Comfort Casseroles

In my neighborhood growing up, there were certain Corningware casserole dishes that would be passed from one house to the next, following the trail of layoffs, illnesses, deaths and other domestic hardships. To me, these casseroles represented the love and support of
a community of people making their way through difficult times together.

The homemade casseroles that filled these chipped and well-used dishes tasted like comfort and belonging, and they always made me feel like no matter how hard times got, there would always be somebody to help you up, brush you off, and give you a delicious
casserole until times got better.

And when it was another family’s turn, we would whip up a casserole and pay it forward.

In a challenging economy like ours, casseroles can fill the gap between costlier meals. They are inexpensive, fast and easy because they include the protein, starch and vegetable all in one baked dish.

There’s no reason why they can’t also be delicious. Your family may groan when you tell them you are making a casserole for dinner, but they will change their tune once they taste one of these tasty, delicious and easy all-in-one meals.

I have found that including a handful of casseroles in my menu rotation is a cost-saving way to fill midweek dinner menus. I actually look forward to not only making these favorites, but eating them as well. Casseroles may not be the highlight of your culinary
repertoire, but they can be one of the most comforting.

This super easy standard can be made days ahead of time. Sometimes I will even freeze this so I have a backup dish in case I need one.

Tuna Noodle Bake

For the Bread Crumb Topping

1-1/2 TBS Whole Butter

2/3 cup bread crumbs

For the Casserole Filling

8 oz dried egg noodles

12 can white chunk tuna in water, drained and de-chunked with fork

10.5 oz can of cream of mushroom soup

15 oz can of sweet peas, drained

3 or 4 fresh mushrooms, or 8 oz can of sliced mushrooms, drained

1 TBS mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

Dash Tabasco

Dash Worchestershire

Salt and pepper to taste

For the bread crumbs: Combine the butter and bread crumbs in a bowl. Rub the mix between your thumbs and forefingers until it forms an even meal. Set aside.

Boil noodles according to package instructions, usually 7-9 minutes. Drain and rinse in cool water to stop carry-over cooking. Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl and fold together. Pour into casserole dish, cover with bread topping and cook at 375F until bubbly, about 30 minutes.

I sometimes make a low-fat version by cutting out the butter in the bread crumbs and using fat-free soup and sour cream. My mom used to top it with fried shoestring potatoes. I’ve also seen crushed potato chips used, both of which are sooooo ‘70s.

My wife likes to douse hers in ketchup, which never fails to disgust me. I, however, prefer squeezing a little spicy Thai sriracha sauce over the top of my tuna casserole, especially the
second day reheat.

Tuna Noodle Bake

Tuna Noodle Bake

Here’s another golden oldie. Traditionally, Shepherd’s Pie is made with lamb. But
because my wife, Sandi, won’t eat lamb, I’ve substituted low-fat ground turkey.
You can use whatever protein you prefer.

Shepherd’s Pie

For the Potato Topping

1 cup instant mashed potatoes

1-3/4 cup water

2 TBS butter or margarine

½ tsp salt

1/3 cup milk

For the Casserole Filling

1 lb ground turkey (or lamb, beef, veal, pork, chicken or whatever you prefer)

½ onion, diced

½ green pepper diced

1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced

TBS EVOO

10.5 oz can of cream of tomato soup

8 oz can of tomato sauce

15 oz can of green beans, drained

Sprinkle of granulated garlic

Dash Tabasco

Dash Worchestershire

Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring milk, water, butter and salt to boil. Turn off heat and stir in instant mashed potatoes. Cover and let sit until all liquid is asorbed.

Meanwhile, put skillet on burner. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions, green pepper and jalapeno. Saute until onion is translucent, about five minutes. Add turkey and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. (If you are using ground beef or something besides turkey, you probably will want to drain the fat after browning the meat to prevent a greasy mouthfeel in the finished casserole. Since turkey is so lean, there’s no need to drain it).

In a mixing bowl, combine the turkey mixture, soup, tomato sauce, green beans, granulated garlic, Tabasco and Worchestershire. Mix together and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into casserole dish and spread potato mixture over top, being careful not to mix the potatoes with the casserole. Cook covered at 375F until done, about 30 minutes, then uncovered for another 5 minutes to crisp up the potatoes a little.

If you want, you can sprinkle ¼ cup of parmesan cheese at the end and either cook an additional 10 minutes uncovered, or brown under the broiler for a minute or two. I usually cook this casserole on a sheet pan in case it boils over a little. This helps keep the
oven clean.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie

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5 thoughts on “Comfort Casseroles

  1. Yum Dan, I’m a huge tuna casserole fan. But the kids won’t eat tuna. What do you think about subbing chicken in this recipe?
    Really enjoying the blog!!
    Tess

  2. Danny – I recently made a similar (but actually simpler) tuna casserole. It was wonderful. I actually called you w a question but I had an old phone number and called Big Red instead. I nice Chicago detail is to top it with “picnic french fried potatoes” or shoestring potatoes, or something like that. We don’t have them here so I had to improvise.

    In case your wondering the question was how many cups of dry noodles (I used elbow macaroni) makes, like, 3 cups cooked. Big Red said just cook it all – it’s cheap. It ended up being just right.

  3. And yeh – I can recall, a LONG time ago(1968? 69?) our entire family including you had the Hong Kong Flu (H2N3) and neighbors would come over with casseroles and similar items as our parents were barely able to function.

    Yeh also remember everybody was sick and we watched Lost World (1960) on Family Classics – supercool movie. Oh, but now I’m rambling off topic . . .

  4. Pingback: Easy Tuna Tetrazzini with Spinach | Budget Cooking Blog

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