Home-cooked meals that warm up chilly days

Stonewall Spicy Shepards PiePhotographed by Jim Stott

Casserole—the word brings up memories of home-cooked meals, savory scents, and stick-to-the-ribs satisfaction. So what exactly is a casserole and how did it get its name? Casserole comes from the French word casse, meaning a case, referring to a large deep dish that can be used both in the oven and then as a serving vessel. The word is also used for food cooked and served in such a vessel. Today, this cookware is usually called a casserole dish or casserole pan.

Both our mothers had a great collection of casserole dishes, the most popular being the traditional clear glass Pyrex dish seen in every kitchen. One of our favorites has always been the classic turquoise blue patterns of Pyrex that today have become collectible. Whether you use Pyrex or modern ceramic, glass, or metal pans, what you need to know is that the dish you select can take the heat of the oven and work well as a serving piece. We use sturdy ceramic or enameled cast iron but any deep-sided dish that can stand fairly high heat will work just fine. Where will you serve your casserole—a counter, the table, or a buffet?

Traditional casseroles consist of meat or fish (usually precooked), chopped veggies, a binder such as potato, rice, or pasta, and more often than not, a creamy sauce. Of course, the crunchy/cheesy/bread crumb topping is always a hit but not essential. There are many fantastic ways to incorporate leftovers into a recipe. Adding a handful of green beans, carrots, or corn to the mix usually works well. Casseroles cook slowly in the oven, often uncovered. They may be served as a main course or a side dish and are always served in the dish in which they were cooked. The oven transforms a casserole’s few simple ingredients into a delicious meal that is more than the sum of its parts. The oven’s slow heat lets all the flavors blend and complement one another during baking.

These favorite family meals are also fantastic for entertaining, especially in the cool fall and winter seasons. All casseroles are made ahead of baking, and if dinner gets delayed, you can lower the oven temperature and buy some extra time. Nothing is better for casual entertaining than pulling a premade casserole out of the oven piping hot and serving it with a simple salad and crusty homemade bread.

Stonewall Lobster Mac Cheese

Smart essay help cooks often make two casseroles at a time and freeze one for later use. Here are guidelines to keep in mind when freezing your dishes:
• Try to make all of your casseroles in the same size dish or pan. That way, it is easier to heat them evenly when baking if you need to cook two.
• Wrap your casserole tightly with aluminum foil and allow as little air as possible between the top of the casserole and the foil.
• Date casseroles so that you know which ones went into the freezer first.
• Remember that cooking time increases if you pop a casserole into the oven without thawing first. Always check the interior temperature before serving.

The season is right for homey and delicious casserole dinners. We hope you enjoy these two recipes, two of our very favorites.

Lobster Mac and Cheese

Serves 10 as a side dish, 4-6 as a main dish

1 pound short pasta, cooked until just tender
1½ pounds of fresh lobster meat, cut into bite-size pieces
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup flour
4 cups whole milk
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
6 ounces Gruyère or Emmentaler cheese, grated
5 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons paprika
1½ teaspoons salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, melt ½ cup of butter, add lobster meat, and simmer until the butter turns pink.
2. Remove lobster meat and stir flour into the butter to make a roux. Slowly add milk and whisk until smooth and thickened. Add cheeses, salt and pepper to taste, and continue to stir over heat until all are blended and melted. Add lobster back to the sauce.
3. In a small sauce pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and add the onions and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add the onion and garlic to the lobster, milk, and cheese mixture and stir until blended.
4. Place the cooked pasta in a large casserole dish and carefully pour the cheese and lobster mix over the pasta. Stir gently to blend completely.
5. Top the casserole with the bread crumbs and sprinkle lightly with paprika.
6. Bake at 350°F for 40-60 minutes until piping hot and slightly browned.

Spicy Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 6-8

4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1½ cups light cream
½ stick butter
1 jar Stonewall Kitchen Spicy Corn Relish or any good spicy corn relish
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon whole cumin seed
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped finely (1 tablespoon reserved)
3 pounds ground turkey (or beef)
2 tablespoons flour
1-1½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Cut potatoes into one-inch chunks. Place in a large pot filled with salted water and boil until tender (approximately 15 minutes). Turn heat to low.
3. Drain off water and add ½ stick of butter and 1½ cups of light cream.
4. Let simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Mash with a potato masher until thick and smooth. Set aside.
5. In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil.
6. Sauté chopped onion, whole cumin seed, and all but 1 tablespoon of the chopped cilantro for about 2-3 minutes until onion starts to turn translucent.
7. Add ground turkey and continue to cook until the turkey has browned. Drain off liquid. Add flour and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock and simmer until sauce thickens. (Add more stock if needed.) Add salt and pepper to taste.
8. Start to layer ingredients in a large rectangular glass or ceramic ovenproof casserole dish.
9. Add the ground turkey, spreading evenly to cover bottom of pan. Add the spicy corn relish and cover the ground turkey with an even layer. Press down to pack tightly.
10. Top it off with the mashed potatoes.
11. Sprinkle the top with salt, pepper, and the reserved 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro.
12. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 35-40 minutes.

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