Archive | December, 2009

Book Review: The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever

1 Dec

Cover of Casserole bookThe Best Casserole Book Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas

Reviewed by Chris Garbutt

The cover of this book goes against the usual “food porn” type – you know what I’m talking about. Photos on most cookbooks or food magazines are designed to make you slobber lustily after a perfectly staged dish. Here, we see a casserole almost empty, giving the feel of a meal well enjoyed.

It worked on me. My memories of casseroles are not pleasant. In my childhood, they were mushy excuses to get rid of leftovers – throw them all in a pot, maybe with some canned tomato soup or chicken broth, and bake. Ugh – I can still taste the canned peas and nearly dissolved carrots.

Times have changed. Beatrice Ojankangas defines casseroles as broadly as imaginable. I never really thought about it, but I guess a casserole is any meal cooked all in one dish. Here’s the Wikipedia entry.

I’m going to have to jettison my stereotypes. How about a Swedish Lingonberry Pancake Casserole? Or a Black Bean Tortilla?  This is not your mother’s casserole cookbook. The book brags more than 500 recipes, which means you could have a different comfort dish every day for the entire winter, and that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner (and dessert!).

For some reason I was attracted to the vegetarian chapter. I considered the Spiced Brown Rice and Vegetables, or the Black Bean and Red Pepper Casserole before finally settling on the Barley and Mushroom Casserole. There was little prep, and the joy of the casserole is that once its in the oven, you can go off and do other things while it bakes. The flavour of the mushrooms got a boost from homemade chicken stock (the recipe calls for vegetable stock, so it’s veggie-friendly), and a touch of white truffle oil, which I’d bought for another dish last week. And if you haven’t tried truffle oil, do it. It costs $10-20 a bottle, but a few drops will fill your mouth, and it’s amazing with mushroom dishes, or if you need to liven up a chicken breast or piece of fish.

It took a little longer than expected – either too much stock or not enough barley, so the liquid didn’t absorb the way I had hoped. But well worth the wait.

Comfort food is my default. If I’m stuck for what to cook, it’s usually a soup, stew, chili or maybe a roast chicken. But because of my particular past, casseroles were never on my radar. That has all changed.