I don't generally do bulk cooking on the weekends, preferring to make a quick dinner every night and packing leftovers for lunch the next day. But we're going through a busy phase and the idea of having a couple of meals in the fridge is so appealing, to be reheated and eaten during the work week as required. Bulk cooking would mean spending most of a Sunday in the kitchen, and as much as I love to cook, that just sounds exhausting.
While I was mulling over this, I saw a couple of mentions of a cookbook called Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand (she blogs on The Kitchn) and requested it from the library, thinking perhaps I could try to make an extra casserole or two on the weekend.
Well, this cookbook, a simple publication with no photos apart from the cover, turned out to be incredibly inspiring. These casseroles recipes are designed with fresh ingredients and don't call for gummy "cream of XYZ" soups. I loved the chapters on vegetable casseroles and breakfast casseroles. From the book, I tried to decide on one recipe to try that weekend (this was a couple of weeks ago). The broccoli-stuffed pasta shells looked very good, and so did the baked oatmeal- which should I try first?
A minute later I realized that both these recipes were baked at the same temperature- 350 degrees F- and I could easily bake both at the same time. In fact, given that my kitchen range has the kind of spacious oven that is the norm in US homes, I could fit in a third baking dish in there. Which was a happy realization, because I had just bought a lovely big bunch of kale, and had bookmarked a simple recipe to use it in. A recipe that, conveniently enough, is also baked at 350F.
You see where I am going with this? My multi-baking (yes, it is a real word and you heard it here first) session was a success. I spent about an hour prepping and preheated the oven towards the end of that time. Then three baking dishes- a pie plate, a 9 x13 casserole dish and an 8 x 8 baking dish- went into the oven and I quickly cleaned the kitchen and relaxed. The dishes came out one by one and I had a good amount of delicious food ready for the days ahead.
Cooking multiple dishes in the oven simultaneously is a nice way to save yourself some time, and to lower your utility bills and carbon footprint while you are at it. It turns out that a great proportion of recipes are baked at 350 degrees F. There's not much mystery there- 350F is a moderate "Goldilocks" baking temperature, not too high and not too low.
I've compiled a list of 12 recipe categories- most of the recipes I've seen for these call for a 350F oven temperature. If you would like ideas for specific recipes for any of these, ask me in the comments and I'll gladly help. Imagine choosing 2 or 3 or 4 of these and baking them all at once. One could get a chunk of cooking done in a couple of hours.
- Breakfast egg casseroles & quiches: Savory combinations of eggs, vegetables, cheese, and sometimes grains and flours.
- Pasta casseroles: Macaroni and cheese and lasagna may be the best known but there are endless possibilities with pasta, vegetables, sauce and cheese.
- Other main dishes: Enchiladas, biryani, vegetarian shepherd's pie to name just a few.
- Baked oatmeal: Oats cooked in milk (dairy or non-dairy) with fruits and nuts.
- Granola: Another breakfast option with oats, seeds, dry fruits and nuts.
- Tofu: Baked tofu is a great snack or appetizer on its own, and can be tossed with fried rice and noodles or stirred into soup.
- Bread: Several recipes for yeasted breads bake at 350F.
- Quick breads & muffins: E.g. banana bread, zucchini bread, and all sorts of muffins. These are nice to have on hand for tea-time snacking and for lunch boxes.
- Whole vegetables: Winter squash, baking potatoes and sweet potatoes can be baked whole and then cut open with ease for use in various dishes.
- Vegetable bakes: For instance, gratins, stuffed vegetables and simple trays of cubed vegetables.
- Roasted nuts & snack mixes: Glazed nut mixtures are a wonderful snack and make for nice hostess or holiday gifts.
- Cakes & Cupcakes: If you have a celebration coming up in the next few days, make a quick cake or batch of cupcakes while cooking other meals.
Coming back to the three dishes I baked together that weekend, here are the recipes. One was this quinoa and kale crustless quiche. I followed the recipe closely. My only addition was some cubed cooked sweet potato. Lila has started eating "people food" (in addition to her usual diet of food that comes from people) that week and her first food was sweet potato. I had some left over and added it here. It added another layer of sweetness to the dish, contrasting beautifully with the mildly bitter greens. This is a great dish to have on hand for picnics and lunch boxes, because it is tasty at room temperature. I enjoyed it with Sriracha sauce!
Next up, a pasta dish of jumbo shells stuffed with broccoli. This was my first time making jumbo shells. They make for a lovely presentation, although this is a thick pasta (it has to be, to hold the filling) and I prefer a more delicate pasta in general. It is a slightly labor intensive dish but we enjoyed the results very much. I had some jarred marinara that I needed to use up so I included it in this casserole and I thought it was a wonderful addition.
Broccoli-Stuffed Shells(Adapted from Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand)
1. PASTA: Cook a box of jumbo shells. Drain the shells and set them on a clean dish towel. Choose the best 15-20 shells for the recipe and save the rest of the pasta for later use.
2. Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a 9 x 13 metal baking dish.
3. FILLING: Roughly chop 2 large heads of broccoli and cook them until barely tender (I used the microwave oven). Pulse the cooked broccoli a few times in the food processor to yield finely chopped broccoli.
4. In a bowl, mix together the broccoli, 1 tbsp. minced garlic, 1 cup ricotta cheese, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, salt, red pepper flakes and pepper to taste. Set this filling aside. If you like, you can add a beaten egg to this mixture too.
5. WHITE SAUCE: Heat 1/4 cup of butter in a saucepan. Add 1/4 cup flour and cook it for a few minutes. Stir in 2 cups milk and cook, whisking often, until the sauce is thick. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.
6. ASSEMBLY: Ladle half a cup of white sauce and spread it around in the bottom of the baking dish. Fill pasta shells with broccoli mixture and arrange them in the dish in a single layer. Pour a cup of marinara sauce over the shells. Top with the rest of the white sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Bake for an hour or so until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling.
Baked Oatmeal (Adapted from Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand)
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Lightly grease an 8 or 9 inch square baking dish.
3. In a bowl, stir together
- 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 cup milk
- 1.5 cups almond milk
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1 or 2 chopped apples
- 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
4. Pour the oat mixture into baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until liquid is fully absorbed.
- 1/2 tsp. salt
On The Bookshelf
Here are two interesting points I took away from this book:
1. The author talks about the empathy reflex. If the other person has a strong emotion (anger, frustration, fear), your first reaction should be to demonstrate empathy by doing these 2 simple steps:
(b) Make a guess about where the emotion is coming from.
This is just so simple and powerful, for responding not just to children and spouses but with other people too.
2. The author describes the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a landmark longitudinal study of mental and physical well-being. Decades of research has led to this conclusion "The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people".
And with that we say good-bye to March and hello to April. The first half of April looks like a very busy one for my family, so I'll be on a short blogging break. See you in the latter half of April!