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Casserole Tips

Helpful tips, how-to's and information on casseroles.

Here are some great tips to help make your casserole making endeavors as simple and as tasty as can be.

To save time, though not necessarily money, stock up on pre-cut and peeled vegetables like carrots, onions, and broccoli florets available in either your supermarket produce aisle or salad bar-you'll discover they make casserole preparation a snap.

Because generally a casserole takes anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours to bake, you ought to consider using dried herbs in dishes which require longer cooking (more than an hour) rather than delicate fresh herbs which tend to lose their flavor when exposed to extended periods of high heat.

If you desire a crisp, browned topping, don't cover the casserole as it bakes.

When reheating casseroles, it's best to defrost them in the refrigerator overnight. If that isn't possible, cover and reheat in a 350°F (175°C) oven, allowing almost double the baking time. To test for doneness, insert a knife or a wooden skewer in the center of the food, if it's hot to the touch when removed trust that it's hot throughout.

Want to make that casserole au gratin? Simply sprinkle the assembled dish with grated cheese and bread crumbs moistened with a little melted butter and dried herbs if desired and continue baking until filling is cooked and topping is melted and bubbling.

When you don't have the specific casserole baking dish called for in a recipe, it's best to think big. Opt to use a pan of equal or slightly greater volume. However, if you substitute a pan that is shallower than the one specified, reduce the baking time by 25 percent, if the pan is deeper increase the baking time by 25 percent.

Unsure about the capacity of your baking pan? Measure water and pour it in the pan to check.

Casseroles really taste best when made in advance. Time will allow the flavors to blossom.

To freeze an unbaked or fully baked casserole: begin by lining a casserole with heavy-duty aluminum foil, leaving enough of an overhang on all sides to cover and seal the food later. Assemble the casserole, laying it in the lined pan and either freeze the ingredients until solid or bake and cool to room temperature then freeze (it's not necessary to seal it up for this short freezing time). Once the casserole is frozen, use the excess foil overhang and seal airtight. Double wrap the foil wrapped casserole in freezer proof plastic bags, label, date it, then freeze until ready to use. (Meanwhile, you can use the casserole dish for other purposes.) To thaw, remove the wrapping and place the frozen food back into the dish in which it was assembled or baked. Defrost and reheat or bake as recipe instructs.

Source: Laurann Claridge, Chef and Food Talk Columnist of the Houston Chronicle, Houston, Texas USA.

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