Casseroles are a flexible way to use leftovers

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Dan Bolyard/courtesy photo One of the great things about casseroles is that you can always swap out one ingredient for another.

Casseroles normally don’t make an appearance at our house, except for after baking a turkey. I ate lots of casseroles as a kid and really have no aversion to them today. My daughter noted that the one listed below only gets made after Thanksgiving.

One casserole that made an appearance at our house, when I was about 10 years old, was after we had been invited over to the neighbor’s house for dinner, and found what turned out to be a very yummy casserole served to us. Mom managed to get a copy of the recipe and it became a favorite dish of mine over the years.

Like any good casserole, it can suffer through various additions, deletions, or substitutions. I’ve made it with chicken instead of turkey. No cheddar cheese? No problem. It works well with just about any other non-hard cheese, though I wouldn’t try cream cheese. Got some leftover green beans? In they go. No corn flakes? Use corn chips. Have nothing but crackers? Use them instead. Want to use a little oyster sauce to ramp up the flavor? Go right ahead. Don’t have a 9x13-inch baking dish, use a cake pan. Oven doesn’t work? Put it in the crockpot, though not for an all-day bake.

One variation I wanted to try was to make the celery more cooked through when it was served. I placed my celery and onion in a frying pan with a little butter and then let it brown, stirring occasionally. This time I had a few nearly completed bags of various crackers, and one short bag of corn chips. I placed them all into a dry baking pan and heated them through. This was to get rid of any staleness they might have. I then crushed them up and used in place of the cornflakes.

I also baked the dish at a much higher temperature than normal, and I won’t go back. At 350 degrees, everything comes together nicely and the cheese is all melty. Now, the cheese melts and starts to brown slightly on the bottom and top of the pan, adding an extra layer of flavor to the dish. Once again my daughter saw it, let me know she wasn’t too happy with it, but took a bite and finished her plate. She also cleaned up the leftovers over the next few days, telling me to make it this way all the time.

GOLDEN TURKEY BAKE

2 cups diced cheddar cheese

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1/4 cup diced onion

3 cups cubed cooked turkey

1 1/2 cups corn flakes

3/4 cup mayonnaise (use more if desired)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Ina large bowl, mix together all ingredients until well combined. Place into a 9x13-inch baking dish and place in oven. Bake until heated through and top begins to brown, at least 20 minutes.

DELUXE GREEN BEANS

1 pound green beans

2 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

1/4 cup cream

Crosscut beans into 1-inch lengths. Heat butter in a pan. Add beans, onion, mushrooms, water, salt, and pepper. Turn heat to very low; cook, covered, 20 to 25 minutes, adding a tablespoon of water or two if liquid cooks away. When beans are barely tender, add cream; heat. Serve hot.

FRENCH FRY CASSEROLE

1 small onion

1 pound ground beef

Pepper

1 can of cheddar cheese soup

1 can of cream of celery soup

Frozen French fries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dice onion and mix with ground meat and pepper to taste. Press into the bottom of a 9x9-inch pan. Mix together the two cans of soup, undiluted. Spread mixture over the meat. Cover entire surface generously with frozen French fries. Bake for 40 minutes or until done - fries should be golden and crispy.

SWEET POTATO AND PECAN CASSEROLE

3 pounds sweet potatoes, boiled

1 cup brown sugar

5 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup apricot nectar

1/2 cup hot water

2 teaspoons orange peel, grated

2 teaspoons butter

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cooked, sliced sweet potatoes in a 13x9x2-inch pan. In a saucepan combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon. Stir in apricot nectar, water and orange peel. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, for two minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter and pecans. Pour over sweet potatoes. Bake, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes.

CHICKEN WILD RICE CASSEROLE

1 cup uncooked wild rice

1/4 cup butter

1 small can sliced mushrooms

1 1/2 cups milk

1 small jar pimento, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 onion, chopped

1/4 cup flour

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

2 cups chicken meat, cooked and diced

2 tablespoons parsley flakes

1/2 cup slivered almonds

Prepare wild rice according to package directions. Saute onion in butter until tender. Remove from heat; stir in flour until smooth. Drain mushrooms reserving liquid. Add enough broth to liquid to measure 1 1/2 cups. Gradually stir into flour mixture, add milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick. Add rice, mushrooms, chicken, pimento, parsley, salt and pepper. Place in 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

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