For Missouri native Emily Farris, a casserole is more than just a bland tuna-and-cheese dish served mainly at Sunday school potluck dinners. And thanks to her new cookbook, “Casserole Crazy,” it can be that way for you, too.
Dump the canned veggies and replace them with fresh ingredients, she says in the debut cookbook. Then, what you have is a time-saving meal that is both comfort food on the cheap and — dare we say it? — sophisticated and tasty dinner dish.
“For me it’s all about food that offers comfort,” said Farris, a Williamsburg resident. “You can get as fancy as you want for with food, but if it doesn’t taste good, it’s pointless.”
With 125 recipes that range from “The Greenpoint” (Polish sausage, portobello mushrooms and sauerkraut with cream of mushroom soup) to a “Kansas City Masterpiece” (BBQ sauce with chicken breasts and pasta), Farris treats casseroles as a meeting between skinny-jeaned Williamsburg and the wide-hipped Midwest. It’s vegan-friendly fare meets carb-heavy comfort food; gorgonzola meets Cheese Whiz.
“Not only did I want recipes made with food that you like, I wanted recipes that were in some way accessible for everyone,” said Farris, who compiled recipes from nearly 50 cookbooks ranging from 1920 to 1990, and also asked friends and families for favorites.
Farris said she grew up eating a “meat and potatoes” diet in Missouri, where “vegans might as well have purple faces and two noses.”
So it was with some trepidation that she first dared to create an updated version of her beloved Aunt Susie’s classic Tuna Noodle casserole for her “sophisticated sushi-eating friends.” In addition to throwing in artichoke hearts, Farris replaced Aunt Susie’s traditional Cheese Whiz with real parmesan.
“The first time I served a casserole at a party, I was a little hesitant,” said Farris, who once worked for The Brooklyn Paper. “But a food snob friend got really excited about it and he ended up eating it straight from the Pyrex dish. That’s when I knew I was onto something.”
That “something” quickly evolved into an annual casserole competition, which will celebrate its fourth anniversary on Nov. 10 at Greenpoint’s brunch hotspot Brooklyn Label.
Last year’s contest saw 60 entrants competing in teams of two, along with a healthy share of not-so-healthy casseroles.
“There was one made with Jack Daniel’s,” Farris said. “I don’t know if it was the best, but it was definitely the most creative.”
For those eager to enter their concoctions in this year’s contest (by registering at www.casserolecrazy.com), Farris has a few words of advice.
“Keep in simple,” she said. “Stick with food that you know. People try to get too complicated, and that’s not what a casserole is supposed to be about.”
Farris hopes that both foodies and the “domestically challenged” alike will be seduced by the cookbook, which is out next week, with recipes like her own personal favorite, the mac-and-corn update “Seduction.”
“It’s a book for people who like to eat,” she said. “It’s not a book for people who like to show off with their food. If you want to impress people with fancy meat or hard to find vegetables, this is not the book for you.”
Chicken, Cheddar and Sun-dried Tomato Casserole
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbls olive oil
1 lb chicken breast, cubed
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups portobello mushrooms, finely chopped
1 large egg
1/2 cup chicken broth
8 oz sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 350. In a skillet over medium heat, saute the onions in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the chicken and cook. Add the cayenne pepper and a dash of salt and pepper. Reduce heat and add the mushrooms. Allow to simmer for three minutes, stirring occasionally. In a mixing bowl, mix the egg, chicken broth and some salt and pepper. When mixed, add in the cooked chicken and onions. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and all but a quarter-cup of the cheese. Stir and transfer to a greased or buttered baking dish. Cover with half the remaining cheese. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes to one hour, until bubbly and golden on top. Remove, cover with the remainder of the cheese and bake for 10 more minutes.