By Andrea McCann
WASHINGTON — I’ve always been a little partial to casseroles. I’m not sure why, because I’m kinda picky about mixing foods together.
Maybe it’s because casseroles are easy; you basically throw everything in a dish, toss it in the oven, go do something else for a while, and voila! You have a meal — usually complete with at least your meat and vegetable food groups. If you’re cooking for two, just the casserole is plenty. If you’re cooking for a larger family, you can add some side dishes and it still works.
There’s also generally plenty of margin for error with a casserole; get a little too much or not enough of an ingredient in it, and you probably won’t be able to tell the difference.
Substitutions are less conspicuous in a casserole, too; exchange chili beans for kidney beans, and who’s gonna notice? Don’t like a particular spice? Exchange it for one you like.
Cleanup is a lot easier with a casserole, as well — unless, of course, you burn it! Usually, though, you’ll have only a skillet, a casserole dish and your table settings. Adding a salad, Texas toast or other side will add a couple more bowls. Still, that’s not a lot of dishes.
In my family, “California Casserole” has become one of those meals that’s always included in the rotation. It’s my dad’s favorite meal, but my daughter always picked out the beans and tomatoes when I made it for the two of us! I like it with a salad and Texas toast.
I believe the recipe originally came from a fund-raising cookbook sold by a theater group in Indianapolis. If memory serves me (And that’s debatable!), my aunt made it once and it was an instant hit. Through the years I experimented with the recipe in the microwave and came up with some microwave cooking instructions that I’ll include here, along with the original recipe. Enjoy experimenting and eating!
1 lb. ground beef
1 clove minced garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 lg. onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tsp. chili powder
1 lg. can tomatoes
1 can kidney beans
3/4 c. rice
3/4 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown beef. Add onion, garlic and chili powder. Mix in tomatoes, kidney beans, etc. Bake in 2-qt. casserole for 45 minutes. Put cheese on top for last 10 minutes.
Crumble ground beef in casserole dish. Add onion, green pepper and garlic. Cover and microwave on high 4-6 minutes. Stir and drain. Add remaining ingredients, except cheese. Cover and microwave 16-20 minutes, stirring. Sprinkle cheese on top. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.