Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chicken Casserole

For the last week we've been getting totally pounded by snowstorms.  Two blizzards!  Growing up in upstate NY we were much more prepared for getting buried.  We had snowsuits and thermal underwear (not exactly fashionable, but when it's -20 degrees F, you need it), firewood stocked, snowblowers and BIG plows.  Here in the mid-Atlantic, they close schools for an inch of white stuff and since I've lived here, usually they see about 4 inches of snow in total over the course of the entire winter.  This is what my town looks like today:
So, to say the least, getting over three feet of snow in the last few days has completely shut down the area.  BabyBella hasn't been to school since last week and a State of Emergency has been declared twice.  Thankfully, we still have power and the kitchen is well-stocked.  Yet, after a week of this we're both getting a little stir crazy and had to get out to stretch our legs during a lull in the storms.
Since its ridiculously cold outside, to help keep the house warm (have I mentioned that my house is over 100 years old and doesn't have insulation?) I've been doing a lot of comfort-food cooking that involves either long simmer times or baking.  One of my favorite comfort foods is an adaptation of a chicken casserole recipe that a friend brought me as a welcome home gift after having BabyBella. Recipe after the break...

Now, casseroles aren't something in my food lexicon.  My mother never made them and every recipe I ever read sounded kind of gross.  The version my friend brought was the stereotypical casserole--StoveTop stuffing over condensed cream of mushroom soup mixed with shredded chicken.  Although, honestly, I didn't love it and cringed at the thought of the sodium content and relative lack of nutrition, I saw something in the idea: it was hot, filling, contained three favorite elements (stuffing, chicken, mushrooms) and was easy.  So I decided to make my own version.

Easy Chicken Casserole


Ingredients:
Stuffing:
  • 6 slices of whole-wheat bread, toasted
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 tbl butter
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cups chicken broth (fat-free, sodium free)
  • 2 tsp poultry seasoning (my favorite is Bell's)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
Sauce:
  •  1/2 head of a medium cauliflower (about 1.5 cups), roughly chopped
  • 1 cup chopped white mushrooms
  • 1.5 tbl butter
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic
  • dash cayenne
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbl flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
2 cups chopped or shredded chicken

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. I usually throw the bread into the oven as it preheats for about five minutes to toast it--just don't forget you put it in there. While the oven's heating, dice/chop all your veggies.  







Using the trusty blender, puree until smooth all the sauce ingredients listed above except the mushrooms.  After the sauce mixture is smooth, add the mushrooms and do four or five two to three second pulse chops.  Do not over blend the mushrooms--the point is to have a nice, smooth, creamy base with mushroom chunks for texture.  Pour the sauce into a pot and over medium-high heat (stirring frequently so the bottom doesn't scorch) bring to a boil.  Reduce the pot to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  



While the sauce is simmering, add the onions, celery and 2 tbl of butter to a fry pan.  Over medium heat, saute the veggies until soft, about five minutes.

After the veggies are soft, add the chicken broth, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper to the pan and bring to a boil.

You can see the toasted bread ready to go while the sauce simmers in one pot and the veggies for the stuffing await completion.

Turn off the heat under the pan then tear the toasted bread into 1-inch chunks (I do it by hand) and add to the pan.  Gently toss the bread to completely cover it in the vegetable/broth/seasoning.  That completes the stuffing.








As I'd made a five pound roast chicken earlier in the week, I had plenty of leftovers.  For a really great way to make roast chicken check Jo's recipe here. Mine is much more simple as all I do is remove the gizzards, wash the chicken, rub olive oil, salt and pepper over the skin then roast it at 450 degrees for an hour or until the meat thermometer registers 180.  Because mine is so simple, that's why I suggest Jo's recipe.  Her's is yummier.

I took about two cups of the leftover chicken and rough chopped it into bite-size pieces.






To assemble, spread about half a cup of the sauce on the bottom of a round casserole dish.  Then evenly spread the chicken as the next layer, pour the remaining sauce over the chicken, then top with the stuffing.



Note: You will find that the recipe makes a LOT of sauce.  This is a personal preference as BabyBella and I like it saucy.  You can either halve the sauce recipe above when preparing the dish, only use half when putting the casserole together and reserve the sauce as either extras or as a nice soup the next day.  To reheat the sauce and use as a soup, add either a quarter cup of chicken broth or milk first.


Bake the casserole for about 25 minutes or until bubbly and the top of the stuffing is lightly toasted.  Let cool about ten minutes before serving.

And, ta-da!!!

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