“A casserole cookbook?”
Angela was bemused when she opened the mail and found The Casserole Queens Cookbook: Put Some Lovin’ in Your Oven with 100 Easy One-Dish Recipes by Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock published by Clarkson Potter. Still, it wasn’t long before she had flipped through the book and found at least half a dozen recipes she wanted to try.
Cook and Pollock started a business delivering casseroles in Austin. Over the years, their business grew as did their fame, including an appearance on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. Flay provided a blurb for the front cover, while our friend Martha Foose blurbs on the back. Martha compares Cook and Pollock to hip home-ec teachers who even provide “an apron pattern right off the bat.” This is one of the rare occasions where Martha misses the mark, though. The first recipe is for the margaritas they were drinking when they came up with the idea for their business. Sorry, Martha, but margaritas top aprons every time. This book really has potential.
For me, a good cookbook goes beyond being a collection of recipes. There must either be a lesson involved or a riveting story. The book does have cute snippets of stories, but its strong point is as a teaching tool. Yeah, okay, like Angela said, “casseroles?” Sure, casseroles are easy. You just mix up some stuff, put it in a pan, and stick it in the oven. But if it’s that easy, why don’t more people do it?
The Casserole Queens teach you how to stock your pantry to make sure you have ingredients for easy-to-make dishes on hand always. They teach you about the gadgets that are worthwhile kitchen additions. Best of all, they give you a simple but invaluable introduction to cooking techniques that will make your food taste great. I’m particularly glad that they talk about putting salt in the water when you blanch your vegetables and cook your pasta. I’m a firm believer that that touch of salt up front is far better for you than salting for flavor at the table.
Yeah, but what about the recipes? Here again the Casserole Queens did well. Casseroles do bring to mind spiral-bound church cookbooks and cream of mushroom soup, and that sort of thing is included with flair. The first recipe we looked at — and made — was the Keep Austin Weird Spam Casserole. We had to make that.
Beyond the kitsch is a collection of gourmet recipes ranging from osso bucco to lobster. Sides, desserts, and breakfasts are included as well. Again, it’s the little extras that make this a winner. Of course you can open a can of cream of mushroom soup for your casserole, or you can make your own with the recipe given. You can also make your own salsa verde, pizza dough, or pickled jalapeños (I can hear Austin singing just thinking about those.). Many of the items you need can be made from scratch if you want, but there’s no shame it taking the easy way as long as you can bring your family to the table.
The only negative I could mention is that many of these casseroles aren’t really one dish meals. Like anything else, there’s always something. Starchy vegetables and pasta need to be precooked; eggs need to be beaten. You’re going to have an extra dish to wash. But don’t sweat it. These dishes are worth it.
Disclaimer: We received this book as a free review copy from the publisher.
I don't like cooking spray, so I coated my dish very lightly with butter instead. We had multiple varieties of paprika on the shelf, so we chose to use a half-sharp variety. Sweet paprika would be nice, and smoked paprika would add a whole different dimension of flavor. Cream of mushroom soup would be good for the liquid if you don't care for the flavor of celery. A cheese sauce would be a great replacement, too. You might also consider adding a touch of garlic, toasted onion, cayenne pepper, or any salt-free herb blend. SPAM is salty on its own, so you don't need to add more salt. I would have preferred the SPAM to be in smaller pieces throughout the dish instead of the slices.
- 2 pounds russet potatoes, thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Cooking spray
- 1/2 cup sliced onions
- 1 (12-ounce) can SPAM
- 1 10 3/4-ounce) can cream of celery soup
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Put the potatoes in a saucepan with 2 cups of water and the salt. Cover the pan and set it over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Drain well and set aside.
- Lightly coat a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Put half of the potatoes in the pan and cover with onion. Cut the SPAM into 14 slices and layer 9 slices over the onion. Top with the remaining potatoes.
- Combine the soup, milk, and green pepper, and pour over the casserole. Sprinkle with paprika and top the dish with the remaining 5 slices of SPAM. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.