The Casserole Queens, otherwise known as Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock, think beyond the casserole dish with their second cookbook, The Casserole Queens Make-A-Meal-Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $17.99). Within it are 100 recipes for busy home cooks to assemble meals for any given weeknight or for a special occasion.
The book showcases the Queens’ joie de vivre, with cheeky headnotes containing mildly humorous vignettes about their families and childhoods, as well as somewhat forced pop culture references. While the bulk of the recipes comprise casseroles representing a diverse array of food culture, from Midwestern delights to Aussie Meat Pie casserole and South African Bobotie, the Queens have also devoted considerable real estate to salads, sides, and desserts.
Because I didn’t find many of the salads and veggie sides included in the cookbook particularly interesting, I stuck primarily to casseroles when test-driving recipes. Because we love a good goulash in our house, my first attempt was the Macaroni and Beef Casserole. While it was pretty tasty, the ratios seemed off: a full pound of macaroni slurped up the sauce. The pasta is coated in a mixture of butter and olive oil, which resulted in an oily dish, and I found myself wanting less oil and more cheese/sauce/binder. From there, my morbid curiosity led me to try the Tater Tot Casserole, which I had observed with a mixture of fascination and disgust on 19 Kids and Counting. It was … pretty much what I expected it to be: salty, beefy, potato-y. One serving was enough, and I farmed out the leftovers to friends.
More successful was the Monterey Chicken and Rice Casserole. The ratio of chicken to rice and binders was spot-on. It was, however, a touch bland. “This could really use some green chiles,” our dinner guest said, despite the fact that there was already a can of them in the casserole, so cooks might want to adjust their spice levels accordingly.
My favorite recipe from the book, hands down, is the Potatoes Two Times (with a Kick) Casserole. It’s essentially twice-baked potatoes stripped of their skins, mixed with cheese, bacon, jalapeños, pepper sauce, and scallions, and baked until bubbling. While they are found in the chapter devoted to sides, I paired them with a generous green salad and had a very satisfying dinner, topped off by a portion of Frozen Lemon Dessert, a chilled citrus custard layered with (too many) Nilla wafers.
If I’d had more time, I would have tried Jayne’s Marinated Vegetable Salad, as it is one of the few recipes in the book that doesn’t call for dairy products. Indeed, while the Queens make an admirable effort to offer modifications to suit vegetarians, diabetics, and those who avoid gluten, when nearly every recipe contains at least one type of dairy product (but more realistically, two or three), those who have dairy sensitivities should proceed with caution.
I also take exception to the claim that home cooks can “put a delicious, from-scratch meal on the table” with this cookbook. I had to open way too many cans and boxes for many of these recipes to be considered “from scratch.” Sure, there are recipes for salad dressings, and cream of mushroom and chicken soups in the book, but there are no homemade substitutes for Nilla wafers and Tater Tots. That said, many of the recipes are indeed built from the ground up, no cans or plastic packaging in sight, so purists will find something they are comfortable with in these pages.
The Casserole Queens will be at BookPeople tonight to celebrate the release and sign copies of their new cookbook.
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