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Couples card games call for casserole supper

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Bless Your Spoon

Some of my favorite food memories growing up were the nights my parents entertained their bridge club. Mom always served a one-dish meal – and my all-time favorite was a delicious, creamy tetrazzini made with tender chicken, flavorful mushrooms, and rich cream sauce. Accompanying the pasta dish were fresh vegetables and a lime and pear gelatin salad. The combination of flavors was the perfect marriage of savory accented with a sweet kiss.

When learning how to cook, I began inviting guests for dinner. I quickly realized the most successful meals were those I could prepare ahead and bake, so I could relax and enjoy my friends – while still offering up a delicious meal everyone would enjoy.  In the early days, there were only a few dishes I could make, so I prepared the same casserole each time – and to this day, it’s still everyone’s favorite, including mine – the Chicken and Toasted Almond Casserole.

Today, the southern casserole has lost speed on the culinary playing field – sort of like a “nice guy finishes last,” contestant while “fresh” appears more desirable. I beg to differ. When you think about it, consider how many folks have built empires on those humble, comforting, and southern one-dish meals. As a modern-day cook with traditional roots, those prepare ahead, never fail, all-in-one dish meals and southern casseroles will never fall out of favor. As southerners, we’ll always love them because they’re the foundation of our culinary heritage and rank first among our favorite, childhood, food memories – and our guests continue to rave over them.

You can relax with a glass of wine before your guests arrive after preparing ahead any of these suppers. Assemble all ingredients ahead in one dish and bake. When you pull the casserole out of the oven – voila – it’s gone from stove to tabletop, piping hot, and ready to serve within minutes. Chicken is my go-to because it’s economical, versatile, feeds a crowd, gets along well with other ingredients – and the meat consistently wins in the comfort category. For dessert, I serve toasted slices of a make-ahead pound cake topped with fruit and whipped cream.

Our wintry season is not over yet. Why not stay in and organize a couple’s bridge or card game with friends. You can cook and entertain with confidence using any one of these favorite single-dish meals.  A fancy salad or simple vegetable will complement the flavor of chicken. When coupled with buttered, crusty cornbread muffin – there’s no denying it, chicken and cornmeal are made for one another.

CHICKEN ENCHILADAS

4 cooked, skinless, boneless chopped chicken breasts

16 oz. sour cream, divided

1 can condensed cream of chicken soup

¼ cup chopped onion

8 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 small, drained can green chilies

12 soft flour tortillas

1 can cheddar cheese soup

1 cup hot salsa

In a bowl, combine cooked chicken, half of sour cream, cream of chicken soup, onion, chilies, and cheese. Divide mixture evenly among the 12 tortillas. Roll the tortillas rightly. Place in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Pour cheddar cheese over the top. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Top with remaining sour cream and salsa.

FAVORITE CHICKEN

ALMOND CASSEROLE

6 boneless, skinless, cubed, cooked chicken breasts

8 oz. sour cream

1 can cream of chicken soup

½ soup can chicken broth

½ soup can white wine

½ cup melted salted butter

Crushed buttery crackers (sleeve)

1 pkg. toasted slivered almonds

In a bowl, mix sour cream, soup, broth, or wine and butter. In a 9 x 13 butter greased casserole, layer ½ of chicken, ½ of crackers, ½ of almonds, and ½ of soup mix. Repeat layers. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes or bubbly.

CHICKEN BAKE

WITH CORNBREAD

1 ¼ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

6 cups cubed cornbread

8 cubed bread slices

1 chopped onion

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

1 cup chicken broth

2 Tbsp. melted butter

2 tsp. rubbed sage

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

Place chicken in a large skillet and cover with water. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and cube chicken. In a bowl, combine cornbread, bread, onion, soup, broth, butter, and seasonings. Add chicken and mix well. Transfer to a butter greased 13 x 9 baking dish. Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until heated through.

HOT POLYNESIAN CHICKEN

1 fryer, deboned and cubed

¼ cup soy sauce

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 tsp. ginger

2 Tbsp. minced onion

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. salted butter

1 med. can pineapple chunks

1 med. can mandarin oranges

2 Tbsp. cornstarch

¼ cup water

¼ cup toasted slivered almonds

Arrange chicken in a shallow pan. Combine soy sauce, oil, ginger, onion, and marinate chicken pieces for one hour. Shake chicken in flour and brown in butter in a skillet. Drain fruit and reserve juice. Set aside. Add fruit juices to soy marinade. Place chicken in a butter greased casserole. Pour soy and fruit sauce over all. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. About 15 minutes before serving, add fruit and almonds. Serve over rice.

OLD FASHIONED CHICKEN WITH RICE BAKE

2 cups cooked, cubed chicken

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup slivered, toasted almonds

2 cups cooked rice

1 cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. chopped onions

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of mushroom soup

¾ tsp. salt

¾ tsp. pepper

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 chicken bouillon cubes dissolved, ½ cup water

Crushed potato chips

Slivered almonds

In a mixer, slowly mix all ingredients. Place in a butter greased casserole dish. Cover with crushed potato chips and almonds. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 45 minutes or until heated through.

BRIDGE CLUB CHICKEN TETRAZZINI

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

4 Tbsp. salted butter

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. white pepper

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 cup light cream

2 cups chicken broth

½ cup cooking sherry

½ lb. cooked spaghetti

½ lb. sliced sautéed fresh mushrooms

3 cups boneless, diced cooked chicken

¼ cup toasted slivered almonds

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Paprika

In a skillet, melt butter. Blend in flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Gradually stir in chicken broth. Cook over low heat, constantly stirring until thickened. Add cream and sherry. Heat just to boiling. Combine sauce, cooked spaghetti, mushrooms, chicken, and almonds. Pour into butter greased casserole. To serve, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and paprika. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 1 ½ hour.

STUFFED CHICKEN BREASTS

WITH MUSHROOM SAUCE

4-6 boneless chicken breasts

Flour

Paprika

2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

2 cups fresh bread crumbs

2 Tbsp. chopped onion

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. poultry seasoning

¼ cup hot water

2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter, or more

Halve the breasts, and dust with flour, salt, and paprika. Combine bread crumbs, onion, salt, poultry season, and hot water, and mix well.  Make a pocked in meat, and stuff breasts with mixture. Use a toothpick to hold, if necessary. In a skillet, brown chicken in butter. Place chicken in a greased casserole dish, and bake in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour. Serve with fresh mushroom sauce.

FRESH MUSHROOM SAUCE

½ lb. fresh mushrooms

¼ cup minced onion

2 Tbsp. salted butter

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

½ cup sour cream

½ pint whipping cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown mushrooms and onions in butter. Stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Cook very slowly, adding cream and sour cream until slightly thickened. Pour over chicken just before serving. Make ahead, cover, and rewarm.

WINE DOWN CHICKEN

2 pkg. boneless, cubed, chicken

All-purpose flour

salt

6 Tbsp. salted butter

6 cups sliced, fresh mushrooms

1 can mushroom soup

½ cup chicken broth

½ cup orange juice

½ cup dry white wine (or vermouth)

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

½ tsp. salt

4 julienne style, sliced carrots

Shake chicken in flour seasoned with salt. Fry in butter. Saute mushrooms in butter. Combine mushroom soup, broth, juice, wine, brown sugar, salt, and carrots in a large greased casserole dish. Add chicken and mushrooms, gently mixing well. Cook in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour. Serve over rice.

CHICKEN PARMESAN

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 eggs

1 cup panko bread crumbs, plus

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, plus

1 cup olive oil

½ cup tomato sauce

¼ cup fresh, cubed mozzarella

¼ cup chopped basil

½ cup grated provolone cheese

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Place chicken breasts between two sheets of heavy plastic. Pound chicken with the smooth side of a meat mallet to a thickness of ½ inch. Season meat with salt and pepper. In a bowl, beat eggs and set aside. Mix panko crumbs and ½ cup Parmesan cheese in separate bowl, and set aside. Evenly coat chicken with flour. Dip flour-coated chicken in beaten eggs. Transfer breasts to Panko mixture. Pressing crumbs onto both sides. Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium. Cook chicken 2 minutes on each side until golden. Place chicken in a butter greased baking dish, and top each breast with 1/3 cup tomato sauce. Layer each breast with equal amounts of mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and provolone cheese. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp. of Parmesan cheese and top and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 20-30 minutes until cheese is browned and bubbly.

CHICKEN BREASTS WITH ARTICHOKE HEARTS

3 lbs. boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

½ tsp. paprika

6 Tbsp. butter

14 oz. artichoke hearts

½ lb. sliced mushrooms

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2/3 cup chicken broth

¼ tsp. dried rosemary

3 Tbsp. sherry

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and paprika. Brown in 4 Tbsp. butter. Place in greased casserole dish. Arrange artichoke hearts between chicken pieces. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp. butter to drippings and saute mushrooms. Sprinkle flour over mushrooms, and cook 3 minutes while stirring. Stir in chicken broth, rosemary, and sherry. Cook 5 minutes on medium. Pour over the chicken and artichoke hearts. Beak in a 375-degree oven for 40 minutes or until breasts are tender. Serve with wild rice.

CHICKEN SALTIMBOCCA

3 boneless, skinless, halved, chicken breasts

6 very thin slices baked ham

6 slices Mozzarella cheese

1 chopped tomato

½ tsp. sage

½ cup fine bread crumbs

4 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

4 Tbsp. crushed parsley

4 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

Flatten chicken breasts with the smooth side of a mallet. Place one ham and one cheese slice on each breast. Top with some tomato and a dash of sage. Tuck sides and roll up jelly-roll style. Secure with toothpicks if necessary. Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. Dip chicken in melted butter and roll in crumbs. Place in a 2-quart casserole dish. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 50 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

TABLE SIDE SCRATCH CAESAR SALAD

1 large head Romaine lettuce

1 clove garlic

½ cup olive oil

1 cup crust removed, ½” cubed, French bread

¾ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

¼ tsp. dry mustard

1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

3 drained, chopped anchovies

1 egg

2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Juice of half a lemon

Prepare Romaine lettuce by washing and drying thoroughly. Place separated leaves in a plastic bag and store in refrigerator for several hours. Make sure you have trimmed the core and discarded any wilted or discolored leaves.  Several hours before serving, crush the garlic clove and combine with oil in a jar with a tight lid. Refrigerate at least one hour.

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil-garlic mixture in skillet. Add bread cubes and saute until brown all over. Set aside. To remaining oil-garlic mixture in jar, add salt, mustard, pepper, Worcestershire, and chopped anchovies. Shake vigorously and refrigerate.

In a saucepan, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Turn off heat. Lower egg into water. Let stand 1 minute, then lift out. Set aside to cool. You can do everything ahead of time right up to this point

Prepare the final salad in front of your guests if you so desire. Cut out coarse ribs from large leaves of Romaine, Tear into bite-sized pieces into salad bowl. Shake dressing and pour over lettuce. Sprinkle lettuce with Parmesan. Toss until all leaves are coated with dressing. Break egg over center of salad, only using the yolk. Pour lemon juice directly over egg. Toss well. Sprinkle with croutons and toss quickly.