A bowl of pasta sits on a plate, with Casserole

How to Make Fabulous Meals Using a Formula, Not a Recipe

Ever feel like kitchen klutz? Wish you could take that odd assortment of stuff in the pantry and freezer, mix it with leftovers in the fridge to make something delicious without a specific recipe and without having to run to the market? That’s called cooking with a formula not a recipe.

Well, grab your whisk and shout for joy! Thanks to this Fool-Proof 5-Step Formula you can create fabulous, original, homemade, delicious, and nutritious casseroles designed by You, using the items you have on hand.

A bowl of pasta sits on a plate, with Casserole


Step 1

Combine an 8-oz container of sour cream, 1 cup milk, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper with one item from Group A, which is coming up below (omit sour cream and milk when using tomatoes).

Sour creamDid you know?

Sour cream is sold by weight, not by volume. An 8 oz. container of sour cream is equal to 3/4 cup by volume. A 16 oz. container of sour cream is equal to 1 1/2 cup by volume. Do not be confused with liquid measure and weight measure. Very rarely will they be the same.

Step 2

Stir in one item from each of Groups B, C, D, and E (again, no sour cream and milk when using tomatoes)

Step 3

Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 13- x 9- x 2-inch baking dish.

Step 4

Sprinkle with one or two choices from Group F.

Step 5

Cover and bake the casserole at 350 F, for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 additional minutes. Servings: About 6.

Group A:

  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 can cream of celery soup, undiluted
  • 1 can Cheddar cheese soup, undiluted
  • 2 cans Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup, undiluted

Don’t care for canned soups? Make it yourself! How to Make Homemade Cream of Anything Soup

Group B:

  • 2 cans solid white tuna, drained and flaked
  • 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
  • 2 cups chopped cooked ham
  • 2 cups chopped cooked turkey
  • 1 pound ground beef, browned and drained

Group C:

  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 4 cups uncooked wide egg noodles
  • 3 cups uncooked medium pasta shells

Group D:

  • 1 package* chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 package frozen cut broccoli
  • 1 package frozen Italian green beans
  • 1 package frozen peas
  • 1 package frozen sliced yellow squash
  • 1 package frozen whole kernel corn

*packages should be about 10-ounces

Group E:

  • 1 small can sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1/4 cup sliced ripe olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small can chopped green chiles
  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix

Group F:

  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs

Example Combinations

Chicken Bake

Cream of chicken soup, broccoli, rice, chicken, Parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs.

Ham Casserole

Cream of celery soup, Italian green beans, wide egg noodles, ham, garlic and two portions Swiss cheese.

Turkey Bake

Italian-style diced tomatoes, spinach, medium pasta shells, turkey, onion, garlic, mozzarella cheese, and breadcrumbs.

Vegetarian Casserole

Italian-style diced tomatoes, yellow squash, rice, olives, four portions ( 1 cup) celery, four portions (ditto) bell pepper, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs.

Now it’s your turn! I’d love it if you’d share your ideas and combinations for casseroles formulas with us below in the comments.


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18 replies
  1. Beth R says:

    One of the things we often had in Massachusetts was tuna-noodle casserole. Basically, you took macaroni & tuna salad, replaced the mayonnaise with cream soup, and then baked it. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on when it was hot, then put it under the broiler for 1 minute. We loved this dish! My Hawaiian husband had never heard of it, and he loved it.

  2. Robert says:

    Can greek yogurt, regular yogurt, mayo or cream cheese be substituted for the the sour cream? The back of our fridge is full of these.

    • Teresa says:

      Personally I would use all of those except the mayo (personal preference) as substitutes for sour cream. The Greek and cream cheese might be too thick, so I would add a little more milk.

  3. Marie says:

    The following is a dish that my mother used to make. You cook fresh broccoli till it’s tender but still green. You put a layer in the bottom of a glass baking dish, then put about 3 tablespoons of condensed cream of mushroom soup across the top (you don’t need to spread it out, just “dollop” it on), them put another layer of broccoli, then the rest of the condensed soup. Then you put canned tuna on top of the broccoli ( or leave out the tuna, if you don’t want it) then put sliced cheddar cheese on top, about 3 slices down the middle, depending on the size of the baking dish. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 30-60 min. or until the soup and cheese are melted and the food is hot. Especially delicious in the winter. You can try different condensed soups, canned fish (smoked fish might be nice, as well), types of cheese, or even use shredded cheese.

  4. Nathalie Propes says:

    I’ve been cooking over 60 years, starting in my grandmother’s kitchen. A pinch of this, an old teacup of that, throw in whatever we had for dinner (noon meal) and supper was done. Only recipe I actually followed was cake but I gave up on those years ago. I have lots of cookbooks offering “suggestions” as a starting point, but these days am more likely to query my tablet and go from there. So, I guess I have been working your formula for decades. Thanks for the reminder. And for giving the “youngsters ” some ideas.

  5. Mary says:

    How fitting! I just took a lasagna out of the freezer that I made last week with home made pasta noodles out of the freezer for supper tonight.
    We live in BC, Canada and hot dishes like these are so comforting and tasty in our tummies, and we all need comfort food about now!
    Mary, I so appreciate your emails daily!! Love the many tips that I have used and passed on to my family and friends! Keep writing and praising the Lord!!

  6. Betty Thomas says:

    Hot dish! Covid 19 has united us in the exclusive club of potlucks, church gatherings, funerals and the midwest. I like this formula and this post made me smile. It is a good thing to eat out of our pantry and keep our bellies full and comfy, especially now. Thank you Mary.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes … potlucks! As a preacher’s kid, I grew up on potlucks spread out on long tables covered with white paper … in the church basement. I must admit that mostly it was cold entrees and warm jello … everything kinda’ melding into a single plate of food. But you know what? Those are memories are comforting to me. Maybe it was the gathering aspect. I’m missing that right now, so I love the memories.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hot Dish is a common term, I’m learning. Other areas referred to it as a Covered Dish. I don’t know why “casserole” has gotten a bit of a bad rap these day, suggesting it can’t be healthy. Wrong! 🙂

      • Beth★ says:

        That’s right, when I was a kid we often had Covered Dish Suppers at church. Thanks for the memories.

  7. June Neigum says:

    This is great. A way to use up stuff in fridge when we really can’t just pop out to the grocery store these days.

  8. Sue Massey says:

    Dear Mary,
    Thank you for faithfully writing your column. It is comforting to know that you are there.
    As difficult as these times are, it is great to see so many people coming together for our common benefit.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      OH, thanks for that, Sue. Truth be told I do this for myself, too. Staying busy (super busy!!) keeps me centered, focused and in some kind of balance. Right now I’m staring at my dusty floors. I have put my twice-monthly housecleaning service on hold in an attempt to be super vigilant with social distancing. Let’s just say I need to take a little time off here to clean this house!


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