Monday, June 7, 2010

Dear NANA:

My family is coming for a holiday weekend visit. I just love it when they come, and I don't want to find myself glued to the kitchen, prepping meals. I'd rather push the swing than swing a spatula. Do you have any make-ahead meal tips that the children and grandchildren would love?
Heated Up in Phoenix, AZ

Dear Heated Up:
The day your family guests arrive is something my friends and I have started to refer to as “Entry Night”. Company comes by all manner of transportation, which means they might not get there all at once—and that’s why I favor a casual supper - one that can be prepared in advance, served as guests arrive, has staying power on a buffet table and dually appeals to the kiddos—there’s no smoke and mirrors to my advice here. It is, simply, casseroles! Casseroles are where it’s at! Comforting, hot, rich and creamy one-dish meals are practical, F-U-N and hit the spot for early birds and late stragglers alike. See my “casserole strategy”, broken down for you in terms of its history in American cuisine; in no time at all, you’ll come to understand how it’s saved more than a few “Entry-Nights” in the history of this Nana!

Nana’s Casserole Strategy: There’s history here! Early 18th century casserole recipes consisted of rice that was pounded, pressed, and combined with savory ingredients like chicken or sweetbreads. The food was cooked in, and then served from earthenware containers. The idea of casserole cooking as a one-dish meal, became popular in America in the twentieth century, especially in the 1950s, mostly because of the invention of new forms of lightweight metal and glassware baking dishes. These became know as “casserole dishes”, and ingenious, thrifty, homemakers filled these dishes with every ingredient imaginable. Those of us that are, or have been raised by Baby Boomers, nostalgically remember casseroles as one of the true comfort foods (tuna, noodles, peas, Campbell’s creamy soups and all!).

Today’s casserole dishes are smart and decorative, thereby making them appealing serving dishes on a supper buffet. Today’s casserole recipes are bright, flavorful and stylish. Ingredients like chipotle peppers, citrus zest, freshly grated artisanal cheese and an abundance of fresh vegetables blend over and over to create a filling and appealing meal that your guests will dive into. Served with a salad that features the freshest produce, enhanced with dazzling vinaigrettes and dressings – the meal is not only complete – but deliciously appetizing, especially after the long day’s journey.

Check out my casserole recipe for Veggie Enchiladas with Grilled Portobello Mushrooms, Corn and Black Beans to see what I mean.

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