speed up cooking. 

Vary your sauces

The condensed soup Mom used is still a good starter. You have lots of other choices now too—low fat, low sodium, some even identified as recipe ready varieties. Labels offer ideas. 

Get a head start

If your ingredients are already cooked, you can assemble a casserole in advance. If you do it the night before, cover tightly, and refrigerate. When you're ready to cook, you'll have about an hour to set the table. 

Don't make it in the same old dish

The market offers lots of pretty, ovenproof vessels. You can change the shape of your masterpieces from deep and round to long and shallow. 

Use your imagination

Think about the foods you like and come up with your own special combinations. The sky is the limit!