Where's my 9x13? is code for Mama's fixing to make a casserole
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casserole dish
Credit: amazon

If you love to cook and are always on the lookout for ways to up your culinary game, your kitchen pantry and drawers are probably stuffed full of the latest gadgets and gimmicks intended to make your time in the kitchen loads more fun and way more productive. But once you bring those items home, you realize you didn't need them at all, that something you already have can do the job just as well. Yes, I'm talking about you, garbage bowls! On the flip side of that, however, are the items you simply can't do without – if you tossed out all the trendy gadgets and were left with these few items, you would be happy and more than able to cook up delicious weeknight meals for your family. Items like your cast-iron skillet that can fry chicken on the stovetop, grill a steak outdoors or bake up a juicy fruity cobbler. Or your hand-held electric mixer; not quite as cumbersome as the heavy-duty stand mixer but just as reliable when it comes to mixing cake batters or whipping up soft meringues. One more can't-do-without item in the kitchen, and one I rely on time and time again, is the 3-quart baking dish, better known as simply "the 13- x 9."

A 3-quart baking dish is one of the most versatile items in my kitchen. Any Southern baker worth her salt knows you can't have too many casserole dishes, and a 13- x 9 is one of the first things a Southern bride will list on her wedding registry. After all, she grew up enjoying her Mama's chicken casserole for Sunday dinner, creamy macaroni and cheese at family reunions, and warm and comforting chocolate brownies with her girlfriends – all served from the handy 13- x 9 baking dish. Not only can it be used to roast a crispy pan of potatoes, but also this baking dish was essentially handling "one-dish meals" before that was even a thing.

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If you don't mind spending a little money, choose a ceramic stoneware baking dish, pretty enough to make a splash going from oven to table. To get the most bang for your buck, I like the affordable Pyrex baking dish with plastic lid. The glass design makes it easy to see how much browning and/or bubbling is going on in the oven, and it can handle a wide range of temperatures, unlike some ceramic baking dishes. The plastic lid makes it easy to cover and transport your casserole or cobbler to your cookout or family gathering. And did I mention it is affordable? On those rare occasions when I have cracked a 13- x9 Pyrex baking dish, I didn't get too upset; I simply bought another one on my next trip to the department store.