Saturday, March 31, 2012

1 Oven, 350 Degrees, 3 Baking Dishes

...and that is how I cooked 2 meals + breakfast for a whole week in a couple of hours.

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.
  1. Breakfast egg casseroles & quiches: Savory combinations of eggs, vegetables, cheese, and sometimes grains and flours.
  2. Pasta casseroles: Macaroni and cheese and lasagna may be the best known but there are endless possibilities with pasta, vegetables, sauce and cheese.
  3. Other main dishes: Enchiladas, biryani, vegetarian shepherd's pie to name just a few.
  4. Baked oatmeal: Oats cooked in milk (dairy or non-dairy) with fruits and nuts.
  5. Granola: Another breakfast option with oats, seeds, dry fruits and nuts.
  6. 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. 
  7. Bread: Several recipes for yeasted breads bake at 350F.
  8. 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. 
  9. Whole vegetables: Winter squash, baking potatoes and sweet potatoes can be baked whole and then cut open with ease for use in various dishes.
  10. Vegetable bakes: For instance, gratins, stuffed vegetables and simple trays of cubed vegetables.
  11. Roasted nuts & snack mixes: Glazed nut mixtures are a wonderful snack and make for nice hostess or holiday gifts.
  12. 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. 




The baked oatmeal recipe is a very simple one. In fact, it is the same thing you would make on a stove top but instead you cook it in a baking dish. This is a basic recipe that one could modify with different fresh and dry fruits, and nuts and spices.


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 
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 
4. Pour the oat mixture into baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until liquid is fully absorbed.

On The Bookshelf

Here's the next parenting book I read: Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina. The author has a good synopsis of these rules on his website so I won't list them all here.


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:
(a) Describe the emotion you think you see in the other person.
(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!

53 comments:

  1. I think I should turn on the oven right now to make these dishes -- it's just sooooo cold and gloomy outside today (I guess we got too used to the mild winter & spring temps).
    All the 3 dishes look yumm. I've never made stuffed shells before and your pic looks delicious.
    Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
    Pavani

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    1. Baking is the best antidote to gloomy weather, Pavani! Stuffed shells are tasty and look cute, your son might enjoy them too.

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  2. Wow... combining many dishes is a lovely idea.. And I am glad you are making a variety of dishes..

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  3. All the dishes looks lovely..great ideas as I myself has started work recently and I think these tips would help a lot.

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    1. Thanks Sumi! Good luck with your new job.

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  4. That is one incredible idea! I am not surprised that it comes from you and I am definately going to put it to use. Thank You Nupur! You always inspire me.

    I don't have a baby yet but I think I am still going to check that book, that tip on empathy reflex is so useful. You have left me with some food for thought on what really matters in life. Good Luck for the busy times ahead. I know you'll do a superb job at handling it :) Take Care.

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    1. Thanks Priti! You know, the tips in many of these parenting books are really about being a better person. I guess better persons make better parents ;)

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  5. Oh yes, having something ready always helps! I know the feeling even ~4 yrs down the line, it's the same:)
    I liked the stuffed shell pasta, on my list now.
    Does the baked oatmeal become like a bar, wen baked?

    Enjoy your blogging break, or I remember you mentioning about a move, in that case all the best, that is hectic. See you later!

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    1. The baked oatmeal was thick enough that it could be cut into squares but was not dried out by any means.
      Oh we might move later this year, right now it is just a bit of travel and work deadlines.

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  6. There's lots of good information in this post that pairs nicely with the recipes you are featuring here. This is my first visit to your blog, so I took some time to browse through your earlier entries. I'm so glad I did that. You've created a truly interesting spot to visit and I'll definitely be back. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

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    1. Thank you Mary- welcome to my blog and I hope you enjoy browsing here!

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  7. I love the multi-baking part. It seems a waste to turn on the oven for just one dish. I love the quiche. Kale is becoming a very popular green these days. Not a day goes without someone talking about those yummy kale chips.

    Good Luck with what you are planning over the break.

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    1. Yeah, and in summer, I'd rather make multiple things if I am going to turn the oven on and heat up the kitchen!
      I am late for the kale party :) the newest darling of the food blog world. But really, I've tasted kale chips and did not like them at all.

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  8. Hi Nupur! What an inspiring and motivating post! I am excited to try ALL of these and saved this post in my recipe app! Whoo-hoo! Thank you!

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    1. Hi Kelly! Glad you enjoyed this post! You are the queen of baking, don't think you need any tips from me.

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    2. kale is not new. It has been there for centuries. You guys are just discovering it now.

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  9. An awesome compilation! Works great for busy students too :) Thanks for such great time savers!
    Usually my breakfasts are almost fixed for weekdays.I combine quick cooking oats, frozen fruits, nuts and honey and place it in the microwave for 3 minutes and my breakfast is done..no time wasted pondering on the morning meal :)

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    1. Glad you like it, yes, this is good for anyone who is busy! I love oats for breakfast but often crave something different (read, savory, Indian).

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  10. Nice ideas for Multi baking, loved the stuffed pasta(bookmarked). The oat part seems the same as we do it over the stove top right, it will be like a thick paste or does the baking make it a bar type ..

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    1. Once the baked oats cool, you can cut them like a bar, but it is not dry like a granola bar.

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  11. I'm not that much into baking but I really like this idea of making several dishes at one time, whenever I do use the oven.

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  12. 3 dishes at once is definitely a wonderful idea. I like the quiche. I do try to make ahead some dishes on Sunday usually a soup or pasta or some sabzi but never did I do all at once :) Loved the idea.
    BTW the other adult in my home makes oatmeal(steel cut) in MW for the whole week. Turnes out pretty good with loads of dry fruit

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    1. Hmm steel cut oatmeal in the MW for a week sounds like a neat idea. Will this person share the recipe perhaps ;)
      The quiche is definitely worth a try, lots of good for you ingredients but tastes fantastic as well.

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  13. Hi Nupur,

    Necessity is the mother of all inventions they say! You have come up with some nice time saving techniques. Thanks to lil miss L :) Would you happen to know of any of these quiche, casserole baked recipes without using the cheese? I know cheese is what combines and holds everything together but I can't think of a substitute. If you know any and can suggest, that would be great. I want to use potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale, carrots , bell pepper etc and make a casserole/quiche without cheese, that possible? :)
    - Ek Mulgi

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    1. Yes, there are plenty of quiches and baked casseroles without cheese! In traditional quiches, it is eggs and not cheese that is the binder. Do you eat eggs?

      Anyway, if you want to skip both eggs and cheese, look for vegan quiche and casserole recipes. Many use tofu. I'm seen some with besan and cornflour binders too.

      If you eat dairy, you can make a wonderful casserole of all the vegetables you mention in white sauce, topped with breadcrumbs.

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    2. Thank you Nupur. I will google it and try to find a vegan recipe. I am not vegan, I am not even vegetarian. I eat meat & dairy products but off late have cut out the fat part by atleast 70% in my diet. I could use eggs for your quiche recipe but then I am trying to not have the yellow part in eggs. I know we get egg beaters in the store which has just the white part separated. So I am thinking of mixing egg whites, tofu and low/no fat white sauce in a blender with bit of green chillies/ginger/garlic etc and pour it over the crunchy fresh veggie cubes and top it with some bread crumbs and bake for 40min @ 350 deg. But what will I line the baking dish with? any ideas? lest it should stick to the tray. How about very thinly sliced potatoes? Any suggestions there Nupur? -
      -Ek Mulgi

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    3. oh by white sauce, you mean alferedo sauce that we use in pasta right?

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    4. No, alfredo sauce typically has egg yolks and cream as far as I know. White sauce or bechamel sauce is what I have described in the recipe in this post (the stuffed shells one)- flour and butter cooked together and then milk whisked in. I use 2% milk.
      Egg yolks are fatty but very nutritious. What you choose to eat is entirely your business but I'm just saying.
      You don't necessarily have to line the baking dish with any crust. Baked vegetables don't need any lining at all. You do need to spray the baking dish with nonstick baking spray.
      Here is a great resource for fat free cooking: http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/
      Search for casserole or quiche or frittata on this blog for lots of ideas.

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    5. Thank you Nupur. After all the questions, I did try the casserole over the weekend and it came out awesomeee. I used some fresh crunchy vegetables and made a sauce my pureeing tofu, 2 eggs ( decided not to worry too much for this recipe) and some white sauce until smooth with green chillies, pepper, garlic and salt. Poured it over the colorful veggies and fired my oven. It came out beautifully well and tasty too. Thanks again for the inspiration. No wonder your blog is so popular. Keep going! -EM

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    6. Wow- that sounds absolutely delicious. Looks like you invented a wonderful casserole right there.

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  14. Nupur - I loved the Quinoa Quiche, such a creative idea! I bought a stash of Quinoa and my ideas stopped at Casserole's. I am a big fan of Oatmeal. They pack so well as health bars and take very less time to bake. I usually employ all four burners once I begin cooking or employ all racks in oven for baking purpose. I used the three racks during Thanksgiving lunch and saved me and husband from hours of labor!

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    1. Oh yes, Thanksgiving is the time when the entire oven and all burners get used at the same time!

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  15. Hi Nupur,

    You are a great inspiration for people like me who have started cooking...

    Vidya

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    1. That's a very kind thing to say- thanks Vidya!

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  16. I look forward to all your parenting tips. Thanks for sharing. Enjoy your break!

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    1. We are in parallel parenting journeys, you and me :) Hope to talk about lots more parenting stuff here in time.

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  17. Everything looks so yum,..thtat pasta shell is new for me,.

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  18. I am so glad that I bumped into your blog. I have jumbo pasta shells in the pantry crying to get some attention. I will certainly try your recipe. Thank you for the inspiration.

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    1. Welcome and I hope you try the recipe- it really was delicious.

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  19. Great post. I appreciate the recipes, shows home cooking doesn't have to be time consuming. Also, I appreciate you sharing your reading list. I grabbed the Brain rules for baby from my library. I have always been fascinated by brain development in babies, but never had a good resource. Keep your book recommendations coming, Nupur. You are such a great inspiration!

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    1. Thank you! Very glad you are enjoying the book recommendations, I hope to have more interesting books to talk about soon.

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  20. Hey onehotstove -- it's been a while since your stove got heated !! :))

    Looking forward to your lovely recipes. Hope you and your family are doing great!

    M

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    1. I've been busy with travel and stuff- will be back very soon!

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  21. Hi Nupur,

    I know you are an avid reader. I came across a book named "Reading Lolita in Tehran". Have you read that book? I think it is drama category like one of those by Khaled viz. "Kite Runner", "A Thousand Splendid suns" etc. I think. If you have read it, can you confirm if it is a good read? If not, any suggestions? same genre.

    Thanks,
    Manu

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    1. I have read Reading Lolita in Tehran and thought it was interesting in parts. Worth a read.
      The genre of this category is memoir - it is non-fiction and not fictional drama.
      But if you are looking for drama set in other countries as the genre, I would suggest Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Perkins and Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie. Happy reading, Manu!

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  22. Thanks dear Nupur. I am going to get my hands on these books. Can I ask you a basic question? now better than never --

    How do u classify a book? fiction, non-fiction, drama, memoir etc? I know the straightforward ones like mystery, romance, thriller etc.

    What does 'Kite runner' and 'a thousand spendid suns' fall under?

    -Manu

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    1. Well, I am no expert and book classification is a pretty subjective thing. But for me, the basic classification is fiction and non-fiction. Fiction being "made up stuff" and non-fiction being a depiction real life events.

      Memoir ( a person's remembrance of something that happened to them) is a genre of non-fiction, since it is stuff that actually happened.

      And fiction has lots of genres like mystery, drama (a plot with lots of emotion), comedy, historical fiction (set in a time period in the past) etc.

      I would classify 'Kite runner' and 'a thousand spendid suns' under any of these: historical fiction, literature, drama, novel.

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  24. Hi Nupur..brilliant ideas..i do try to spend the sunday in kitchen too , cooking for the week .It's exhausting and waste of the weekend but the thought of food in the fridge for the week ahead keeps me going:)a quick q-the quinoa and kale bake, do you think it needs to be deep freezed or will it last in the fridge for a few days please?

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    1. Sarah- The quinoa bakes is fine in the fridge for about 4 days. I ate it over the week.

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