Thursday, October 3, 2013

Company Casserole

Company Casserole
I know, I know...a casserole.  It's not the most gourmet choice for the first recipe on my blog and definitely not the healthiest.  Trust me, though, it will quickly become a family favorite.  I have been eating company casserole probably farther back than my first memory.  I don't remember a time without knowledge of this casserole.  My mom first borrowed the recipe from her friend Virginia when they would travel to the beach every summer with kids in tow.  My mom would bring the chocolate chip cookies and Virginia would bring the casserole.  And, no, we have no idea where the name originated.  I'm assuming it has something to do with throwing a bunch of ingredients together quickly when company is coming over unexpectantly.  Who knows! Make up your own story.  What I do know is that this is a quick and easy recipe and I've yet to serve it to adults and kids alike who haven't enjoyed it.  It makes a large amount that you are free to separate into smaller baking dishes and freeze for up to two months.  We even do one dish the night we're eating it and bake the second dish with fresh cheese on top the next night.  If you do it this way, then bake it without cheese first, adding the cheese the last fifteen minutes.

12 ounce package of egg noodles (I prefer medium sized but it's up to you; just know that the wider noodles break apart more easily in the casserole)
1 to 2 pounds ground beef
24 ounce can of tomato sauce
1/2 pound of cottage cheese
1/4 cup of sour cream
8 ounce package of cream cheese
l bunch of spring onions
1 green bell pepper
1 to 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese (really up to you and how cheesy you are!)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Chop spring onions and bell peppers.  Set aside.

In stockpot at medium temperature, brown meat until the pink in the center of the meat disappears.
While meat is cooking, fill a pot with water and follow the package directions for cooking the egg noodles.  You will want to undercook them about two minutes less than the directions say. Otherwise, they will become too soft and starchy in the casserole when you mix everything together.

Once the meat is browned, add your cheeses. I like to begin with the cream cheese since it needs to melt slightly in order to mix in well with the beef.  I usually break it into smaller chunks with the spoon while mixing it into the beef. It melts faster this way. Once it is mixed in well, stir in the cottage cheese and sour cream. Finally, add your tomato sauce.  It will look like a soupy mess.  No worries.  The noodles will make everything ok in a bit.

Next, add in your raw, chopped vegetables.
Drain your noodles and add them in, too. One big happy family.
Spoon the mixture into one 13x9 casserole dish or two to three smaller casserole dishes. They can be any shape and any depth.

If you are going to bake right away, sprinkle your cheese on now and cover the dish lightly with aluminum foil.  Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and then bake an additional 5 to ten minutes, depending on whether you like your cheese melted and gooey or melted and browned slightly. We like the browned, crunchy cheese, in case you're interested.

Tips:  If you decide to set aside a casserole to bake later but don't want to freeze, stick it in the fridge without adding the cheese.  Bake without the cheese for 45 minutes. Then, add cheese and cook without the foil for 15 minutes more, until the cheese is melted and the casserole is bubbly.

Like I said, these casseroles are perfect for freezing. Just cover them well and keep for up to two months.  You can thaw out overnight in the refrigerator to eat the next day. Just follow the directions for the refrigerated casserole above.