Tag Archives: casserole

Creamy Chicken Casserole with Leeks and Mushrooms

I remember researching my baby girl’s first car seat.  I had no clue what I was looking for.  I was focused on patterns that didn’t include teddy bears, perhaps longing for something that might actually match the car instead.  I didn’t know a five point harness from a three point one, and I certainly didn’t know how long I was supposed to keep it rearward facing as opposed to forward facing.  I started to read reviews.  I searched Consumer Reports.  I read mommy blogs to get opinions.  I sorted my Amazon results with the settings “Price:  High to Low,” hoping that if I spent more money, I would stumble onto the seat I was supposed to buy.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I realized the good moms were buying the safe and super expensive Britax seats, so I dropped a whole pile of money down to become part of the club.  And I did this several times over for her and her brother.

I kept her rear facing for longer than anyone thought I should.  I kept her in a five point harness until well past kindergarten, when she complained that her friends thought she was still riding in a baby car seat.  “But it’s actually a booster with a better harness,” I told her.  She didn’t agree.  She rode in a regular booster (LATCH capable, of course) until she was 8.  I finally took the back off when I could see that she clearly wasn’t remotely comfortable any more.  I kept telling myself, “She’s almost as big as her great grandmother.  It’s OK.”

Yet, tomorrow, I will put her on a bus at 6:30 AM for her big third grade field trip.  A bus with a driver I do not know.  A bus with no seat belts that will be barreling down the highway at 65 MPH.  She will wander around museums and theaters with friends and teachers.  She will eat a bagged lunch and buy her own McDonald’s for dinner.  She will carry a wallet and her own money.

But she will also carry her hip pack of allergy medicine.  I will have made sure there are at least three EpiPens with her with directions for symptoms that require flow charts.  I will have briefed the teachers and sent the chaperones long emails that make them think I’m crazy. (I am.)  I will have had thousands of thoughts about how to keep her safe … “Wait. If all the kids need lunches that don’t need to be refrigerated, they will almost all have Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.  Must email teacher about separating her with safe lunches if possible.”  Major red flags will pop up as I walk down grocery store aisles.  “It’s a bus.  What if the person who rode in her seat before her had peanut butter crackers?  What if someone offers her a treat while on a tour?  She knows to say no.  Wait, does she know to say no?”  I will have gone over safety points with her ad nauseum, until her father says, “Kristin, I think she gets it.”

But I just can’t help it.  She’s my baby, even if 9 years have made her more grown-up than infant.  And I can’t be there to keep her safe.  I can’t be around the corner from her school if she needs me.  I can’t watch out for her as she maneuvers in a city, albeit a small one.  I am two hours away if she has an allergy emergency.   I won’t be the one driving.  And there will be no harnesses, side impact protection, or tethers for protection.

As much as I want to “forget” to set the alarm tomorrow morning and keep her home safe with me, I know I can’t.

I will wake up at 5:30 AM and I will put her on that bus.  And I will not rest easy until it pulls back in at 7 PM tomorrow night.

Creamy Chicken Casserole with Leeks and Mushrooms

So the theme here is comfort food, if you didn’t guess that already.  Feel free to use leftover or Rotisserie chicken for a quick weeknight dinner (if you do that, you can get less than a pound).  Also, this is very flexible and could include other herbs, vegetables, or seasonings.  It’s a great dinner with just a simple green salad on the side. Also, you can make this up in advance, just put the crumbs on right before you bake it.

Serves 4

1 pound boneless chicken breast or thighs, cooked and shredded (I poached mine)
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1-2 leeks, well cleaned and chopped
2-3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
1 T butter
1 T olive oil, plus a little additional
1/4 cup of white whole wheat flour (or other flour)
1/2- 3/4 cup of whole wheat cracker crumbs (or breadcrumbs)
1 1/2 cups of 2% milk
1 T brandy
1 T lemon juice
1/2 T chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and Pepper
Cayenne Pepper

1. In a medium saute pan, saute the sliced mushrooms in a bit of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until they are browned and have rendered all their liquid, about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.

2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a medium saucepan, melt 1 T butter and 1 T oil together over medium heat.  Saute the leeks, celery, and garlic for about 5 minutes and then sprinkle in the 1/4 cup of flour.  Stir well to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes to cook the flour a bit.  Whisk in milk, making sure to get any bits of flour incorporated from the edges of the pan.  Cook the sauce for 2-3 more minutes until quite thick, whisking constantly.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt, freshly ground pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper (or to taste), 1 T brandy, 1 T lemon juice, and chopped rosemary.

3.  Add chopped/shredded chicken and sauteed mushrooms to the white sauce and stir to combine.  Place in a shallow baking dish with about 1.5 quart or 1.5 liter capacity.  Cover with cracker or bread crumbs and bake for about 40 minutes until golden and bubbly.



Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

I’m thinking there is a guide to parenthood somewhere that I forgot to read.  Before I had kids, I imagined parenting to be similar to, um, living — except with children.  And I know that sounds simplistic and parenting is much harder than just living, but I guess I imagined that I would continue to do things that I enjoy, rather than things that I do not.  This isn’t making much sense, is it?

You see, there is an entire underbelly to our culture that I truthfully had no idea existed until I had children.  Festivals.  Apparently, once you procreate, there is an unwritten rule that you must both enjoy and faithfully attend all festivals occurring within a 50 mile radius of your home.  These can include, but are not limited to, Fun Fests, Fall Fests, Arts Fests, Music Fests, Octoberfests (those I enjoy more), Jazz Fests, Spring Fests, Renaissance Fests (sometimes called Fairs), Apple Fests, Maple Syrup Fests, Strawberry Fests, Ice Cream Fests, Chili Fests, Winter Fests, First Night Fests, and Random Nature Event Fests.  Corollary events can include Carnivals, Public Easter Egg Hunts, Holiday Plays and Pageants, Santa Parades, and Bug Fairs.

And let me just make myself clear.  I do not particularly like festivals.  Maybe it’s the walking around aimlessly saying “Look kids, a donkey!”  Or maybe it’s the whiny kids who are generally just looking for the funnel cake stand.  And refuse to STFU until they get a funnel cake.  Or maybe it’s the same old Lion’s Club food truck.  Or maybe it’s for the simple reason that NONE OF THESE FESTIVALS SERVE BEER.

For example, this recipe for Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage could inspire an entire festival.  There would be crafts for the kids that included painting a potato.  There would be some sort of Scalloped Potato cook-off.  And a potato peeling competition.  That sounds fun, doesn’t it?  And don’t forget about the food vendors.  There will most assuredly be kettle corn, funnel cakes, and french fries.  And some sort of random animal to visit — llamas, donkeys, reindeer, or horses (of course) are logical choices.  I can’t wait to spend my entire Saturday afternoon at the Scalloped Potato Festival, now that you mention it.

Actually, I made these scalloped potatoes the other afternoon when we were skipping out on some random festival in our area.  It’s been fall (season of lots of festivals!), so I have already forgotten which one it was.  It is a wonderful, easy dinner for a cold night with its simple but delicious flavors.  The smoked sausage bastes the potatoes as they cook and you won’t believe how few ingredients you need.  I questioned the idea of scalloped potatoes without cheese, but this really works.  And made with 2% milk (which I did), it isn’t nearly the calorie and fat hog that some scalloped potato recipes are.

And I must mention that this is my dad’s recipe.  And I’m pretty sure he hates festivals too.  That afternoon, I cooked and sipped a glass of wine while the kids played school (after helping me peel the potatoes).  Donkey rides kick some ass, but this is more of what I imagined motherhood to be.

Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

Serves 6 as a main dish

6-7 medium potatoes, peeled
1 lb. smoked sausage (very important to get high quality, local smoked sausage for the best flavor)
Flour (1/2 T per layer)
Butter (about 1 T per layer)
Salt and Pepper
2 cups of 2% milk (approximately)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Slice potatoes thinly. Slice smoked sausage into thin rounds (or chunks, however you like it).

3.  Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch glass pan.

4.  In the greased pan, make one layer of potatoes.  Sprinkle 1/2 T of flour over the potatoes and season well with salt and pepper.  Break 1 T of butter into little pieces and scatter it over the potatoes.  Top potato layer with slices of smoked sausage.

5.  Repeat by layering potato slices, flour, butter, salt and pepper, and smoked sausage.  Your top layer should be potatoes.  (I made three layers of potatoes, with two layers of sausage in between).  On your final layer of potatoes, sprinkle with 1/2 T of flour, additional salt and pepper, and 1 T of butter (in small pieces).

6.  Pour milk over top the potatoes until you can start to see it come up the edge — it should be about 2 or 2 1/2 cups.  Using a metal spatula, press the potato layers down into the milk, so the milk mixes in well.

7.  Bake uncovered for about 1 hour and 30 minutes (mine took more like 1 hr. and 40 minutes).  Every 20 minutes or so, press the layers down with the back of a metal spatula again so the top layer gets saturated.  The potatoes are done when the milk is absorbed and the top is very golden brown.  Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. (Helpful hint:  you may want to put a baking sheet underneath your baking pan, as the milk tends to bubble and make a mess of your oven.)

Muenster Chicken

I’m not sure if you have noticed, but I have been posting far fewer dinner recipes lately.  And, trust me, it’s not for a lack of eating dinner.  The problem is purely technical — winter means it gets dark early, and because of that, the lighting sucks. You see, I am still in the “learning” category when it comes to photography and while my knowledge and equipment is getting better, I don’t have any decent lighting.  So, I rely almost exclusively on natural light, the tripod, and post production to get decent low light images.  Sometimes the outcome is OK (never great) and sometimes it is not (usually when a child starts jumping next to the tripod during an exposure which feels like it takes twenty minutes).

And setting up all sorts of equipment at dinner time (AKA the hell or bewitching hour with young children) is just not that realistic.  I should remind you that what you see on the site is generally what we are eating at my house. I rarely do a recipe with the sole intention of posting it here.  Which usually means that while I am trying cook and shoot pictures, my kids are hungry, the homework is scattered across the kitchen, and everyone is fried from the day.   Thank goodness they are addicted to the Wii or you may never see anything posted here.

So, here’s an example of that.  It is actually a delicious recipe that we ate all the time growing up and I have just updated it a bit.  It’s a great casserole for a big group, kids love it, and it makes a great drop off dinner for your friend or neighbor who just had a baby.  (Don’t forget to bring them some Grey Goose too.)  We like to serve it with rice if you want a starch and a green salad or sauteed spinach.  I have a hunch you could make a vegetarian version of this with tofu that would be really great too.  I’d probably fry the tofu in the method I outlined here and then just follow this recipe.  You could use vegetable stock in place of chicken stock if you like. (I should add that you can skip the mushrooms entirely or just put them on half if your kids don’t like them, but mine seem to enjoy them under the cheese.)

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to sunny spring and summer nights snapping shots of beautiful, bright produce. Hopefully the dark days of winter are on their way out.  After our second foot of snow falls today, of course.

Muenster Chicken

Serves about 8

1.5 pounds of chicken breasts
3 eggs
2 t Italian Seasoning
2 t Oregano
1 t Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
2-3 cups of Panko Breadcrumbs
1 cup of chicken (or vegetable) broth
1/2 cup of Marsala (sweet)
16 ounces White Mushrooms (other types would work well too), sliced
6-8 ounces Muenster Cheese, sliced

1.  Cube chicken breasts into about one inch pieces (chicken nugget sized).  In a large bowl, whisk together 3 eggs, 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t Oregano, 1/2 t salt, and freshly ground pepper.  Add chicken pieces to egg mixture and set aside (can let it sit in refrigerator like this for an hour or two if you like).

2.  In another bowl, combine 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t Oregano, 1/2 t salt, freshly ground pepper, and Panko Breadcrumbs.  Remove a few chicken pieces at a time from the egg mixture (allowing excess to drain off) and toss with breadcrumbs to coat.  Repeat with remaining chicken pieces.

3.  Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  (Coat the bottom of the pan.)  In about three batches, brown the chicken pieces on both sides.  They do not have to be cooked through, just browned.  Make sure you do it in batches and don’t crowd the pan so they will get a nice brown crust.  As they are done, place the chicken pieces in a 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking dish.

4.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wipe out saute pan and heat a bit more olive oil.  Saute the sliced mushrooms.

5.  Mix broth and Marsala together and pour over browned chicken pieces.  Top with sauteed mushrooms and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and place Muenster Cheese slices over top chicken and mushrooms and bake for 10 more minutes until done and bubbly.  You can broil it for a bit at the end if you like the cheese browner.

Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese

It’s only been recently that I have been able to crack open a box of mac and cheese and cook it for my kids.  I’ve always had to make it from scratch with soy cheese/soy milk because my daughter was severely allergic to dairy (which she has thankfully outgrown).  And somehow when you get used to making it from scratch, it just doesn’t seem that much harder than making it from the box.  Sure, it takes a little more time because you have to make the cheese sauce — but just think a minute about that powdered cheese sauce mixture.  Think about how one makes a cheese sauce (or cheese) and then reduces it to a fine powder which requires no refrigeration.  Really think.  I’ll wait.

Confused?  Yeah, me too.  I’m no food scientist, but even if it is Annie’s Mac and Cheese with Whole Wheat Pasta, you still can’t explain to me how that powdered cheese can provide one with the same nutrients as cheese.  And sure, we still make it once in a while and I keep a few boxes in the pantry in case the terror threat level gets jacked up (I have plastic sheeting too) or if we encounter Armageddon (and are lucky enough to still have running water).  But, on most days I take the 30 minutes of prep time and use a very novel product … some call it cheese.


My version is made with whole wheat pasta, is thickened with sprouted spelt flour (or whole wheat flour), and uses 2% milk.  The only thing I don’t cut back on or substitute is cheese.  Because you can do a lot of things to macaroni and cheese, but the one thing you CAN’T do is not use cheese.  And I even count soy cheese as real cheese here, because the final product is so darn good and such a great treat for those who can never have mac and cheese (I’d take the homemade soy cheese version over Kraft any day of the week).

This makes a great side dish (as you well know), but it is also a great main course if you add in some cooked vegetables/greens or serve it with a big salad.  Certainly you can add some meat if you like — ham, bacon, proscuitto, etc. are a natural fit.  It is also very flexible in what type of cheese you use — anything works.  And you can do it one of two ways — just toss the pasta with the cheese sauce (a la Kraft) or baked with some breadcrumbs on top.  Your choice.


And the coolest part?  You will now know how to make both a roux and Bechamel Sauce.

(Allergy note:  if you want to make this dairy free, simply use dairy-free margarine or olive oil, soy milk or rice milk, and soy cheese.  It works out quite well.)

Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 6-8

Pasta and Cheese Sauce:

1 lb. whole wheat pasta
6 T. butter
6 T. sprouted spelt flour (or whole wheat flour)
4 cups of milk (I used 2%)
Cayenne Pepper
Nutmeg (freshly grated is the best)
1 t. salt
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated (a little over 2 cups)
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Breadcrumb Topping:

1 T. butter, melted
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 cup of freshly grated cheese (your choice of cheddar or parm, or both)
3/4 cup of panko breadcrumbs

Fresh herbs for garnish, optional

1.  Cook pasta until very al dente (it should be slightly undercooked) in salted boiling water.  Mine was supposed to cook 10 minutes total, and I cooked it about 7 minutes.   When finished, drain and set aside in a bowl or in the pan it was cooked in. (*If you are not going to bake the finished mac and cheese, you should cook your pasta fully in this step.)

2.  Meanwhile in a medium saucepan, melt 6 T. of butter and whisk together with 6 T. flour over medium heat.  This is a roux.  Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes.  Add in 1 t. salt and stir.

3.  Slowly add the 4 cups of milk, whisking constantly.  When all the milk is added, use a spatula to make sure you have all of the bits of roux out of the corners of the pan.  This is now called a Bechamel Sauce.  Bring the sauce to a boil, whisking frequently.  It should have thickened considerably.  Reduce heat to low and cook the sauce for about 20 minutes, whisking every once in a while.

4.  Stir grated cheeses into Bechamel Sauce and mix until they are completely melted and incorporated.  Season with a bit of Cayenne Pepper, Nutmeg (somewhere between a pinch and 1/8 of a teaspoon of both — to your taste), and additional salt and pepper if necessary.  Remember that you are seasoning the sauce for an entire pound of pasta, so make sure it’s not bland.

5. Toss cooked pasta with Cheese Sauce and taste to make sure it is well seasoned.  Adjust if necessary.  You can serve it at this point if you want just a creamy mac and cheese.  If you want baked mac and cheese, read on.

6.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Butter a 9×13 glass baking dish and pour in the pasta with cheese sauce.

7.  Combine breadcrumb topping ingredients in a small bowl.   Sprinkle all over top of pasta/cheese sauce and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown on top.  When it is done, you can sprinkle it with some fresh herbs (chives, parsley, etc.) if you like.