published Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Tossed and Found: Quick, hearty casseroles are perfect for school nights

Spaghetti Pizza, right, and King Fong casseroles can be made a day ahead for a quick supper.
Spaghetti Pizza, right, and King Fong casseroles can be made a day ahead for a quick supper.
Photo by Laura McNutt /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The kids are back in school (or, if you live in Georgia or Alabama, they soon will be). The pool's ready to shut down. And the days will be getting shorter.

The fast-food meals that worked during the summer months no longer seem adequate. You want the family to have something a little more substantial, especially on the rare occasion when everyone sits down at the table at the same time. But with both parents working, it's hard to come home and prepare a full meal.

Your friend, the casserole, however, is waiting in the refrigerator because you took 30 minutes to prepare it the night before.

For this month's Tossed & Found segment, I have chosen four casseroles I've never made. Two are rice-based, one is pasta-based and the fourth is just so darned simple I was curious.

Most of the recipes I collect are simple. They don't require ginger root gently pulled from the ground in Southern India, Calibayarasta cheese found in the most exotic markets or leg of lamb that was tended to by Rastafarian shepherds.

For the casseroles, you probably have most of these items in your refrigerator, lounging in your freezer or sitting in your shelves. And even the things you might have to buy can be found in any grocery store.

Take a few minutes to make one of the first three of these the night before, and pop it in the oven when you come home from work the next day. The fourth one can be created and cooked in the time it takes the other three to cook. Add a simple green salad, and you have a full meal.

Spaghetti Pizza

16 ounces spaghetti

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

3-1/2 cups spaghetti sauce

1 to 2 teaspoons oregano

1/2 teaspoon basil

1 package sliced pepperoni

Break spaghetti into 2-inch pieces. Cook, drain and cool. Beat eggs in a large bowl, add milk and 1 cup mozzarella cheese, salt and garlic salt. Stir in cooked spaghetti. Mix well. Spread in oiled casserole pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Spread sauce over spaghetti. Sprinkle on oregano, basil and 3 cups cheese. Top with pepperoni. Return to oven. Bake for 30 minutes.

• Clint's change: I used the tiny pepperoni rounds instead of the larger ones.

• Result: Easy to make, delicious and filling. I probably didn't let the spaghetti cool long enough before adding it to the egg/milk/cheese/salts combination because the cheese combination seemed to stick together a bit, but stirring took care of that.

King Fong

1 pound sausage, fried and drained

1-1/2 cups diced celery

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup chopped green pepper

1 cup rice, uncooked

1 package Lipton dry noodle soup mix

1/2 cup water

1 can cream of mushroom soup

Slivered almonds

Combine sausage, celery, onion, green pepper, rice, soup mix and water and bake in casserole for 2 hours at 300 degrees. Remove from oven and spread soup and almonds over top. Return to oven and heat thoroughly.

-- Barbara Cantrell

• Clint's changes: I used an orange bell pepper instead of green. I also tossed the celery into the frying sausage just before I mixed it with the other ingredients simply because of the wonderful aroma it generates. And because I didn't read the directions well enough, I put in the soup with the other ingredients.

• Result: Easy to make and a nice flavor. I don't think my boo-boo with the soup made much of a difference. I'm curious about the name, though. A brief Internet search found several King Fong restaurants but no recipe with that name.

Rice Twice

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 tablespoon butter, melted

2 pounds shrimp (peeled frozen shrimp or frozen breaded shrimp will work)

3 cups long-grain and wild rice mix, uncooked

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or any kind of cheese or combination of cheeses)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

In a small skillet, saute onions in melted butter. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Place in a casserole dish and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

• Clint's changes: I used peeled frozen shrimp as opposed to breaded frozen shrimp. The recipe calls for three cups of uncooked rice. That's a lot. I had nearly two cups, and that seemed excessive in the final product. I used about 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup of a mixed shredded cheese I had in the refrigerator. I didn't have an official Cajun seasoning, so I used a blackening spice I did have.

• Result: Easy to make. The recipe doesn't indicate whether to use the seasoning packet that comes with the long-grain and wild rice, so I used part of it. I probably should have used all of it. The dish is fine but seems to lack some punch, so more seasoning is probably needed. As with King Fong, I was curious about the name. Rice Twice doesn't describe the dish as much as Shrimp-a-Roni Casserole or Nice Shrimp and Rice might.

Frito Pie

1 bag of Fritos

2 cans chili

2/3 cup water

1 pound ground beef, cooked

1-1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese

Lay Fritos in bottom of pan. Combine chili, water and cooked meat. Pour over Fritos, then add cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

• Clint changes: None. The recipe doesn't say how much of a bag of Fritos to use on the bottom of the dish, but I didn't use the whole bag -- just enough to completely cover the bottom. It also doesn't specify types of chili, so I used one can of Southwestern chili and one can of turkey chili.

• Result: Very easy to make. If you like, vary the chilies each time you make it for a different taste.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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