I call them casseroles. My husband calls them hot dishes. We’ve been married 27 years, but we still must debate the rightful name every single time I make one.

No matter which name you prefer, it is a dish made with meat, vegetables or other ingredients in a liquid and baked for a period of time in an oven. In other words, it is a perfect cool weather dish that can warm you from the inside out. 

While casseroles (or hot dishes) can be easy, one-dish meals made with relatively few ingredients, they can also be a dish that can often be made in advance and frozen for a quick meal down the road. To successfully freeze a casserole, there are a few guidelines and precautions to follow:

• Package it for the freezer in an air-tight package. Freezer burn happens when air leaks into a package or container and oxidation causes gray patches to form on the food. Use plastic containers with air-tight lids or cover the food with aluminum foil or a plastic sheet.

• Flavors intensify when frozen so add spices in moderation.

• Avoid adding mayonnaise, cream, eggs or sauce to casseroles recipes prepared for the freezer because these ingredients tend to change the original flavor of the recipe when stored for a period of time.

• When preparing a casserole for future use, avoid adding starchy vegetables. They tend to become soggy when stored for a long time.

• Casseroles made from rice, pasta, spaghetti and meat tend to freeze the best.

• Undercook the dishes to be frozen. When the thawed dish is heated in the oven, the ingredients will finish cooking.

• Place the prepared dish immediately into the refrigerator to cool for at least 10 minutes. Check to see if it is thoroughly cooled before packaging for the freezer.

If properly packaged and proper ingredients used, you can freeze casseroles for 2 to 3 months. Be sure to label the contents and the date frozen. To prepare the frozen dish, remove from the freezer to thaw before baking then reheat it to finish the cooking. Top it off with any cheese, sauce or cream before serving.

When preparing a freezer-friendly casserole recipe, consider doubling the recipe so you have one for that day and one to put in the freezer for a later time. You will be glad to have one, or even several, on hand for days that don’t quite go as planned or when meal prep time is at a minimum.

You may debate the name, but everyone can agree they are a tasty dish they will welcome on the weekly menu.

Janelle Thomas can be reached at janellethomas@charter.net.

Fiesta Chicken Casserole

2 C uncooked spiral pasta

1 C sour cream

1 C salsa

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 15-oz can corn, drained

1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 C cooked shredded or chunked chicken

2 C shredded cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9x13-inch baking dish and spray with cooking spray. Set aside. 

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, combine sour cream, salsa, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder in a large mixing bowl.

Drain the pasta when it's done cooking and add into the sour cream mixture. Stir to combine. Add in the corn, black beans, chicken, and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Stir together to combine. 

Pour into the baking dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Cover with tin foil and cook for 20 minutes. 

Take the tin foil off and let cook an additional 5 minutes. Garnish with green onions, tomato, and avocado slices if wanted. Recipe and photo courtesy of alltimerecipe.com.

Turkey and Egg Breakfast Casserole

1 Tbsp coconut oil, plus more for coating the pan

1 lb ground turkey

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

12 large eggs

1 small sweet potato

1 C baby spinach

Salt and pepper for seasoning

Additional toppings: tomatoes, diced onions, bell peppers, cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 x 9-inch baking dish with coconut oil as well as heat the 1 tablespoon in a medium sized skillet set to medium-high heat. Once the oil has melted add in the ground turkey and season with the chili powder. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook the meat until it begins to brown.

While the turkey is cooking, peel and slice the sweet potato. Make sure the slices are thin because if they’re too thick they won’t be as tender. Line the bottom of the greased baking dish with the sliced potatoes. In a medium bowl beat the eggs with a whisk and season with salt and pepper.

Top the potatoes with the turkey and then pour the eggs on top. Layer the spinach on top of the eggs as well as any additional toppings you’d like to add.

Place the dish in the oven, and cook for 35 to 40 minutes or until the edges of the egg begin to brown and the casserole is firm throughout. Check the dish with about 5 minutes to go to see if you need to add any time.

Notes — If you want to make this as part of your meal prep (or the night before serving) and freeze it for later go ahead and fully prepare the dish then place in the freezer. To cook, let it defrost and then reheat at 275 to 300 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes. Recipe and photo courtesy of aimeemars.com.

Beef Stroganoff Casserole

Casserole mixture:

10 oz egg noodles

1 to 1 ½ lb ground beef

3 Tbsp butter

1/2 C chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

8 oz sliced fresh mushrooms

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

1/4 C Burgundy, other dry red wine, or red cooking wine

1 14.5 oz can beef broth

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 C sour cream

1 C shredded Mozzarella cheese

Topping:

1 Tbsp butter, melted

1/3 C Panko bread crumbs

1/3 C grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium to medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until limp, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add ground beef and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until ground beef is browned.

Remove pan from heat. Stir in flour.

Return pan to heat. Stir in tomato sauce, Burgundy/red wine, beef broth, salt, and pepper. Bring a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Stir in sour cream and mozzarella cheese. Toss ground beef mixture with the cooked noodles.

Spoon into a greased 2-quart casserole dish.

For the topping, combine 1 tablespoon melted butter, Panko bread crumbs, Parmesan, and chopped parsley in a small bowl. Toss together with a fork. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the noodle mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until heated through and bubbly. Makes 10 to 12 servings. Recipe and photo courtesy of thekitchenismyplayground.com.

Sloppy Joe Grilled Cheese Casserole

1lb lean ground beef

1 yellow onion, diced

1 C ketchup

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1/4 C brown sugar

2 tsp onion powder

12 slices bread

1/2 C margarine

4 C Mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook ground beef and diced onions in a large frying pan over medium-high heat with a dab of butter. While the beef is cooking, dump the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar and onion powder into a small mixing bowl. Stir well.

Once the beef is fully cooked, drain the grease from the frying pan. Pour the sauce over the ground beef and stir until all of the meat is coated in sauce.

Spread one side of each of the twelve slices of bread with margarine. Cut each slice of bread in half. Place half of the bread slices, margarine side down, in the bottom of a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Sprinkle 2 cups of the shredded Mozzarella on top of the bread. Spoon the meat mixture over the cheese and spread it out evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining 2 cups of shredded Mozzarella on top of the meat. Place the remaining pieces of bread, margarine side up, on top of the cheese. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the bread is golden brown on top, 26 to 30 minutes. Recipe and photo courtesy of thisisnotdietfood.com.

Twice Baked Potato Casserole

4 to 5 pounds unpeeled potatoes, baked (Yukon gold is recommended but most varieties will work)

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 lb bacon, cooked and chopped

2 C sour cream

2 C shredded Mozzarella cheese

2 C shredded cheddar cheese

3 green onions, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut warm baked potatoes into bite size pieces.  Place half in a greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of salt and pepper. Layer half of bacon, sour cream and shredded cheese.

Repeat layers. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and the entire dish is warm. Sprinkle with onions and enjoy!

Notes — If using cold or room temperature baked potatoes this recipe will take more than 20 minutes to bake. Recipe and photo courtesy of plowingthroughlife.com.

Meat Lovers Pizza Casserole

2 24-oz jars pasta sauce

1 lb Italian sausage

2 tsp minced garlic

1 16-oz box rigatoni pasta

1 12-oz bag shredded Mozzarella cheese

1 bag pepperoni

2 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle olive oil in a large saute pan and place over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until browned. Next add minced garlic and saute for an additional minute; set aside until pasta is done.

While sausage is browning, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta for seven minutes. The pasta should be well under-cooked. Drain pasta and put back into the large pot.

Count out 18 pepperoni and place to the side. Take the remaining pepperoni and cut it into chunks.

To the pot of drained pasta add the browned sausage and garlic, two jars of pasta sauce, sliced pepperoni, and a handful of Mozzarella cheese and stir.

Put pasta into a 9×13-inch dish, top with remaining Mozzarella cheese and pepperoni slices. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and pepperoni is crispy.

Note — You can use as much or as little cheese and pepperoni as you would like. It’s totally up to your taste preference. Recipe and photo courtesy of stuckonsweet.com.

Veggie Loaded Breakfast Casserole

2 Tbsp oil

8 to 10 mushrooms, sliced

2 tsp minced garlic

½ red onion, diced

2 bell peppers, diced

2 C packed baby spinach, roughly chopped

20 oz shredded potatoes, thawed

10 eggs

⅓ C half and half or milk

¼ C hot sauce (more or less to taste)

Salt and pepper

1 C shredded cheese (see notes)

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the mushrooms and sauté them for 4 minutes or until they start to brown. Add a small pinch of salt along with onions and garlic. Let cook for 2 minutes. Remove to a plate. Add the second tablespoon of oil, if needed, and sauté the peppers for 1 minute. Add in the baby spinach and allow it to wilt, remove from heat, set aside.

Generously spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Lay the shredded potatoes in the bottom of the dish and press to make sure they are spread out evenly. Add the veggies (both the mushrooms and the pepper mixtures) over the potatoes, set aside.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees if you are baking the casserole immediately. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, half and half, hot sauce, and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the prepared veggies. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and another small pinch of salt and pepper.

Bake the casserole, uncovered, until the cheese melts, and the top gets in and golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Allow the casserole to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes — To make ahead, prepare the casserole as directed, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or as required (not to exceed 24 hours) and allow it to come to room temperature for 20 minutes before baking.

Browned sausage, ground turkey or beef, shredded chicken or diced ham can all be added to this recipe.

The recommended cheese are milk or sharp Cheddar, Mozzarella and Pepper Jack or Swiss. Recipe and photo courtesy of littlespicejar.com.