January 10, 2012

Casserole? Yes, I Think I'll Have Some Of That.

Casseroles are the backbone of the American dinner table.  They are side dishes, main dishes, appetizers, and even dessert sometimes (cobblers are created in casserole dishes, are they not?).   The word 'casserole' dates back to late 16th century France, when it was used to describe a cooking vessel.  Classically, a casserole dish has these traits: A large, deep-dish pan used both in the oven or as a serving vessel; often made of glass, Pyrex, or stoneware, but also can be made of iron (cast or enameled).  Casserole also describes the food prepared in such a vessel - usually slow-cooked in the oven; sometimes a side dish, and sometimes the main event.   The most well-known of casseroles have recipes that have been handed down for generations... Shepherd's Pie, Lasagna, Green Bean Casserole.... eh - not quite!  That last one snuck in under the wire and was actually invented in the 1950's by none other than the Campbell's Soup Company.  We'll tackle this Thanksgiving bad boy in another post... with the canned soup and fried onions, it's a gluten-lovers' paradise (and every Celiac's worst nightmare).

Casseroles are all about saving time, saving dishes, and feeding your ravenous family with a hearty meal that pleases just about everyone.   Two of my favorite casseroles were, until recently, off-limits as they are not gluten-free in their original incarnations:  Potatoes au Gratin, and Scalloped Corn.   The former is a dinner classic - serve it with any meat dish, and it's found a perfect dancing partner.  Potatoes au Gratin is a versatile and delicious dish that can be made using any cheese you have on hand, any potatoes (Russets, Sweet Potatoes, Yukon Golds) and can be made with any flavor accent in the background - maybe a lovely chicken base or some herbs).

The latter casserole, Scalloped Corn, is what I believe to be more or less my mom's invention.  Most folks know "corn casserole" as the gooey, gluey and (sometimes) gritty incarnation containing sour cream, Jiffy mix, and cream-style corn.  Personally, I've never been a fan of this particular dish - I mean, who combines corn and sour cream?  Do you put sour cream and chives on your corn-on-the-cob?  No?  Didn't think so...     Scalloped corn in my mom's kitchen contains cream-style corn, saltine crackers, eggs, sugar and salt.  Simple? Absolutely.  Here's the catch - gluten-free saltine crackers are both (a) ridiculously expensive, and (b) not readily available in my pantry.... so they were promptly kicked out of the recipe!

Luckily for you, my dear reader, I've found an acceptable substitute that works...  corn flakes!!  Here's some food for thought: You could theoretically have corn flakes in every course of your meal, if you play your cards right...   corn flake-encrusted baked chicken (a la Shake & Bake); corn casserole as a side dish, and corn flake/peanut butter krispy bars for dessert.    If this meal doesn't sound appealing (and glycemic-index coma-inducing...) I don't know what does!

Hope you enjoy my recipes!   Sorry for the lack of pictures... will have to add some the next time I'm cookin'!

Corn Casserole (also known as Scalloped Corn)

1 can (15 ounce) cream-style corn (DelMonte was GF at last check... but always verify before using!!)
1 can (15 ounce) whole-kernel corn, drained
2 large eggs, beaten
1.5 cups GF Corn Flakes (Nature's Path or Erewhon are good choices)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
cooking spray

In zip-top freezer bag,  beat and crush the cornflakes into submission (or into crumbs - your call).
Mix the crumbs with all of the other ingredients in a large bowl.  Prepare your 1-1/2 quart casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray; pour the corn mixture into the dish and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until lightly browned on top and the center is "set".

Scalloped Potatoes (Potatoes au Gratin)

4-5 medium potatoes, scrubbed clean.  no need to peel unless you are using a tough-skinned sweet potato
4 tablespoons sweet white rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
1 cup shredded cheese of your choice - cheddar, co-Jack, Gruyere, or Parmesan are all excellent choices
2 cups milk
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon salt (approximate - you'll use this throughout)
4 tablespoons butter, cut into thin pats

In a greased 1-1/2 quart casserole, place a layer of potato slices.  You can use a mandoline, or if you're like me (and prefer to keep your knuckles intact) use a knife and slice these about 1/4 inch thick.
Sprinkle evenly with salt, then sprinkle with about a tablespoon of the sweet white rice flour, then about 1/3 cup of the cheese.  Place a few of the thin pats of butter on top of the cheese - distribute evenly around the dish.  Repeat this (potatoes/salt/flour/cheese/butter) until you run out of everything.
Mix the sour cream and milk in a bowl, add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt to this mixture, and black pepper to taste (optional).  Pour this over the potatoes in the dish.  Shake the pan all around lightly until the liquid seems to settle in between the layers..  if needed you may add up to another cup of milk.  You will not want the milk to cover the potato layers completely, but maybe about 3/4 of the way up ought to do nicely.

For turbo potatoes,  use a round casserole dish and cook these in the microwave on high for 10-12 minutes.  Once the potatoes have softened, you can transfer this dish to a pre-heated oven to finish with whatever else you're already baking (corn casserole, perhaps?).   If you have a broiler-safe dish, all the better!   Turn that broiler of yours on low and let those potatoes get nice and bubbly and browned.  If you don't have a broiler-safe dish, no worries...  just bake at 350 for another 20-25 minutes (after the microwave time).  Remove from the oven and let stand for 5-10 minutes to allow these to thicken slightly as they cool.

If you're not in a hurry, bake these the old-fashioned way - about 60-70 minutes in a 350 degree oven.   Check for doneness by taking a paring knife and poking one of the potato slices - if it slides off easily, they're done.  If the knife blade stays in, you've got some more baking to do...

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