With winter in full swing, home cooks will be looking for warm and filling meals to feed their families.

Casseroles are often the perfect go-to for easy, one-pot creations. There are casseroles for all appetites. Home cooks can opt to blend a variety of ingredients in a casserole from mixing a combination of meats to going the veggie route or choosing a selection of breakfast ingredients such as eggs, sausage, cheese and more.

According to Pillsbury.com, casseroles can be whipped up successfully by using all types of fare from biscuits and crescent rolls to ethnic-inspired ingredients. Everything from egg bakes to pasta creations can be great casseroles.

Home cooks also can make their casseroles healthy or as decadent as they'd like. Using ingredients such as quinoa, other grains or green vegetables will help make the recipes healthier.

The experts at bettycrocker.com offer a selection of tips for making and serving casseroles at home or for gatherings. Advice includes:

• Enhance the flavor of your favorite casserole by sprinkling it with a tasty topping before baking. Try buttered bread crumbs, French fried onions, crushed potato chips, shredded cheese or cooked, crumbled bacon.

• If you're preparing a casserole to take to a potluck or to share with a neighbor, use a disposable foil pan. Then there's no need to worry about getting your pan back.

• To keep a casserole hot on the way to a potluck, place two kitchen towels in the bottom of a basket; set the hot casserole dish inside. Tuck additional hand towels around and over the top of the dish. Dishes can stay safely at room temperature for 2 hours (an hour if the outside temperature is hot).

• Many casseroles can be assembled ahead and chilled until baking. Remove the dish from the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before putting it in the oven. You may need to add a few minutes to the baking time.

• When making a casserole to freeze, line the dish with foil, allowing 3 inches of foil to hang over each side. Assemble the casserole as directed; cover and freeze. When frozen, use the foil to lift the casserole out of the dish. Peel off the foil, wrap the casserole in freezer paper and return it to the freezer. When ready to bake, unwrap and place the casserole back in the pan.

For cooks wondering if it's best to bake casseroles covered or uncovered, bettycrocker.com suggests, "It's best to follow the recipe since there is no one rule for when to cover. Generally, casseroles with grains, rice or pasta that will cook during the baking process are usually covered, for at least part of the time. Casseroles made of cooked ingredients are usually baked uncovered. If you like a crisper, browner top, be sure the casserole is uncovered for at least part of the bake time."

Try the following casseroles recipes.

Chicken Tortilla Casserole

12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

3/4 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon butter

1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce

2 cans (4 ounces each) mild chopped green chiles

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 cup sour cream

1 cup (4 ounces)  cheddar cheese, shredded

1 1/2 cup (6 ounces) Monterey jack cheese, shredded and divided

5 flour tortillas (10-inch)

2 cups whole kernel corn, drained

DIRECTIONS: Lightly grease a 2-quart casserole dish. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté chicken and onion in butter for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato sauce, chiles, chili powder and cumin. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine sour cream, cheddar and 1 cup of Monterey jack. Place one tortilla in casserole dish; cover with 1/5 of the chicken mixture, 1/2 cup corn and 1/4 of the sour cream mixture. Repeat layers three more times. On top of last tortilla, place remaining chicken mixture and 1/2 cup Monterey jack. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes until light brown and bubbly.

From Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Easy Overnight Ham and Cheese Casserole

Start to finish: 1 hour 20 minutes (20 minutes active)

Servings: 12

10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

4 eggs

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup light mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

20-ounce ham steak, diced

3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided

2 medium carrots, grated

2 medium turnips, grated

20-ounce package refrigerated shredded potatoes

DIRECTIONS: Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Place the spinach in a mesh strainer and squeeze out as much water as possible. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper and onion powder until smooth. Stir in the squeezed spinach, ham, 2 cups of the cheese, the carrots, turnips and potatoes. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheese over the top of the casserole. At this point, the casserole can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until puffed and golden and a knife inserted at the center comes out clean. Serve warm.

From The Associated Press

Loaded Mashed Potato Casserole

5 1/2 cups mashed potatoes

1/2 cup milk

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons  Parsley Flakes

1 teaspoon Garlic Salt

1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg, Ground

3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

12 slices bacon, crispy cooked and crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place all ingredients, except cheese and bacon, in large bowl. Beat with electric mixer on medium-high speed until potatoes are smooth and creamy.

Spoon mixture into lightly greased 13x9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and bacon. If you prefer extra crispy bacon, reserve bacon and sprinkle at the end of cooking. Cover.

Bake 30 minutes or until heated through.

From McCormick

Cranberry French Toast Casserole

6 eggs

2 cups milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 (1-pound) loaf brioche bread, sliced into 1-inch slices

1 tablespoon butter, plus additional, softened, for buttering pan

1/2 cup walnut pieces

2 cups White Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting

DIRECTIONS: Butter 9x13-inch baking dish. Set aside. In large bowl, beat eggs. Add milk, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, orange zest, cinnamon and salt. Mix well, thoroughly combining ingredients for batter.

Working in layers, dip each bread slice in batter; place 1 layer of slices in prepared baking dish. Sprinkle a few cranberries over each slice before adding next layer. Pour remaining batter over and top with remaining cranberries. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight, or at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375°F. Bake, foil-covered, 25 minutes. Uncover and bake additional 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through.

While casserole is baking, melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add walnut pieces and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Top each casserole serving with a dollop of White Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting and toasted walnuts.

White Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting:

7 ounces white chocolate

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

1 cup (8 ounces) Wisconsin mascarpone cheese

DIRECTIONS: Melt white chocolate over low heat, being careful not to burn. Remove from heat; set aside to cool to room temperature.

In bowl of stand mixer, beat butter until smooth. Add powdered sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Add cooled white chocolate to butter mixture; mix until just incorporated. Add mascarpone, mix until just incorporated (don't over mix).

TIP: You may substitute store-bought croissants (about 12 from bakery) cut into 2-inch pieces.

From Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board


Features reporter

Eloise writes about food and entertainment for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight children in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.