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Gourmet Casserole/Make Ahead Dish for Friend with New Baby (recipe request)

I like to make lasagne for friends with new babies but now my most gourmet, epicurian friend just had a baby and I don't think lasagne is going to cut it. I have one casserole recipe that is wonderful (involving proscuitto, gorgonzola) but I have already made it for this friend and she has added it to her repertoire so I wouldn't be surprised if she made some and froze it already! I use epicurious.com regularly so if you know of a recipe just send key words my way to keep it simple and I will track it down. Thanks in advance!

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  1. I use the SF Junior League recipe for moussaka and even people who hate eggplant like it. It is time consuming and probably not authentic but it tastes great. If you'd like, I can post it.

    8 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      Sure, chowser, I would like to try making moussaka, 'specially if it's a sure thing. Please post.

      1. re: blue room

        It doesn't look like it would take as long but making the eggplant part is time consuming. I always get great feedback with it. I also will make a seasoned shepard's pie, using the meat mixture only, layering w/ corn and mashed potatoes. Again, not authentic, but good.

        2 large eggplants
        1 c. flour
        1 c. olive oil
        1 lb. bulk sausage meat
        2 c. chopped onions
        2 lbs. ground lamb
        1 tsp. salt
        1 tsp. crumbled dried oregano
        2 cloves garlic
        1 c. tomato puree
        3/4 c. minced fresh parsley
        Salt and pepper to taste
        1 c. red wine
        12-14 spinach leaves
        1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
        4 Tbsp. butter
        1/2 c. light cream
        1/2 tsp. salt
        Nutmeg to taste
        1/2 c. ricotta cheese

        Peel and slice eggplants crosswise. Salt well and set in single layer of paper towels. Set aside to bleed for 30 minutes. Pat dry. Place flour in paper bag and shake a few slices of eggplant at a time to coat. Heat oil and large skillet and lightly saute eggplant slices. Set aside. Brown sausage meat in skillet, drain off fat, reserving 2 tbsp and set aside. Saute onions in 1 Tpsb of reserved fat, add to reserved sausage meat. Brown lamb in skillet, seasoning w/ oregano and salt. Add to reserved sausage mixture. In 1 tbsp fat, saute garlic until just starting to turn golden. Add tomato puree, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well, then add wine and reserved meat mixture. Simmer, uncovered until all liquid is absorbed. Butter 5 qt casserole. Layer eggplant on bottom. Cover w/ meat mixture. Add spinach leaves and top w/ mushrooms. Melt butter in saucepan until foamy, sprinkle w/ flour, stir until smooth and thickened. Season w/ salt and nutmeg and pour over casserole. Top w/ ricotta cheese. Bake an hour at 400 degrees.

        1. re: chowser

          Thank you so much! Please tell me though, what sort of sausage do you use? With sage, or garlic, or sweet? I can't figure which flavor would be right. Thanks!

          1. re: blue room

            I wouldn't do sweet but anything savory would probably work. Spicy would be good. It's pretty flavorful on its own w/ plain sausage but I buy whatever catches my eye.

            1. re: blue room

              If she is nursing - you will want to stay away from the spicy sausage. I learned the hard way that while Mom may love it while she is eating, she will not appreciate what it does to baby.

              1. re: blue room

                I never fry/saute eggplant anymore because of the gigantic thirst it has for oil. I use the brush it with oil and brown in a hot oven til wilted method.

                Also, Chowser's recipe says to add oil to pan and that's ONE CUP. After browning the eggplant we're asked to add the lamb to the skillet. Well, either the eggplant has absorbed most of the cup of oil or there's a lot left in the skillet when the lamb goes in.

                This doesn't seem right. Am I misreading something?

                1. re: oakjoan

                  Yeah, the first time I made it, it was scary how much oil the eggplant absorbed. I didn't measure when I cooked it, either, but it seemed like I just kept adding oil. Since then, I've brushed it with oil and baked it,as you've said. I thought I'd post the recipe as it is but I probably should have said how I've revamped the recipe. I also use ground beef and not lamb. BTW, the first time I made it, it didn't taste oily at all surprisingly. Honestly, I think it tasted better which is why I left it as is.

              2. re: chowser

                Thanks a million for this. I think I may use for a different purpose: to convince my husband that eggplant is worth eating. How can he resist?

          2. Not sure if this fits the "gourmet" requirement or not...plus is she nursing? If she is, this may not qualify but Epi has a lovely Polenta and Black Bean casserole that we devour; sometimes I'll sub regular salsa for the salsa verde and I always make my own polenta for it. You might also check out their other baked polenta recipes which sound quite elegant! Oops, another good casserole at Epi is Baked Rigatoni with Ham and Tomatoes, very rich!

            1. I LOVE this dish. Not exactly a casserole, but it is sooo yummy. I've modified it from a Nigella recipe:

              Halumi Bake
              one package Halumi (Greek cheese that doesn't melt like other cheeses-- you can find it at Whole Foods) cut into 3/4" chunks

              veggies of your choice-- I usually do zuchinni, sweet potato, yellow squash, tomato, some shallots

              fresh herbs of your choice-- maybe some thyme, some parsley, marjoram, whatever you like

              fresh ground black pepper

              toss it all in a baking dish and bake until veggies are done and the cheese chunks are brown

              The cheese is salty and seasons the veggies. Serve with a big salad and some nice crusty bread with butter. Mmmm.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Procrastibaker

                Wow this is so simple. No olive oil or anything? Just the cheese and veggies with herbs? I think this might be a good thing for me to make for my son to get him to eat vegetables. We have to resort to trickery in my house.

                1. re: rockridgechow

                  Yeah, it's so easy. I may have drizzled on a little olive oil just to keep things from sticking, but you don't need much since the cheese is so rich. Let me know if you try it out!

              2. BAKED SHRIMP W/TOMATOES
                & FETA

                1⁄4 cup olive oil, plus 2T
                1 large onion, chopped
                1 14-1/2 can diced tomatoes
                2 T chopped parsley
                1 T oregano
                1 4 oz. Can diced green chilis
                4 cloves garlic, miced
                1 lb. Uncooked shrimp, peeled
                1 large fennel bulb, diced
                1⁄4 ouzo or sambucca (optional)
                4 oz. Feta cheese, crumbled

                Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions & fennel. Saute until golden, about 12 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice, parsley, oregano & garlic. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover & simmer until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Season w/salt & pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead) Cover, chil, reheat before continuing.

                Preheat oven to 400 deg. Heat 2 T olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp & sauté until almost opaque (about 2 minutes). Remove skillet from heat & add ouzo. Add tomatoe sauce, stir. Sprinkle cheese over & bake 10 minutes

                1. I made the Whole Foods recipe for Southwestern King Ranch casserole (as found in the Best American Recipes book) for my friends with a new baby a few weeks ago. It's very good, and can be eaten for a few meals.

                  Here's a version of it I found on the web:

                  Southwest King Ranch Casserole

                  Recipe By :
                  Serving Size : 8 Preparation Time :0:00
                  Categories : Poultry

                  Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
                  -------- ------------ --------------------------------
                  3 tablespoons canola oil
                  1 1/2 cups diced yellow onions
                  2 cloves garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)
                  2 teaspoons paprika
                  1 teaspoon cumin
                  1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
                  1 teaspoon salt
                  3 cups shredded cooked boneless chicken
                  1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
                  2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
                  1 cup grated cheddar cheese
                  2 cups bottled tomatillo sauce
                  8 corn tortillas
                  1 1/2 cups sour cream
                  1/2 cup chopped green chilies, drained

                  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

                  Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan. Add
                  onions, and cook them until they are translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Blend
                  in garlic, paprika, cumin, black pepper, and salt. Add chicken, and heat
                  through. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in cilantro.

                  In a small bowl, combine the cheeses.

                  On the bottom of an 8 x 8 1/2-inch pan at least 2 inches deep, spread 1
                  cup of the tomatillo sauce. Top with 4 tortillas, overlapping as
                  necessary. Spread half the sour cream evenly over the tortillas. Add 1/2
                  cup of the remaining tomatillo sauce, 1 1/2 cups of the chicken filling, 1
                  cup cheese mixture, and one half of the green chilies.

                  Top with 4 more tortillas, the remainder of the sour cream, tomatillo
                  sauce, and chicken filling, 1 cup of the cheese mixture, and the remaining
                  green chilies. End with 1 cup cheese mixture sprinkled on top. Bake for
                  about 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly on the surface.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: celeste

                    I made this on saturday and it was DELICIOUS! I can't thank you enough. One question: Where do you find your tomatillo sauce? I made this using tomatillo salsa (whole Foods) and it was just a little bit too spicy. I took the cumin down a hair anticipating that but it wasn't enough. For nursing moms I figure I have to avoid the spice plus less spicy means my son will eat so it's a worthwhile compromise. Thanks in advance . . .

                    1. re: rockridgechow

                      Trader Joe's has a very mild tomatillo salsa that is delicious - comes in a 32 oz. jar.

                      1. re: niki rothman

                        Wow, I checked Trader Joes but obviously I didn't look carefully. I will definitely pick some of this up -- enough for two casseroles worth!

                      2. re: rockridgechow

                        I'm so glad you tried it and liked it. I got a great homemade-style jarred tomatillo sauce from Andronico's when I made it, but I got the last jars on the shelf as they were discontinuing carrying the sauce! I'm glad to know that Trader Joe's has a tomatillo sauce too.

                    2. My favorite thing to eat after giving birth was mac & cheese--I do a riff on the Ina Garten version. I also make a cream apple chicken that's delish and comforting.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Funwithfood

                        Would you mind posting the cream apple chicken? That sounds yummy for the cold snap we're having!

                        1. re: Procrastibaker

                          This is very rich and elegant (not low-cal :).

                          I make it in larger quantities and freeze in gratin dishes for a quick, but lovely meal (reheat gently). As I recall, it tastes very good with my lemon-thyme rice (which I also make ahead and freeze).

                          Note: My directions are detailed, but this is not a difficult recipe.

                          Cream Apple Chicken

                          3/4 cup sugar
                          3/4 cup Kosher salt
                          7 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
                          12 tablespoons unsalted butter
                          4 cups apple cider
                          2 cups heavy whipping cream
                          salt and pepper -- to taste
                          1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg -- (or to taste)
                          fresh or dried parsley for garnish

                          Put 3/4 cup sugar and 3/4 cup Kosher salt in a large Ziploc bag and add 6 cups of water; seal and shake to dissolve. Place chicken in the bag and seal well. Refrigerate for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small pan simmer the apple cider until reduced to about 1 1/2 to 2 cups; set aside.

                          Drain and rinse chicken very well. Pat chicken dry, then cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Heat one-third (4 Tbsp) of the butter in a large, heavy-duty skillet on medium-high heat. Fry one-third of the chicken quickly, until golden but still uncooked inside. Pour chicken (with butter) into a bowl. Repeat frying the remaining chicken in two more batches (adding 4 tablespoons of butter each time); set aside.

                          Pour the reduced apple cider into the skillet where the chicken was fried and bring to a brisk simmer. Add the chicken (with butter) and cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the cider reduces to a glaze. Add the cream and simmer a couple of minutes to thicken, then reduce to medium-low heat. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg, to taste. Serve with noodles or rice. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley for color.

                          1. re: Funwithfood

                            I would love your recipe for the gorgonzola/prosciutto casserole!

                            Here's something different that I haven't actually made or eaten, but a discerning friend had it at a potluck and liked it enough to fwd the recipe around:

                            Chicken Swiss Bake

                            First Layer

                            1⁄4 cup butter
                            1 1⁄2 cup long grain rice
                            1⁄2 cup golden raisins
                            3 cups chicken stock
                            1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
                            1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

                            Heat oven to 375. Grease 9X 13 glass dish. Saute rice in butter in large frying pan until it is golden coloured. Add raisins, stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the rice is tender and the liquid is gone. Spread the rice in the glass dish.

                            Second Layer

                            6 tablespoons of butter
                            1 1⁄2 cups of sliced fresh mushrooms
                            2 teaspoons of curry powder
                            1⁄2 teaspoon of ginger
                            1⁄2 teaspoon of salt
                            1⁄4 sherry
                            5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (approximate)
                            or equivalent amount of shrimp and scallops

                            Pre cook chicken, cube it and set aside. Saute mushrooms in butter. Add spices, sherry and chicken. Put this mixture in the pan over the first layer.

                            Third Layer

                            6 tablespoons of butter
                            1⁄4 cup of flour
                            1⁄2 teaspoon salt
                            1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
                            1⁄4 teaspoon of dry mustard
                            3 cups of light cream
                            1 cups of grated swiss cheese.

                            Melt butter and gradually add flour then spices. Gradually add the cream over medium heat. Stir constantly. When the sauce has thickened add grated cheese. Stir until cheese is melted into sauce. Pour over the 2nd layer. Sprinkle with additional grated swiss cheese. Top with a dash of paprika.

                            Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Serves 6-8 people.

                            1. re: julesrules

                              I love the look of this recipe and thank julesrules for it. I want to make it for a potluck this weekend.

                              But how can I lighten the top layer. I would figure on using the same amount of cheese but how can I use less cream and still have a good taste and feel?

                            2. re: Funwithfood

                              Thanks! I will have to give this a try. I might consider adding some sauteed apples-- I've been really into savory apple dishes lately. Do you think that would make it too appley?

                              1. re: Procrastibaker

                                I think sauteed apples would be a lovely addition, as the apple flavor is very subtle in this dish.

                        2. I made (all homemade) mac & cheese, caesar salad, & dessert for a friend a few months ago- told it was perfect. I have thrown in sweet/sour meatballs with this too before. As a mom & expecting one on the way, I really enjoy a nice salad along with a meal, as it's the fresh things that are hard to get/eat after.

                          Another idea I have, this time of year, could do a savory chili or stew, then she could have extra for other meals.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: pamd

                            I couldn't agree more re the salad (and dessert!) and will do both. My husband also always insists we throw in a bottle of wine since that was what he most appreciated having delivered when we were in our time of need. (!)

                          2. This website is a treasure trove, what else can I say?! I have at least 5 solid options so clearly I need to try these for myself, there is nothing like good make ahead options. It didn't occur to me to do mac n cheese and I have the Ina Garten book for a starting point which is intriguing. I also forgot about spices/nursing so I'll consider that as well. A thoudand thanks. By the way, I will find a way to post my favorite recipe (am at work right now and can't seem to find it on epicurious from memory) because it's really fantastic and also is nice for a casual dinner party these cold nights.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: rockridgechow

                              Regarding Ina's mac & chz (BTW, I don't add the toms)...Do make the Panko topping and freeze it in a baggie along with the mac & chz--this way all is ready to go when you (or your friend) are ready to eat!

                              (I think I 4x her recipe--takes only a smidge more time.)

                              1. re: rockridgechow

                                You really did get some awesome ideas from everyone... I'm tempted to try them all too! The recipes on this thread would make anyone re-think their idea of what a casserole is!

                              2. How about the Barefoot Contessa's Penne with Five Cheeses. It is absolutely out of this world.

                                Penne with Five Cheeses Copyright 2001, Barefoot Contessa

                                Kosher salt
                                2 cups heavy cream
                                1 cup crushed tomatoes in thick tomato puree
                                1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (1 1/2 ounces)
                                1/2 cup shredded imported Italian fontina (1 1/2 ounces)
                                1/4 cup crumbled Italian Gorgonzola (1 1/2 ounces)
                                2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
                                1/4 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
                                6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
                                1 pound imported penne rigate pasta
                                4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

                                Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
                                Bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil in a stockpot.

                                Combine all the ingredients except the penne and butter in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Drop the penne into the boiling water and parboil for 4 minutes. Drain well in a colander and add to the ingredients in the mixing bowl, tossing to combine. Divide the pasta mixture among 6 shallow ceramic gratin dishes (1 1/2 to 2 cup capacity). Dot with the butter and bake until bubbly and brown on top, 7 to 10 minutes.

                                1. As a new mom and chowhound, I can attest to two things:
                                  1. "Gourmet" becomes incredibly unimportant when you're working on 4 hours of sleep (not consecutive, I might add), and really just need something warm and nutritious in your belly.
                                  2. Nursing moms only ever get to eat with one hand. Don't give her anything that requires a knife and fork, because chances are she'll have a kid attached to her boob (or sleeping in her arms post-feed) and she won't be able to cut her own food. Babies *know* when mom's trying to eat, and will wail until picked up no matter how hungry mom is.

                                  So, pastas with veggies, stews (avoid soups, which drip too easily), casseroles that can be cut with a fork, and a few fresh veggies prepared for cooking (carrots peeled and chopped, broccoli cut into florets, etc.) are all good bets.

                                  1. Thanks to everyone! This site makes me happy enough to weep sometimes. As promised, my usual stand-by casserole option that is passable with selective eaters is a Gourmet recipe and it's called Baked Pasta with Tomatoes, Shitake Mushrooms and Proscuitto. I couldn't find it before because I was thinking "penne and proscuitto."

                                    I am technically challenged but you can find it on epicurious by searching "baked pasta." It's the first to come up. here's my attempt at including a link:


                                    1. My sister (she is nursing child four right now) raves about stews and soups in place of casseroles, especially if they are packaged and frozen for two. I usually make four kinds of soup frozen in 3 cup portions. This gives her a lot of variety and either enough food for both her and her husband or some for the kids as well. Plus it just takes a few minutes in the mircrowave to defrost and heat.

                                      She appreciated the food people brought but it was almost always too rich, too caloric, or too gas-enducing for her to enjoy.

                                      1. I have to agree with the soup and stew folks. Simple, delicious and satisfying. Deliver with some amazing potato rolls or fresh baked bread yumm.

                                        1. Fyi, Cooks' Illustrated is coming out with "Best 'Make-Ahead' Recipe" cookbook in March. Most of the time, I REALLY like my Cooks Illustrated recipes so I am definitely going to watch for it.

                                          1. I'll throw in a vote for some homemade pre-portioned cookie dough to be frozen and baked in single or double servings whenever the sweet tooth calls...

                                            1. I made this very delicious recipe for a dinner party and everyone though it was fantastic. THere is one issue thought. The recipe calls for 1/2 c of light cream, but does not reference where to use it. I used it with melted butter, Should it go with the ricotta?

                                              1. I adore Gourmet's turkey tomatillo chili, and it's even better if you make and freeze cornbread to go with it: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo.... White bean, kale, and sausage soup also freezes brilliantly--http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... (but start by browning the sausage in the same pot you use for the rest). I also second the recommendation for what we call "toaster cookies"--small balls/slices of raw cookie dough for almost any recipe imaginable frozen, w/ the bake temp and time written on the freezer bag.