The casserole is undergoing a resurgence in popularity. After years of being maligned as a tasteless and gloppy suburban dish made with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup, it is finally coming into its own. Blame it on the economy and the rising cost of food, but high-end cuts of meat seared faultlessly and served with the perfect wine are passé in this environment: extravagant and unseemly amidst layoffs and foreclosures. Comfort foods are the new at-home gourmet chic, and there's nothing more heartening and reassuring than a chicken casserole.
Now if you're someone who still thinks a casserole is a jumble of congealed leftovers, than think again. This may have been the case a decade or two (or three) ago, back in the day when Campbell's soup had a best-selling cookbook featuring dishes like Green Bean Bake and Vegetable Beef and Biscuit Casserole. But although they have a new book called Campbell's Casseroles, One-Dish Meals and more (Plastic Comb) -- okay, what the hell is "(Plastic Comb)"? -- I'm happy to see that it's ranked # 416,157 on Amazon. No. Modern casseroles are not your mama's 1970s dinner.
Casseroles can take many shapes and forms. And while some may use leftovers, this doesn't mean they should be avoided. After all, chicken enchiladas -- which are often made with leftover chicken -- is a type of casserole. And don't forget about ooey gooey macaroni and cheese (which often uses leftover pasta) and cassoulets (which can be made out of leftover duck, sausage and beans with stellar results). Fresh ingredients that are baked together in a sauce are some of the most satisfying and affordable types of dishes you can make for a family dinner.
My Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole is a good example for how this type of dish can really stretch your food dollar. Whether you use leftovers from a previous night's dinner or start from scratch, you only need to use about half the meat you would normally serve your family because the rice adds substantially to the dish. And, with some local onions and mushrooms added into the mix, it is ample enough to feed a family of 4-6 people while costing less than $15 to make. Truly the perfect savory mid-winter meal.