While there's still a tiny bit of winter left, let's talk about comfort food: creamy casserole yumyum.
My grandmother and mom rocked many a dinner party with company-special Sausage and Wild Rice Casserole. But when I made their recipe with creamed soup a few years ago, my increasing cook-from-scratch snobbery overtook me and made me shelve it with other childhood favorites that had lost their luster like Chicken Sour Cream. To the majority of the world who loves boiled chicken mixed with sour cream and cream of chicken soup, and who actually has to put dinner for more than one person on the table in limited time, not to mention making it kid-friendly, power to you, and my apologizes for any snobbish hating in this post.
All that is to say that I tried my hand at the creamy, mushroomy, sausage and chicken and wild rice-filled casserole, no canned goods allowed. It comforted with its creamy, hearty goodness without that so-rich intensity that leaves you feeling a little like you drank a cup of cream and butter, sprinkled with buttery crackers.
The secrets to a from-scratch creamy casserole:
1. Start with lots of veggies.
3. Add flour and low-fat milk to make a cream sauce, and then some cheese and sour cream.
4. Stand over the stove for forever while it all cooks down, before you pour it on top of rice to bake.
5. Add salt. Because there ain't none in there unless you add it.
1. You have several hours on a weekend where you just feel like cooking, and by cooking, I mean chopping lots of veggies and meat, cooking meat, cooking veggies, cooking sauce, cooking rice, assembling it all and cleaning many dishes (phew).
2. You have lots of people to feed. Out of this batch, I got (1) meal to encourage friends healing from/caretaking after surgery, (1) homemade dinner gift for my parents, and (2) meals for yours truly.
3. You value (a) the art of casserole comfort and (b) making things from scratch.
Sausage, Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole
Adapted from Eating Well
16 oz. sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 pounds chicken, cooked and chopped
16 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 packages Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice, prepared according to box
1 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-fat milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup sliced almonds, optional
Brown sausage, onion, green pepper in a large skillet until sausage is cook and veggies are tender. Drain out grease.
Add mushrooms and sherry, cooking until liquid has been released and evaporated and mushrooms are tender.
Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir to coat. Add milk; bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Stir in Parmesan, sour cream, parsley, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a baking dishes with cooking spray. (I made a 9-by-13-inch, a 8-by-8-inch, and a two-serving bread pan.)
Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Spread the rice in an even layer in the prepared baking dishes. Top with the chicken. Pour the sausage mixture over the top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with almonds, if desired.
Bake the casserole until it is bubbling and the almonds are golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.