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Aside from convenience, what's the point of a casserole?

I really don't get it. How did these get to be so popular? I can't recall ever having something called a casserole that I didn't think would be better braised, grilled, roasted etc.

If you want braised meat, braise your meat. Why throw in all of your vegetables? Wouldn't they be better roasted and served with your meat on the plate?

Why not strain your braising liquid, reduce it, and make a proper sauce?

So my question is this:

Aside from convenience, is there any reason to make a "casserole?"

I'll save my onion soup mix and cream of mushroom soup rants for another topic....

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  1. Depends on what you mean by a casserole.

    Ironically, I just made a tuna casserole for dinner last night. Creamed mushroom soup, crushed potato chips. The real deal. I made it because it's what I grew up with the 50s and I hadn't had it in years.

    But that sorta thing aside, there are still come fabulous casseroles that combine flavors and textures into very satisfying dishes. I'm thinking lasagna, pastitsio, mac & cheese fertheluvofgod. Couldn't face the world anymore without that! Chicken and dumplings. Pot pies.

    Sometimes, even if you don't have to transport them somewhere, they're just what the doctor ordered. I think that's why they come up so frequently when someone asks "comfort food?".

    5 Replies
    1. re: rainey

      I really am trying to understand the functional reasons for putting something wet into a baking dish and putting it in the oven until "done."

      For lasagna, I'd say the only reason is to brown some cheese on top. With that in mind, I'd toss it under the broiler for 5 minutes or put it in a very high temperature oven until the top is browned and it is warm.

      Mac and cheese: perhaps to brown the top, though I'm a stovetop fan myself (just cheese, not cheese sauce).

      Enchiladas are mentioned below. I'd say the only reason to bake those is to slightly reduce the sauce and caramelize the edges.

      Something like tuna noodle casserole ---- ?? I don't know.

      What about all the rest? Aside from the tuna, the others aren't really classic "casseroles." And to tell you the truth, I couldn't really name many since I don't make them. Maybe someone else can give me a definition.

      1. re: jeremyn

        Re: Lasagna, cook the noodles.

        DT

        1. re: jeremyn

          There are many classic one-pot dishes (i.e., casseroles) from cuisines around the world. Some were created as ways of dealing with tougher cuts of meat, some to infuse complex flavors throughout a dish, and some, I suspect, to free the cook to do other work while the meal cooked.

          1. re: pikawicca

            Red beans and rice.

            The left over ham was simmered with beans all day while the woman of the house did the laundry. Ham was done on Sunday and RB&R was made on Monday.

            DT

          2. re: jeremyn

            For one thing, the slow oven cooking lets the flavours blend and meld, and improves the texture. If you try making a lasagna without baking it, the result will be far inferior to something that is cooked in the oven until bubbly.

            Compared with braising or other techniques - one purpose of the casserole, in many cultures, is to stretch your food as far as possible. When meat is the centre of the meal as a dish by itself, it's a lot more obvious when there isn't very much of it, or it's a tough, fatty cut. You can also hide a lot of old vegetables in a casserole, important late in the winter when you're down to wrinkled onions and carrots.

            And don't knock convenience - many casseroles can be assembled ahead of time (and even frozen) and stuck in the oven when you get home; great for holidays, or busy work schedules.

            I mainly like casseroles because they taste good, are warm and comforting on cold nights, smell great when cooking, and allow me to relax while dinner is cooking, rather than standing over the stove.

        2. I can freeze and reheat a casserole with more ease than having all the separate components (meat, starch, veggie). I work full-time, and have 2 young kids, so if I have to go on a business trip, I'll freeze a couple casseroles for my husband to heat up while I'm gone, or even if I have to work late and can't cook.

          That being said, I don't do tuna noodle casseroles or anything like that. I do turkey lasagna, spinach lasagna, chicken enchiladas, etc. In myhouse, anything that is put into a baking dish to be eventually baked is a casserole.

          1. Meh. I like tuna casserole, I love baked enchiladas, even the much-reviled chicken-broccoli-rice casserole is the only thing that sounds good to me (although I don't do the canned condensed soup).

            And as rainey said, lasagna, mac and cheese -- those are casseroles.

            If you're talking about the minute rice and cream of mushroom soup stuff, I don't love it either, but my grandpa used to say it was his mouth and he could haul coal in it if he wanted to. ;)

            1 Reply
            1. re: LauraGrace

              LOL, Laura. You know, I hear he got that attitude from my late father-in-law, whom I never had the pleasure to meet, but whom I hear was quite the independent thinker. His favorite dessert, or so I'm told, was to crumb the table once dinner was done and put the bread crumbs into his coffee. DH and DSIL have told me that, when they would laugh at him about it, he'd tell them sternly, "You mind your mouths, and I'll mind mine".

              ;-)

            2. Not into the onion soup mix or cream of mushroom soup stuff, but I like casseroles because the flavors have a chance to meld and mingle. There's something delicious about having the noodles or rice pick up and absorb the flavors of the sauce which you don't get when you put sauce on top of it. If not, your lasagna is just pasta w/ sauce on top, your enchiladas are just tortillas and sauce. There's nothing like a good strata where the bread has absorbed all the egg mxture and its flavors. Cooking up the egg mixture and adding it to the top of bread just isn't the same.

              10 Replies
              1. re: chowser

                Good answer. What can you do to introduce some interesting textural variation?

                And aside from lasagna and enchiladas, do you have any favorite semi-elegant, no-onion-soup-mix style casseroles that you would be proud to serve to a house guest?

                1. re: jeremyn

                  It depends on your defintion of "casserole." For brunch, I often make stratas. They're delicious, make ahead and you can make them as complicated or as simple as you like. For dinner, I'll make something like moussaka for company. It's time consuming but definitely worth the time and I've had many people who don't like eggplant who've loved it. Along the lines of a lasagne, pastitsio is good--I don't think it's more elegant but it's more unusual and, therefore, people tend to think of it as elegant. Shepard's pie or cottage pie is another one that I'll make but more for a quick dinner. Those are off the top of my head but if I think of more that I do, I'll post them.

                  As for adding textural variation, honestly, casseroles end up a mush of flavors and I think that's their purpose. At most, you can add a topping like panko crumbs or cheese but I don't think that's the point of casseroles. I think of them more as warming comfort foods. Overall, I don't think of them as elegant dinner fare.

                  1. re: chowser

                    I thought of an elegant one--my new go-to one is Coquilles St. Jacques which I made in individual ramekins. An easier version is the epicurious one:

                    http://www.epicurious.com/articlesgui...

                    I prefer Emeril's version, although didn't care for it as much with bay scallops. It's much better with sea scallops or diver scallops but unless I can find them Marine Seawatch worthy, I usually go w/ the bay scallops.

                    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/em...

                    1. re: chowser

                      One of the first things I ever made was Coquilles St. Jacques. My mother started to learn to cook when I was in college, and I was in year two of having my own apartment, so we would talk about recipes a lot.

                      I wrote it down wrong, the part about the wine. I should have written down "white," because when I got to the liquor store, I saw just "wine," and I bought red.

                      You can guess the rest: a very purple dinner. It was absolutely wonderful, and it was just me and my girlfriend at the time, so who cared what kind of wine went into it?

                      The recipe is from Julia's French Chef Cookbook, the companion piece to her original TV series.

                    2. re: chowser

                      chowser, could you give an approximate recipe for your moussaka?

                      you're so right about pastitsio. i served it once to friends, and they were raving about how it was so much nicer (and less gloppy) than lasagna. me, I love both...but it was nice to hear :)

                      1. re: ChristinaMason

                        I posted it in this thread. It uses a lot of oil, as pointed out. I've made it with brushing the eggplant w/ oil and bakkng and it's good but not nearly as good a pan frying the eggplant.

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/336841

                    3. re: jeremyn

                      I do a greek orzo, feta, shrimp, tomato, olive casserole that can be somewhat classy and that I also have been served as a guest in a foodie household. It's a classic flavor combo that does meld better when baked, as the orzo sucks up the tomato (and oregano!!) and the feta semi-melts/crumbles. Mmmm... may have to make this again soon.

                      1. re: sholli

                        Might you share the "recipe" for this one - here or in a separate post? This sounds like a nice change of pace for us.

                        1. re: cookie44

                          Here is the recipe found in the Gourmet cookbook: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo.... I'd round up on the garlic and herbs. Epicurious has several other similar dishes, some rated higher, if you search orzo, shrimp, feta, and tomato. Two warnings--use good, imported feta as I've found that some cheap stuff doesn't melt and meld well and you may want to go easy on the olives as they can be a strong presence. Enjoy.

                      2. re: jeremyn

                        Scalloped and au gratin potatoes.

                        Lobster pie.

                        Chicken Divan.

                    4. The point? The point is technological. Casseroles are extremely functional as fat-, cheese- and cream delivery devices, jeremyn. Sodium, too, if you use canned goods to make them.

                      Nawwww. Just kidding. Some are healthful. Like sholli's Greek casserole. That looks pretty nutritious.

                      Which reminds me. They also give me an excuse to eat phyllo dough. That's their most important attribute.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Normandie

                        What's you perspective on Macaroni with cheese sauce?

                        I grew up in the UK with the belief that everything you cooked in a casserole (= dutch oven) was a casserole. (Slight exaggeration) So a boeuf bourguigon, goulash, Stroganoff and cassoulet would meet that criterium.

                        When reheated it became known as a stew. Any remnants are later renamed to side-dish.

                        1. re: Paulustrious

                          My basic concept is also the vessel and I'd buy the individual items you describe, but oven baking is an important qualifier for me. Of course, I finish the boeuf bourguignon, the goulash and the cassoulet in the oven at a low temp myself.

                          1. re: Paulustrious

                            Paul, if I understand your question...I *do* think of macaroni and cheese as a casserole (versus a side dish, a starch, etc.).

                            To me, it's not about what you bake it in; it's about the item itself. Somehow, I grew up with the idea that a casserole is sufficient in and of itself to serve as the entree. (Note: It may not *always* been used that way--case in point, macaroni and cheese, but it would suffice for one.) Ergo, a casserole *could* be baked in a DO, a ceramic baker, a large ovenproof bowl... And in my house, growing up, we didn't consider Boeuf a la Bourguignon or Stroganoff as casseroles; they were "beef entrees". I don't know about goulash or cassoulet, since they were never served. (If we were going to have a substantial legume dish, it would have been Boston baked beans, a side...except on Sunday nights, when it was served as an entree served with brown bread.)

                            You're probably getting the point by now that in my universe, there is no science to this. It probably boils down to, "I can't tell you what a casserole is, but I knows one when I sees one." ;-)

                            1. re: Normandie

                              You have highlighted a difference in meaning between us. To me, casserole was any just about any dish cooked in a casserole. It did not really mean a meal unto itself, but just food cooked in an ceramic / glass / CI dish in an oven, normally with a lid. This was mentioned somewhere in the 'divided by a common culinary language' thread.

                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/615004

                              1. re: Normandie

                                My Maine family always had beans with brown bread as a meal too. It was accompanied by my great aunt's homemade relishes and bead and butter pickles.

                                My grandfather grew the beans in his garden and they fussed over the provenance of the beans they way some do fine wines. But, I have to say, those were wonderful beans wonderfully prepared. You've occasioned me enjoying the memory again some 50 years later.

                          2. I didn't grow up on casseroles so they don't scream comfort food to me. I have never had what I gather are typical American casseroles - tuna, chicken/broccoli, etc. I do however love a one dish meal baked in the oven, which is how I define a casserole. I don't do those chemical laden spice mixes or canned condensed soups, so I think your negative views of a casserole hinges on bad food experiences in the past.

                            I love enchilada casserole: essentially take all of the components of enchiladas and layer them instead of rolling them, then pop it in the oven. Lasagna, the cheeses need to melt, heat up and blend flavors; Patstitsio is essentially a Greek version of a baked ziti; I make a moussaka that can knock ones socks off. Stratas for brunch are fantastic. Leftovers are even better for weekday breakfasts. Baked stuffed french toast is another good brunch meal. Vegetable casseroles are good ways to get rid of an abundance of summer eggplant or zucchini...

                            What's the point you ask? All of the prep is done ahead of time. While the casserole cooks I have time to wash the dishes from prep, tend to other things, then Voila! Casserole is ready.

                            1. absolutely.
                              it's about a melding of different tatstes and textures that equal more than the sum of the individual ingredients.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ScubaSteve

                                Making casseroles from scratch with high quality ingredeints is a beautiful thing. OP, my mac and cheese would make you cry. Likewise the Southern Italian Lasagna. Baking the ingredients together makes a completely different dish than cooking it up in a saute pan.

                              2. There is interesting reading on casseroles on foodtimeline
                                http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq.h...

                                1. another "function" of casseroles is economy. you can use up produce, starch, soup, gravy, meat, scraps of cheese, and other leftovers in one fell swoop. one of the best home economists i ever knew made a weekly casserole out of leftovers and they were great.

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    Here's my question, though...re accompaniments for casseroles.

                                    I do sometimes make casseroles--lasagne, phyllo casseroles, pot pies, etc. Whatever I make is probably going to contain a starch, a protein or vegetable-based perfect protein combination, and vegetables. It would be enough for me for dinner just to have a portion of that. But it always looks so insufficient on the plate to serve that alone to my menfolk. I never know what to serve with it. Yes, a tossed salad....but that's so...predictable. I get bored doing that. Hubby wants a nice crusty piece of bread with dishes like these. Fine. What else, though?

                                    Do most of you who are advocates of casseroles serve them solo, or if not what do you serve with them?

                                    1. re: Normandie

                                      hey good point. by def, a casserole is a one-dish meal that's supposed to give you meat, starch and veg (and stretch more expensive ingredients). so casseroles are a bit "homey" and less flashy, when served solo--although they are considered a complete meal. that said, a green salad/chopped salad, or a seasonal veg, or a warm fruit compote can be nice alongside a simple, or a more elegant casserole. you can also serve a small portion of a casserole instead of a meat main, along with other sides.

                                      1. re: Normandie

                                        I still like to serve my dishes with another vegetable even if my dish contains one (or more)...like for a pot pie that already has peas, carrots, etc. I might serve it with a side of broccoli or asparagus; of course, mac & cheese is open to any veg...lasagna, I'll do peas and a salad, but not just any salad, maybe something with fruit like mixed greens with red onion, mandarin oranges or pears, toasted nuts and red wine vinaigrette

                                        1. re: Normandie

                                          I have always wondered too what else I need or should serve. Personally I do want something else. Something to cut the casserole with as I'm eating. Mostly my casseroles you can bet, they're rich in cheese, butter or some great sauce. I like an acid, so yes the salad but its usually simple with red wine vinegar and olive oil. Or lemon juice and olive oil. And almost always I serve deviled eggs that are mustardy and tart with vinegar. I like to serve them on a salad full of baby arugula or mixed greens, pass the above dressing. Tomatoes, if in season, with balsamic, olive oil and the usual sea salt, and cracked pepper. These seem to please my dh and boys, they especially love the deviled eggs on the salad.

                                          1. re: Normandie

                                            soupkitten, Cheryl, chicklet... Thanks for your responses.

                                            I do like serve casseroles (or, at least my clumsy interpretations of them, LOL) now and then, since hubby and the kids like them. But I always want more ways to shove more produce into them to counteract some of the fattier components that can sometimes be in casseroles. You've all given me some good suggestions....much appreciated.

                                            1. re: Normandie

                                              I would make a salad, which I would "dress" rather than pour bottled dressing on. I put my salad ingredients in a bowl, then toss them in just enough EVOO to coat, plus salt and pepper. When that's all tossed, I add my vinegar or lemon juice, and toss again. I use tongs for all this tossing.

                                              I sometimes make a dressing in a jar that also has garlic and Dijon mustard. Or I use shallots instead of the vinegar. I let the garlic or shallots marinate for an hour in the vinegar before mising the dressing.

                                            2. re: soupkitten

                                              And a great way to get veggies into my husband without him noticing too much, hahaha.

                                            3. Why make beef stew, lamb curry, beef Burgundy, carbonade flamande, or chicken pot pie? Why not just keep all the elements separate? Come on now: think real hard.

                                              11 Replies
                                              1. re: Querencia

                                                John Thorne had a nice story about the history of casseroles (and the ensuing unexpected discovery a few years later by Campbells that it could make a boatload of money selling canned cream-of soups)....

                                                But I made a delicious caramel bread pudding a while back, and it was essentially a casserole.. I think you are disparaging the technique because you, somewhat appropriately, dislike the ingredients most commonly associated with it in the mass market.

                                                1. re: Querencia

                                                  not to mention cassoulet, biryani. . . the aforementioned moussakas and lasagnas and other venerated dishes of national and cultural importance. . .

                                                  the op wanted examples of a more elegant casserole, fit for company. one that i've grown fond of, which i've mentioned in a few threads, is a wild game casserole (i like it with wild pheasant breasts, although the same method can be used with whole grouse, doves or squab, or rabbit ((in 1/8ths)))-- bread the protein in wild rice flour, then wrap with thick-cut heritage bacon (berkshire), nestle into a bed of hand-harvested wild rice, leeks/shallots, wild mushrooms, harvest vegetables/fruits, homemade stock, herbs. bake until the game bird is just slightly pink, moist and succulent. serve alone or with crusty bread and local wine or beer. dreamy leftovers from this casserole btw.

                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                    While that sounds delicious, I wonder if it wouldn't be better if the meat were roasted or pan-fried and then served with a similar wild rice pilaf (leeks, shallot, mushrooms, perhaps red wine) and roasted vegetables.

                                                    One could argue that it's not worth the effort for a chance of a slight improvement, but my question is really whether the casserole preparation is ideal in any dish (again, aside from convenience).

                                                    I couldn't answer this question since I've never had your dish, but I do want to restate that it sounds delicious and I am not trying to knock it.

                                                    1. re: jeremyn

                                                      I've had the Coquilles St. Jazques that I mentioned above, in a non-casserole form. It was excellent, the restaurant is one of my favorite, but it didn't taste anything like the real thing. Not worst, just different. I'd say the same about au gratin dishes. I had a great oysters gratin at that restaurant. It could be done w/ a cheese sauce on top but it's not the same.

                                                      Whether a dish is "worth" making in a casserole form depends on how much you like flavors being absorbed by all the ingredients, especially starches like rice and pasta. You can make a braise w/ rice or pasta which would be similar to a "casserole." But, if you want all the individual flavors to stand out, then you probably won't like casseroles.

                                                      1. re: jeremyn

                                                        I'm not understanding. Do you want to be sold on the concept? Or do you want permission not to like casseroles?

                                                        Everyone who enjoys them should just have them and if you want to avoid them you should do that.

                                                        1. re: rainey

                                                          I'm looking for a legitimate, quality-driven reason why, when, and how you would use this cooking technique.

                                                          Actually, I think you, rainey, and chowser provided the best responses in the first few replies to this thread... namely, to let a variety of flavors absorb into a neutral medium (often, but not always, starch, as in lasagna, enchiladas, potato gratin, stuffing/strata, etc).

                                                          But I haven't yet seen a compelling reason to make a casserole if this isn't your #1 goal.

                                                          1. re: jeremyn

                                                            It doesn't seem like you're honestly giving any reasons a shot... you simply counter with "... wouldn't it be better... I'd rather..." etc. It's fine if you don't casseroles - nor does liking them make you any less of a food lover (i.e. who could say that a 4 day prep. on cassoulet is un-foodie?).

                                                            And could you clarify: "But I haven't yet seen a compelling reason to make a casserole if this isn't youre #1 goal." Sounds like an attempt to justify making a casserole on a philosophical basis -- you make a casserole if you want a casserole, however there is no justifiable reason for making a casserole, in your opinion, thus one only makes one when the end result (e.g. a casserole) is what you want... which seems reason enough to make it, no?

                                                            1. re: mateo21

                                                              Good points, mateo21. I guess there's no COMPELLING reason to make any "nice" food. If we had to be COMPELLED, would we really be Chowhounds? It's more like it would take something COMPELLING for us not to make those extra efforts.

                                                        2. re: jeremyn

                                                          sure, you could make the wild rice completely separately, if you wanted it to have no contact with the pheasant and bacon drippings and wanted to avoid the tasty baked rice crust over the moist mushroomy-veggie-stuffing-like rice interior under the meat that comes as a result of making the dish casserole style. . . you can do whatever you want.

                                                          many foods that are traditional casseroles, stews, braises, etc can be deconstructed somewhat successfully. to some extent, you get the same flavor profiles, get a better workout with the pots and pans, and the cooking becomes the main event (you give up the convenience of a 1 dish meal). but it's pretty arguable that these dishes are always improved by deconstruction. it's obvious that you want to avoid casseroles, so i'd just carry on and cook however you want for yourself.

                                                        3. re: soupkitten

                                                          I make a pretty nice turkey or chicken tetrazzini that would be nice enough. Anything in a cream sauce with cognac or sherry, shallots and mushrooms (of your choice) can be out of this world delcious. Which just reminded me of the delicous seafood lasagne I've made a few times.

                                                        4. re: Querencia

                                                          It's hard to argue that beef stew, lamb curry, and beef burgundy, and carbonnade are casseroles rather than traditional braises. And I'll stick to my original premise here:

                                                          Aside from pot pie, the dishes you mention are best treated as braises, followed by a reduction and thickening of the braising liquid, which is then added back to the meat. And they are much better dishes when the cooking vegetables are strained out and replaced by fresh roasted vegetables.

                                                        5. There is a long tradition of casseroles. Throughout history ovens were often communal. The village baker would provide oven space for dishes neighborhood cooks brought to him. A no fuss casserole would fare well. A casserole also allows a frugal cook to recycle bits from other meals - a necessary process for most of the worlds population then as now.

                                                          Casseroles also figure in religious traditions. In traditional Judaism cooking (and other work) is not allowed on the Sabbath. Cholent is the most well known casserole developed to be prepared on Friday and banked in coals to slowly cook and stay warm and ready for a Sabbath meal.

                                                          Cooking vessels were very costly in the past. If a family only has one vessel a one-pot dish just makes the best use of time, energy and resources.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: meatn3

                                                            I grew up in a meat and potatos family with a father who did not allow such things as casseroles and spaghetti. Once I discovered casseroles, I found what I had been missing all my life. This year, our son requested American chop suey for his birthday dinner. Not steak, not grilled chicken, nor pot roast, but mom's good ol' easy to make on a hectic day dinner.
                                                            I think this year's discovery, zucchini and potato gratin, would be considered a casserole. My recipe includes fresh thyme and oregano. It was so delicious I not only welcomed zucchini in my garden but rushed out to buy a madoline.
                                                            Wouldn't a stir fry be considered a sort of casserole?
                                                            Also, I am required to contribute to pot luck meals. I want inexpensive and tasty. Oddly enough, when I eat a non-casserole meal, I eat each item before going on to the next.

                                                          2. I read a memoir a few years ago "Eggs in the Coffee Sheep in the Corn: My 17 Years as a Farmwife", where she writes about the challenges of feeding all of the farm hands on her farm. By the time she got the kitchen cleaned up from one meal, it was time for the next.

                                                            A casserole is (or can be) a flexible, balanced, low-maintenance, hot meal that can feed a lot of people easily all at once and it's easy to keep warm indefinitely. It's easy to portion and easy to prepare in advance and requires a minimum of dishes to prepare and serve.

                                                            You say, "aside from convenience" as if convenience is a small thing. Convenience can be huge.

                                                            Personally, I love one pot dishes. They just always seem hearty and comforting to me.

                                                            I still love to dip my potato chips in sour cream+Lipton soup mix. I mean, if you're going to eat potato chips, it's hard to get all high-brow about your dip. Cream of _______ soup can quietly fade off into the sunset as far as I'm concerned.

                                                            And as far as sauces, aside from tomato sauce and gravy once per year (um, tomorrow), I personally hate them and seldom make them. Fussy, annoying and calorie laden. I'll eat them if others serve them to me, but I won't go out of my way for them.

                                                            ~TDQ

                                                            1. We have a good set of replies on this topic and I'd like to thank everyone for their contributions. Here's my impressions after reading the replies to this thread:

                                                              The #1 reason to make a casserole is to let a variety of flavors absorb into a neutral medium (often, but not always, starch, as in lasagna, enchiladas, potato gratin, stuffing/strata, etc). However, it's clear that this cooking technique sacrifices a lot to achieve this goal. A few specific examples are browning of meat, crisp vegetables, and properly cooked grains, all of which are rarely obtained in a standard casserole.

                                                              How can we improve upon the usual preparation? Clearly browning meat before inserting it into a casserole is one option, but it is rarely used. Sausage in lasagna is one example. Lasagna wouldn't be nearly as good if you threw raw italian sausage in it and let it cook through in the oven. Why don't we see more casserole recipes calling for browned meat?

                                                              In fact, I think lasagna is the ideal casserole. You brown everything beforehand, slightly undercook the noodles so they come out just done, and only leave it in the oven long enough to let it heat through and brown the top.

                                                              Taking this a step further, why not let the flavors blend in the fridge so we can avoid overcooking our vegetables and give the casserole some texture? How about sauteeing or roasting vegetables and meat, assembling the casserole, and tossing it in the fridge overnight? The next day you can heat it through and get a crisp top without overcooking meat or vegetables.

                                                              Some people have provided examples of casseroles that do one or more of these things. That's great! But this kind of care is rarely given to the lowly casserole in American kitchens.

                                                              25 Replies
                                                              1. re: jeremyn

                                                                Unfortunately, you are imposing your personal taste and texture preferences and value judgments onto a very broad category of cooking. It's all very subjective.

                                                                Maybe I don't like my meat browned before it goes into the casserole. Maybe I prefer my vegetables tender, instead of crisp.

                                                                Just because you think food is better a certain way, doesn't mean I have to.

                                                                Furthermore, but, how do you know people aren't browning the meat before assembing the casserole? For instance, I think I can honestly say that every ground beef casserole recipe I've ever encountered calls for browning the hamburger first.

                                                                EDIT: here is one of my favorite casserole recipes, except that I always make mine with homemade salsa instead of the Trader Joe's one the recipe calls for...

                                                                http://wcco.com/miscellaneous/mexican...

                                                                ~TDQ

                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                  I couldn't agree more with you, TDQ. I happen to share many of jeremyn's (apparent) likes and dislikes, but if others want to live on overcooked versions of the recipes they find on the back of the Campbell's cream-of-whatsit soup label, I can't make them quit.

                                                                  What's more, jeremyn, I don't think it's at all "clear that this cooking technique sacrifices a lot to achieve this goal". I don't think lasagna sacrifices anything to achieve your stated goal of getting flavors to meld. I even think that, when you're dealing with leftovers or other less-than-perfect ingredients (which... let's face it, not everyone has the time, budget, or inclination to seek out the most ideal ______ for a Tuesday night family supper), far from sacrificing flavor, a casserole can improve the flavors and make something better than the sum of its parts.

                                                                  Leftover roast chicken? Rice from last night's chinese takeout? A few odds and ends of celery? A corner of a block of cheese? The last few frozen peas from the bottom of the bag? None of those is particularly inspiring, but I would wager that there is more than one 'hound who would see those ingredients in the fridge on a busy weeknight and throw together a casserole. Maybe with homemade white sauce and a few wild mushrooms thrown in, but still... ;)

                                                                  If you don't like that idea, then you make soup with your leftovers, ok? *grins*

                                                                2. re: jeremyn

                                                                  If crisp vegetables are a goal, then casseroles are the wrong medium. Personally, I don't often put vegetables in casseroles, except moussaka where the goal is soft, melded eggplant flavor. As seared meats go, I prebread and fry my chicken when I make chicken parmeggiana and Dairy Queen pointed out, all meat that I can think of is precooked before it goes in. Check out this enchiladas recipe and tell me how you'd improve on it w/out baking it as a casserole:

                                                                  http://www.thefoodinmybeard.com/2009/...

                                                                  A casserole isn't the perfect medium for everything and it might not suit your tastes, if you like crisp vegetables and distinct flavors. Asking a casserole to give you distinct flavors and textures is like asking a braise to give you meat with a nice crispy char. Wrong technique. Not a bad technique but one that isn't suited for that purpose.

                                                                  1. re: jeremyn

                                                                    "This kind of care" is rarely given to many dishes in today's kitchens. If you are arguing that a casserole isn't as good as braised oxtail and endive because people don't cook casseroles properly, well, that same kitchen probably isn't going to shine on their oxtail presentation.

                                                                    But lets step aside from discussing cooking as an art form, and from the fantasy that there is some "best way" to prepare food. Its clear from many posts here that casseroles can be done to be delicious (or done badly, as the OP seems heck-bent on restating continuously). But food is more than an art form.. its a core part of our society - integral to how we come together.. .. and its prepared by people that are very busy with jobs, children, that are on tighter budgets, that aren't reading up on sous-vide and molecular gastronomy. So many of our good memories are tied to summer picnics, church potlucks, the thanksgiving table, etc. And frankly, for most Americans, casseroles fit pretty well into those environments - can be made ahead or the day of, are somewhat portable, can be served and plated easily, can be reheated, and to most people, taste good. If you want to show up at a party, take over the kitchen, and begin plating short ribs with your entrement rings, good luck. Otherwise, people have given you a lot of good answers to your questions.. answers you don't seem to buy or even accept (with the lasagna caveat, although lasagna is basically set in a bechamel sauce, which has a lot in common with the other very casseroles you seem to disdain) so was your original post truly a query, one where you are seeking information with an open mind, or was it just a veiled close-minded restatement of "I think casseroles suck... so there!"

                                                                    1. re: jeremyn

                                                                      I can't think of a single example of a casserole which includes not-yet-cooked meat.
                                                                      You don't care for casseroles, which is certainly your prerogative. Like most of the other responders here, I think you're missing out. Don't assume to know how much care is or isn't given to "the lowly casserole" in other people's kitchens. Enjoy your divided plates.

                                                                      1. re: jeremyn

                                                                        "Taking this a step further, why not let the flavors blend in the fridge so we can avoid overcooking our vegetables and give the casserole some texture? How about sauteeing or roasting vegetables and meat, assembling the casserole, and tossing it in the fridge overnight? The next day you can heat it through and get a crisp top without overcooking meat or vegetables."

                                                                        As this goes, many casseroles, like stratas, do need a long rest in the refrigerator. Lasagna is another that can benefit from that, or cooked and then reheated. Some casseroles do taste better the next day. Roasted vegetables are very common in casseroles (but do not have a crisp texture). I love roasted vegetables in lasagna. The moussaka I make takes several steps, just with the eggplant alone. Short cuts don't yield the same product.

                                                                        I agree that casseroles can be poorly made and it seems more often than not. But, correctly made, casseroles can be great, as long as you're not expecting it to be something it's not. From the suggestions you've made on improving casseroles, though, it shows you don't understand the basics of making a real casserole--from browning/cooking meat, to sauteeing/roasting vegetables, to letting them sit longer, they're all part of making a casserole, as anyone who makes them would know. Good suggestions but like suggesting adding red wine to deglaze seared meat before braising...already done.

                                                                        1. re: jeremyn

                                                                          I like the lowly casserole.And I'll say what no one else on this thread will dare. I like tuna caserole with canned peas and Campbells cream of mushroom soup topped with potato chips.
                                                                          http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq.h...

                                                                          I know you have stopped reading totally dismissing my tastes.

                                                                          You really need to read that food timeline link provided by another poster
                                                                          http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq.h...

                                                                          Other than convenience cost is a big deal to some people. Even with today's inflated prices ... on sale ... Tuna 70 cents, Mushroom soup 50 cents, can of peas 75 cents ... under $2 for a dinner for four. Can all of your from scratch braising match that price. Hey, it's not for you. However, it is filling and comforting to some people.

                                                                          However, don't put it as a favored cooking technique though it can be. As that link you didn't read wrote

                                                                          "During the depression of the 1890s, the economic casserole provided a welcome way to stretch meat, fish, and poultry. Certain items were also scarce during World War I and leftovers were turned into casserole meals. The same was true during the Great Depression of the 1930s."

                                                                          Also in that article
                                                                          - THE CASSEROLE SAVES DISH-WASHING
                                                                          Well, dang ... I'm greener than you are
                                                                          - THE CASEROLE MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO USE LEFT-OVERS
                                                                          Better than wasting food
                                                                          - FOOD COOKED IN THIS WAY NEED LITTLE WATCHING
                                                                          I can be a wife, mother and hold a job all at the same time. It is almost a feminist thing

                                                                          And you miss the point of nostalgia. If your mama made casseroles, it provides memories.

                                                                          What's wrong with the idea of warm, delicious comfort food.

                                                                          Lasagana .... seriously ... you are dismissing lasagna?

                                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                                            Hey! I gave tuna casserole with crushed potato chips its props on the first response! When that's what you want, that's what it is. ;> (...but I'd never used canned peas.)

                                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                                              I like tuna casserole. I don't like it made w/ cream of mushroom soup. I've never tried it with potato chips but, like bacon, I think it would make it better. I've never used bacon either. Maybe next time I do it, I'll use bacon and potato chips. I'll pass on canned peas but use frozen. My mom never made casseroles but they're still comfort food for me.

                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                I love tuna casserole! And it's great with potato chips crumbled on top, too. It just adds a nice crunch and a little salt. On the other hand, I can't do cream of mushroom or celery or whatever soup anymore. Way too salty and too many empty calories. I know I probably sound like I'm contradicting myself because I just said that salt+fat in the form potato chips is good, but, the condensed soup is just over the top for me. I'd rather add some other form of fat.

                                                                                I've never tried bacon, but I'm open to new experiences. :)

                                                                                ~TDQ

                                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                  Well, actually climbing off my low horse, I haven't had a tuna cassarole in years and the last time I made it with a white sauce that I made myself with non fat milk and flour and something else. The salt is too much for me as well in terms of health. They do have low sodium versions though of the cream of whatever stuff.

                                                                                  I guess my original little hissy fit had to do with the assumption that casseroles were put together to achieve culinary nirvana. The are the food of poverty ... as is mac and cheese whether you make it on top of the stove or in the oven.

                                                                                  Yet so many dishes people have come to love come out of impoverished conditions.

                                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                                    Oh, golly, I wouldn't suggest that casserole is the food of poverty, at least, not in the US. That's taking it a bit far. I'd say they are the food of practicality and comfort and there's no reason they can't be delicious. It's a working class dish. Unless you take-it upscale and bake it in pretty little ramekins.

                                                                                    ~TDQ

                                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                      Make anything in little ramekins and that makes it seem so much more fancy. Even better, serve it in little soup spoons and you have an amuse bouche. Tuna casserole amuse bouche, topped w/ potato chips. I could top it w/ a sliver of tuna and call it deconstructed, too. ;-)

                                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                                        Easy, you're dripping sarcasm all over my computer.

                                                                                        DT

                                                                                        1. re: Davwud

                                                                                          Is she? I guess I'm dense, I completely took her at face value and was right there with her. I think little amuse bouches could be quite amusing for the right meal...

                                                                                          ~TDQ

                                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                            Maybe this is what this topic is all about ... deconstructing the casserole

                                                                                          2. re: Davwud

                                                                                            LOL, it was sarcasm but as I was typing it, it started sounding really good to me. Deconstructed comfort foods might be a fun dinner.

                                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                                              "Deconstructed comfort foods might be a fun dinner."

                                                                                              It actually is!

                                                                                              I've been getting my kids to eat many more of the things that they wouldn't normally eat just by making them in individualized dishes. Part of it is that they are Hells Kitchen junkies and they love how special the presentations are: individualized casserole dishes, a lasagna in a little dish, etc.

                                                                                              *shrug* So I made chicken tetrazzini (hardly a fancy dish) in ramekins and they thought it was the coolest and tastiest stuff ever. Same with the mini chicken pot pies.

                                                                                              Score one for Mom. :D

                                                                                          3. re: chowser

                                                                                            Hahaha That sounds like something they'd do for the quick fire challenge for top chef!

                                                                                            1. re: Bryn

                                                                                              Fancy it up with a new name and you've got it: Pasta e Formaggio; Haricots Verts et Champignons.

                                                                                              Pure gold. hehehe

                                                                                        2. re: rworange

                                                                                          Give me peasant food every time! The skill and ingenuity that turned the "throw away" cuts into edible or found a use for every last available scrap also gave us a culinary tradition of delicious foods that are essentials today: pizza, French toast, ratatouille, Shepherd's pie.

                                                                                          1. re: rainey

                                                                                            And Spanish dishes whose names can be translated as
                                                                                            Crumbs
                                                                                            Rags and tatters
                                                                                            Old clothes
                                                                                            Rotten pot (though some claim that is really 'powerful pot')
                                                                                            Cooked stuff

                                                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                                                              Cooked stuff doesn't sound so bad, but, I confess, it would be pretty easy to pass on the "rotten pot".

                                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                choucroute is another, i'm considering a great version of this dish for another holiday meal. dh wants to make another big batch of the ropa viejo i believe you are referring to, he has the method from the cuban cooks who were his former co-workers, and then we have both french and american/new orleans styles of etouffees. there is pretty much something slow-cooked in a pot in every culture, how about the rice crust dishes in vietnamese and chinese traditions?

                                                                                                casseroles are powerfully evocative traditional cooking. i can understand hating the cream of whatever, dumped from a can 1950's american convenience food casserole, but how can you mess with a real cassoulet?

                                                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                  We'll be fighting the legacy of the mid-20th century foods of America for a long time: cream of whatever, Velveeta, SPAM etc.

                                                                                                  I had an Eastern Star casserole cookbook some years ago (I can't find it now - I may have cannibalized it for the 3 decent recipes in in), and I was astounded at just how many different versions of the Tuna Noodle Casserole there were, all using cream o' mush soup.

                                                                                                  They're totally comfort food, but I no longer use the canned stuff. Instead I make a sauce from a roux and go from there. Still good, and with about 8 times less sodium.

                                                                                  2. jeremyn, why cook *any* edible (salt and pepper!) with another? Because you enjoy eating the end result.

                                                                                    1. not all casseroles utilize cream of anything soup or mixes.

                                                                                      That said, why a casserole? Because sometimes, I just want one.

                                                                                      1. jeremyn, I agree with all the above replies, including your replies to the replies.

                                                                                        But I'd like to turn the question around. I am not that great a fan of American//European cooking in which a plate is served with "a protein" (usually a slab of meat), a starch (often a potato in some form!) and a "side" (usually a vegetable). To me, this style of cooking takes little skill, even when your "proper sauce" is added. I enjoy more complex cooking and combinations - making tamales, enchiladas, momos, bierocks, sio pao, pot pies, beef wellingtons, curries, stir frys, makizushi, inarizushi, stuffed bitter gourd, complex Chines or French, and the like. To me a good casserole can involve separate prep of several ingredients and always involves careful consideration of melding several flavors and textures together.

                                                                                        So, I might ask, " What's the point of a plate with a slab, a carb, and a veg?".

                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                          How about 3 carbs - rice, potato and/or yuca, mote(hominy), or platano ?

                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                            Really!! Went out to lunch at a local place with friends the other day. The soup had a vegetable base, potato, and a chunk of bone with some tasty meat bits. Had the carne sudado. It came with beans, rice, platano, and the tablespoon sized "salad" of tomato and onion. And agua panela - a sugar cane drink. All for for about $2.50. jeremyn, that was a good anti-casserole plate.

                                                                                          2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                            Never had stuffed bitter gourd. What is this?

                                                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                              Bitter gourd or melon. First had it in a no name dirt floor "restaurant" in Canh Tho in the delta region of Vietnam. Ground pork, spices, herbs stuffed into the gourd (previously cut in half and each half emptied of pulp and seeds using a table kinife). Steamed. Delicious.

                                                                                          3. I've clearly offended a lot of people with my (apparent) dislike of the casserole! I often enjoy casserole-style dishes, especially if we're using the expanded definition of a casserole that seems to be held here.

                                                                                            My question was really meant as a question, not an attack: what's the point, and how can we make them better?

                                                                                            To Sam: I agree with your premise, that meat + starch + vegetable can get boring. I used it as an example because these are typically the three main ingredients in casseroles.

                                                                                            To chowser: I'd disagree with you that the steps I mention are already usually done, at least ideally. Your enchilada recipe looks fantastic, but again I would argue that the amount of care that the author put into that recipe is FAR above and beyond what is given to the typical casserole. This is a casserole I'd want to eat!

                                                                                            To laura and rworange: lasagne was my example of a casserole that does NOT sacrifice much (if anything) in its preparation. No mushy vegetables or overcooked meats.

                                                                                            Chowser's post (with recipe) is a great culmination of my feelings. That blogger with his enchilada recipe gives the casserole the attention it deserves and makes it a dish worth eating.

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: jeremyn

                                                                                              Oh, no offense. My sputtering had more to do with one too many posts disparaging the cassarole. I actually did know what you were talking about.

                                                                                              The cassarole can be gussies up such as Martha Stewart's or The Barefoot Contessa's mac and cheese. I admitted elsewhere I'm more likely to make a tuna cassarole with my own white sauce ... and fresh mushrooms and peas. And that can come in under cost to even canned soup and veggies.

                                                                                              Still, if you don't like the premise of the cassorole, I don't think even upping the technique or ingredients will do much for you.

                                                                                              Couldn't the casserole be considered in the same category as a soup .. a combining of ingredients into a one dish meal? There are good soups and bad soups.
                                                                                              http://www.fatfree.com/recipes/soups/...

                                                                                              There are good casseroles and bad ones. The latest incarnations came from the mid 20th century. I remember my mom going through the women's magaines at some of those recipes.

                                                                                              It was the gee whiz time of convenience ... fancy new stoves, refrigerators, cookware, canned and frozen foods ... ask about the appeal of TV dinners. Women like my mother were out in the workforce with limited time to spend in the kitchen. Convenience was all ... and casseroles were also swell to take to the office pot luck.

                                                                                              As the 80's rolled in and food tastes changed, the cassarole lost its appeal. The early 21st century had lots of easy to pick up meals.

                                                                                              It will be interesting to see if the latest economic downturn brings the casserole back in fashion.

                                                                                              Well, Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you aren't facing green been casserole topped with canned onions or yams topped with marshmallows.

                                                                                              1. re: jeremyn

                                                                                                I have a fabulous cookbook by the esteemed, but sometimes overfussy Cooks Illustrated group, called "Cover & Bake: Casseroles, Pot Roasts, Skillet Dinners, and Slow-Cooker Favorites". Highly recommend it. Full of dishes worth eating, including those in the "casseroles" section. What I like about them is that, depending on the recipe of course, they can be healthy and delicious. That pile of broccoli that would sit uneaten on hubby's plate is elevated by the ingredients it's cooked with, and so is everything else. Done well, that is. No need for everything to be a mushy mess.

                                                                                                http://www.amazon.ca/Cover-Bake-Edito...

                                                                                                1. re: jeremyn

                                                                                                  I agree w/ you, actually--that a casserole is often poorly done. But, it's really the medium and the cook makes the difference. I've often fought in defense of a crockpot but it's really hard when 95% of the recipes out there are about throwing everything in and turning it on. I think of it along the lines of the casserole. I don't use the microwave for cooking but have read threads here where people know how to use it properly and what they make sounds great. When I said the steps for casserole making are often done, I really meant it from a CH perspective.

                                                                                                2. Isn't convenience a good enough point?

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: Leepa

                                                                                                    That leads to stouffer's frozen lasagna.;-)

                                                                                                  2. By now you've heard from cooks who do not use soup or mixes to make casseroles, and it appears that you've gotten some good and thoughtful answers about casseroles in general. And then here is this: at some time in your life you might need to economize to feed your family or yourself, or in a worst case, you may need make and take food to someone who is suffering or grief stricken. The logical thing to take is a casserole. Learning to make good one is a life skill, and knowing how to do it will serve you well.

                                                                                                    1. Who says a casserole can't have braised/roasted/sauteed ingredients? Or a reduced sauce? I'm the summer veggie gratin queen, and trust me, those are some glorious casseroles.

                                                                                                      1. The point of a casserole is nonsummativity: the whole is equal to more than the sum of its parts. We remember as the best seafood dish we have ever eaten a baked casserole at a modest shore restaurant in Massachusetts 50 years ago---bottom layer was thick halibut fillet, then mashed potatoes, then a thick creamy shrimp sauce, then cheddary cheese all bubbly and brown.

                                                                                                        1. Just as an aside - I just bought a book on casseroles for someone for Christmas, by James Villas, the acclaimed Southern cookbook author. I looked at his recipe for traditional tuna noodle casserole, and he insists that one must use Campbell's cream of celery soup, and that making a fancy white sauce just won't do.

                                                                                                          http://www.newbernchamber.com/ch_dire...

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                            Yes, but the real question is, does he top it with crushed potato chips or shoestring potatoes? ;-).

                                                                                                            ~TDQ

                                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                              Oops - here is the right link:

                                                                                                              http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Casserole...

                                                                                                              However, from my quick read of the intro, I think he is not into potato chips etc. on top - bread crumbs or cracker crumbs instead!

                                                                                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                Aha!

                                                                                                                Probably just as well to top with bread crumbs (instead of potato chips), if you're cooking with cream of celery soup. I was fine with potato chips as a topping when you're using homemade bechamel, but it's probably too salty if you have both potato chips and cream of celery soup.

                                                                                                                I am always amazed at how satisfying and crunchy breadcrumbs can be on baked dishes. Sounds boring, but the effect can be very nice.

                                                                                                                Thanks for the link! I think this is one cookbook I'll pass on. Not that it doesn't sound enticing but I've been surveying my collection lately trying to figure out what I can sell back to the used bookstore. I don't need another one, that's for sure!

                                                                                                                ~TDQ

                                                                                                          2. One of my favorite things to eat is a chicken and broccoli casserole mixed with just enough mayonnaise and condensed cream of mushroom soup to glue the chicken and vegetables together and a heavy sprinkling of bread crumbs. I like broccoli, and I think it tastes even better with mayonnaise.

                                                                                                            To me, its virtues are that it's easy to make when I am tired and just want to toss something together that will last me for a week, it's incredibly delicious, and it's one of the few dishes I've loved since I was a picky child.

                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: pantsless

                                                                                                              My mom used to make a big 13x9 casserole full of "chicken broccoli cheese," as we liked to call it. Ingredients were boneless chicken tenders, 1 chopped onion, broccoli florets, huge can of cream of mushroom soup, 2 cups of grated cheddar, milk, and maybe a little garlic powder or salt and pepper. Served over egg noodles. My brother and I could eat tons of this stuff (probably still could).

                                                                                                              Her friend made a version with either miracle whip or mayo, which we thought was disgusting. Such discriminating tastes! ;)

                                                                                                              1. re: ChristinaMason

                                                                                                                That sounds so, so good! I think I'll try this next time instead of the usual! Thank you for sharing =D

                                                                                                                Hahaha. I think tuna casserole is disgusting, even though I don't have problem with tuna at all.

                                                                                                            2. Well I sort of understand your not liking casseroles. Casseroles are either really great comfort food or really bad nightmares. Most are probably the latter.

                                                                                                              The good ones usually take you on a stroll back to childhood sitting at your mothers table. That is a powerful aspect. My father liked whorehound candy which is a black strap molasses candy. It was absolutely horrid! But that was his version of candy when he was a kid and he still liked it sometimes.

                                                                                                              I suspect there is another side to your dislike of casseroles. I have seen hints of it all over cooking sites. Food snobbery. Just because you have learned how to saute a fine piece of meat and then make a great pan sauce does not mean that a good rice casserole isn't worthy of eating.

                                                                                                              Just because you can make a quick tomato sauce almost as quickly as opening a jar, doesn't mean that people who have found a jarred sauce they like should be made fun of. Most people need to be able cook quickly and if they have to sacrifice quality, they will. But they are at this site to work on it.

                                                                                                              I know many women who were at one time proud that they had no cooking skills and didn't want them. Well there comes a time when you just can't stand the thought of going to another restaurant! There also comes a time when you are suddenly not making more money than god and you just can't afford the restaurants or even the ultimate fast food - a rib eye steak and a baked potato.

                                                                                                              That's when casseroles start looking good!

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: tonka11_99

                                                                                                                I wouldn't want to eat casseroles daily but they do have their place in my family life. If I'm making a casserole for dinner (chicken pot pie, tuna, baked ziti, etc), then I usually make two. One is finished in the oven and the other goes into the freezer. Then on a day when I know I won't be home in time to spend an hour or more cooking, I take the casserole out of the freezer and refrigerate all day. I can pop it in the oven, make a salad, and dinner is served in no time. Yes, I can do quick meals but sometimes when busy, I just want to kick off my shoes and relax. I can only imagine how a mom who works outside the home must feel having to come home and worry about dinner. I used to come home and make dinner after work. We relied on a lot more convenience foods then than we do now.

                                                                                                                Then again, I'm one of those people who finds joy in lots of foods, no matter how simple or complex preparation may be.

                                                                                                              2. I don't know how I came upon this thread, but I have to ask a question. How come nobody has mentioned hotdish? I know there are at least 2 or more posters here from Minnesota and none of them mentioned hotdish?

                                                                                                                9 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                  Different word for the same thing, in my opinion. And, really, I did mention it without mentioning it.

                                                                                                                  The link here takes you to the winning dish from the "Hotdish" contest from the St. Paul Winter Carnival (2007, I think). If you haven't tried it, you should, it's really good. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6696...

                                                                                                                  And the book I quote in my first post in this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6696... is a memoir written by a woman who moved from St. Paul to a farm in Western MN.

                                                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                                                  1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                    Oh Funny, my husband's from WI and says hotdish! I didn't grow up with casseroles, but I knew the term. I had no clue what he was talking about when he offered to make me dinner when we were dating. A favorite family hotdish which I thought just meant hot dish as opposed to making me a sandwich or salad. Surprise! A pasta, chicken and veggie concoction in a casserole dish and it was tasty! So is the term hotdish unique to the upper Midwest or Great Lakes area?

                                                                                                                    1. re: Island

                                                                                                                      I don't know for sure, but it is ubiquitous in Minnesota and at least the eastern Dakotas and western Wisconsin (probably northern Iowa too).

                                                                                                                      Let me ask you this, do people make tater tot hotdish (casserole) where you are from? If so, what is it called?

                                                                                                                      1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                        LMAO. now i have to find the infamous "tater tot hot dish" thread from the msp board so you can see it.

                                                                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                          here ya go-- it's a long thread arguing about what, if any, dish is msp's "signature" menu item like chicago dogs, philly cheesesteak etc. the thread veers into hotdish territory in the middle, then at the end & may not be of interest to folks not from the area, but for denizens of msp it's interesting and entertaining with moments of hilarity.

                                                                                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5339...

                                                                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                            I hadn't seen that thread. I think there is a more recent version of the same debate about signature dishes. I think I've only had tater tot hotdish once or twice in my life that wasn't in the elementary school cafeteria.

                                                                                                                        2. re: John E.

                                                                                                                          Yes tater tot is here and called that. Never heard of it until someone brought it to a lunch pot luck at my first real job and I thought it was heaven...along with the green bean casserole with the onion crunchy things on top. I grew up with seperate protein, veggie, potato and salad dinners and and occassional mac n cheese or basic pasta and meatballs. Never even had pot pie. I felt deprived that 25 years of my life had passed without such "exotic" things and I craved those things for awhile. Went back to my family for the holidays and introduced them to green been casserole at Thanksgiving. LOL. It never stuck with them and it's rare that my husband and I have traditional casseroles now.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Island

                                                                                                                            The question I had was whether or not it was called Tater Tot 'Hotdish' or something else. I suspect casserole.

                                                                                                                            Where did you grow up where you weren't exposed to the green bean casserole?
                                                                                                                            (Not my favorite by the way. I doln't think I've ever had the opportunity to eat it when it was warm. It's always been on the Thanksgiving table, but by the time I get to it it's always lukewarm at best).

                                                                                                                            1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                              It was called a casserole, Never heard anyone use hotdish other than husband and his family. Grew up in PA. I'm sure it existed, but my family never had casseroles. Don't recall them at friend or relatives either. Maybe they were there, but if so I didn't eat them. Never knew of cream of anything soup until I had a college housemate who regularly ate c of mushroom on spaghetti. Now casseroles usually remind me of funerals.

                                                                                                                    2. I grew up with the idea that I loathed casserole, but now I could not imagine a world without osso bucco or oxtail. Beef in red wine with parmesan dumplings or lamb shanks...yeah, I don't mind casserole at all and it's certainly an enjoyment thing, not a convenience thing.

                                                                                                                      1. I think the point behind casseroles was partly about ease of service as well as of cooking. In my mother's basic cookbook from the 40s, there's a section in the back of the book addressed to middle class homemakers announcing that it is indeed possible to host a dinner party without servants ! In the 50s, Russel Wright - of tableware fame, but also the promulgater of a modernist lifestyle (sort of a combo of zen and "efficiency") - recommended buffet supper parties as an informal style suited to the modern homemaker. I bet the literature on the household efficiency movement (e.g., the redesigning of kitchen layouts to minimize steps between fridge and stove, etc.) also has something to say about casseroles. It's fun to think of the initial positive reaction to Julia Child as a counter-movement, still addressed to the servantless kitchen, but now delivering instructions for fine dining to the amateur cook. Ah, history!