"Dinner's in the oven" is one of those reassuring statements that are great to hear and nice to be able to say.

When the day's been busy, the hour's grown late and the gang has gotten pretty hungry, it's good to know that you can whisk the main dish from the oven to the table and sit right down to eat.But it takes some doing ahead of time. Some cooks do their planning and preparation the night before, others (we morning people) get up early and make the kitchen hum.

An oven dinner can be as simple as (our favorite) ham, squash and potatoes, the latter all scrubbed and pierced, ready for the first one home to put into the oven.

I sometimes set the oven for timed bake and put the potatoes and squash in before leaving for work, then all the first one home has to do is move the ham from the refrigerator to the oven.

"Ideally, all foods for an oven meal ought to require the same temperature and baking time," wrote editor Rita Holmberg in "Farm Journal's Great Dishes from the Oven" (Simon & Schuster, 1977, 156 pages).

"However, a 25-degree difference in temperature isn't serious and, if timing does vary, plan to start some foods later or remove them earlier when done. One of the beauties of many baked foods is their great holding quality."

Another idea: Switch the food from a metal pan to a glass baking dish or vice versa, since glass requires a 25-degree lower temperature.

Another book that's chock-full of good ideas for oven-to-table meals is "Make It Now, Bake It Later" by Barbara Goodfellow (A Fireside Book, Simon & Schuster, 1982, 214 pages).

The recipes that follow were chosen to give you some variety from the old favorites such as meat loaf and baked apples, oven stew and scalloped potatoes with ham. The two desserts are bonuses. Try them if you can, they're compliment catchers.

Deep- Dish Tamale Pie

1 recipe Brown Sauce Base (recipe follows)

1 pound ground beef

1/2 pound bulk sausage

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped green pepper

1 can (1 pound) whole tomatoes, cut in pieces, drained

1/2 cup whole kernel corn

1/2 cup raisins

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 package (7-ounce) corn muffin mix

1/2 cup chopped pitted ripe olives

1/8 teaspoon Tabasco pepper sauce

Make Brown Sauce Base. In large skillet, combine ground beef, sausage meat, onion and green pepper; cook until meat is browned. Add Brown Sauce Base, tomatoes, corn, raisins and chili powder; mix well. Pour mixture into 2-quart casserole.

Prepare corn bread mix according to package directions; stir in olives and Tabasco pepper sauce. Spoon over meat mixture in casserole, leaving a 3-inch well in center. Bake in 400 degree oven 20 to 25 minutes, until corn bread is lightly browned. If desired, serve with additional Tabasco sauce. Makes 6 servings.

Brown Sauce Base

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup canned beef broth or 1 beef bouillon cube dissolved in 1 cup water

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco pepper sauce

Melt butter in saucepan; cook until golden brown. Blend in flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until dark brown. Stir in broth and add Tabasco sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens and comes to a boil Makes about 1 cup.

Cattle Drive Casserole

11/2 pounds lean ground beef

1 medium potato, grated

1 small onion, minced

1 celery rib, diced

1 large carrot, grated

1 slice bread, crumbled

2 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1/2 can water

1/2 cup evaporated milk

2 (4-ounce) cans mushrooms

1/2 cup diced green onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the beef, potato, onion, celery, carrot, bread, eggs and salt and pepper, mixing together as you would for a meat loaf.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. When it is ready, form the meat mixture into 16 balls about the size of golf balls and brown them all over.

Meanwhile, stir together the soup, water and evaporated milk until the mixture is smooth, then add the mushrooms with their liquid.

When the meatballs are browned, scoop them out of the pan carefully so that you don't get any of the accumulated fat, and arrange them in a large casserole. Pour the mushroom mixture over the meatballs. Cover the casserole and pop it into the oven. Bake 45 to 60 minutes, checking occasionally to be sure the meatballs aren't sticking; add a little water if you think the sauce is getting too thick.

Just before serving, sprinkle the green onions over the top, call the cowhands and stand back to avoid the stampede. Makes 6 servings.

- From "The Carrot Cookbook" by Audra and Jack Hendrickson (a Garden Way book, Storey Communications, Incup, Pownal, Vt., 1986, 172 pages, $6.95).

Moosewood Zucchini-Feta Casserole

3/4 cup bulgur wheat

3/4 cup boiling water

21/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups sliced onions

4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

6 cups thinly sliced zucchini

1/2 teaspoon each dried oregano, basil and marjoram

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 eggs

1 cup crumbled feta cheese (5 ounces)

1 cup fine curd cottage cheese

1/2 to 1 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce

1 cup grated Cheddar cheese (3 ounces)

2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

11/2 tablespoons sesame seeds, optional

Place the bulgur in a bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Cover; set aside until it has absorbed the water and become soft and chewable.

Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until the onions are just translucent. Add the zucchini, oregano, basil, marjoram and black pepper; continue to saute on medium heat until the zucchini is tender, but not falling apart.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Mix in the feta and cottage cheese.

Add the parsley, tomato paste and soy sauce to the bulgur and mix well. In an oiled 9-by-9-inch casserole, layer the bulgur mixture, the sauteed vegetables and the feta mixture. Top the casserole with the grated Cheddar, tomato slices and, if desired, a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Cover and bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes. For crustier cheese, uncover the casserole for the final 15 minutes of baking. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.

- This meatless recipe is from "New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant" by The Moosewood Collective (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1987, 302 pages, $12.95).

Impossible Brownie Pie

1 (4-ounce) bar sweet cooking chocolate

4 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk baking mix

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened

3/4 cup chopped nuts

Melt chocolate; set aside to cool. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by- 1-and-1/4-inch pie plate. Place eggs, chocolate, baking mix, brown sugar, granulated sugar and butter in blender. Blend until smooth, 2 minutes on high, stopping blender occasionally to stir - or beat 2 minutes with hand beater.

Pour chocolate batter into pie plate. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes. Serve with ice cream, if desired. Makes 7 to 8 servings.

Banana-Date Cake

3 overripe large bananas

21/2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

3 eggs

1 cup chopped dates

1 cup chopped walnuts

Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9-by-13-inch oblong pan. Puree bananas in blender or food processor, making 1 1/2 cups. Place banana puree, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, butter, sour cream and eggs in large bowl of electric mixer. Beat all ingredients on low speed, scraping bowl constantly, 30 seconds. Beat on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally, 3 minutes. Pour into pan. Stir in dates and walnuts.

Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes; cool. Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar. Makes 12 to 15 servings.