1.Grate Your Ingredients: Grating is both faster and easier than chopping and slicing. Not to mention, smaller food particles cook quicker, which saves you the hassle of sauteing. Simply grate onions, carrots, garlic, etc., toss them into your dish and bake!
2.Use Up Leftovers:From random pastas and leftover cereals (as a crunchy topping) to the remnants of last night's dinner, casserole dishes offer the perfect opportunity to not waste food. Plus, using pre-cooked leftovers saves time.
3.Opt For Tougher Meats: Tougher cuts of meat can withstand higher temperatures for a longer period without falling apart, disintegrating and compromising flavor.
4.Skip The Frozen Veggies: Do you want a soggy dish or hearty casserole? Frozen veggies can cause a soupy mess. Go for the fresh, but keep in mind you may still need to squeeze out excess water.
5.Say Yes To Toppings: Toppings add extra flavor and allow you to personalize your dish. From chow mein noodles, bread crumbs, healthy chips, bacon, and Ritz crackers to healthier finishers like cheeses, herbs, and nuts, the possibilities are endless.
6.Using Fresh Or Dried Herbs: Fresh herbs can lose flavor when exposed to heat for long periods to time. For dishes that require a longer baking time (1-2 hours), opt for dried herbs, which can withstand the heat.
7.Know How To Slice It: Uniformly cut ingredients so that they cook evenly. The smaller, the better!
8.Par Cook Veggies: Par-cooking or partially cooking ingredients allows you to combine foods that vary in cooking time. Some root vegetables like carrots, for instance, take longer to cook than others. Boil or saute them just enough to soften and then toss them into the main dish.
9.Opt For Flame Proof: Ditch the multiple pan hassle and get yourself a flameproof, ovenproof casserole dish. You can saute meats and vegetables in the same dish you ultimately build your entire casserole.
10.Brown The Meat First: Browning meat before adding it to the casserole preserves juices and adds flavor. Just be sure not to brown them too much or you'll be left with dry, charred meat.
11.Fill It Almost All The Way Up:As a general rule, fill your casserole dish about ¾ of a way to the top. Overfilling it can make a mess and under filling it can cause the ingredients to overcook and dry out.
12.Know Your Dish: Whether you opt for stoneware, ceramic or glass, know the baking time required for that particular dish. Metal and glass easily overcook, while ceramic and stone take a bit to warm up.
13.Cook Vegetables Together: Casserole recipes call for cooked meat (unless otherwise specified). To save time and enhance flavors, sauté meat and vegetables briefly in a skillet before baking with the rest of the ingredients. Better yet, puree veggies. It takes a little bit more work (boiling and blending), but the rich, velvety texture is worth all effort. Not into puree? Dipping ingredients in flour before baking can also create a denser dish.
14.Don't Fully Cook Pasta: To avoid overcooked, flimsy noodles, reduce suggested boiling time by approximately 2-4 minutes.
15.Make It The Day Before: With stressful careers and endless after work commitments, who really has time to make dinner? That's the beauty of the casserole. You can prep it a day or even months in advance, and it actually tastes better that way. Letting the ingredients sit allows flavors to marinate, intensify and blossom!
16.Add Yogurt: Looking for a healthy alternative to bind ingredients? Thanks to calcium, which is used as a binder, plain, fat-free Greek yogurt can be subbed in the place of creamy sauces. It's void of excess calories, sodium and fat, and it's full of muscle-building protein.
17.Know How To Cover It:Improperly covering a casserole dish can completely ruin it. Make sure to spray aluminum foil with non-stick butter or oil before tightly covering the ingredients. No one wants a dry, deformed casserole.
18.Go Crispy:If you're looking for a crispy top layer, you have two options. Option 1: Cook casserole uncovered. Option 2: After casserole is fully cooked, remove cover, add toppings and broil. Adding toppings too soon can leave them soggy. Typically this should only take about 10-15 minutes.
19.Keep It Frozen:Frozen casseroles are perfect for any occasion that calls for an easy, thoughtless meal. No matter the recipe, this dish can be frozen and easily stored in the freezer for a later date. Here's how: Line baking dish with foil allowing about 3 inches of foil to hang over sides. Assemble casserole, cover and freeze. Once frozen, remove the foiled casserole from dish, detach foil and replace with freezer paper. Generally speaking, a casserole can remain in the freezer for about three months. Just make sure to date them.
20.Reheating:Before you go directly transferring your casserole from the freezer to the oven, let it fully defrost for about 30-60 minutes. If you simply pop the frozen dish into the oven, the ingredients can overcook, losing both nutrients and flavor. Once defrosted, bake at 350 degrees covered. (Keep in mind this is the second time they are being heated).