Do-it-Yourself Casserole Recipe

I count myself among the growing number of "I don't have time to cook between coming home from Obligation A and leaving for Obligation B" people in this world. As such, even though I love cooking for others and trying new foods, nine times out of ten I end up grabbing whatever is handy and shoving it in my mouth. This isn't exactly the best nutritional path (especially for someone trying to lose weight, and eat mostly local and organic stuff). So I was thrilled when I came across this recipe for a make-your-own casserole. You can mix and match ingredients to your heart's delight, using up leftovers before they go bad. You can even make a casserole ahead of time, cover it, and freeze it indefinitely (as long as the meat in it is pre-cooked), for a fast and still healthy dinner.
Bon apetit!

Any basic casserole requires all of the following:
1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream or plain (unflavored) yogurt AND
1 cup milk AND
1 cup water AND
1 teaspoon salt AND
1 teaspoon pepper

Then pick one sauce base below:
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted OR
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of celery soup, undiluted OR
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of chicken soup, undiluted OR
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can Cheddar cheese soup, undiluted OR
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained (if choosing this option, omit the sour cream/yogurt and milk listed above)

Then pick one meat option from below, if desired (not required):
2 (6-ounce) cans solid white tuna, drained and flaked OR
2 cups chopped cooked chicken OR
2 cups chopped cooked ham OR
2 cups chopped cooked turkey OR
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained

Then choose one 'dry base' from below:
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni OR
1 cup uncooked rice (white works best, but you can use other types) OR
4 cups uncooked wide egg noodles OR
3 cups uncooked medium shells

Pick one topping from the list below:
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese OR
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese OR
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese OR
1/2 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs, or panko

Pick one veggie from the list below:
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed (or fresh, cooked and gently squeezed to a less-moist consistency) OR
1 (10-ounce) package frozen cut broccoli (or fresh, cooked) OR
1 (10-ounce) package frozen Italian green beans (or fresh, cooked) OR
1 (10-ounce) package frozen English peas (or fresh, cooked) OR
1 (16-ounce) package frozen sliced yellow squash (or fresh, baked until tender) OR
1 (10-ounce) package frozen whole kernel corn (or fresh, cooked)

Lastly, pick one extra ingredient (optional):
1 (3-ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained (or fresh, sliced and sauteed just until tender) OR
1/4 cup sliced ripe olives OR
1/4 cup chopped bell pepper OR
1/4 cup chopped onion OR
1/4 cup chopped celery OR
2 garlic cloves, minced OR
1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles (or fresh, diced and cooked just until tender) OR
1 (1 1/4-ounce) envelope taco seasoning mix

Combine the sour cream or yogurt with the 1 cup milk, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and Sauce Base. Stir in the dry base, veggie, meat, and if desired, extras.
Spoon the casserole mixture into a lightly greased 13" x 9" x 2"baking dish. Sprinkle with your choice of toppings.
Cover and bake casserole at 350ยบ for 1 hour and 10 minutes; uncover and bake 10 additional minutes.

If you would prefer to make the casserole up ahead of time and freeze it, do so before the baking step. No time to thaw the dish before baking? If you have a sturdy enough casserole dish (like a Pyrex), you can just put it into the oven, however be aware that you may need to increase the baking time by an additional 10-20 minutes to compensate. (I like to put it in the oven as it pre-heats, personally, so the temperature change isn't too dramatic)

If you would prefer a vegetarian casserole option, try the Italian-style diced tomatoes, yellow squash, rice, olives, 4 portions celery, 4 portions bell pepper, garlic, parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs.

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