I used to have a typed list of interchangeable ingredients for casseroles taped to the inside of my pantry door. The list was based on mixing and matching various components that are essential to all casseroles: Some kind of protein, some kind of vegetables, some kind of starch, and some kind of sauce or gravy or soup to hold it all together. Whatever various elements you choose for your casserole, you can top it off with some bread crumbs or crushed crackers, bake the concoction, and voila! You have a delicious one pan meal.
This is a very good way to use leftovers. What if I have some leftover roasted chicken (the kind you buy in the deli at the grocery store so you don’t have to cook it) and I am stumped with what to do with it? No problemo! I’m going to make a casserole. I will cook some rice while I chop up the chicken into bite size pieces. I’ll grab some frozen broccoli from the fridge and microwave that until thawed well. I’ll check the pantry to see what kind of cream of whatever soup I have on hand. I’ll take the cooked rice, stir in the chicken and broccoli and the cream of mushroom soup, turn the mixture into a casserole dish, top with some crushed crackers and a couple of dabs of butter or margerine, bake it at 350 for about 30 minutes until it’s all bubbly, and I have a complete dinner that only needs a salad and maybe a brown and serve roll to round it out. How easy is that?
Or, I take some leftover ham, cube it, mix in some leftover boiled potatoes, diced of course, a can of baby green peas, drained, and bind it all together with a can of cheddar cheese soup. Toss on the crushed crackers and butter and bake at 350 for 30 minutes, and I have another masterpiece casserole.
What if the only thing I can find in the pantry is a package of Tuna Helper, but I have no canned tuna. Again, no problemo! I just crumble up the leftover burgers in the fridge and prepare the Helper as directed. I add in a can of mixed vegetables, top with the obligatory cracker crumbs and pop it in the oven for another winning casserole dinner. (If you use a mix like Hamburger or Tuna Helper, you already have the saucy gravy mixture built in, so you don’t even need a can of soup.)
This kind of casserole cooking is really a lot of fun. You may not know what you’re having for dinner until you get home and explore the possibilities. As long as you have some of each required component, you’re less than an hour away from a hot, tasty dinner. Just choose one item from each category, mix together, top with bread crumbs or crushed crackers and a little butter, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes, and you’re ready to eat.
Mix and Match Possibilities
Protein: chicken, turkey, hamburger, steak, roast beef, ham, sausage, hotdogs, pork roast or chops, canned tuna, canned salmon, any kind of cheese.
Vegetables: Canned or frozen or leftover cooked or raw peas, beans, corn, mixed vegetables, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, spinach.
Starch: Brown rice, white rice, wild rice, potatoes, any kind of pasta, orzo, grits, any kind of packaged “Helper” type dinner.
Gravy/Sauce/Soup: Cream of chicken, cream of mushroom, cream of celery, cream of asparagus, cream of tomato, plain tomato, cheddar cheese soup; beef or chicken gravy in a jar; the sauce that comes from preparing the “Helper.”
The choices are limitless. So, use your imagination and your leftovers and create a delicious mix-match casserole for dinner tonight!