Sunday, March 8, 2015

Our favorite Chicken Casserole

Growing up Southern, I think a casserole can be the perfect dish...comforting, creamy and gooey, easy, complex, helpful to a friend who is ill, church covered dish, awesome to have stocked up in the freezer.  Now, my Southern-turned-Minnesotan husband doesn't always share these sentiments.  One the one hand, it was his Mama who told me "every great dish begins with a can of Cream of Mushroom."  But, on the other hand, apparently, up in the Norse Land, they put anything and everything together in a casserole dish and simply call it "Hot Dish."  Neil grew to hate the words "hot dish" as well as the concept of "hot dish."  According to him, that's all the info you dish.  No clue as to what was in there.  And, he says it all pretty much tasted the same...crappy.  At least down here we're specific enough to let you know it's chicken casserole, crab casserole, green bean casserole.

It was well into our relationship that my casserole-lovin' self was finally made aware of this hot dish disdain.  I was flabbergasted!  How can one not love a good casserole?  As the story unfolded, I began to understand.  To this day, I serve casseroles very sparingly to be sensitive to Neil's old hot dish memories.  BUT...there's one that defies this casserole conundrum of his.  My chicken-almond-rice casserole.  Yep, it's a good ol' Akre family favorite at this point.

Akre's Creamy Chicken Almond Rice Casserole
 Originally, I got this recipe from a Weight Watchers cookbook. I've been making it so long and have tweeked it over the years, including adding almonds.  It's one of the few dishes that we do repeat around here and every one of us loves it.  I made it again recently and it dawned on me that I've never told you guys about it.  At least I don't think I have! 

Chicken Almond Rice Casserole
2-3 good sized chicken breasts, cubed bite-size
1/2 tsp garlic powder (I just sprinkle it over 'til it looks right)
olive oil mixed with a coating of PAM

Low sodium Rice-a-Roni
1 Tbs butter
2 1/4 cups water

1 can reduced calorie Cream of Chicken soup
3/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
1 cup sliced mushrooms (if you're 'shroom people that is)
1/4 chopped almonds
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup crushed crackers, bread crumbs, etc.
1 Tbs melted butter
1/2 tsp poppy seeds 

So, here we go:  cook the Rice-a-Roni with the water & butter measurement above, according to package directions. While that's cooking, coat another skillet with PAM and a little olive oil. Season the chicken with garlic powder and saute until it loses its pinkness.  If you're using mushrooms, cook them here with the chicken.

Combine the chicken, rice, sour cream, soup, almonds and pepper in a bowl and mix well.  Spread into your casserole dish.  Melt the 1 Tbs butter and combine with crumbs & poppy seeds.  Sprinkle on top and bake at 350 for about 35 minutes. 
2-3 chicken breasts, whatever is right for you
Make them bite-sized
The San Francisco Treat!
Toasting up the rice
Mix it up, Baby!
Buttery, poppy seed topping
Sprinkle over the top
Ready for the 350 oven
Get your biggest serving spoon!

Most recently, I combined this with a simple, yet delicious side dish of honey-gingered carrots. I'd gotten these beautiful, young, tender carrots in my box and wanted to use them. They were so brilliantly orange & juicy little carrots.  
Aren't these beautiful?
Simmered with a little butter, honey & minced ginger
Our dinner!
Here's a warning:  when I make this casserole, the three of us can plow through almost 3/4 of it in one dinner.  I'm telling you, it's just that good.  If you don't like mushrooms, leave them out.  Can't eat nuts?  I've used water chestnuts for crunch and that works just as well as the almonds.  You can have fun with it.  I hope you'll try it and enjoy it as much as we do.

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