Chicken and Rice Comforting Casserole

When I was a kid, my mom could not cook. Bless her heart, she tried, but what ended up in front of my brother and me every night for dinner was usually boiled chicken, macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, or frozen pizza (Elios, it was, I think). But there was one little gem she would throw together once a week or so that I still to this day consider a healthy option (which Kraft does not exactly qualify as…). I believe the story goes that right after she had my brother, a friend brought us this chicken and rice casserole for dinner, and I loved it so much, she asked for the recipe. I’m sure she was beyond relieved when the recipe seemed rather simple: rice pilaf, chopped up chicken, carrot, celery, and cream of mushroom soup. Stirred together, baked in a dutch oven… and boom. Done. That’s it

Chicken and RiceI have vivid memories of eating this casserole at our kitchen table, and specifically, the dish she used to bake it in (which, sadly, was tragically cracked in half at some point in the last 21 years). It was an old, white bowl with a matching lid, both covered with light blue, traditional designs. Not the style of anything else she ever used or liked, but it was so homey looking — I loved it, and it reminded me of this meal.

So, when the weather recently went from 80 degrees on Wednesday to 40 on Thursday, and I was chilled to the bone, I decided this comforting casserole needed to make a cameo in my new home. With some stealthy hunting down of gluten-free cream of mushroom soup, I was off. Here’s the recipe — I hope you can form some memories around it, too!

Chicken and Rice Casserole

1 cup dry rice
2 cups water

1-2 large, or 3-4 small chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
3-4 stalks celery, sliced
3-6 carrots (3 large or 6 small), sliced
1 can cream of mushroom soup*
salt and pepper
shredded cheese

*Note: you can use condensed, or regular. You can also use cream of celery. Pacific makes an organic, gluten-free condensed mushroom soup that I used this time around, and it came out great — just remember to cut it with equal parts of water (or milk)!

First, cook the rice. Follow package instructions, but generally, it’s about 1 cup dry rice to 2 cups water, cooked over low heat, covered for about 20 minutes. Once cooked, set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Slice chicken into bite-sized chunks, and add to an oven-proof dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper.

Slice carrots and celery, and add to the pot with the chicken.

Next, add in the cooked rice, and stir. Season with salt and pepper again.

Add soup. Stir until evenly combined.

Stir in a handful of shredded cheese.

Cover the dish, and place in oven. Let cook for about an hour, or until the chicken is cooked through and the mixture is bubbly. Stir halfway through.

Let cool a bit (it get’s really hot!!), and serve in bowls. Top with more shredded cheese, if you like, and some freshly ground pepper.

Enjoy!

Roasted Red Pepper, Chicken, and Spinach (Easy) Bake

Chicken, Red Pepper, and Spinach Bake_longWhile I love spending time in the kitchen, I hate nothing more than being stuck in the kitchen while trying to entertain company. I want to sit back, have a few drinks, and relax with them! Naturally, recipes that require a little prep that can easily be done beforehand and thrown in the oven just before serving are super necessary when cooking for a crowd.

Or, like I did with this batch, you can throw it together on a Sunday afternoon and have it to eat for lunch or dinner throughout the week. It’s got all the necessary elements: lean protein, veggies, and a little starch. Plus, lots of flavor from a few very simple ingredients.

ChickenPepperSpinachBake_wide_2

(Note: As I’m writing this post, a few days after making the original recipe, there is a pizza in my oven topped with the last bits of chicken, peppers, and spinach (on a layer of this homemade pesto!). This is, as I’ve just discovered, also an amazing, delicious, perfect, and wonderful way to use up leftovers!) 

Roasted Red Pepper, Chicken, and Spinach Bake

Chicken, Red Pepper, and Spinach BakeServes 4 (with side)  

What You’ll Need:

1.5 pounds chicken (2 large breasts, or 4 smaller ones)
1 large jar roasted red peppers
2-3 cups fresh baby spinach
EVOO
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
Dried oregano, basil, and/or parsley

For serving: 3-4 cups cooked quinoa, brown rice, cous cous, or equivalent

What to Do: 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a medium-sized baking dish with a drizzle of EVOO and set aside. Combine salt, pepper, and herbs in a small pinch bowl and set aside.

Prepare the spinach and peppers so they’re ready for assembly: Rinse and dry spinach and set aside. Remove peppers from jar and pull apart or slice into 1-inch strips if need be. Set those aside, too!

Slice chicken breasts into thin cutlets. I like to do this by simply cutting through each breast horizontally into about 3-4 thin, long, wide slices. Set aside.

Now it’s time to assemble. Alternate layers of the ingredients in the baking dish: Chicken, a sprinkle of the salt-herb mixture, a few spinach leaves, and peppers. Then start over (chicken, herbs, spinach, peppers), and repeat until you’ve used up all the ingredients.

Sprinkle the top with a bit more pepper and herbs. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and the balsamic vinegar.

Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Serve on top of rice, quinoa, or something similar, and garnish with some freshly-grated parmesan cheese and pepper. Enjoy!