Archive | February 26th, 2012

Griffin to Go: Casseroles Were Never Like This

Griffin to Go: Casseroles Were Never Like This

Pork Chops with Sauerkraut

Who doesn’t love a good casserole? Layers of noodles or potatoes alternating with meat and a creamy soup holding the two together, all under a thick, gooey, crusty layer of cheese on top. I can remember my mom making them all bubbly and hot under that protective layer of Cheddar.

Texas is famous for King Ranch Casserole, with corn tortillas mixed with chicken, Ro-Tel, onion and soup blended together as well as plenty of enchilada-based casseroles with cheese melting everything into a unified whole.

The average homemaker loves the ease of assembling a casserole, and you’ll still find more than a few dotting church potlucks and parties.

But there are some who refuse to leave well enough alone, meaning casseroles are constantly getting transformed by those who refuse to use a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup because of the added sodium and other questionable ingredients. They prefer to make their own from scratch.

That’s the basis of two new cookbooks, “The Casserole Queens Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, $17.99) by two Austinites, Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock, and “Not Your Mother’s Casseroles” (The Harvard Common Press, $16.95) by Faith Durand.

Both give casseroles a bit of a facelift, offering such one-dish wonders as Turkey Enchiladas with Spinach and Cheese, Tender Turkey with Sausage and Mushrooms, and Lobster Boy Casserole. You can make your own soups, noodles or what you need for these recipes or you can used already-prepared versions.

The breakfast casseroles, including Whole-Grain Almond-Apricot Bread Pudding and Bacon and Lentils with Egg, sound particularly good, especially for a holiday meal or a brunch.

And both sets of authors offer tips on preparing, keeping the pantry stocked and doing things ahead of time.

“Some casseroles can be prepared and then frozen before baking,” Durand writes. “The more moisture a casserole has, the better it will freeze. The rule of thumb says to avoid freezing potatoes, rice and pasta, although I have frozen and then baked some pasta dishes (especially lasagna) with particular success. Other things to avoid freezing are milk, tofu and all-vegetable dishes. The best casseroles to freeze are stews and meat dishes, as well as some fruit desserts. To bake, thaw an unbaked casserole in the refrigerator overnight, let it come to room temperature, then bake as directed in the oven.”

Layer sauerkraut, bacon, tomatoes and more with pork chops in this casserole.

Trouble is, casseroles are not diabetic friendly. All those noodles, potatoes, bread crumbs, flour-thickened sauces, corn and rice are all worse than sugar to my system, so I have to avoid them or get creative. That’s why I won’t be using either book as extensively as I would like. (World’s Greatest Chicken Pot Pie, which Cook and Pollock made on an episode of “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” sounds incredible and I may just have to give in to temptation.)

But I did find the following recipe in “The Casserole Queens Cookbook,” which I modified by using apples instead of potatoes. And for the first time, I made my own sauerkraut, which was easier than I thought — and incredibly delicious.

Pork Chops with Sauerkraut

Cooking spray
10 slices bacon
2 (14-ounce) cans sauerkraut or homemade (recipe follows)
6 (1/2-inch thick) pork chops
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 russet potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 medium onions, sliced
1 (14 3/4-ounce) can stewed tomatoes

Bake this casserole so the various layers of flavor blend together.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray.

Line the bottom of the casserole dish with bacon. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper, then lay them on top. Later the potato and onion slices over the pork, then scatter the tomatoes over the top. Bake the casserole for 2 hours or until the potatoes are tender.

Makes 6 servings.

From “The Casserole Queens Cookbook” by Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock


1 head cabbage, shredded
4 to 6 teaspoons pickling salt (non-iodized)

Pack the cabbage into 4-6 sterilized quart jars. Add 1 teaspoon of pickling salt to each jar and cover with water. Place the lid and bands on the jars and close as tightly as you can by hand. you might want to place your jars on a baking sheet or in a shallow dish, because during the fermenting process the lids will loosen and juice will run down the sides of the jars. this is why you don’t seal them completely airtight as you do when you are canning. Store in a dry dark place to ferment for 3 weeks. If you do not have a basement, use a pantry or cover them with a towel.

Makes 4-6 quarts.

From “The Casserole Queens Cookbook” by Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock


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Bacon and Lentils with Egg

Bacon and Lentils with Egg

Red lentils

“Have you ever eaten lentils for breakfast?” Faith Durand asks in “Not Your Mother’s Casseroles” (The Harvard Press, $16.95). “This is one of those breakfast dishes that is really just as good for lunch or dinner. It’s flexible; after you make up a batch of soft, mashed lentils with spices, you can serve them for any meal of the day. Serve this with Indian lime pickle or a spicy chutney.”

Bacon and Lentils with Eggs

4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 shallots or 1/2 red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 cups red or yellow lentils, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
4 cups water
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 eggs

Place the bacon in a 2-quart (or larger) saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Cook the bacon slowly, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until it is crisp.

Turn the heat to medium and add the shallots and garlic. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, then add the garam masala and lentils. Stir so the lentils are coated with the shallots and garlic, then add the cilantro and cook until it is wilted.

Add the water and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes. if the lentils are too watery at the end, leave the lid off for a few minutes until the liquid is reduced and the lentils are nearly dry. Turn off the heat and taste. Season the lentils with salt and pepper, then lightly mashed them with a fork.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease six 6-ounce ramekins with baking spray or olive oil. Mount a few spoonfuls of the lentils in each (you may have some lentils left over), then make a hollow in the center of the lentils with the back of a spoon and crack in an egg. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the whites are just set. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Not Your Mother’s Casseroles” by Faith Durand


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From the Casserole Queens: World’s Greatest Chicken Pot Pie

From the Casserole Queens: World’s Greatest Chicken Pot Pie

How did two Austin women, Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock, become the Casserole Queens?

Here’s their story:

“It’s called a defining moment. For Madonna, it was ‘Everybody.’ For Brad Pitt, it was ‘Thelma and Louise.’ For us, well, it was our chicken pot pie that started it all. Now, we aren’t saying that we’re the next Madonna or Brad Pitt. But, in all honesty, you wouldn’t be reading this book if it weren’t for this recipe. As seen on Food Network’s ‘Throwdown with Bobby Flay,’ this signature dish is our claim to fame. It’s not just any old pot pie — oh, no. We took great care to bring this everyday comfort food to new gourmet heights. White wine, tarragon, and shallots are just some of the surprise ingredients tucked under a perfectly golden brown puff pastry. It’s the dish that made people sit up and take notice of us, and now it’s your turn to take the spotlight.”

The cookbook in question is “The Casserole Queens Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, $17.99), and it features casseroles as divergent as Frenchy Toast Casserole for breakfast to Keep Austin Weird Spam Casserole for, well, any Austin friends who go to the annual Spamarama Festival.

For more on the Casserole Queens, click here.

World’s Greatest Chicken Pot Pie

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (3-pound) roasted chicken, boned and shredded
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups fresh peas, blanched
1 1/2 cups carrots, diced and blanched
2 russet potatoes, diced and blanched
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
Egg wash (lightly whisk together 1 whole egg and 1 teaspoon water)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the chicken, bell pepper, and shallots, and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, salt, tarragon and black pepper. Add the milk and cream, and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and bubbly about 10 minutes. Add the wine, peas, carrots and potatoes, and stir until heated thoroughly, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the hot chicken mixture to a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Place the puff pastry over the top of the casserole dish. Brush the edges of the puff pastry with the egg wash and press against the side of the casserole dish, then cut slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape. Brush the top of the puff pastry with egg wash — this will help the puff pastry brown evenly. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.

If you are short on time, take advantage of frozen vegetables. Replace the hand-cut and blanched veggies with a bag of frozen peas and carrots and 1/2 bag of frozen diced potatoes. By not blanching your vegetables, you’ll miss some of the salt flavor. Taste the filling before you put it in the casserole dish and season with salt, if you like.

Variations: Here are two great ways to make this chicken pot pie:

  • Make individual pot pies. Portion out the filling into 6-ounce ramekins. Top each ramekin with some puff pastry and freeze. Cook at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until puff pastry is golden brown.
  • Use store bought pie dough and make empanadas. Using a 3-inch circle pastry cutter, cut 12 circles out of the dough. Place a large spoonful of filling on one half of each circle. Brush the edge of the pastry with egg wash, then fold in half to make a half-moon shape. Press the edges together firmly and crimp with a fork. Put the empanadas on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

From “The Casserole Queens Cookbook” by Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock

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