The Show-You-Care Casserole 2.0

A few months ago, I got this email from reader Rebecca:

“I have no idea what to give to new parents or the bereaved–you know, those occasions in life when a casserole is all but mandatory.  I want so badly to show that I care by offering simple nourishment, and all I have in my repertoire are a tired lasagna or straight-out-of-the-1950’s tuna-noodle casserole, which I’m almost embarrassed to offer to friends with even a moderately discriminating palate.  Do you have any recipes that can be thrown in the oven for an easy dinner during life’s transitions, but are fresh, modern and tasty enough that I can feel proud to offer them to friends?”

I get this question all the time, and it’s taken me this long to respond because I have been stuck in the lasagna rut, too. Until the other night, when I was flipping through my second favorite quick meal cookbook*, Great Food Fast. I was looking for something to bring over to my friend and mother-of-three Teresa, who is recovering from back surgery, and came upon a recipe for Tortilla Pie. By merely plating it in a beautiful pie dish (and not my grease-streaked Pyrex baking dish) it was transformed into a modern, tasty upgrade from the more tired Mexican lasagna. I made it for my own family last weekend (the “A” is for “Abby,” since her wedge of the pie was not to include black beans. Another option: “A for Are you kidding me?”) and man oh man was it spirit-lifting, aka delicious.

Another thought: Time for Dinner owners might want to try the “personal pan” lasagna recipes on page 166 in this situation. (Easy to customize for kids, since they are crafted out of ravioli, so can be made with half cheese, half…pumpkin?)

Please comment below or on the DALS facebook page if you have a go-to Show-You-Care Casserole. I think we can all use these.

*You didn’t really just wonder which one was my first favorite, did you?

Whole Wheat Tortilla Pie with Chicken
Adapted from Great Food Fast

If you are making it for your own family, preheat oven to 400°F. Heat a little vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add 1 large onion (chopped), 1 jalapeno (minced, optional), 1 clove garlic (minced), 1/2 teaspoon cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 15-ounce cans black beans, and 12 ounces of beer (or water) to skillet. Simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in a handful of shredded cooked chicken (I poached a breast in salted water in a small saucepan for 12 minutes, then pulled it apart with a fork, but you could also just use a rotisserie chicken), 1 box frozen corn, a handful of scallions and remove from heat. Start layering your pie dish with whole wheat tortillas (you may have to trim a little to make them fit), then a layer of shredded cheddar, then chicken and bean mix. Repeat three times, using about a cup of cheese on the very top, and an appropriately placed initial fashioned out of tortilla trims if you have to cater to your own Little Miss Picky. IF YOU ARE GIVING TO SOMEONE, COVER WITH FOIL AND REFRIGERATE THE PIE AT THIS POINT. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until cheese is melted. Top with more chopped scallions, cut into wedges and serve with sour cream and salsa.

Make sure to include baking instructions for the pie if you are giving it to friends — so they know how to finish up.

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My favorite new-baby food that was brought to me, bar-none, was a quiche Lorraine and salad. Something about the eggyness just spoke to me in that moment.

My other favorite was a roasted chicken; my new favorite and (because it’s) incredibly easy, I learned of at the Tipsy Baker:

but it’s really Dorie Greenspan’s and the recipe is here:

And if you are sold on the tuna noodle casserole, I just tried this one from the Bitten Word; I won’t be making it much because it isn’t quick, but it’s easy and satisfies that reminds-me-of-my-childhood itch without the actual gloppiness of at least my mother’s original:

Lastly, you have more money and less time…when my mother died, someone arranged to have a plate of sandwiches sent for the day before and the day after the funeral. It was an amazingly generous and kind gesture as people were coming in and out of the house at all hours and I was in no shape to think about feeding them anything. Also: someone brought me an envelope with 20 $1 bills with a note on the front: “for tips.” I was insanely grateful for that as well, as were my local florists’ drivers.


I make a habit of stocking my chest freezer with extra meals for lazy days when I don’t feel like cooking (make a double or triple batch, eat one for dinner and freeze the extra), and for giving. Some of these aren’t modern but at least they’re still favourites. Here are a few items that have shown up over the years: cabbage rolls, beef stroganoff, beef ziti, penne Amatriciana (with chicken added), shepherd’s pie, fisherman’s pie, pot pies (just keep the puff pastry or biscuit top separate until the base is halfway baked).

To just reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave, no baking required: chili, stew, curry (just add naan), tagine (add couscous or pita), and for lighter meals, just about any kind of soup as long as it doesn’t have pasta.

Baked goods such as muffins and quick breads tend to freeze well too, which can be nice for giving since no one wants to eat stew/casserole for three meals a day.

Of all these, my favourite give-aways are tagine and curry, partly because they’re different from most casseroles and partly because they’re don’t require the oven, so they can be eaten pretty much year-round.


LOL- no i didn’t wonder what your first favorite was and Great Food Fast is also on my favorite list! looks like the top of our list is the same!


in keeping with what Making a Casserole means, this one leaves about 4 or 5 empty cans on your counter when you’ve finished assembling it. It might be a little too trashy to bring to the bereaved, but it is super tasty and speedy (and adaptable–i’ve used poached chicken, store-bought roasted chicken, pork from leftover spare ribs, black beans, and TJ’s soyrizo, all to great effect).


I find that I am more inclined to bring people soups; also easy to freeze for later, but easier for heating up just one or two portions at a time. The microwaveable factor can be huge for a new mom at lunch time!


I would say maybe quiches or fritattas? I’m not sure if they would freeze well as I’ve never tried that, but they do keep in the refrigerator for several days and it’s easy to cut off a slice and heat it up in the microwave, or throw the whole thing in the oven to reheat it for guests. With all the eggs and the possibilities for vegetables and other meats, it also can be a really good way to get some nutrition into some new parents who are too sleep-deprived to think about that for themselves.


I am with mek, I am a soup maker. The moment I heard someone is going through a crisis, my body automatically starts to make the Barefoot Contessa’s Lentil Vegetable Stew, I can make it in my sleep. It freezes beautifully too. I bring the soup, a loaf of fresh bread, some good cheese and some kind of easy dessert.

My mom was fond of making Impossible Pies and I devoured them as a kid, they use Bisquick as its foundation. I love the 1970s throwback vibe of those pies, but I haven’t had a chance to make one yet.


You guys are the best! The best! So glad I asked. My tortilla pie is suddenly sounding waaay J.V.


One of my casserole favorites (eating leftovers for lunch right now) is Rachael Ray’s Chicken and Garlic-Herb Potato Shepherd’s Pie:

It has basic ingredients that kids will eat (my 4-year-old likes this!), but the tarragon (dried works too) and garlic & herb Boursin cheese give it a nice flavor for adults. You can even tone down the flavor with just butter & salt mashed potatoes.

One note: I don’t like the shredded carrots in this, so I take a few minutes to chop up my own carrots or just throw in frozen peas and carrots.

Mary Ann

I have a hard time finding good casserole recipes, as my daughter has severe dairy and egg allergies. Most recipes call for cheese or cream-of-something-soup, which aren’t doable for our family any more. Help … I’d appreciate casserole ideas that don’t rely on dairy and egg ingredients!


My go-to casserole dish is generally some form of savory bread pudding. Slightly stale baguette, some kind of sauteed or roasted vegetable (my favorites are kale, butternut squash, tomatoes, broccoli and mushrooms although not all together), and crumbled sausage or bacon (or skip that if you’re cooking for vegetarians. Whip up a mix of milk, eggs (about 6 for a 9 by 12 casserole dish), grated cheese (about a cup) and a tablespoon of good mustard. Mix it all together gently so you don’t disintegrate the bread and then bake it at 350 for about 45 minutes or so, until set. Great way to use what you have and still make something healthy and comforting.


If it is summertime and I can get my hands on eggplant, I like to make what I call eggplant “goulash” – which is really more like ratatouille in a big pot. It is easy to make, freezes really well and can be easily served over pasta, rice, cous cous. I made this for friends this fall. Here is a link to my blog with the recipe.

Also, Ree Drummond has a recipe for bbq meatballs that she loves because they were given to her when she was a ravenous nursing mother. I have given these to many new mothers to rave reviews. (They are especially good with mashed potatoes.)


The Sept 2010 issue of Real Simple had several recipe ideas for meal swaps. These work really well for freezer meals or giving to people. Except for the enchiladas, the versions posted online are smaller batches, but you can multiple everything by 4 and freeze/share away… Our favorites are:

Sweet Potato and Gruyere Turnovers:

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes:

Spiced Pork and Apricot stew (we gave this to someone who just had a baby and they said it was the best meal they had gotten):


My latest favorite to bring to others in need is a greek style baked pasta — moussaka in flavor along with pasta — easy to make even when doubling — from an old issue of Food and Wine Good casserole type dishes are hard to come by; chili with all the fixings and side dishes is another great option.


@Mary Ann–I feel you. I have a lactose-intolerant husband and it can be so hard! One of my favorite non-dairy casseroles is Enchilada Casserole. I can’t find the recipe online but basically you saute some ground beef or turkey with onion and add a can of enchilada sauce, a can of Ro-Tel, a can of black beans and a can of corn (I didn’t promise gourmet, just dairy-free!). Then you layer it all up with torn corn tortillas and bake until its crispy on top. People who don’t live in fear of dairy products can certainly include some cheese.

Certainly not fine dining but it’s satisfying, cheap and easy…kind of what I’m after with casseroles anyway. 🙂


When I had a baby, the best meal a friend brought me was spanakopita! I recently made it for the first time and it was super easy.


I like to do sloppy joes–I put the meat filling in a freezer bag and include a bag of buns. If the family is over-loaded with food at the moment, both can go in the freezer easily to be pulled out later. I also like to bring fruit salad as a side–pineapple chunks in their own juice with your favorite other fruits added. It is kid-friendly, keeps for a few days in the refrigerator, and works for any meal (even breakfast).

For new moms, unless I know they don’t do dairy, I often include a carton of Ben and Jerry’s as well. A little indulgence goes a long way in those first crazy weeks with a new baby!

Mary Ann

@Laura: Thanks for the great idea. I have tried some recipes w/out the cheese and they just don’t work. But this one sounds like it has plenty of flavor, even w/out the cheese. I might try it this weekend for when we’re watching football. Thanks!


The best thing I ever got after my second child was born was a chicken ceasar salad. Crunchy romaine, a bag of croutons, chicken breast sauteed in olive oil with salt and pepper, Paul Newman’s creamy ceasar dressing, and a baguette. It was SUCH a nice change of pace from pasta, easy to have all of the ingredients separate until ready to eat, and has become my go-to new mom dinner. Also, Jenny, I have made your casserole twice now and it is one of my son’s top requested dishes! (used chopped up pre-cooked roasted chicken strips and worked great)


Just made this tonight for a house full of visiting family and it was a BIG hit! Thanks!!