Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chicken Casserole

Probably the staple in most American homes is some form of chicken, right? It's got to be one of the most versatile, quick-cooking proteins around, but it can also be boring and flavorless, unless it's cooked right. In my house, we buy the big bag of breasts (sometimes whole chickens as well), and I defrost them all at once, load them onto a half sheet pan (after thoroughly drying them first), rub them liberally with olive oil, salt and pepper them and roast them in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

They come out juicy, succulent and ready for any application I choose to use. This go round, I chose two different options for my batch of chicken: chicken casserole and "not your mama's chicken salad."

The casserole is simple. I adapted it from a recipe I got through the mail many years ago, from the Easy Everyday Cooking Collection.

Chicken Casserole

1.) 2 cups cubed cooked chicken
2.) 2 cups cooked white or brown rice (I use brown)
3.) 1 cup finely chopped onion
4.) 1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper (you choose the color - orange, yellow or red tend to work the best)
5.) 1 cup frozen peas
6.) Water chestnuts
7.) 1/2 cup milk
8.) 1 can cream of chicken soup
9.) 1/3 - 1/2 cup mayo
10.) 1 - 1 1/2 cup shredded jack and cheddar cheeses

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix items 7-9 together and season. In a larger bowl, mix items 1-6 together. Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Add about 3/4 cup cheese. Pour into greased casserole dish and top with cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. (I broil the last 2 minutes so the cheese is brown and bubbly.) YUMMY! This is also excellent to make ahead and freeze. Just follow all the steps up to the cooking, cover with foil and put in the freezer. Take it out the morning of, and then bake as directed by the afternoon.

The rest of my chicken went into my famous "Not your mama's chicken salad." I don't really have a recipe for this - I eyeball it and adjust ingredients based on what I have in the house. Here was this week's version...

Cubed chicken (I cut it into small bite-sizes)
Dried Bing cherries
Pine Nuts (toast on the stove until they are brown and YUMMY)
Grapes (halved)
Mayo (go light on this - you don't need a lot)
Mustard (sometimes I use yellow, sometimes brown, sometimes dijon - this time I used brown)
Celery (finely diced)
Onion (finely diced and soaked in ice water before adding to the salad - this removes some of the raw onion flavor)
Sweet pickle relish
Salt and pepper

Toast English Muffins and serve on plain or lightly buttered English Muffins, or on Croissants or even on lightly toasted lunch bread. So good!

I'm always looking to do new things with chicken, but I have to say, these two recipes are fall backs for me - they are always delicious, always moist, always a hit!

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