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Make-ahead meals are a lifesaver for busy professionals, and casseroles are king when it comes to the ultimate meal you can prepare and freeze ahead of time. Chicken casserole is one of the easiest casseroles to put together, and you an customize it any way your family likes using cooked ingredients, a creamy sauce and toppings of your choice.
Spray a casserole baking dish lightly with non-stick cooking spray or line with aluminum foil. Foil freezes in the shape of the dish, allowing you to remove the casserole and use the dish while the frozen aluminum foil package holds its shape until you're ready to cook the casserole -- just stick the package back in the original baking dish to cook.
Place your chosen starch and any vegetables into the casserole dish if desired. Not all casseroles include vegetables and starches, but some add items such as cooked pasta, cooked rice and diced potatoes, or vegetables such as cooked or canned peas, carrots, green beans or spinach.
Chop or shred cooked chicken coarsely and spread the meat out in the casserole pan. Boneless chicken breasts is preferable, but you can use meat from chicken thighs and legs if desired.
Pour a creamy liquid of your choice over the ingredients in the casserole dish. For a chicken casserole, you can use a can of cream soup such as chicken, mushroom, potato or onion. You'll need about one can of soup for every 1 1/2 to 2 cups of casserole ingredients. Add at least a half-can of water or other liquid such as milk to the creamy soup to thin it out a bit. Avoid items that don't freeze well, such as mayonnaise or sour cream.
Sprinkle grated or shredded cheese on top of the casserole, if desired. Any easy-to-melt cheese works, such as cheddar, sharp cheddar, Monterrey Jack, Fontina Gruyere or a combination of cheeses.
Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil, then wrap again in plastic wrap and place in the freezer. Keep it in the freezer for up to three months. When you are ready to bake it, place the casserole in the refrigerator to thaw overnight, then bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until heated through. Add a crunchy topping, such as bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, crushed potato chips or fried onions a few minutes before the casserole is finished.
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- Undercook any starchy ingredients, such as pasta and potatoes if you are preparing them only for your casserole. They will be less mushy when the casserole is reheated.
- You can place the casserole straight into the oven from the freezer if you forgot to take it out the night before. You will have to add more cooking time, however -- cook at 400 F for between one and two hours.
Based in Los Angeles, Zora Hughes has been writing travel, parenting, cooking and relationship articles since 2010. Her work includes writing city profiles for Groupon. She also writes screenplays and won the S. Randolph Playwriting Award in 2004. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in television writing/producing and a Master of Arts Management in entertainment media management, both from Columbia College.