Sunday was a dreary day in Boulder. This is rare. Bright, sunny days are common. Snowy days are common, too, but fluffy, fluttering snowflakes aren’t exactly dreary. Sunday was dreary: gray and wet, with patchy clouds over the mountains. I was experiencing an insatiable hunger that I personally feel is the responsibility of a newly implemented exercise program. I spent most of the day with my cousin. And at some point, between the insatiable hunger, which I spoke of incessantly, and the dreariness, my cousin stated, “I feel like something casserole-ish.” With the word, “casserole-ish,” my heart soared, and I knew I had a culinary date with destiny.
So, I embraced my inner-Paul Dean, and began to brainstorm. Chicken was mandatory, as well as a token carbohydrate to soak up the creamy goodness of canned soup. I decided to be a traditionalist with plain, old, long grain, white rice. Condensed canned soup is, of course, an unavoidable component of a bona fide casserole. Luckily for the sake of my arteries, Campbell’s Healthy Request Soups are an excellent reduced fat item. In fact, this product graces my mother’s green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, and no one complains. I went with cream of mushroom. I really loved the flavors of my chicken/vegetable/couscous concoction (see previous post), thus red pepper, onion, garlic, and broccoli made a repeat performance. But, just to prevent myself from being a total bore, I threw in some button mushrooms to echo the delicate flavor of the cream of mushroom soup [note the sarcasm].
And in case you ever had a shadow of a doubt regarding the appearance of a truly fresh mushroom, please see the above photo. Note the milky-brown color of the inner curvature, and the tightly attached gills. I rue the man that attempts to state that such a mushroom isn’t a complete and utter vision of loveliness. This is not to say that mushrooms in less than perfect condition are not of use; we lowly civilians have little control of the powers that be when it comes to the market. However, when you do come across such a perfect specimen, it would be sin not to make the purchase. That final, editorial comment will serve to conclude my mushroom tirade, and we will now return to the regularly scheduled program.
Chicken and Mushroom Casserole
2 ½ cups of cooked white rice
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup (try Campbell’s Healthy Request)
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken stock
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 half chicken breast (at least ½ pound)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ small onion, thinly sliced
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 medium broccoli crown, chopped into florets (I also included some of the stalk, thinly sliced)
6 large or 8 small button mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 ½ cups shredded Colby-jack cheese (or other luscious cheese that melts like a dream)
· Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
· In the absence of left over rice, put 2 cups of water, 1 cup of rice, and a pinch of salt in a pot over high heat. When it comes to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and allow to simmer until just shy of cooked through (it will finish in the oven). Up in the mountains, it took about 20 minutes. Then set aside 2 ½ cups of cooked rice, or use it all. I doubt that extra rice would hurt the final product.
· Preheat a large skillet and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, season the chicken breast with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Add seasoned chicken to the skillet and allow to cook through, about 8-10 minutes on each side. Flip as few times as possible for proper browning (Tip: I actually set timers to make sure I leave things alone so they can brown, but also to prevent burning).
· When the chicken is cooked through, set aside. Add another tablespoon of olive oil, bell pepper, and onion to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
· Allow to cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 3-5 minutes. Then add garlic and mushrooms. Re-season, and allow to cook until mushrooms start to give off liquid.
· Par-cook broccoli for 1 minute in the microwave. [Note: I am including this step because I did it, but I would skip it next time. The broccoli has plenty of time to cook in the oven.]
· Whisk together condensed soup and chicken broth; chop chicken into chunks.
· Add rice, chicken, soup mixture, chopped parsley, and broccoli to the pan of vegetables. Stir to combine, and transfer to an 8x8 inch baking dish.
· Top with shredded cheese, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling and beautiful.
Comments: Delicious! In all seriousness, unless you are a total food snob (which you are entitled to be, if you wish), this is a pretty likeable potion. Next time, I would not par-cook the broccoli. It was perfectly edible, but a little crispness would have been nice, especially for reheating purposes. Also, while I was dreaming this meal up, I toyed with the idea of brown rice, over white. Ultimately, I felt that it would be too “healthy” tasting, and chose white rice. Clearly, I had temporarily lost my mind when making this decision because I love brown rice, and, in hindsight, I feel the added texture would have only boosted the dish to a new level. Despite these minor criticisms, I would make and eat this again. And in fact, I did eat it again, for a few post-workout lunches, and miraculously, it seems to be a viable cure for my exercise-induced insatiable hunger.