Monday, January 16, 2017

Joey's Creamy Chicken and Potato Casserole

 During the winter months, I always find myself wanting something that's warm and cozy. Since casseroles always seem to hit the spot, it's not uncommon for me to just see what ingredients I happen to have on hand, and then throw them together. As long as you have a few basic components, it will work! Basically, if you have a creamy sauce, a protein, some veggies, and a topping, you have the makings of a fabulous casserole. I always find it's easiest if everything is already cooked before you assemble it, then it all comes together when you bake it. Yes, I guess you could put in raw potatoes etc, but they always seem to take far too long to cook in the casserole. It's easiest to just use up some leftover potatoes or just boil or microwave a few before you put it all together. Know what I mean?
 I've listed MANY variations following the recipe, so just see what you have in the fridge, and then run with it! This is usually how I cook. A little of this, a little of that, use up the leftovers, use what you have on hand. It's how my Mom always cooked and it's how I learned. BAKING is a completely different story. When I'm baking, it's always measure everything and follow the recipe. But when it comes to casseroles, you can improvise all you want!  So have fun, season as you go, taste as you go. Like I said, just be sure to hit all the main points and it'll be fabulous! I promise!!

1 onion, chopped
3 carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup peas

 4 tbs butter,
4 tbs flour
2 cups milk
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper

1 rotisserie chicken, pulled and shredded
3 boiled potatoes, diced

French fried onion rings

Heat oven to 350┬║F.
 In a large skillet, saute onions in a little butter or oil until softened. While they're cooking, peel and slice your carrots, then add them to the pan along with the garlic. Saute for a few minutes more. (You're not cooking the carrots all the way through, but you're just getting them started). Remove to a large mixing bowl along with the peas. Set aside. In the same pan, add butter. When the butter melts, add flour. Whisk to make a paste. Cook for a couple minutes, then add milk, thyme leaves, salt, and pepper. Continue to whisk until it thickens. While the sauce is cooking, pull the chicken to shreds and dice the potatoes. Add to your bowl of cooked veggies. When sauce is thickened, add it to your mixing bowl and toss everything until coated. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Pour everything into a sprayed casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes or until bubbly. Remove foil, top with lots and lots of French fried onion rings, then place back in the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let it sit for a good 10 minutes before serving.

Yes, yes, I know there's no cheese in the recipe. Some might even say "what is a casserole without cheese?" So if you'd like to add cheese, GO FOR IT! Any kind you like. Just add a few handfuls of shredded cheese when you toss everything together.
ok, so lets talk about variations.
Wanna add bacon? Great! Just saute it first, then cook your onions in the bacon fat instead of butter.
Not a fan of chicken? How about diced ham instead? or brown and drain some ground beef or turkey! Wanna make it vegetarian? Add more veggies and leave out the meat! You could do broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, or some sauteed fresh or frozen spinach. Anything you like! Wanna make it a seafood casserole? Add some cooked and peeled shrimp or imitation crab. Add a little old bay seasoning to it too. You could even do a can of Albacore tuna. Don't have any potatoes? Add some cooked macaroni or egg noodles or rice instead! Don't have French fried onion rings? Add a couple tablespoons of melted butter to some bread crumbs and then sprinkle them over the top. Could also add some Parmesan cheese too. That always makes a lovely gratin topping. Want some heat? Turn it up! Add some crushed red pepper flakes or diced chilis. You could also just serve it with Sriracha or Tabasco sauce on the side so everyone can add as much or as little as they prefer. Looking for some extra flavor? Add a splash or two of white wine to your cream sauce! Add fresh herbs! Add fresh basil or oregano. Or how about some fresh rosemary or parsley? They always add a burst of freshness that you just can't get from a frozen casserole.
The variations are endless. just remember, as long as you hit all the main components, it will work!

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