Sometimes life gives you lemons. Sometimes life gives you ..
a stack of recipes your husband printed because “they seemed like something you would like.”
What a guy.
The last couple of weeks, I’ve been pulling some off of the pile in an effort to get back into the swing of things, both with The Veggies, and life in general. I’m proud to report that I’ve cooked cooked – as in something other than scrambled eggs or soup from Trader Joe’s.
There’s nothing like having a homemade snack cake on the kitchen counter or a fridge full of left-overs .. to feel like all is well with the world.
When people ask why I like to cook, my usual answer is because I like to serve people in this small way, but I also love that it is a cozy skill – one that can warm your own heart when you need it to.
They were a staple when I was growing up, and there’s nothing that says comfort food better on a cold winter’s night. I’m sure my grandma’s generation would nod approvingly of the modern upgrades we’re making these days. Some of the old-school processes and bland ingredients, replaced with all things fresh and flavorful.
Casseroles, by definition, aren’t anything fancy.
The idea behind them is essentially the same – throw all sorts of ingredients into a pan and bake. As haphazard as it may sound, you have to admit, there’s something extra special about the way the cheese bubbles and melts, oozing into crevices here and there. Not to mention the top and the lovely way it gets crispy and craggy, like the corner of a brownie.
When casseroles are good, they’re very good. And this one is, with all of the flavors of your favorite chicken Cordon Bleu – salty ham, melty cheese, tangy mustard, with no tricky assembly required.
My husband made it first in October, and I was sad when the last of it was gone.
I hauled a Tupperware of it along one weekend when I went to visit my son’s family, and even at room temp, it tasted absolutely terrific. I made a batch for my daughter and grandsons. She said it was “really good.” If that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is.
However, I sometimes find myself wishing, just a little bit, that I’d upped the sauce by at least half. I offer this in case you’re someone who likes your casseroles on the saucier side. The good news is, while it’s baking, you can take care of all sorts of important things, like having another glass of wine and working on a puzzle, or finishing your latest book.
And then, when it’s all done, you’ll have not only dinner but delicious warm lunches for at least a few days. And when you live in Iowa, and it’s January, that means a lot.
Adapted from Eating Well
Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
- 2 cups chopped broccoli florets
- 8 oz whole-wheat fusilli (gluten-free pasta if you’re avoiding gluten)
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into ½" pieces
- 1 small onion, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour (any flour will work great)
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 cups milk (nut milk if you're avoiding dairy)
- 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
- 1 cup diced ham (~ 4 oz)
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Rustic Herbed Bread Crumbs
- 3 - 4 slices bread, torn into small pieces (gluten-free if you're avoiding gluten)
- ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- ¼ cup butter, melted but not hot
Rustic Herbed Bread Crumbs
- Combine bread, parsley, and thyme in a food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped.
- Transfer to a bowl, toss with melted butter. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Put a large pot of water on to boil. Cook broccoli in the boiling water until just tender and bright green, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl with a slotted spoon.
- Add pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Transfer to the bowl with the broccoli.
- Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken, onion, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently until the onion has softened and the chicken is no longer pink throughout (~ 6- 8 minutes)
- Add flour and mustard. Stir until coated. Add milk and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring until thickened slightly (~ 3-5 minutes)
- Transfer to the bowl with the broccoli and pasta. Stir in cheese, ham, and parsley. Transfer the mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, spreading evenly.
- Bake until the casserole is heated throughout and the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown, about 30 minutes (or 50 minutes, if casserole has been frozen).
- Preheat broiler to high. Sprinkle top of the casserole with herbed bread. Broil on rack 8 inches from heat until the top is browned (~ 2 to 3 minutes)