Looking for some quick feedback and ideas — the father of a friend of mine died last weekend, and he’s been helping his mom with funeral preparations, etc. His wife has been going it alone for the duration with their toddler child.
I’d like to make a couple of casseroles for them, and possibly to share with his mom, since I’m imagining the wife hasn’t had much time to do a lot of cooking (she works fulltime). My inclination is to make lasagna, because it’s delicious and I enjoy making it. But I frankly don’t have the time, and I’d like to make two.
So, any ideas for a couple of non-tuna-casseroles that would be well-received and easy for me to make? I’m stumped for ideas since I can’t stop thinking about lasagna.
I make a baked rigatoni, that is much easier than lasagna, but hits all the same notes.
1 box rigatoni
1 package ground beef
1 jar of favorite sauce
1 block of mozzerella cheese (I prefer whole milk Sargento)
(your favorite on-hand dried spices, like garlic powder, pepper flake, oregano, etc…)
optional - 1 onion, diced
Cook the pasta according to directions, to just under al dente. In a sauce pan, brown up the ground beef, with the onion (optional). Drain the beef and add your favorite sauce. Spice it up if you choose, with extra garlic powder, pepper flake, etc… Stir in the cooked pasta. Cut the cheese (ha!) into small cubes. Add the cheese to the pasta, and give it a good stir so it is well distributed. Dump the whole thing into a disposable casserole pan.
This can be kept in the fridge for a few days, or a couple of weeks in the freezer. Just put a note on it to pop it in a 350 degree oven until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling. Timing totally depends on if it is refrigerated or frozen.
We’ve done crock pot pulled pork for people who’ve needed help (especially popular with husbands whose wife is in the hospital after giving birth). Bring them some buns and make (or buy) some slaw, and they can eat off it for a couple of days. Sometimes it’s a welcome change from all of the one-pot casseroles people tend to get. Not too sure how the toddler would take to it though.
Also, I don’t know if you consider it impersonal, or a waste of money, or what, but I’ll throw out the idea of getting her a gift card to a takeout place. We’ve done it for friends when they had crises, and figure it doesn’t take room in the freezer, and does the same job of them not having to worry about dinner one more night.
Yeah, I’d go with a baked pasta, but one that’s easier than lasagne to put together. I like to use cheese ravioli or tortellini, which gives you the ricotta all sealed up so it doesn’t mix into the sauce. Just toss it in with a bunch of sauce and top with mozzarella and Parmesan and Romano. If you want to be really fancy, arrange large ravioli in a single layer, then put on some sauce and then another layer of raviolis. It’s practically lasagne anyhow, with layers of pasta, ricotta (inside the pasta), pasta, sauce, pasta, ricotta, etc.
I also like to do some lighter things for bereavement food, since they do tend to receive so many heavy things like tuna casserole and lasagne. A nice chicken soup freezes nicely. I freeze it in a gallon ziploc, then put some uncooked noodles into another ziploc and tape 'em together or place both in a 2 gallon ziploc. The whole thing can be frozen laying flat. To eat, they empty both bags into a pot and heat, and the noodles cook fresh in the broth so they’re not soggy.
Weight Watchers famous Taco Soup freezes beautifully, too. It’s sort of a light, soupy chili. If you need the recipe, let me know, but you can probably google it. It literally takes 5 minutes to assemble and 30 to heat through.
Thanks for the ideas! I may make a baked pasta dish; the one I made for my family a couple months ago was a big hit. Soup sounds good too, but I’m never in a soup-making mood in the summertime.
Here’s a tip I hit upon for making baked pasta dishes: if you add some tomato juice to the bottom of the pan before cooking — especially if it’s been refrigerated for frozen — it really helps moisture and sauciness. Those noodles absorb a lot of the liquid. Try it! I also add tomato juice to my lasagna.
My family makes baked rigatoni by mixing cooked noodles with a mixture similar to that in ravioli: ricotta, mozzarella, an egg, and various spices. Then, you put a little sauce (enough to turn the cheese medium pink colored, but not where everything is floating in sauce). And bake.
The ricotta keeps it nice and moist, but still very cheesy.
Not a casserole, but it could provide a change of pace as well as a few tasty meals: a pre-cooked spiral-sliced ham. Add bread, and you have ham sandwiches for lunch. Add cottage cheese or a deli salad and a steamed vegetable, and it’s good for dinner. And a big one has enough meat for many, many meals.
I’ll second pulled pork, or pulled chicken. Bag it up in quart-sized bags. That way she can use one for her and toddler, or two if her husband is home. And she can use the meat in other ways (on pasta or whatever).
I also like to do cookie dough for th ebreaved. Make it, roll it, and bag it so that they can slice off and bake a few whenever they want. There’s nothing like a little comfort food to see you through.
In the neighbourhood I grew up in, it wasn’t unusual to toss layers of the vegetables one would put in a typical Sunday dinner (carrots, turnip, et al) in a glass casserole dish with pieces of chicken, e.g. diced breasts. Easiest way was to fry the chicken by itself for a few minutes and use a crock pot for the veggies before putting everything into the casserole dish, which could then be reheated in the oven a few times. Not sure how it freezes, but covered in tinfoil it refridgerates well, and can be seasoned in a bunch of different ways very easily.
Spaghetti sauce freezes very nicely, and you could freeze some of it in meal sized portions. You can include some bags of those fun shaped macaroni, so that dinner consists of “nuke sauce, boil pasta”, which is about as easy as it gets. Or make one lasagna, and freeze some sauce.
I use about 2/3 pound of ground beef, fried up with diced onion, mushrooms, and bell pepper. Add some minced garlic when this is almost done. Drain, add sauce, simmer.
If you want to make lasagna, there are some Italian cheese blends which are already shredded. Ricotta is readily available these days, so we do not have to resort to cottage cheese. I, personally, prefer to use some other sort of pasta than lasagna noodles, like wagon wheels or bow ties/butterflies.
My mom actually goes a step farther than this: she freezes sauce in ice cube trays, pops out the cubes, and puts them in zip lock bags. That way, not only can they control how much they want (from a serving to however much), but the little cubes also melt down much faster than a bigger brick of sauce.
Shredded chicken was the biggest “hit” at my dad’s funeral. My aunt makes it by cooking the chicken (I think she just uses breasts) in broth, shredding, then popping into a cake pan with crushed potato chips. I know it sounds weird, but when people at a funeral are sidling up to the cook, you know it’s good.
Homemade macaroni and cheese would be a good one, too.
Heat oven to 400ºF. Combine first 5 ingredients in 13x9-inch baking dish; cover. Bake 25 min. Meanwhile, mix cracker crumbs and butter. Stir chicken mixture; top with crumbs. Bake, uncovered, 10 min. or until topping is golden brown.
I have celiac’s, and substituted 1 cup corn flake crumbs for the RITZ crackers. I also mixed the shredded cheddar with an italian blend shred I had on hand. And I used mixed veggies in place of the broccoli. I would have taken a picture - but it was gone too fast!
Also, I’m pretty sure you could switch the cooking creme for a can of cream of mushroom/chicken soup and have a similar result.