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Easy meat and fruit casserole makes a hearty meal-in-a-dish

In winter nothing is more pleasant when you come in from the cold than the aroma of a hearty casserole baking in the oven. The word ``casserole'' describes both a utensil, usually with a cover, and the type of cooking done in the dish. It is also often used to describe a kind of self-service dish sometimes seen at buffet tables.

Casseroles are not always received with enthusiasm, perhaps because there once was a tendency to make this one-dish meal a ``catchall'' or ``stretcher'' for leftovers. But when properly and creatively prepared, they have several advantages.

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Once assembled, this meal-in-a-dish can be left to cook by itself. If it includes the components of a balanced meal, it takes only good bread, salad, and dessert to make it complete. The recipes below combine meat with vegetables and fruit for casseroles that are both filling and satisfying, especially in cold weather. Fruited Beef Casserole 1 1/2 pounds boneless chuck, cut in 1-inch cubes 2 tablespoons cooking oil 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered 1 16-ounce can tomatoes, cut up 1 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup chopped green pepper 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 clove garlic, minced 1 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper 2 medium zucchini, sliced 1 16-ounce can peach slices

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, brown meat, 1/3 at a time, in hot cooking oil. Drain off excess fat. Add sweet potatoes, undrained tomatoes, onion, green pepper, cinnamon, garlic, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup water.

Transfer mixture to a 3-quart casserole. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees F. for 1 1/4 hours. Stir in zucchini. Bake 45 minutes longer.

Drain peaches, reserving liquid for another use. Add peach slices to stew. Season to taste. Serves 6. Tempting Turkey Casserole 2 cups cooked cubed turkey 2 cups diced celery 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1 cup cream of chicken soup 1 cup slivered almonds 1 can sliced water chestnuts 1 can bamboo shoots 1 tablespoon chopped onion Salt to taste 1 1/2 cups crushed potato chips (topping) Grated Cheddar cheese (topping)

Mix all ingredients except chips and cheese in large mixing bowl. Transfer to 1 1/2-quart casserole. Cover with chips and top with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Serves 6. Chicken with Beans and Sausage Casserole 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 4 broiler-fryers, cut up Salt and pepper 6 links Italian sweet sausage 6 links Italian hot sausage 4 20-ounce cans white kidney beans, rinsed and drained 1 6-ounce can tomato paste 2 cups chicken broth 3 cloves garlic, pressed 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 2 teaspoons sugar

In large casserole, heat butter and oil and brown chicken. Cut sausage links in 3/4-inch pieces and cook until crisp in remaining fat.

Remove sausage and discard all but 4 tablespoons fat. Spread this evenly over sides of casserole. In casserole arrange alternate layers of chicken and beans. Top with sausage pieces.

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Mix remaining ingredients well. Pour liquid mixture over contents of casserole. Bake, covered, in preheated 350 degree F. oven 1 1/2 hours, or until liquid is absorbed. Contents of casserole should be moist yet firm. Serve with green salad.

NOTE: Recipe serves 10 to 12 but can be halved for fewer people, or full recipe can be made in two casseroles. Cauliflower-Ham Casserole 1 large head cauliflower 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 1/2 cups milk 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp American cheese (6 ounces) 2 cups cubed fully cooked ham 1 4-ounce can mushroom stems and pieces, drained 1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs 1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted

Break cauliflower into flowerets. Cook in boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in flour. Add milk at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly.

Add cheese and stir until melted. Stir in cooked cauliflower, ham, and mushrooms. Turn into 2-quart casserole. Combine crumbs and melted butter. Sprinkle over top. Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree F. oven until heated through, 30 to 35 minutes. Serves 6.

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