Casserole Over

editor's note: The entire show, except for two places, is a voice over. I'll only note it here.

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Paces Ferry United Methodist Church: Atlanta, GA - 10:37 am

GUESTS: Matilda, The Hound Dog
             Church Ladies #1 to #4

    Once upon a Sunday afternoon, a mild mannered cook and his faithful cur were out for an afternoon drive when suddenly an aroma tickled their noses. Feeling rather rumblely in his tummbly, the cook decided to investigate. [AB drives by a church where there are two tables loaded with covered dishes, no one is around]

Covered Dish Dinner Tonight

    Mmmm. Casseroles. If there was anything the cook could not resist ...

MATILDA: Rrrrwaf!

... or his dog for that matter, it was casseroles. He decided to take a closer look. Then he spied a fork. And seeing that no one was around, he thought he might give a casserole a try. The first he tried was a broccoli casserole. But he found it salty and insipid. Next, a chicken pot pie he decided to try. Mmm. Promising. Very promising. But alas, its mushy crust concealed canned vegetables and a greasy sauce. The cook then spied something called Peking Surprise ... and what a surprise it was. Of course, it was nothing compared to the surprise that was coming. [church ladies walk up behind him]

CHURCH LADY #1: [clears throat]

    Busted like Goldilocks by church ladies. Although the congregation voted for harsher measures, the weather was too dry for a bonfire. So a bargain was struck. The cook would be given until dinnertime to replace what he had so greedily taken. To make sure he wasn't distracted, they decided to keep his dog.

M: Mmrrrmm.

The Kitchen

    Before getting started, the cook decided to amass some casserole knowledge. Etymologically speaking, the word casserole was French for 'sauce pan' from the Middle French casse or 'pan', from the Middle Latin cattia and, he figured, probably the Greek kyathos meaning 'bowl' or 'cup'. So technically, any wide shallow cooking vessel with two handles and a lid could technically be called a casserole. Being American, the cook thought that casserole usually meant an earthenware or glass vessel with a lid. Without the lid it would be nothing more than a baking dish.

[Book on AB's shelf next to the dictionary,
Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking]

cas·se·role (kas'& rol'), n., s., -roled, -rolling. —n 1. a baking dish of glass, pottery, etc. usually with a cover. 2. any food, usually a mixture, cooked in such a dish. 3. a small dish with a handle used in chemical laboratories. 4. Chiefly Brit. a stewpan —v.i. 5. to bake or cook (food) in a casserole. [ < F: ...]

Georgia Institute of Technology: Atlanta, GA - 11:05 am

GUESTS: Joe Cochran, Hood Professor
             Tom Sanders, Regent Professor

    Confused about the technical differences between the vessels, the cook decided to visit some friends in the materials industry.


AB: Whatcha working on, guys?
JOE COCHRAN: Glass and ceramics. Yes.
AB: Well, this is glass ...
JC: Yes.
AB: ... that's metal.
JC: That's right.
AB: What's the difference?
JC: Well, this glass top is an amorphous material.
AB: Amorphous.
JC: Amorphous. That means that in its crystal structure the atoms are not lined up in nice straight lines.
AB: Okay.
JC: They are in a random arrangement. So in other words, they are in a zig-zag fashion. So it's difficult for heat to be transferred from one atom to the next in this type of amorphous glass structure.
AB: So that's what makes it an insulator.
JC: Yes.
AB: Okay. Same thing happens with electricity?
JC: Yes. That's right.
AB: So when it goes through there, It just kind of gets lost?
JC: Well, yes. It doesn't get transferred fast.
AB: Okay. Great. What about that [metal] material?
TOM SANDERS: Well, this on the other hand is a very good conductor. It's also ... it's not only a good conductor of heat but it's also a good conductor of electricity.
AB: Why?
TS: The atoms, again, ... this is a crystalline material as opposed to the non-crystalline ceramic that you have in this casserole dish over here. So it's the crystalline nature of the material ...
AB: Meaning that everything is all lined up. Everything is in pretty, neat rows.
TS: ... everything is ... exactly. Exactly.
AB: Okay, [metal container] so streets of New York, [ceramic dish] streets of London, molecularly speaking.
TS: Right.
AB: Okay. This [ceramic] heats up slow. That [metal] heats up fast.
TS: That's right.
AB: What about on the back end of cooking. When I take these things out of the oven what happens?
TS: Exactly the same thing. This [metal] will loose its heat much more quickly. That [ceramic] will maintain its heat.
JC: So, it will take much longer for the casserole to cool off when you put it out on the table.
AB: All right, guys. Thanks for the explanation. Go back to whatever that science stuff is you're doing there.
JC: Okay. All right.
TS: Thank you.
AB: You should just keep doing that over there. [ed note: sounds to me like this line should have not have been kept in the final edit, he seems to be telling the professors to continue with what they were doing while he exits]

When green bean casserole debuted, Ike was
president and "Rock Around The Clock" was #1.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist
            African National

    Since he didn't relish the idea of giving all his casseroles away to dog-nappers, the cook used his newfound knowledge to discover an alternative vessel, [goes outside and retrieves the ceramic drip plate from his tree planter] an alternative which wouldn't cost him a dime. Now all he had to do was to find something to put in his casserole.

    The cook was certain that somewhere along the line, the word 'casserole' had come to signify not only a vessel but the food cooked in it. Seeking guidance, he turned to books. But curiously, few of the recent periodicals made mention of casseroles. So he decided to call his friend, the Nutritional Anthropologist.

[Book on AB's Table]

1st Magazine: Gourmet
2nd Mag: Cooking Light, May 2002

DEB DUCHON: Well, despite its French genealogy, the concept of the one-dish meal was actually perfected by American cooks who were seeking to make ends meet through two World Wars and a nasty bout of depression. Then during the 1950's and 60's, home magazines told housewives that the casserole would "set them free," especially if they relied on those space-age processed foods that were so heavily advertised in their pages. Meantime, ...

    Having heard enough, he decided to leave the Anthropologist to continue her lecture in peace.

    If the 50's represented the height of the casserole craze, then the cook assumed his grandmother's recipe file would be rife with possibilities. Indeed, the ancient box gushed with casseroles. And although the cook was pleased to find recipes for each of the casseroles he had tasted at the church, he was surprised to see how many processed foods they relied upon. One ingredient in particular was repeated time and time again: cream of mushroom soup with nearly 800 milligrams of salt per serving. No wonder such casseroles had fallen from grace.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Texan's King Ranch Casserole = boiled chicken + cheese + tortilla chips + cream of mushroom soup + cream of chicken soup

The Kitchen

    After studying many recipes, the cook came to the conclusion that casseroles are either bound like broccoli or tuna casserole, layered like lasagna or moussaka, or scoop-able like bean or pot pie. Broccoli BOUND
Pot Pie
    He further hypothesized that a casserole had to contain one to two main ingredients, some kind of starch, aromatics, seasonings, and a binder such as eggs and/or mayonnaise. The cook felt certain that he could improve the old recipes by using the contents of his freezer, fridge and pantry.










    Six cups of broccoli and 12 ounces of sliced mushrooms would serve as core ingredients. A pack of ramen styled noodles would play the starch and its flavor pack along with salt and plenty of black pepper would season nicely. Binding power and considerable flavor and body would come from half a cup of yogurt, half a cup of mayonnaise, two eggs, a cup and a quarter of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and a third of a cup of blue cheese dressing. Yum.

6 Cups Broccoli
12 oz. Sliced Mushrooms
1 Package Ramen-Style
   Noodles With Flavor
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 1/2 tsp. Pepper
1/2 Cup Yogurt
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
2 Eggs
1 1/4 Cup Shredded Cheddar
1/3 Cup Blue Cheese Dressing

     After putting a large pot of water on to boil, the cook turned his attention towards the vegetation. Broccoli had always been his favorite. Maybe it was the high fiber, maybe the vitamin A, folate, vitamin C or calcium or maybe it's just because broccoli tastes good. He especially appreciated the oft overlooked stems, which beneath their woody exterior are luscious and flavorful. He peeled them lovingly with a paring knife and then quartered them so they would cook as quickly as the larger pieces of crown.
    When the water reached a rolling boil, he added several heavy pinches of kosher salt and then dumped in the broccoli all at once. Within moments, something extraordinary began to happen inside the pot.

Broccoli Surface

    The hot water started moving into the broccoli surface cells and that liberated the oxygen captured therein. As the bubbles moved away, the broccoli's true inner-green color was revealed.



The Kitchen

    After a minute, the cook removed the broccoli to an ice water bath to halt the cooking process. This quick chilling would help stop enzymatic action in the vegetables allowing them to remain greener longer, even with additional cooking. The cook would have used the same procedure to prepare any hard, green vegetable for salads, or crudités platters, or for hot, fast cooking methods like sautéing which might not sufficiently soften the food.

Moving food directly from boiling to ice water is called "shocking."

    After sautéing the mushrooms in a pat of butter, the cook turned off the heat and stirred in the broccoli. Then came the remaining ingredients. The mayonnaise. The yogurt. The blue cheese dressing, yum. The eggs. Since there was already fat in the pan and reduced heat, the eggs would certainly not scramble. Then came half the cheddar cheese and the ramen noodles, crumpled. How could he get away adding raw noodles to a casserole? Because ramen noodles are cooked and then deep fried before being dried and packaged. Last came the flavor pack. The cook then stirred to combine, rather sloppily I might add.
    The chunky and rather unappetizing looking goo went into the only casserole he was willing to part with. He was pretty sure it wasn't his and might have very well been left over from a previous church social pillaging. He lubricated it liberally with non-stick cooking spray before dosing in the goodness.
    He contemplated momentarily whether he had chosen too small a vessel. If he had decided to use a larger one, he could have packed the mixture much more lightly which would have resulted in a crisper, less-moist casserole. By packing it into the smallest casserole possible, he guaranteed that it would remain dense, moist and sliceable but only if he packed it down reducing the airspace inside.
    Next came several grinds of good black pepper. And last but not least, the remaining cheddar cheese. This would create not only a delicious crust, but a physical binder that would help to hold it together for easier slicing later.

    The casserole then went into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Lid on, please. Forty-five minutes later the lid was removed so that the cheese on top could solidify creating a crunchy, yummy exoskeleton.

350° For 45 mins.

    Like a cake, all casseroles need to cool for at least half an hour before cutting so that the starch and protein structures can set. This gave the cook time to contemplate chicken pot pie.

Cool For 1/2 hr.

If you're not "the sharpest knife in the drawer," then
you may also be "a few peas short of a casserole."

The Kitchen

    The cook decided to attack pot pie with the very same strategy as the broccoli.

Pot Pie

    Leftover chicken would be the core ingredient along with vegetables. Since he was pressed for time, he'd use a frozen medley he kept on hand augmented with fresh onions and his very favorite aromatic of all, celery. These he would sauté in just a wee tiny bit of canola oil. As for the binder, he would pass on the canned soup and make a roux out of flour and butter. After cooking this with the sautéed vegetables, he would add chicken broth—low sodium—and finally for richness and flavor, milk. How wholesome.
    Seasoning would come, of course, from salt and pepper. But then he would invite some unusual guests to the party, curry powder and dried parsley flake. Last but not least the entirety would be lidded with puff pastry.

    The cook heated a sauté pan over medium heat and then sweated both the celery and the onions in the canola oil. Since it was a sweat he went ahead and added the salt to help pull flavor and moisture out of the vegetables. He stirred them until they were soft.

1 Cup Celery, Sliced
1 Cup Onion, Chopped
1 tsp. Salt

    Then pushing them off to the side, he added two tablespoons of butter to the middle of the pan along with the flour and the curry powder. Curious. These he stirred together until smooth allowing it to cook to flavor.

2 Tbs. Butter
3 Tbs. Flour
1 tsp. Curry

    He then roasted the veg-medley in the oven and heated the broth and milk in a microwave to get it close to boiling. That way the sauce would come together much quicker. Clever chap ... sometimes. Roast 4 Cups Frozen Vegetable Medley Tossed In
    Canola Oil [ed note: he used
     the carrot, corn, pea medley]

Heat 1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock & 1/2 Cup Milk Close To Boiling

    After pouring the broth in, he allowed it to come to a boil which took about a minute. During this time the flour starch would gelatinize, thickening the sauce. Then the vegetables, now nicely roasted, were added to the sauce. Mmm. Smells good, doesn't it?

AB v. o.: Aren't you forgetting something?
        AB: [looks at camera]
AB v. o.: That's right. The chicken, smart guy. What are you eating?
        AB: [turns away to finish eating chicken piece]

AB v. o.: Hmph. Just as I thought. Now put all that in there ... what's left. Excellent.

2 Cups Cooked Chicken

    Now with the chicken stirred in, it was time to move to the casserole. This time he was using one of his "new fangled" terracotta casseroles lined carefully with a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. As with the broccoli casserole, he was careful to pack the mixture down so as to not trap air inside.

    Then it was time for the crust. But remembering the tough, hard-to-cut crust at the church, the cook decided to do the cutting in advance.

Puff Pastry

    He carefully opened the still stiff dough and using his fingers sealed the seams so that they would not fall apart during rolling. [he rolls one side of the dough to even it out, flips and spins 90° and rolls the other side]
    He then decided to utilize a fork to perforate or dock the dough. This would allow excess steam to exit the dough preventing it from puffing abnormally in the oven. As for the cutting itself, he reached for a standard biscuit cutter.

    One must remember, when cutting puff pastry it is crucial that you push the cutter straight down all the way and then twist. Otherwise you could squeeze or pinch the layers of puff pastry together rendering them unpuffable. The rest of the dough would be saved for another occasion.

10-12 rounds of puff pastry will
cover your terra cotta casserole

    The cook then spaced the rounds out on the casserole with about half an inch, it seems, between them so that they would not fuse together during the baking process. Very, very clever. Very nice indeed, although he does have a few touching.
    Since a lid would capture steam, thus interrupting the puffing of the puff pastry, he placed the casserole uncovered in a 350 degree oven.

French fried onions have been a favorite casserole topper since 1955.

The Kitchen

    After 45 minutes, the casserole was cooked; and the rounds on top, golden brown and delicious. Of course, cooling is crucial to a pot pie, too. As it cooled, the sauce inside created a scoop-able rather than spoon-able filling.

Casseroles are great for the Sabbath because they only
require one pot and can be cooked ahead of time.

    The cook packed up the casseroles he had already prepared, placing a newspaper in between them as insulation. Of course, he still had one casserole to go and not much time to do it in. Would he ever see his beloved pup again? What would he do? He returned to his faithful refrigerator.
    What is he up to? Ahh! Leftover Chinese food it's to be. Um, mm. Ah, with whipping cream and more chicken broth. He must own stock in that company. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Now how to bring these things together? Anything can be a casserole.

   He began with two cups of the chicken broth placing it into, ah, a 3 quart saucier. Of course any medium sauce pan would have done just fine as well. Now this he put over high heat.

2 Cups Chicken Broth
    And then, ahh, a slurry made from two tablespoons of corn starch and two tablespoons of cold water. This time he'll be using corn starch to thicken rather than flour. That means that the sauce will thicken at a much lower temperature ... Oooh! It looks like he's getting back at the church ladies by adding a full half teaspoon of red chile flakes, you nasty boy. 2 Tbs. Cornstarch Mixed With 2 Tbs. Water

1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

    Then half a cup of heavy cream. Since corn starch gelatinizes or thickens long before it comes to a boil, the sauce came together lickety split. 1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
    This he poured over what seems to be two pints of leftover garlic shrimp with Chinese vegetables and a little bit of leftover white rice. 2 Pints Leftover Garlic Shrimp & 1 Pint White Rice
    After pouring on the sauce, he jiggled the casserole to help the sauce move down into the airspaces. Aah. For a crunchy topping, panko or Japanese bread crumbs. 3/4 Cup Toasted Panko
    Well there he has it. Leftover ingredients. We've got vegetables, binders, a starch and a nice crusty top. This he covered with another terracotta pot and baked for 45 minutes. 350° For 45 mins.

The Kitchen

    With the purloined casseroles properly replaced, there was nothing the cook could do but await the verdict.
    [doors open and Matilda walks out] Oh, happy, happy day!
    The moral of the story, of course, is that is if one is going to dine uninvited, one really should have a firm grasp on cooking science. He must have some good ingredients ...

AB: Jeepers. Enough already. They get the point.

    ... a proper plan a ...

AB: I'm serious, stop talking. We ..

    ... and they all lived hap- ...

AB: Shut it!

    ... -pily ever after on Good Eats.

The Kitchen

CHURCH LADY #4: [gives the camera the evil eye, begins laughing] I'm sorry.
AB: Cut. We've got enough for that.

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Proofreading by Sue Libretti

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010