Sift magazine's holiday issue presents dozens of inspirations for baking that bring families together. In this excerpt, Sift invites chef Vivian Howard to write about her delicious take on contemporary casseroles.
Growing up, holiday meals at my house were a smorgasbord of Pyrex dishes, bubbling hot with "cream of something" mixed with a "can of something else." Each one topped with crispy bits of cracker, potato chips, or breadcrumbs, casseroles were how the women in my family fed lots of people efficiently. My mother, my grandmother, and my sister assembled the casseroles in advance — an exercise in planning — and baked them up while the turkey was carved and the ham soaked up its glaze.
Today, I still call on casseroles to celebrate. The ingredients have changed, but the basic structure and function of a casserole still ring true in my home kitchen. I like the convenience of putting one together before guests arrive, maybe even days before, and simply sliding it in the oven to bake as I compose the salad or open wine to accompany the meal.
And whether I'm making one that's savory, sweet, or a casserole that straddles the line between the two, I still stick to the basic formula of a creamy filling under a crisp topping. But instead of creamy canned soups, I call on eggy custards, rich cheese sauces, or roux-thickened stocks to bind my fillings. And even though I love Cheez-Its and French's Crispy Fried Onions, I prefer crunch from tiny croutons tossed with olive oil, naturally coarse cornmeal, or fried confit potatoes.
The American casserole genre developed out of a need for convenience, and the cans, crackers, and chips were important pieces in that "fast, easy, and portable" puzzle. Although times have changed, I know modern versions of the casserole will continue to comfort us, feed our families, and foster celebration, because they are exceptionally delicious.
Garlic- and rosemary-infused potatoes crown this flavorful steak dish, giving new meaning to "meat and potatoes" for dinner.
A rich, cheese-laced sauce surrounds sweet roasted squash, hearty turnip greens, and lightly spiced sausage for an immensely satisfying dish with a down-home touch.
Your kitchen will smell like French toast when you pull this sweet, custard-y casserole from the oven.
Earthy, rich, and sweet all at once, this skillet meal is a perfect excuse to invite people over for supper.
Spoonbread is a moist, soufflé-like side dish from the South. A little sweet, a little spicy, and a lot delicious, it's best served right out of the oven at its maximum puffiness.
Our thanks to Vivian Howard for her wonderful recipes.