Sunday, July 8, 2012

Garlic-Dill Chicken Casserole

An Invention of my Own...Garlic-Dill Chicken Casserole

 A couple weeks ago I decided to try something I hadn't before. Just going to the grocery store, buying a bunch of veggies and other ingredients and coming up with a dish. For me it's pretty easy to just follow a recipe and have it turn out pretty damn good, but to just put a bunch of ingredients in a pan and hope for the best? That was something of a challenge for me. The fact that it worked out really boosted my confidence and maybe I'll keep trying to come up with some other dishes that I can claim as my own instead of just altering a recipe. The key to any of this is to know what tastes you like and how to use them. And let's face it, some basic cooking knowledge won't hurt you either.

I decided to try my hand at a type of casserole dish because let's face it, during the work week when I come home from dance after working all day it's easier to throw stuff together in one pan than try to have seven different things going on at once...and it's really easy to take left overs for lunch the next day. I always have left overs because I have yet to really scale down a recipe so that it doesn't make enough for 6 people when I'm cooking only for myself. It works out great when I cook for me and my roommates, but when it's just me not so much. It's a work in progress, until I figure it out I will always have left overs.

Anywho...this dish has quite a few ingredients and a couple different parts to work with. So while it all goes into the same dish there's a couple separate things going on. There's the chicken/veggie combo, the white sauce, and the pasta. So first things first, what you're going to need.

Chicken/Veggie combo:

1/2 a medium white onion, chopped (chop it big, chop it small, chop it however you like)
1 small/mediumish green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 small/mediumish red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced (I did my pieces about half an inch thick)
1-2 florets of broccoli (feel this one out, some florets are really big so you might only need one, use your best judgement)
~1 lb (maybe more) boneless skinless chicken breast cut into 1 inch pieces
~2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Spices: oregano, rosemary, black pepper, white pepper, dill weed, garlic powder, dry minced onion, season salt, crushed red pepper.
Mozzarella Cheese

Here are the veggies, I do my best to keep the pieces the same size so they can cook evenly. Also, it just makes it look nicer when everything is the same size.

** Important note about the spices!!**
-Do everything to taste! Start of with about 1-2 teaspoons of the oregano, rosemary, black and white peppers.
-I absolutely love Dill Weed so I probably started off with about 1 tablespoon of that. I just love the flavor of it. I probably had close to 1-1/2 or 2 tablespoons in this dish total.
-Since the fresh garlic is in there start with adding maybe a 1/2-1 teaspoon of the garlic powder. Same with the dry minced onion.
-The season salt and crushed red pepper, just sprinkle that on to taste.
-Always, always, always start off with small amounts of the spices and add more until the flavors are the way you want, you can always add more spice, but you can't take it away...or you could but that's difficult.

As you can see, my spices are all different brands. I've come to realize, whether it's a name brand or store brand, there's really no difference with the taste. Granted if I have the money I'll usually buy Spice Island spices, I don't know why. I just do.

White Sauce:

2-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk (can be 1% or 2% doesn't make a huge difference)
dash of salt (a dash is about 1/8 of a teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
~1 teaspoon black pepper
~1 teaspoon Paprika

**again with the spices do them to taste, you want the white sauce to have flavor but you don't want it to over power the garlic/dill taste of the chicken/veggie combo.

Use about 1/3 of a package of bow-tie pasta noodles. Probably about 6oz if you're really particular about measuring. I wanted enough pasta to give some different texture to the casserole without it turning into a pasta dish with some chicken and veggies.

Now that all the ingredients are ready, time to start cooking. Start with the Chicken/Veggie combo. I would recommend using at least a 12 inch skillet for this. I used my brand new Tri-Ply Stainless steel skillet (amazing I love it).

Sauté  the garlic and chicken in the olive oil on a medium heat. When you do this it would be a smart idea to begin boiling the water for the pasta.

Once the chicken is almost done, meaning that there is very little pink left in the pieces, add the carrots into the mixture. This is also when I began to play around with the spices. So go ahead and when the carrots are in there add the first 1/2-1 teaspoon of the spices. Maybe add 2 teaspoons of dill weed. Make sure to move the chicken, onion, carrots around while doing this to not only help them cook but to spread the spices evenly.

After a couple of minutes, I like to give the carrots a few minutes head start to cook because they're crunchy and I wanted to texture of the carrots to mesh well with the rest of the veggies. Sort of how I did it in my Curry Chicken from my post a couple weeks ago. Add in the rest of the vegetables and another round of spices. Remember to taste, taste, taste!!

For a couple of minutes mix the chicken and veggies together, adding more spices as you feel necessary. Once you have the taste you like, whether it be slightly more spicy, garlic, or dill flavored you can reduce the heat from medium to a low (my stove has settings 1-9 so I started at about a 5/6 and when I went to simmer the mixture put it down to about a 1).

OK now it's time to start on the white sauce, which will act as the base for the casserole. Grab a small sauce pan (I used my 1 quart non-stick Cuisinart one) and on a medium heat melt the butter. Once the butter is melted add the flour and whisk it together until it's smooth. This forms the roux, which is an even mixture of butter and flour. The amount of butter/flour determines the thickness of the sauce. Add in the salt, peppers, and paprika. Just a little at first!! Gradually add in the milk and whisk it all together. Bring it to a boil and stir it for about 2 minutes until the sauce has thickened up. Feel free to add more pepper and paprika to the sauce until the taste is there. It should be a subtle taste, nothing too overpowering.

Add the white sauce to the chicken and veggie combo. Mix it all together to coat the veggies and chicken nicely. Again, taste it season it more then bring the temperature up from the low (1 in my case) setting to just a little bit higher (a 2/3 on my stove) and let the sauce/chicken veggies simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir the mixture up occasionally and keep tasting the chicken and different veggies.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees now.

Your water for the pasta should be boiling by now so make sure to keep an eye on that and throw the pasta in once it's boiling. Cook according to the directions on the box/bag until the pasta is "al dente" or firm to bite. Once the pasta is ready (should be right around the 15 minute mark if the timing is right), drain it and add it into the chicken/veggie combo.

Again stir the mixture to coat everything evenly. Taste, season, love it. Let the flavors soak in for a couple more minutes.

Once everything tastes wonderful and delicious go ahead and place all the mixture into an un-greased 13 x 9 pan. Make sure it's evenly spread not really thick on one side and barely any of the mixture on the other. Top it with some Mozzarella cheese.

Toss it in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted, and to ensure the casserole is heated throughout. Take it out, uncover it, and stare at it in awe of the deliciousness you are about to consume.

And there you go! Scoop out however much you want, I like to top my bowl/plate of this with just a little bit of crushed red pepper. Refrigerate the left overs once it's cooled down.

'Til next time!!

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