Tuesday, April 12, 2011

DEADLINE RECIPES: Desperation Casserole

Harlequin Intrique author Paula Graves shares her plan of attack when dinner becomes an act of desperation...

One of the hardest things about writing books at the same time you're working a full time day job is trying to find time to have a home life. The simplest things, such as what to have for dinner, can seem like daunting problems when you're juggling a to-do list like mine. Believe me, it's tempting to run by Taco Bell every night on the way home from work rather than worrying about cooking dinner, especially when I'm no cook to begin with.

So, needless to say, when I learned that I'd be doing the Crafty Corner/Deadline Recipes blog post, I darned near panicked. I'm not crafty--I don't have time to be. And I'm certainly no cook. What on earth am I going to write about, my peanut butter cookie recipe? (1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg. Mix, spoon, bake, voila!)

Then I realized, I can't possibly be the only person who looks at a cookbook, sees ingredients like "herbs de Provence" and breaks out into hives. Or wouldn't know an endive if one moved into my house and took over the TV remote.

So, here's the real deal. Even when I have time to cook, I have to depend on the kindness of strangers--those wonderful, wonderful people who put food in cans, ready to eat. But in case you're losing all hope of getting a recipe out of me, never fear. I'm going to give you a recipe that's perfect for anyone who doesn't have a fear of canned goods.

Let's talk about the Desperation Casserole.

This recipe works for anyone who can open a can, tear open a bag of shredded cheese, snap the top off a can of fried onions, turn on an oven and stay attentive enough that whatever you put inside doesn't burn. It's easy, usually delicious, and relatively nutritious, depending on your choice of ingredients.

Casseroles are pretty basic--toss in a bunch of ingredients that go together into a casserole dish, add cream of something soup (undiluted), top with cheese and either fried onions (usually a great choice) or something else that's crunchy, such as crackers, bread crumbs or potato chips, then bake until the cheese is melted and the soup is bubbling.

What kind of ingredients work? Most canned vegetables (just drain them first). A can of mixed vegetables is a good base—to that you can add extra green beans, carrots, mushrooms or other vegetables of your choice. You can concentrate on one vegetable, like green beans. You can throw in every vegetable you can think of. Add canned chicken or leftover steak. Tuna can be a great casserole ingredient.

You can experiment and try sweet ingredients--a cobbler is a sort of casserole and can be done with canned fruit, canned biscuits and sugar. The possibilities are as endless as your cupboard.

Yes, I know this is a sad, pathetic way for a grown person to eat. But sometimes, you have to make choices in life. Do I want to be Nora Roberts or do I want to be Paula Deen? It's rare the person who can be both, and more power to you. But for me, I want to write. And if that means I'll never win the Holly Homemaker award, so be it.

As long as I keep writing for a living, Desperation Casserole will remain one of go-to recipes.

So, how about y'all? Do you have your own favorite version of Desperation Casserole? Share them in the comments. I'll be giving away a $25 eGiftcard from the online bookseller of your choice to a commenter drawn at random.


On the day Jake Cooper said "I do" to his beautiful bride, Mariah, their future happiness seemed certain. But Jake always wondered what she wasn't telling him. And what it would take for the truth to come out…

Hoping to build a new life with Jake, Mariah thought she was free of the demons from her past. But when they were kidnapped and held at gunpoint, Mariah knew it was time she came clean—whatever the consequences. Her vow to confess was cut short, though, when bullets started flying and they were forced to run for their lives. Desperate to survive and not fall victim to the man hunting them, Mariah realized just how much she'd gained having Jake in her life. And how much they both had to lose.

For more about Paula Graves and her books, visit her website at www.paulagraves.com


  1. One of our favorite desperation dishes isn't really a casserole, but a poor mans goulash. It's one pound of hamburger or ground turkey, one pound of pasta (any shape) and one large can of mushroom soup. You brown and drain the meat, while the pasta cooks until tender. Drain the pasta, toss the pasta and meat with the soup and heat through. Done. We add a frozen veggie and dinner is on the table in about 30 minutes. The beautiful thing is you can make the batch larger and everyone wants to know the secret ingredient....and its mushroom soup :)

  2. I miss casseroles! I grew up on them, but I kinda grew out of them as I got older and on my own. I've been very nostalgic about them lately though, and I recently recreated one that I remember fondly. :) Okay, now I'm hungry. Gotta go!

  3. It just so happens I think I'm extremely casserole clever right now :)
    6-8 boness skinless chicken thighs - you don't even have to defrost them
    1 jar of curry simmer sauce (we like Maya Kaimal)
    1 can of coconut milk

    Plop that all together in a crock pot in the morning and set to low. When the husband calls to say he's finally on his way home...

    Stir the curry...the chicken will fall apart into juicy chunks. Break up half a package of rice noodles and push the into the sauce. I put in as many noodles as I can keep mostly submerged.

    Crank the heat to high. When the husband comes home you'll have a tasty chicken & noodles dish that seems like you spent a lot of time on it. All those seasonings and boiling the noodles...yeah, right!

  4. Paula, you're a girl after my own heart! If it weren't for casseroles my poor family would be eating a lot (and I mean a LOT) of bologna!

    My fave (at the moment) is No-Peek Chicken:

    1 Can of Cream of Chicken Soup
    4-6 pieces of chicken (breasts, thighs, whatever you like)
    1 box of chicken-flavored rice
    Paprika, pepper, whatever spices you like in Chicken

    mix uncooked rice and soup in a bowl until the rice is coated, then dump the packet of chicken-flavored rice power stuff in and mix some more (you may need to add about a 1/2 can of water at this point, depends on the brand of soup used). Put that in the bottom of a glass baking dish.

    Put the uncooked chicken on top of that and sprinkle with paprika or pepper or both.

    Cover the pan with tin-foil, set the oven at 350 and bake for 2 hours.

  5. Yay, casserole people!

    Alee, your recipe reminds me of one my mom did a lot when we were kids--where you have pasta, she cut up potatoes. We used to love that!

    Jenna, the curry might be a little exotic for my family. I'd probably love it, as I have the most adventurous palate in the family. But I might be able to play around with variations on it so that everyone else could enjoy it. I do like crockpot cooking!

    And the chicken and rice bake sounds really easy and yummy, Kristina. Will have to give that one a try.

  6. Here's my Old Faithful. EASY CHICKEN POT PIE.

    1 15 oz can Chicken breast (Kirkland brand from Costco is really good)
    1 can Cream of Chicken soup
    1 can Cream of Celery coup
    1 can diced potatoes
    1 large bag frozen mixed veggies (I like the peas, carrots, corn, greenbean variety)
    Combine all above in a 9x13 when you have time and motivation (about 9am) and stick in the fridge until dinner time starts breathing down your neck. Or you can use thawed veggies and just make it then.
    Cover with 1 package (2 circles) premade pie crusts (partially overlapping is totally fine). Stab multiple times (to vent your frustrations??)
    Bake at 375 for 35 min or so, until the pie crust is done. Yum.

  7. It's strange, but I take like 15 to 20 minutes to make 3 to 4 courses with simple stuff and rarely use recipes. My mother always wants to start dinner at 3pm for 7pm. Sometimes I will do something different that cooks a long time but then I will get 4 or 5 meals from it (like sauce for pasta or a roast). I think my trick is to get things that don't require a lot of time, Pork tenderloin, boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you buy a whole chicken cut through the back and then it will grill flat. And, if possible get an electronic rice cooker so you can make lazy risotto (rice and broth, cheese and peas at the end). Also keep frozen onions and green peppers in the freezer.
    I hardly ever use mixes but make from scratch except for gluten free bread.
    And fine herbs is like parsley, thyme, oregano, or whatever. use two of those and you are all set.

  8. Chicken pot pie is a particular favorite of mine, and yours sounds yummy, Mira. I've never tried it with the pie crusts--but you make it sound so easy. I'm going to have to add it to my list of things to try.

    Steph, you're the kind of woman I want to be but never quite seem to be able to be. ;) I want to be able to do simple, from scratch things, really, I do. But it just eludes me.

    I'm not a fan of rice, which can limit my choices in casseroles, I admit. But I do like pork tenderloin and chicken breasts, and both of them cook well in the crockpot.

    I like chicken thighs, too, and you can sometimes find them boneless. They cook well in the crock pot and then I'll add barbecue sauce in the skillet and make yummy barbecue chicken sandwiches.

  9. Paula - I'd argue desperation casserole is JUST that kind of thing - it takes a bit of talent to throw a mix of stuff in a dish and bake it and have it taste good. Even if you are using canned goods.

    Alee - we do the same thing only we use canned tomato soup. It's especially yummy if you buy the tomato basil soup instead of plain old tomato. But either works and we'll throw together a salad to go with.

    My go to meal is soup in the crock pot in the winter. I cook a pound of ground beef, throw it in the pot with a can of tomatoes, beef stock and then whatever veggies I have, frozen or canned. I sometimes add kidney beans or bean blend. I either put in rice or during the last half hour, throw in some pasta. And everyone loves it!

  10. I THINK lasagna counts as a casserole. This is great for any day of the week, but also great for taking to families to eat between visitation services.

    Laney's Creamy Lasagna (compliments of Campbell's)

    1 can cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup
    1/3 cup (75 ml) milk
    3/4-1 lb (375 - 425 g) lean ground beef
    1/3 cup (75 ml) water
    1 can Campbell's Tomato with Basil and Oregano Soup
    6 lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
    1 cup (250 ml) shredded mozzarella cheese (or 5 slices processed)

    Boil and drain lasagna noodles.

    In a small bowl, combine cream soup and milk; set aside.

    Fry and drain meat; stir in water and tomato soup, heating through.

    In a “Pammed” 8” (20 cm) square baking dish, spoon half of the cream soup mixture. Arrange layers as follows: 1/3 of lasagna, trimming to fit; 1/2 of meat sauce; 1/3 of lasagna; remaining cream soup; remaining lasagna; then remaining meat sauce. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake in 400oF (200oC) preheated oven for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.

    * If frozen, cook 1 hour at 400oF (200oC) instead.

    * I also triple the recipe and split evenly between two 13”x9” pans (as each pan takes 1.5 lb ground beef), cooking for the same length of time: 30 minutes at 400oF (200oC).

  11. Wow, Laney, you made lasagna sound like something I might even be able to try. I'm not a big beef eater (no particular reason, just don't like it that much), but I bet that would be good with chicken or even a plain veggie lasagna.

  12. I only know how to make green bean casserole and we don't just eat it during the holidays. We make it as a side dish frequently. I get my recipe straight from the Campbell's can. I wish I were able to make the other casseroles out there.

  13. I'm not into casseroles right now but I do something just about as easy. I make frittatas. Just brown some frozen hash browns or dice leftover cooked potatoes and put them in the bottom of a greased casserole dish . Add cooked diced veggies of your choice and some diced meat of your choice. Whip up 6 or more eggs depending on how many people are eating and pour it over the mix. Cook for 30 to 35 minutes in an oven set at 350. If you want you can add cheese of your choice to the top of the dish for the last 5 or so minutes of baking. Dish is done when you poke a sharp knife into it and it comes out clean.
    Our last one had diced leftover potatoes, a diced fresh avocado, six slices of cooked and crumbled bacon. We topped it with diced feta cheese. You should let the dish sit for about five minutes before serving. We usually have some kind of oven warmed or toasted bread on the side.

  14. Jane, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a green bean casserole. It's a yummy side dish.

    Kaelee, I think your frittata actually sort of qualifies as a casserole. A potato and egg casserole. :)

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  16. I love all those ingredients, so Tomato pie sounds like a winner!

  17. And speaking of winners, the winner of the $25 eGiftcard is Jane!

    Jane, if you'll click my name here in the comments section, it'll take you to my Blogger profile, which includes my email address. Email me and we'll work out how to get you the prize.

    Thanks so much, everyone, for sharing your great recipes!