So, what exactly is a casserole? I tend to call anything that is layered and put into the oven to bake a casserole. For a more precise definition, why not ask Wikipedia?
Since I'm assuming that you don't want to cook any more than I do when I make one, I'll break it down into easy to follow steps.
- Choose a meat.
This could be any kind of meat, really. Favorites are chicken or ground beef, but you could use elk if you wanted to.
- Choose a sauce.
Yeah, you could make the sauce from scratch. Don't. Instead, open a can of something, or use last night's leftover gravy. Almost anything that starts with 'Cream of' is appropriate. Just make sure that you can eat it with the meat you chose.
- Choose a vegetable.
You can use more than one if you like. It should be something that you like cooked. Do NOT use lettuce. I mean it.
- Choose a starch.
This is easy. It's one of: pasta, potatoes, rice, bread, cereal, breadcrumbs, or stuffing. I suppose that you could use yams if you'd prefer. Whatever.
- Prepare the meat.
Ok. If it's something ground, brown it in a pan. If it's a big chunk, slice it into slabs no more than 2 cm thick, or into chunks no more than 4 cm on a side.
- Mix the meat, sauce, and vegetable.
Really. Get a big bowl, and mix them all together. Use enough sauce that it coats the meat and vegetable. If you opened a can of condensed soup, do not add water to it.
- Prepare the starch.
Ok, if you chose something like stuffing, rice, or mashed potatoes, now is the time to make them. Use instant rice or a stuffing mix, it takes less effort. If it's a bread mix, mix it but don't bake it. If it's pasta, cook the pasta now. It it's breadcrumbs or cereal, then it's already ready.
- Make the casserole.
Now, put the casserole together. If you chose rice or pasta, put it in first, then put the meat mix on top. If you chose anything else, then put the meat mix in first, then the starch on top. Use a pan big enough to hold the whole thing, or put the leftover mix in the fridge for another meal later.
- Bake the casserole.
This one is easy. Bake it in the oven at 350F/175C, for at least one hour and no more than two. It is done when the center is bubbling.
- Eat it.
Put the rest in the fridge for later. It's probably safe to let it sit out for a few hours, as there are not a lot of things that can survive being boiled for an hour or so.
That's the generic recipe. Here are some specifics that I happen to like.
Leftover Turkey Casserole: Use turkey, gravy, broccoli, and stuffing. For extra calories, mix sour cream in with the gravy.
Hamburger Pie: Ground beef, several cans of green beans, tomato soup, with mashed potatoes on top. It tastes a little better if you put some grated cheese on top about 10 minutes before it's done.
Cornbread Casserole: Ground beef, enchilada sauce, olives and peppers, and cornbread mix. Pour the mix on top of the rest, then bake.
Pork Chop Casserole: Pork chops, cream of mushroom soup, onions, and rice. Put the rice in first, then the rest on top. Make sure that there's at least one pork chop for each person.
Tater-tot Casserole: Ground beef, cream of mushroom soup, lots of sliced celery, and tater-tots. Put the mix on the bottom, and cover with neatly-aligned tater-tots. This one works best if you can convince slave labor or children to align the tater-tots for you.
Swiss Steak Casserole: Steak, tomato sauce, onions and tomatoes, and rice. Cut the onions and tomatoes into slices, and put the steak on top of everything else, then pour the sauce over the top.
Tuna Casserole: Tuna, cheese sauce, pasta, and frozen peas. Mix it all together, and pour over the pasta. Alternately, just mix the pasta in. Either way, it's a bit better if you coat the top with grated cheese about 10 minutes before it's done.
As you can see, it's pretty versatile. Most of the time it takes maybe 5-10 minutes to make, not including baking time. Best of all, now you too can bring casserole to your next company picnic.