Tag Archives: dinner

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.

 

 

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

I read this article in the New York Times yesterday (Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries).  Here’s a little quote to blow your mind:

For example, only 23 percent of meals include a vegetable, Mr. Balzer said. (Again, fries don’t count, but lettuce on a hamburger does.)

Truthfully, I am not surprised by this.  With busy schedules, it does seem difficult to eat enough fruits and vegetables.  There are plenty of nights in my house when I ask my husband, “Do we really need a salad tonight?”  I am often hoping for a response that goes something like this:  “No.”  It’s just that washing the lettuce and spinning it dry and making dressing and then washing the salad spinner and washing the salad bowl sometimes seems like an insurmountable task.  It’s ridiculous, I know, but I am pretty sure ours isn’t the only household where this happens.  (And yes, I know I should wash all of my salad greens the minute I bring them home and store them in a bag with a paper towel and then magically use as needed while wearing a Mary Poppins costume.  But I don’t generally do that, OK?)

What did surprise me about this quote is how the study authors defined a “vegetable.”  A single piece of lettuce on a hamburger apparently qualifies as eating a vegetable.  One piece.  A piece that is probably a wilted up scrap of iceberg with more water than nutrients.  If only 23% of meals contain a vegetable serving with those pathetic standards, we are in trouble.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t think putting baby carrots in a vending machine with super cool graphics is the answer.  First of all, the junk food they are competing against is so loaded with fat, sugar, sodium, and chemical flavor enhancers that the carrots are just not going to win.  They’re just not.  Beyond, a super sweet vegetable like a carrot is not the flavor profile we need to develop in kids (and obviously adults too).  We need to get children eating the non-sweet, non-starchy vegetables — things like dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and zucchini.  When we start our babies out with sweet and starchy things like sweet potatoes and peas, do we really expect them to develop a taste for broccoli as two year olds?

In my entirely unscientific opinion, I think we need to begin training our children’s palates as soon as they begin solid food.  That means pureeing some zucchini or broccoli and as the infants get older, maybe even adding in some spices or a bit of garlic.  If we constantly train them to expect sweetness (in their vegetables, in their snacks, in their yogurt, etc.), I am just not sure how they will ever develop an appreciation for the other wonderful flavors that exist.

Beyond, here are a few ideas for the older ones … My kids have learned to love sauteed garlicky greens (spinach, chard, kale, etc.) and they especially enjoy the fact that they can eat a tablespoon or two and that equals about 2 cups of fresh greens.  Another idea is roasting vegetables.  This works well with asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans.  Simply roast at about 425 degrees Fahrenheit after tossing with olive oil and salt and pepper.  The veggies get crispy on the edges and are delicious.  A soup like this is also a wonderful way to integrate a lot of vegetables with different flavors or textures.  You could puree it for the most finicky, but I do think that if we always hide vegetables or puree them away, it is harder for kids to learn to like anything in its normal form.

So, make some vegetable soup and be truly Un-American.  You are not limited by the vegetables that I have used here.  This is what I needed to use up and you can certainly add or substitute based on what is languishing in the back of your crisper.  And by the standard of one-piece-of-lettuce-equals-a-serving, you should be good on nutrients for about a month and a half.

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

Serves 6-8 with leftovers

2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-4 sweet peppers, chopped
8 cups of broth (I used homemade beef broth)*
24 oz. pureed tomatoes (I used the Bionature Brand in glass)**
1/2 cup of red wine
2 cups of green or yellow beans, stemmed and in bite sized pieces
1 1/2 cups of edamame (cooked and shelled soybeans) or peas, limas, etc.
1 cup of pasta or rice (your choice, I used penne)
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/2 cup of heavy cream
Olive Oil

Pistou:
Handful of fresh basil, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
1/2 t salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

1.  In a large stock pot, heat 1 T olive oil.  Sauté garlic, onions, and peppers until just softened.  Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of red wine and cook until reduced slightly.

2.  Add broth and pureed tomatoes.  Season with 2 t. of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few red pepper flakes (more or less depending on spice preferences).  Simmer for about 15 minutes uncovered on medium heat.

3.  Meanwhile, make the pistou.  You can chop it finely, use a food processor/chopper, or a mortar and pestle.  Simply chop up the basil and garlic, add the olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.  Set aside.

3.  Add green/yellow beans and pasta to soup.  Simmer for an additional 10 minutes until pasta and beans are done.  Add edamame, chopped rosemary, and cream.   Cook for about 5 minutes longer.   Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. (You can certainly let this simmer and reduce longer if you like, but we like ours with vegetables that aren’t cooked to death.)

4.  Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a spoonful of the Basil Pistou on top.

*Use a simple homemade broth rather than buying it.  It’s much better for you and much cheaper. Just cover some chopped onion, garlic, a few herbs, celery if you have it, salt and pepper, etc. with water and simmer for as long as you have.  Strain out the solids and use the broth in just about anything.

**Research is showing that BPA is easily transferred to anything acidic in a can.  If you don’t have your own tomatoes to use, buy tomatoes only in glass containers if possible.