Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chicken Casserole for the Soul (and Body)

One of my dearest friends has a sweet little old mom who lives with her that I also adore. Evelyn loves to cook and bake, and she often has Lee Ann bring special treats to the office for me. But Evelyn and Lee Ann have recently had it rough, as Evelyn had to spend some time in the hospital, and is now facing a lengthy recuperation at home. I tried to help out a little by taking Lee Ann's daughters on a couple of outings, and I also took over dinner for them one night.

As Lee Ann and her mom are from Ohio, I figured some hearty midwestern fare might soothe Evelyn's body and spirit. I found a recipe for a cheesy chicken and wild rice casserole from Picky Palate on Pinterest that looked like it would do the trick. And the great thing about this dish is that it is so filling and makes so much, that it will easily feed Lee Ann's family of five for at least two days. To make it a little more nutritious, I peeled (to fool the children!) and shredded a medium zucchini and threw that into the mix, and I also added some sliced almonds on top for texture and visual appeal.

And I came up with another great idea for transforming the leftovers. This casserole works perfectly as a soup starter. The second day, just add chicken broth to desired consistency, heat through, and finish with a good shot of cream or milk, and PRESTO, cream of chicken and wild rice soup! You should really consider this recipe the next time you want to drop something off for a sick friend, a new mother, or after a funeral. Just make it in a disposable aluminum baking pan, and you're all set.

For dessert, I made yet another item that I had pinned, something called Snickerdoodle Bread. It's basically just a cinnamon quick loaf, but it was very good and so homey and comforting. In fact, Lee Ann told me that Evelyn ate a piece of that first--before dinner! Tee hee. This bakes up nicely and packages easily for transport. I'm sure it would also freeze beautifully if need be.

Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole
(Source: Picky Palate)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken breast
2 cups steamed white rice
16 oz prepared wild rice (or prepare it yourself ahead of time--I used a package of Bob's red Mill brown and wild rice blend)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1 zucchini or yellow squash, shredded, optional

Cheese sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Top with 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese and a big handful of sliced almonds, if you like

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat oil into a medium dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Saute onion, celery and carrots (and squash, if using) until softened, about ten minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for one minute. Stir in chicken, both rices, salt, pepper and garlic salt. Reduce heat to low.
2. To prepare cheese sauce melt butter into a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Whisk in flour, salt and pepper then slowly pour in chicken broth whisking continuously. Whisk until thick and nearly boiling then stir in cheese until melted. Pour cheese sauce into rice mixture then transfer to a 9×13 inch baking dish. Top with additional cheddar cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted through. Serve.

8-10 servings

Snickerdoodle Bread
(Source: Barbara Bakes)

2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1 cup butter, softened
2 c. sugar
3 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup cinnamon chips (1 pkg. Hershey’s)
2 T. flour

2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Combined 2 1/2 cups flour and baking powder in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream butter and two cups sugar, salt and cinnamon until fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla and sour cream and mix to combined. Add flour mixture stirring until just combined. Coat the cinnamon chips with two tablespoons of flour and stir into batter.

Spoon batter into four/five greased mini loaf pans (5 3/4 x 3 1/4 x 2 1/4. Don’t fill more than 2/3 full.) Combined two tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon and sprinkle over the top of batter in the pans. Bake at 350º for 35 to 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into a crack in the center of the loaf comes clean.

Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Note: You can also make this in two 9×5 loaf pans. Bake at 350º for 60 to 70 minutes until a toothpick inserted into a crack in the center of the loaf comes clean.

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