Casseroles Are Cool Again! (Plus, Mexican Shepherd’s Pie Recipe!)

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When I think of the word “casserole,” the first thing that comes to mind is tuna. Then potato chips. Then 1984. I’ll admit it, I’ve been guilty of thinking of casseroles as dated and boring, and they certainly weren’t something that immediately came to mind when planning dinner. But the truth is, I couldn’t be more wrong. Casseroles are totally cool!

Why are casseroles so great? Let’s start with the obvious. Your whole meal is ready in one big baking dish. That means: faster prep, faster cook time, less clean up, and (more than likely) some leftovers, too. Still don’t think casseroles sound appetizing? Then think again—about coming home tired from work, running after the kids, and consider how amazing it would be to have a little extra time to relax.

Here are 5 helpful tips to make sure your casseroles—or one-dish dinner variations, like cassoulet and shepherd’s pie—turn out perfectly every time.

1. Towel-dry the veggies! Meat is usually placed at the bottom of a casserole, and that’s where you want your moisture to accumulate—to keep your meat moist and tender while cooking. Where you don’t want lots of water is in your veggie layers—wet veggies will make other ingredients soggy. Pat them dry with a paper towel or cloth before adding them to the next layer.

2. Use undercooked pasta or potatoes Making a dish with either of these ingredients? Don’t fully cook them beforehand—they will soften up more when you place your casserole in the oven. Under-cooking potatoes saves on time, and using firm pasta prevents noodles from turning into a soggy mess.

3. Line your pan with foil Planning to freeze that casserole? Line the dish or pan with foil before assembling. Then, pop the entire thing in the freezer (yes, the pan too!). Once fully frozen, remove the pan, and now have a frozen casserole that takes up less space—ready to pop back into the pan or dish when it’s time to defrost and cook!

4. Defrost before heating “It freezes beautifully!” Have you ever heard that expression? Well it’s true—and it’s one of the benefits of making a casserole. Just be sure to give your frozen casserole ample time to defrost before baking. Trying to cook it frozen for longer, or at a higher temperature, can lead to soggy ingredients, cold spots, and other casserole mishaps.

5. Label it! Making multiple casseroles can make planning weeknight dinners in advance a breeze! And it’s an especially useful trick for big families. Just don’t forget to label what it is, and when you froze it for easy organization and cooking.

I’ve been experimenting with different casseroles lately. With time at a premium, I love something that I can pull from the freezer in the morning, defrost in the fridge during the day, and cook in 30 minutes when I get home. And I love having plenty of leftovers for lunch at work and dinner later in the week! One of my favorites is this Mexican Shepherd’s Pie. If you read my blog you know I love avocados and southwestern dishes—and this is one of my favorites. It’s packed with protein and fiber, and perfect for Meatless Monday!

What are your favorite casseroles? Share in the comments below!

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