Tuesday, January 03, 2006


We had a "comfort food" dinner tonight, a casserole. It's something I rarely cook because the kids are still very uppity about what they'll eat, and casseroles, in which all the ingredients have been cooked together with the same sauce, are very high on the list of foods children are most likely to resist eating.

Nevertheless, I made my Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole and it was awesome, and I even made them eat it, too. One way I know that it really was awesome is that they actually did eat it, as opposed to just pushing it around their plates. Sure, there was grousing about it, but the food was eaten. By all three of them, too, even though DD took about 20 minutes longer than everyone else.

If it were truly inedible to them, they wouldn't have eaten it. The adults found it delicious, if dangerous: I don't make this very often because I have hard time stopping -- I'll eat until there's none left. And that, let me tell you, is how I could easily develop a weight problem.

So I don't make this often. But it's well worth it when I do. This casserole faithfully delivers the wonderful tastes of Chicken Cordon Bleu -- the moist chicken, salty ham, slightly sharp cheese and mustard notes -- in a much more easily attainable form. Additional benefits: it goes together very quickly, and it's a great use for leftovers.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
serves 4 to 6, depending on will power and appetites

for the casserole:
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed (I used the 3 leftover breast pieces from yesterday's dinner)
8 ounces pasta, cooked to about 2 minutes before al dente and drained
(use a shape like shells, penne, or elbows that will hold the sauce; you can use something like angel hair or linguine if you prefer, but break the long lengths so it's easier to manage)
4-6 slices of Black Forest ham, cut into bite size pieces (stack the slices up and cube them)
4-6 slices of Swiss, baby Swiss, or Havarti cheese
1 C frozen peas

for the sauce:
1+1/2 C water
1 tsp xanthan gum OR 1 T corn starch
2 tsp chicken base OR 2 tsp bouillion
1 tsp to 1 T Dijon mustard (to taste)
1/2 C half-n-half

Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with no-stick cooking spray to make your clean up easier.

Put the pasta in the casserole dish, then layer the chicken over it. Sprinkle the peas over the chicken, then spread the ham over the peas, and layer the slices of cheese over the whole thing. Set the assembled casserole aside while you prepare the sauce.

Put the water and xanthan gum or cornstarch in your blender and process it for a minute to combine the ingredients; make sure there are no lumps. Don't worry about bubbles, they'll disappear during the cooking processes. Pour the thickened water mixture into a microwave-safe container (2 C Pyrex measuring cup works great) and add the chicken base or bouillion and mustard. Microwave on high power for about a minute, remove from the microwave and stir. Add the half-n-half and microwave on high power for another 1.5 to 2 minutes. Stir briskly until the texture is uniformly smooth.

Slowly pour the sauce over the casserole, starting at the edge and working your way around. Use a thin spoon inserted into the casserole to push the ingredients away from the edge and allow the sauce to move down into the casserole. You have to take this slowly or you'll end up with a mess. Using your skinny spoon, work through the center of the casserole in three or four spots as you continue to slowly pour in the sauce. The idea here is to get the sauce to permeate all the layers. Be sure to cover the cheese layer (top) with sauce, too, and smooth out any bumps caused by the spoon during this process.

Cover and microwave on high power for 10 minutes, or heat in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until all the ingredients are warmed through. Let stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to let everything settle, and serve by scooping out with a deep spoon (or even a ladel will do.)

Add fresh grated pepper at the table to finish it nicely. A crisp green salad and a nice glass of white wine and you're all set for a great comfort-food dinner.

To make this low-carb, substitute par-cooked cauliflower for the pasta, and use the xanthan gum option instead of the cornstarch. I splurged and went with the pasta tonight, which is another reason I could just keep on eating it until it's gone... stuff's dangerous. Still, it's one of my favorite treatments for leftover chicken.

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