By the editors of Better Homes and Garden

Publisher: Wiley – 480 pages

Book Review by Laxmi Chaandi

Cooking can be done in two basic ways: placing food in a pan over fire or placing food in a ceramic container that is put in a heated oven. In both instances it is the heat that softens the food and makes it eatable. Which is the better method of cooking? Well, each one has its advantages and disadvantages.

Placing food in a metal pan, skillet, wok or container made of another material over fire affords you the chance to add ingredients and seasonings little by little and taste the food as it is cooking, so you can make adjustments as you go along. But the disadvantage is that you have to keep watch over the food and cannot relax while the food is being cooked.

On the other hand, placing food with all the ingredients and seasonings all at the same time in a ceramic or heat-resistance dish does not give you the opportunity to taste the food as it is being heated and becoming edible, to eat.

But the advantage over cooking in the oven over atop a fire is that once you have mixed the food and added all the ingredients and seasonings, you can simply leave the food in the heated oven, put the timer on and relax until the timer goes off or it reaches the time you set on your watch or on your mind.

Foods cooked in non-metallic containers placed in heated ovens are called casseroles. Those are the foods whose recipes are found in this large book.

It is filled with recipes for many categories of food ranging from one-dish breakfasts to substantial lunches and dinners to in-between main-meal snacks.

The book has 16 groups of dishes in its table of contents for non-vegetarians and vegetarians. Meat dishes, meatless dishes, party dips, pastas and seafood are some of the main ones.

In the “Hearty Meat Dishes” section, you have a choice of a variety of meat dishes such as beef stroganoff casserole, a deep-dish steak and vegetable pie, a hamburger-cheese hot dish, a polenta-and-sausage pie, a pork-and-turkey cassoulet, smoked sausage lasagna, among many, many other dishes.

An entire section entitled “poultry pleasers” is provided for chicken and turkey lovers. Mouth-watering casseroles of food from the East and the West are found here. The chicken supreme casserole looks delicious. So does the sweet-and-sour baked chicken. If you want something small as a snack, try the chicken pot pie in puff pastry or the chicken taco casserole or the creamy chicken enchiladas.

If you want something substantial for a family of four ore more, try the creamy chicken-broccoli bake, the chicken enchilada pasta, the turkey manicotti, or the andouille-chicken lasagna, the chicken Alfredo and rice casserole or the artichoke-turkey casserole. Try all of them on different days.

In the mood for seafood? The tuna with cheese biscuits looks sumptuous. Or the lobster macaroni and cheese or the lobster manicotti with chive cream sauce may be of your taste. For quick snacks, try the salmon pot pie or the creamy cheesy salmon enchiladas.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you could make and eat the black bean lasagna, the coconut sweet potatoes and wild rice casserole, the corn and polenta bake, or the creamy curried broccoli and brown rice, or the garlic mushroom pasta, or the spiced butternut squash with almonds.

If you’re a pasta lover or open-minded about trying the wonderful dishes in the “Pasta Perfect” section, try the easy spaghetti bake, the quick lasagna casserole, the chicken Caesar lasagna, macaroni with pesto shrimp, or the nutty gorgonzola roll-ups.

In the “Round the World” section you can experiment with dishes from Asia, African nations like Morocco and others; European countries, particularly popular ones like France, Greece, Italy, Norway and Spain; and countries in South America.

The Chinese pot bake looks delicious, just like the one we have often at a local restaurant. So does the chicken chow mien casserole and the Thai peanut chicken. For a change, try the Moroccan lamb casserole with preserved lemons or the Indian-style lamb curry.

Go around your virtual tour of Europe, and eat a French country cassoulet, Greek moussaka, Italian penne bake, Norwegian meatballs and Spanish beef and chili enchiladas.

While there are other sections as well, we had to mention the great American dishes section with goodies from around good ole the USA. This has the classic meat loaf, Cajun chicken pasta, Cincinnati-style chili, Charleston crab potpie, shrimp New Orleans, Tex-Mex chicken roll-ups, Southern grits casserole with red pepper relish, Southwest spaghetti pie and Southwestern tuna bake.

The book starts out with “What a Hot Dish!” showing different types and sizes of casseroles that are heavy heat-resistant and how best to care for them. In the “Tips for Hot Dishes” you get 24 pointers for use.

Cooking in casseroles placed in ovens is cooking the smart way, I believe. Like anything you will not get perfect results the first time, but learn along the way. But once you know what types of foods require what amounts of time to get cooked and edible, this beats having to stand over a hot stove.

There are more than 400 comfort foods featured in this book with recipes – lists of ingredients and seasonings on one side of the page and cooking directions (typically 3 but not ore than 5) on the other side. It’s great book learn how to cook numerous casseroles.