Design a Casserole

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Beef and veggie casseroleA few weeks ago I mentioned how I like to use a formula for making muffins. Having a formula as opposed to a recipe allows me a little freedom to develop the muffin with whatever ingredients I have on hand, want to use up, or get creative and mix up a new flavor plus it saves us money because I’m not buying special ingredients. Wardeh at has been expanding on the idea of a basic muffin recipe and I’m incorporating a few of her ideas into my formula and they are turning out great.
The original muffin formula came from The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. In her book she also shows a recipe for a Seafood Casserole and offers a formula for making a seafood casserole for less than the original version using ingredients on hand.
The original formula looked like this
7 or 8 ounce of pasta – prepared
1/2 cup milk or white wine
1/2 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/2 teaspoon dill
1 can cream of something soup OR homemade white sauce
2 cans of tuna, salmon, crab or shrimp (she used tuna)
1 cup cheese
Topping (see below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix wine with mayonnaise. Add the cheese, soup and dill. Gently combine the noodles and the seafood with the moist ingredients. Pour the mixture into a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover, top with the Topping, and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Serve hot.
Topping: Stir 2 Tablespoon melted butter into 1 cup of soft bread crumbs. You can also try 1 cup of crushed corn chips, chow mein noodles, or french-fried onions, or 1/2 cup of sliced almonds.
I’ve used this simple idea for years to create our casseroles but expanded it a bit because we don’t always want a ‘seafood’ casserole. These days my ingredients look a little different as I try to use non- processed ingredients. Of course, casseroles are a great way to use up leftover meats , leftover rice or leftover veggies. We like the occasional casserole. It’s Comfort Food.
My Current Casserole Formula
Starch– could be prepared (wheat or rice) pasta (6 or 7 ounce dry, can be a mixture of shapes), cooked rice (3 or 4 cups), or peeled and sliced raw potatoes (I use 8 for my large size family).
Veggies– Any combination of leftover veggies, carrots (need to precook if using pasta or rice), onions, green pepper, celery, etc (about 2 cups total)
Meat– browned hamburger, leftover chicken, pork, beef, antelope-okay, probably just at my house (1 1/2 to 2 cups)
Liquid– This is what replaces the cream soup. Could be homemade cream of whatever soup, gravy, white sauce, tomato sauce (2 cups or maybe a little more), onion mushroom sauce (see update below)
Seasoning/Spices– I just put in whatever sounds good with the meat I’m using plus sea salt and pepper
Topping– cheese, bread crumbs, properly prepared chopped or sliced nuts
I usually make my casserole in a 9×13 pan. I put the starch on the bottom (if I’m using potatoes I salt them before I do the next layer), then layer on the veggies, followed by the meat, mix my seasoning in with my liquid and then pour it over the top of the whole thing. Cover and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes for pasta or rice. For potatoes about 1 1/2 hours (until potatoes are done). Remove cover and put on Topping. Cook another 5 minutes.
Some of our favorite combinations:
Beef and Rice– Leftover cooked rice, cooked carrots, corn, browned hamburger, thin beef broth gravy, sliced almonds.
Beef and Veggie– sliced potatoes, carrots, green pepper, corn, browned hamburger, tomato sauce, cheese
Chicken and Rice– Leftover cooked rice, onions and celery (sauteed together in olive oil), green beans (cooked or leftover), chicken (cut in bite size pieces), thin white sauce, Parmesan cheese.
UPDATE 11/26/09: As part of our Thanksgiving meal we had Green Bean Casserole. The casserole I made was a combination of the one Sarah at Heart of Cooking made and the one she linked. The sauce that was part of it was so wonderful that I think it would be a great addition to any casserole as the liquid. The way I made the sauce was;
2 cups whole milk
6 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
sprinkle of nutmeg
Combine in saucepan and heat over low until steaming. Take off heat and let set for 5 minutes. Then strain. Meanwhile work on onions and mushrooms below.
1 small onion minced
sauteed in olive oil over low for about 5 minutes and then added
6 mushrooms chopped
Sauteed another 5 minutes or so until soft
Sprinkle 1/4 cup flour over onions/mushrooms stirring for 1 minute. Slowly add milk mixture whisking constantly. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat stirring until thickened. Stir in 1/2 cup sour cream. DELICIOUS!
Does your family have a favorite casserole?
Millie Copper
Millie Copper is a Wyoming wife and mama. After reading Nourishing Traditions in early 2009, her family began transforming their diet to whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods—a little at a time while stretching their food dollars. Millie is passionate to share how, with a little creativity, anyone can transition to a real foods diet without overwhelming their food budget. Millie began blogging in late 2009 and has amassed a collection of frugal recipes and methods. Her specialties include cooking with wild game and creating “Stretchy Beans”. Discovering a love of writing, she has penned four books focusing on healthy eating on a budget and is trying her hand at fiction writing. Learn more at


  1. amyfloydsc

    >I used to make a lot of casseroles when I was first married. My mom said I could do anything with rice and a can of cream soup. Of course, now our diet has changed and I do not use cream soups anymore and have not learned to make a white sauce, and I haven't made a casserole in probably years. I appreciate your design a casserole approach (I also use a design a muffin approach) and will see if I can put together a decent casserole with some leftovers sometime soon!

  2. Millie

    Here is basic white sauce instructions
    I do want to experiment with making white sauce out of sprouted flour (once I actually sprout some flour). Looking at those instructions I do a thinner white sauce and add whatever seasonings I'm using directly to the sauce. You could add cheese right in the sauce too for a cheese sauce.
    It took me a while to figure out casseroles once I stopped using cream soups too. Now I don't even miss them. Have fun experimenting!

  3. kc

    >I love hearing that someone else cooks this way and what a great description, "formula instead of recipe" – mind if I steal that? I have always cooked this way and have an extremely hard time sharing recipes because of it. Some people can be very reluctant to "wing it" and they prefer exact amounts which I can never give them. Since starting the GAPS diet I no longer make casseroles but I do make my soups and stews this way, often revisiting certain favorite meat/veggie combinations. I really enjoyed your post.

  4. Millie

    Thanks! I don't mind if you steal it at all. Most of my cooking is winging it style. Usually, it turns out pretty good but sometimes I'll have to remember not to repeat whatever I did. I feel that cooking this way gives me quite a bit of freedom and really does save us money since I'm using basic ingredients that I keep on hand instead of purchasing specialty ingredients for one recipe.

  5. Wardeh

    >Millie, this is great! I have a similar formula for skillet dishes – use a sauce, a grain/starch, a protein, and add-ins. I think we have alot in common – liking formulas and winging things! 🙂 I love the casserole suggestions you made at the end.

  6. Millie

    I love the skillet dish formula! I haven't done skillet dishes since we lived in the camp trailer. My main cooking in there was done in the electric skillet and we had alot of skillet meals.

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