How to Make a Casserole – Confessions of a (Chronically Ill) Graduate Student

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Many of us graduate students designate a “baking” day periodically. All the veggies for the week get chopped, dinners get made, things are frozen. Think NASA readying food for astronauts,  except instead of the moon we march off to battleground school at a slightly lower orbit. Sometimes I manage it. Here’s how it worked this week….

Friday: I decided this weekend I’ll cook a big chicken casserole to last a few days. Right now I’m on an elimination diet to detect food allergies/sensitivities, so a few changes would have to be made from the normal frozen veg, cream of something soup, and whatever meat came to hand.

Saturday: I shopped but was too tired/sick to go back through the huge store and pick up the chicken at the end of the run, lest I leave the store in an ambulance instead of all by me onesie.

Sunday: I went back and picked up the chicken. Still too tired to process the enormous family pack, so into the fridge it went.

Monday: I made the rice. In an cooker. It was a big day.

Tuesday: I finally figured I’d have to do something with that pile of chicken, and I was feeling … ok. I chopped, coated, fried, boiled, assembled, and installed it into a cozy oven. I had to put a chair into the kitchen to sit on during the process. Normally if I get that tired, I just give up and sit on the floor, but I was NOT going to surrender this time, and it was way too hard to get up off the floor to turn the chicken. Some of it may have turned out extra-brown. I turned the oven off when the casserole was done but was a little too tired at that moment to haul it out – and I basically forgot that it would still cook. I pulled it out later. I put it on the stove to cool – it wasn’t going to be that night’s dinner now – and basically forgot about it again. Finally, before crashing that night, I sampled it and checked that the meat was, in fact, done, wrapped it (still warm on the bottom) in plastic wrap, and wedged it into the fridge.

Wednesday: Finally ate chicken casserole.The result: A slightly crispy, rather unorthodox, extremely good chicken casserole.

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My recipe:

  • Six chicken thighs, bone in, skin on (I pulled some of the skin off)
  • 3 cups rice, cooked (and refrigerated, in my case)
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • About 2 cups of Silk cashew/almond/pea protein milk
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • About 1 cup (or 1/2 an extremely large) white onion, chopped
  • 2 heads broccoli, in small florets
  • 2 medium zucchini, thickly sliced
  • King Arthur flour, to coat the chicken and thicken the sauce
  • Avocado oil, to fry chicken
  • Seasonings to taste, sprinkled liberally on everything as I forgot what had been coated on which thing (I was aiming for a few different “flavors” of chicken thighs, but, well… brain fog, y’all).
    • salt
    • pepper
    • garlic
    • onion powder
    • chili powder
    • paprika
    • Mrs. Dash Fiesta Lime
    • cumin
    • Italian seasonings blend

My messed-up assembly:

  • Cook rice. Leftover rice works brilliantly
  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Spread rice in layer in bottom of 13×9 large flat glass dish
  • Chop all vegetables. Put in large flat pan, season with salt, pepper, and garlic, and add about 2 cups water. Cook on high until you remember that they’re there; hopefully about 1/2 cup of water should still be in pot.
  • Evenly spread cooked veggies over rice. Give a halfhearted stir to semi-incorporate.
  • Prep chicken thighs by pulling any bits off that you don’t want to eat. Coat with a variety of seasonings. I aimed to have two traditional salt-pepper-garlic-onion-paprika; two Italian salt-pepper-garlic-Italian seasonings; and two “Mexican” with Fiesta Lime, cumin, chili powder – the works! Unfortunately I forgot which was which and put chili powder on about half. Oh well. It wasn’t much.
  • Coat chicken thighs with GF flour
  • Heat plenty of avocado oil in same pan used for veggies; aim for an even coat of entire pan.
  • Place chicken thighs in hot oil and cook on high, 2-4 minutes a side, flipping occasionally. Or just collapse in a chair and say “she’ll be right.” And flip the chicken when you can. I did mine in two batches; just add a little more oil. (If you have to do more than that, you may need to get rid of the burned bits and old oil.)
  • Put cooked chicken thighs on top of casserole. Dish will be too full to really bury them in there, but you can try.
  • Turn the heat on the pan down to medium. Add half a cup chicken broth, scraping the chicken and flour bits from the pan. Slowly add the “milk.” Add some more salt, pepper, and garlic to taste. Add the rest of the chicken broth and a little more GF flour to thicken slightly; should still be fairly liquid.
  • Pour concoction over the chicken breast/veggie/rice mix in the pan; make sure to hit the edges.
  • Cook in oven for 1 hour… and I’d recommend you actually remove it at that time, too, honestly. If you can. No worries if you can’t, though – this holds up pretty well.
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