What is a casserole?

I was at the library yesterday picking up a book for Children’s Sermon and Mark and I decided to teach the kids how to sing God Bless America  (it’s President’s Day tomorrow).  I usually veer on over to the cookbook section just to see if anything strikes my fancy and there was a book I’d considered actually buying called Bake Until Bubbly. As you might surmise, it’s all about casseroles, one of my favorite things in the world. A casserole is pure comfort food. Macaroni and Cheese. Chicken Divan. Turkey Tettrazini. Enchilada Casserole. Breakfast casseroles made with lots of cheese and bacon. There is something tactile about putting ingredients together in a bowl and then shoveling them into a casserole dish.

So I open up the book expecting a hundred variations on great casseroles. And I’m completely astounded to learn that the author, Clifford A. Wright and his publisher, Wiley, appear not to know what a casserole is. Or maybe when faced with the task of writing more than 100 recipes, Clifford just ran out of casserole ideas and shoved a bunch of non-casserole recipes into the book. My definition of a casserole is this: A casserole has a base of some kind of starch, whether it be rice, noodles or potatoes. It has other ingredients either mixed in with the starch or ladled on top. It always has cheese and lots of it. I think there should be smooth components and crunchy components with the exception of Macaroni and Cheese, which should always be smooth except the buttered breadcrumbs on top.

Here are some dishes in Mr. Wright’s book that are not casseroles. Meatloaf. Swedish meatballs. Veal Saltimbocca. Chicken Cacciatore. Baked Swordfish. Stuffed Bell Peppers. I could go on and on. So I decided to flip over to the Macaroni and Cheese section because no really devoted cook would mess that one up. There’s only one recipe. And it’s really lame. There are entire books just on macaroni and cheese, aren’t there? Shouldn’t a little more respect be paid here? hot-chicken-salad-1

Hot Chicken Salad is a casserole. A really good casserole. It sort of violates the starch base requirement, but it does have potatoes – they’re just on top. The recipe I use comes from Paula Deen’s book, Paula Deen and Friends, which has just about every other page marked because all her recipes are so good. This casserole has smooth (mayonnaise and cheese), crunchy (celery and almonds) and more crunchy (potato chips).  Here’s  her recipe:

Hot Chicken Salad

2 cups cooked chicken breast meat, cubed

1 1/2 cups diced celery

1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon grated onion

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

2/3 cup crushed potato chips

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9 inch baking dish with cooking oil spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken, celery, almonds, salt, onion, pepper, lemon juice, mayonnaise and cheese. Place the mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spread the crushed potato chips on top. Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly.

Well, now I’m in a pickle. I was going to make Cuban sandwiches for supper with left over pork roast but now I have a complete craving for Hot Chicken Casserole. With Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls. Off to Publix.

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