Balancing work and family is often a struggle. When we come home from work, we often just want to kick off our shoes, toss on a tank top and shorts, and just wind down from the day. But, as is so often the case, we end up walking in the door to children fresh from the strictures of school who have more boundless energy than we ever remember having, and a spouse who also just wants to unwind as well.
Unfortunately for us, the evening meal is usually left for us not only to prepare but envision as well.
Casseroles are great for something to quickly prepare that also supports the health needs of our family. With just a few ingredients, and a little bit of cooking time, we can complete this task, settle down to a meal and unwind from our own day of meetings and deadlines and filed reports.
Having a small cache of ingredients can offer up a wide variety of meals with little thought or effort on our part.
Hamburger meat, canned veggies, pasta of varying sorts, packets of different sauces, chunks of ham or turkey, blocks of cheese, eggs and a head of lettuce and/or onions. Then viola!, our creations are complete and our family is fed.
Another important aspect of casseroles is the small amount of dishes they require, so cleanup is also simple. I like to clean the used pots and pans as I work, then dump them in the dishwasher, for both an easier cleanup and an uncluttered work space.
Start by tossing the meat in a pan (separate hamburger with a spatula or chop up ham / turkey first). Season to taste and health needs. (Reduced salt, sea salt or a substitute like Mrs. Dash if there is anyone with high blood pressure.) Heat quickly at first then reduce to medium once sizzling begins.
In a separate small pot, mix water and packaged sauce (like brown gravy) or dump in pasta sauce. Follow the instructions (this only takes a few short minutes to make).
While the meat is cooking and the sauce is coming to its boil, empty a box of desired pasta into another pot and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, until complete. (I like to mix up different pasta, such as bowties or orzo or elbow macaroni for variety.)
When the meat is mostly cooked, pour the sauce into the pan. Add a can of vegetables to the mix and stir it around until it is all mixed up. Then when the pasta is complete, al dente as they say, strain and add this to the pan with the meat, sauce and veggies. Cook this a few minutes more, to get all the flavors and sauces spread about, and you are done.
All told, this takes about twenty minutes to prepare.
For differences, toss butter and chopped onions into the pan and caramelize them for about a minute before you start the meat. Or you can pour the whole mix into a casserole dish and add some grated cheese on top. (You can take another five minutes and toss this into the oven or microwave to melt it, but it is not really necessary.)
You can also start out by boiling up some eggs, cooking some pasta, chopping up some ham or turkey. When the eggs are done, chop them up and mix them all together with the rest, top with some grated cheese and you have a healthy dinner salad alternative. Scrambled eggs instead of hard boiled ones work well and add a different texture to your family’s dining experience.
When you have some meat and veggie leftovers can make another quick meal for when the weather turns a bit cooler. Bring to a boil a good soup stock (Progresso is good and makes and optional low sodium version that is pretty tasty) and toss in chopped meat and vegetables. About ten minutes later, just add a sandwich and you have another hearty meal for the family.
Wine for the chef is optional. Bon apatite!