Fine tuning your casserole skills

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As life can be fast paced, particularly with a family, a tradition that some families still hold sacred is a special family dinner on Sunday night to reconnect with loved ones.

With the cold weather settling in for the months to come, a new cookbook comes loaded with casserole recipes for all kinds of meats, vegetables, delights wrapped in crusts or potatoes, baked pastas and even a section on breakfast casseroles for an all-out brunch feast. Betty Rosbottom’s Sunday Casseroles: Complete Comfort in One Dish is a great guide to attracting your family back to the dinner table in celebration of food.

Sunday Casseroles will be a worthy addition on your cookbook shelf as it is a great introduction to casserole making for a beginner and offers new twists for the seasoned family chef. Here’s a sampling of what Rosbottom’s latest cookbook has to offer:

Cider-Baked Pork, Red Cabbage & Apples

When the first fresh cider arrives in the market each fall, I buy it for sipping, but also for cooking hearty dishes like this casserole. Red cabbage, onions and apples are sautéed in butter, simmered in cider, and then spread in a baking dish to make a bed for pan-fried slices of pork tenderloin. After the casserole has been baked, the pork is fork-tender and so are the deep burgundy-hued cabbage and apples.

porkredcabbageapples_sundaycasseroles_ 4Serves 6

Prep Time:  30 minutes

Start-to-Finish Time:  1 hour, 50 minutes

Make Ahead:  Yes

1 small head red cabbage

3 tart and firm apples (Granny Smith, Jonathan or Macoun work well)

5 tbsp (70g) unsalted butter

1½ cups (190g) thinly sliced onions

1½ tbsp sugar

4½ tbsp (70ml) cider vinegar

1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed

kosher salt

3 cups (720 ml) cider

2 pork tenderloins (about 1lb [455g] each), trimmed of silver skin & excess fat

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp canola oil

1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375°F (190°C). Generously butter a 9-by-13-in (23-by-33-cm) or another shallow 3-qt (2.8-L) baking dish.

2. Quarter and core the cabbage. Cut each quarter crosswise into ¼-in (6mm) wide strips to get 6 cups (655g). (Save any leftover cabbage for another use.) Quarter and core the unpeeled apples, and then cut the quarters lengthwise into ¼-in (6mm) thick slices.

3. Melt 3 tbsp of the butter in a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the cabbage and onions. Sauté the mixture, stirring, until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the apples, sugar, vinegar, fennel seeds, and 2½ tsp salt and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Pour in 2 cups (480 ml) of the cider and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and continue simmering until the cabbage and apples are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste the cabbage and season with more salt if needed. Transfer the cabbage mixture, along with any juices, to the prepared baking dish.

4. Cut each pork tenderloin into 1-in (2.5-cm) thick slices. In a small bowl, mix together 1 tsp salt and the pepper. Season the pork slices on both sides with this mixture.

5. Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat until very hot, but not smoking, Add half of the pork slices and brown lightly, 1 minute or more per side. Remove to a dinner plate and repeat with the remaining pork. Add the remaining 1 cup (240 ml) cider to the frying pan and cook until reduced by half, whisking the browned bits on the bottom of the pan into the cider, 2 to 3 minutes or more. Whisk in the remaining 2 tbsp butter and any juices that have collected on the plate with the pork.

6. Arrange the pork slices on top of the cabbage mixture. Spoon the reduced cider over the slices. (The casserole can be prepared up to this point 4 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 1 hour before continuing with the recipe.)

7. Bake the casserole, uncovered, until an instant-read thermometer registers 145°F (63°C) when inserted into the centre of a pork slice, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the casserole stand for 10 minutes.

8. Garnish the pork with a sprinkling of parsley before serving.

Individual Broccoli & Cauliflower Cheddar Gratins

Broccoli and cauliflower, those winter staples, are far more interesting combined than when served alone. In this recipe, the tender florets, which are available fresh and conveniently packaged in many supermarkets, are arranged in individual baking dishes, and napped with a rich cheddar sauce, scented with lemon. These little gratins would make a distinctive side to roast chicken or leg of lamb, or just about any beef roast.

Serves 4

Prep Time:  20 minutes

Start-to-Finish Time:  1 hour, 10 minutes

Make Ahead:  Yes

kosher salt

4 cups (430g) cauliflower florets

4 cups (240g) broccoli florets

1½ tbsp unsalted butter

1½ tbsp all-purpose flour

1½ cups (360ml) whole milk

1½ cups (150g) grated sharp white cheddar cheese

1½ tsp grated lemon zest

¾ tsp Dijon mustard

pinch of cayenne pepper

2 tbsp toasted bread crumbs

Toasted Bread Crumbs

Use a one- to two-day-old loaf of good-quality artisan-style country bread with crusts removed. (Sourdough works particularly well, but whole wheat, multigrain and rye are good, too.) Process enough slices or pieces in a food processor to make 1 cup (55g) of coarse crumbs. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add the crumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until they are crisp and rich golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. You can also use unsalted butter instead of the olive oil. (The bread crumbs can be stored in a plastic self-sealing bag and refrigerated for up to 1 week.) Makes 1 cup (55g).

1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Generously butter four 5½-in (14cm) gratin or crème brûlée dishes and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Add 2 tsp salt to a large saucepan of boiling water. Add the cauliflower and broccoli florets and cook until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a sharp knife, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander under cold running water until the vegetables are cool, and pat dry.

3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1½ to 2 minutes. Gradually pour in the milk and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens and comes to a gentle boil, 5 to 6 minutes. Gradually whisk in 1¼ cups (125g) of the cheddar, the lemon zest, mustard, ½ tsp salt, and the cayenne. Season with more salt if needed.

4. Alternate the broccoli and cauliflower florets in single layers in each gratin dish and salt lightly. (You may have extra florets, depending on the size of your dishes.) Pour one-fourth of the sauce over the vegetables in each dish. (The gratins can be prepared up to this point 3 hours ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.)

5. Sprinkle the top of each gratin with 1 tbsp of the remaining cheddar and 1½ tsp of the bread crumbs. Bake the gratins until the cheese has melted on the top and the vegetables are hot, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Cooking Tip:

You can make this recipe in a single dish. Use a 9-by-13-in (23-by-33-cm) or another shallow 3-qt (2.8-L) baking dish. Arrange the vegetables in a single layer. Proceed with the recipe and bake for about 30 minutes.

Baked French Toast with Apples, Apricots & Cherries

One of the challenges for many cooks is figuring out what to serve overnight company for breakfast or brunch. A dish that is simple to prepare, can be assembled in advance, and delivers a bit of dazzle is the perfect solution. This recipe for baked French toast, topped with a glorious mix of fresh and dried fruits, is that kind of morning entrée. Crispy bacon or sliced ham, fresh juice, plus pots of coffee and tea would make fine accompaniments.

Serves 6

Prep Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes +, including time to soak the bread

Start-to-Finish Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes +

Make Ahead: Yes, partially

1 one- to two-day-old loaf good-quality artisan-style country bread

2½ cups (600ml) store-bought eggnog (see Cooking Tip)

Cooking Tip:

I often serve this dish during the Christmas holidays, when eggnog is available in all the supermarkets; it’s a big time-saver. If you can’t find any, whisk together 4 egg yolks, ½ cup (100g) sugar, and 2 cups (480ml) light cream to blend. Measure 2½ cups (600 ml) for the recipe.

Apple, Apricot, Cherry Topping

8 tbsp (115g) unsalted butter

½ cup (100g) light brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1¾ lb (800g) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½-in (12-mm) thick wedges

¾ cup (140g) dried apricots, cut into ½-in (12-mm) dice

¼ cup (40g) dried sour cherries

¾ tsp grated lemon zest

½ cup (55g) coarsely chopped walnuts

1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1. Generously butter a 9-by-13-in (23-by-33-cm) or another shallow 3-qt (2.8-L) baking dish.

2. Cut the ends off the bread, and cut the loaf into ¾-in (2-cm) thick slices. Cut large slices in half and arrange the bread on the bottom of the baking dish in a single tight layer. (Save the ends and any extra slices for another use.) Pour the eggnog evenly over the bread. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

3. For the Apple, Apricot and Cherry Topping: Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the brown sugar and cinnamon and cook, stirring, for 1 minute to combine. Add the apple wedges and cook, stirring often, until slightly softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the apricots, cherries and lemon zest and cook for 1 minute more. (The apple mixture can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat before using.)

4. When ready to bake, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375°F (190°C).

5. Remove the baking dish with the bread slices from the refrigerator and turn the slices over. Spoon the fruit mixture evenly over them, and sprinkle with the walnuts. Bake until the apples are tender when pierced with a sharp knife and lightly browned around the edges, about 40 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes. Brush the top of the casserole with the melted butter. Serve warm.

Bon Appetit!

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