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There are many benefits to choosing this type of meal this time of year
Casseroles had their heyday in the 1960s, but there’s still a place for them, especially in autumn. A steamy bubbling casserole seems like the perfect main course for dinner on a wet, dark fall day.
Not limited to the old-school recipes that all seem to call for a can of condensed mushroom soup, casseroles can contain any number of combinations of meat, vegetables, rice, pasta, beans or fish.
The word casserole, derived from the old French casse, meaning ladle or pan, can refer to either the dish the food is cooked in or the contents of the dish.
The benefits that casseroles offer are many, starting with the fact that they are good time-management tools. When you are planning a meal for company and want to have maximum time for visiting and spend a minimum of time on last-minute food preparation and clean-up, the casserole is at your service. Have the table laid in advance, pop the casserole into the oven about an hour before mealtime, prepare a simple vegetable side dish or salad and dinner’s ready.
Another feature that’s useful when serving a group: portion control is a breeze. Whether serving children or adults, with large appetites or small, it is easy to spoon the appropriate amount of food from the casserole.
Casseroles are just as valuable for everyday use as they are for company meals, especially at times when you are busy with outside commitments. Plan ahead, prepare a casserole a day or two early, refrigerate and heat and serve when you need it. Yes, it takes work to prepare, but the timing is at your discretion.
For the sake of food safety, chill hot casseroles as quickly as possible when storing for later use. They are usually dense mixtures that can take a long time to cool to a safe temperature when made in a deep dish. Either use a shallow casserole, or, if the dish will stand up to it, chill in a bath of ice water.
Being suited to advance preparation and easy to reheat and serve, casseroles are also well suited for travelling. Take one to an ailing friend, a couple with a new baby, a grieving family or a group of friends at a potluck.
I have served Chicken Leek Shepherd’s Pie to guests several times. You could use a tray of chicken breasts or thighs for this, but I like to roast a chicken and use both light and dark meat in the casserole. The 5.5-pound chicken I roasted last weekend yielded more than enough meat for a double batch of the recipe.
The recipe doubles well, but bear in mind that if you make a double batch or chill it in the refrigerator before cooking, it will take longer to heat through than the 30-40 minutes mentioned in the recipe.
Chicken Leek Shepherd’s Pie
From Wimbush-Bourque Aimée: "Brown Eggs and Jam Jars”. Penguin Canada, Toronto, 2015.
15 mL (1 tbsp) salted butter
375 mL (1½ cups) chopped leeks, white and pale green parts only, well washed
15 mL (1 tbsp) all purpose flour
175 mL (¾ cup) chicken stock
60 mL (¼ cup) heavy (35%) cream
15 mL (1 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley (or 5 mL/1 tsp dried)
2 mL (½ tsp) salt
2 mL (½ tsp) black pepper
750 mL (3 cups) shredded cooked chicken or turkey
250 mL (1 cup) frozen or drained canned corn kernels
750 mL (3 cups) leftover mashed potatoes
- Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F).
- In a medium stovetop-to-oven casserole, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add chopped leeks; cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Sprinkle with flour. Stir to coat leeks in flour, scraping up any browning bits on the bottom of the pan. Slowly add chicken stock, stirring, and then cream. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Sauce will thicken slightly.
- Stir in parsley, salt, pepper, and shredded chicken. Remove from heat. Sprinkle corn kernels over the chicken and top with a layer of mashed potatoes. At this point, the pie can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to two days before baking and serving.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are light brown and the dish is hot in the centre. Serve hot.
- Makes 6 servings
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.