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12/08/2016

~ A Classic & Comforting Chicken Divan Casserole ~

IMG_3838Chicken divan is a baked casserole containing poached white-meat chicken and blanched broccoli florets enrobed in béchamel sauce (it's called Morney sauce if cheese is added).  It was invented in the 1940's and was a popular, medium-budget chicken entrée on the menus of fine-dining restaurants and country club catering menus during the 1960's and 70's, which is how I encountered it.  When I got married in 1974, it was one of the first meals I cooked out of Betty Crocker's Cookbook (p. 306), which was my 1st cookbook and a bridal shower gift, and afterward, from the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking (p. 264), which I purchased myself. Both versions are scratch-made (no cream of anything soup or mayonnaise) and are very tasty.

IMG_3824My version is all mine & is a combination of the two.

Card00579_frChicken divan is classic American. It was created in the 1940's in the Divan Parisienne Restaurant of New York City's Chatham Hotel by a chef named Lagasi.  He had entered his dish in a contest, and, after winning money for it, it became the hotel's signature dish.  In French the word "divan" means an elegant meeting place or great hall, and it was this meaning that caught the attention of the owners as they searched for a name implying continental elegance.  In America, the word "divan" had come to mean "sofa", and, in the 1940's and 50's, I have been told that in the Divan Parisien restaurant, diners ate at tables that were drawn up to small sofas (or divans).  Photo courtesy of Card Cow.

6a0120a8551282970b017c321a8a6d970b-320wiWhen I was a young bride and just starting to entertain, chicken divan (dī-van) was one of my favorite go-to all-occasion casseroles.  It is great served for brunch, lunch or dinner.  It can be baked in one large casserole and served family style, or, it can be baked in individual-sized casseroles and served at a fancier gatherings too.  There's more.  It can be served with or atop toast points,  buttered noodles or steamed rice -- buttered noodles are my favorite.

Note:  The following recipe fills a 2-quart casserole (11" x 7" x 2"), and, when served with toast points, buttered noodles or rice, will easily feed a family of six people. In the event you've got hungrier mouths to feed (teenagers), a bigger crowd, or want leftovers (they reheat great in the microwave), do the math, double the recipe, and, bake it in a much larger 4-quart casserole

IMG_3750For the casserole:

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders, about 10 tenders  

1  pound frozen broccoli florets, preferably medium-large, not chopped broccoli

3  14 1/2-ounce cans chicken broth, or 5 1/2-6 cups homemade stock, for poaching chicken and broccoli  (Note:  Plain, nicely salted water can be substituted, but I like the added flavor that stock or broth lends to the chicken and the broccoli.  There's more.  I don't waste a bit of it, meaning:  I don't pour it down the drain.  I add some water to it, to get the necessary amount needed, and, I boil my egg noodles in it too.)

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

a scant 1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

a scant 1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoons white pepper

1 cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

2  tablespoons dry sherry  

2  cups heavy cream, half & half or whole milk, your choice

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

For the topping:

2 tablespoons salted butter, melted

1/2 cup French-style breadcrumbs or panko

For serving:

toast points, buttered egg noodles or steamed white rice, your choice

IMG_3726 IMG_3731 IMG_3733 IMG_3735~Step 1.  Place the chicken stock in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Add the chicken tenders, adjust heat to a very gentle simmer, and "poach" until just cooked through, about 9-10 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Turn heat off.  Using an Asian spider or a large slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a plate to cool, about 15 minutes, until you can handle it with your hands.  Using you fingers, pull the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

IMG_3738 IMG_3740 IMG_3747 IMG_3748~Step 2.  Return the saucepan of remaining stock to a simmer and add the frozen broccoli florets.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and partially cook it, until it is just thawed, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Using the same Asian spider or large slotted spoon, transfer it to a colander and rinse it under cold running water, to halt the cooking process.  Allow to drain thoroughly, giving the colander an occasional shake every five minutes or so for about 15 minutes.  Set aside.

IMG_3754 IMG_3758 IMG_3761 IMG_3763~Step 3.  In the same saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, then, using a large spoon, stir in the spices (ground cloves, ground nutmeg sea salt and white pepper).  Add the onion and increase heat to medium and cook until onion is tender, about 1 minute.  

IMG_3766 IMG_3767 IMG_3770 IMG_3773 IMG_3774 IMG_3780 IMG_3785~Step 4.  Stir in the flour.  Stirring constantly, cook for 1 full minute.  The roux will be very pasty.  Add the sherry then the cream (milk or half & half) and adjust heat to simmer.  Continue to simmer, stirring constantly until nicely-thickened but drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Lower heat to low and stir in the Gruyère.  Stir constantly until a thick Mornay sauce has formed, about 1 more minute.  Remove from heat.

IMG_3755 IMG_3789 IMG_3790 IMG_3794~Step 5.  Place the poached chicken pieces and blanched broccoli florets in a large bowl.  Add all of the hot Mornay sauce to the bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the sauce, until everything is evenly enrobed in sauce.  Do not over mix.  Do not risk breaking the chicken or broccoli into smaller pieces.  Using the spatula, transfer all of the mixture to an 11" x 7" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.  Set aside while preparing topping.

IMG_3798 IMG_3801 IMG_3806~ Step 6.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in microwave.  Stir in the 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the top of the casserole.

IMG_3814 IMG_3819~ Step 7.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, until golden brown on top and bubbling around edges, 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and rest 15-20 minutes prior to serving.  Use rest time to make toast points, cook egg noodles or steam rice.

Chicken, broccoli & Mornay mixture in 11" x 7" x 2" casserole:

IMG_3804Casserole w/breadcrumb topping & ready to go into oven:

IMG_3809Golden & glorious after baking in 350° oven 25-30 minutes:

IMG_3822Place toast points, buttered egg noodles or steamed rice into the bottom of six 8" -9" round or oval bowls.  Portion & place chicken divan atop each & serve immediately:

IMG_3848A Classic & Comforting Chicken Divan Casserole:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan, preferably nonstick; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; large spoon; large rubber spatula; 11" x 7" x 2" casserole; 1-cup measuring container; ordinary tablespoon

IMG_3585Cook's Note:  For another retro classic and a family-friendly dinner too, try my twist on the 1950's era ~ My Creamy & Comforting Tuna Noodle Casserole ~.  My recipe is in Categories 3, 19, 20 or 26.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)  

12/05/2016

~ Mel's Deconstructed To-Die-For Pirogi Casserole ~

IMG_3685Pirogi -- a subject I know a thing or three about.  I grew up eating these pillowy handmade-with-love potato-stuffed-dumplings in the kitchens of my Baba and Tettie (my Eastern European grandmother and her sister).  I was about age seven when they added me as a semi-skilled laborer to the assembly line of their twice-yearly day-long pirogi-making marathon. Once filled and formed, they were frozen flat on trays, packaged into bags and divided amongst their two families -- to be cooked and served as a meatless main course or a side-dish to my mom's holiday baked ham or a roasted pork loin with sauerkraut to ring in the New Year.

Screen shot 2016-12-06 at 12.26.21 PMFor the purposes of this deconstructed pirogi casserole, I am talking about potato-stuffed dumplings that get boiled in water, drained and enrobed in a saucy butter and onion mixture.  I mention this because, my grandmother (more so than her sister), stuffed them with other things too -- sauerkraut, steamed ground meats (beef, pork or lamb) and stewed fruit (usually sour cherries or prunes).  Except for the type of dough (noodle vs. pasta), the technique and method is almost identical to making Italian ravioli -- both are time consuming labors of love.

Like ravioli, pirogi are impressive.  They make a statement -- you are an accomplished cook. Over the decades, thanks in part to my husband's Italian family and friends, I've become an accomplished Italian cook.  That said, one thing I learned early on:  When you don't have the time to make ravioli, you make lasagna, and, when you have a large crowd to feed, you make lasagna instead of ravioli.  In my mind, lasagna is basically a casserole full of deconstructed ravioli.  Then came the day this Eastern European gal applied the same principle to pirogi.

I named it the:  Turn pirogi into a casserole principle.

IMG_3651Note:  I am using my favorite potato and cheese pirogi filling recipe and my favorite pirogi butter (& onion) recipe in conjunction with uncooked store-bought lasagna noodles.  If you are Eastern European and you have your own favorite recipes, use them -- they will work and it is important your casserole taste the way you want it to.  For example:  I hate bacon garnishing my pirogi, so, I don't use it, and, my grandmother used dried mint flakes (a common herb which grew like a weed in their harsh climate and was dried for the Winter) in place of fresh chives or green onion (which were only available in the short Spring and Summer).  Don't knock it 'till you've tried it.

Part One:  Making the Potato & Cheese Filling 

PICT0398

3  pounds peeled, quartered and 1" cubed gold potatoes (3 pounds after peeling)

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 pound + 2 cups grated white, cheddar cheese (total throughout recipe)*

3   jumbo egg yolks

1 1/2  teaspoons white pepper

3  tablespoons dried mint flakes 

Note:  I like using LOTS of extra-sharp white cheddar, and, I use white cheddar because, in general, I don't like pirogi that have orange-colored filling with a manufacturerd "Mrs. T's" taste to them, but, that choice is yours.  One last thing:  pirogi filling is NOT like making mashed potatoes.  Do not be inclined to add milk or butter to it.  The filling should be, for lack of better words:  stiff, thick, pasty (and even a bit chunky if that's your style), and, well-seasoned with traditional (not exotic) herbs or spices.  Remember, this is simple, rustic, peasant food.

PICT0400Step 1.  Place the cubed potatoes in an 8-quart stockpot and add enough of cold water to cover them by 1/2"-1".  Bring to a boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Reduce the heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook until the potatoes are fork tender but slightly undercooked, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain potatoes into colander.

PICT0403Step 2.  Return potatoes to the still warm stockpot and return the pot to the still warm stovetop.  Add 1 pound grated cheese, pepper and dried mint.  I do not add salt, as I find the cheddar cheese has an adequate amount of salt in it.

PICT0406Stir.  Cover the pot and set aside for 5-10 minutes.

PICT0410Step 3.  Uncover the pot and stir briefly.  The cheese will be melted or mostly melted.  In a small bowl or 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk the egg yolks together. Add and stir them into the mixture.  

Egg yolks you ask?  Yep.  This is a secret I learned from my Tettie (Baba's sister).  Egg yolks are going to add a decadent richness to the potato and cheese filling.  Trust me.

PICT0414Step 4.   Using a vegetable masher, mash/smash the potatoes to desired consistency. I like mine ever-so-slightly chunky, with small bits of whole potato throughout.

IMG_3610You will have about 7 cups of potato and cheese filling.

Step 5.  Transfer the filling to a bowl or food storage container and cover with plastic wrap or a lid.  Do not refrigerate.  Experience has taught me it's best to keep the potatoes soft and slightly-warm for the assembly.  Set aside while preparing the sautéed butter and onion mixture.

Step Two:  Making the Butter & Onion Sauté

PICT04648  ounces salted butter (2 sticks) 

4  cups small diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

Note:  Ignore this photo which represents twice as much as the quantity listed above.  It's because I am making two casseroles today.

PICT0469Step 1.  In a 4-quart stockpot, melt butter over low heat and stir in the garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper.  Add the diced onions.  

PICT0476Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to simmer gently, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes.

Step 2.  Remove from heat and transfer to a 4-cup measuring container.  You will have 3 1/2 cups. Why use a measuring container?  It's simple.  A measuring container will make it easier to measure the proper amount of butter and onion sauté onto each layer.

Part Three:  Assembling & Baking the Pirogi Casserole

IMG_3613One evening, sometime back in the 1990's, while watching Chef Emeril Lagasse (on The Food Network) prepare his lasagna without cooking the noodles (using conventional lasagna noodles, not the "no-boil" kind, which are not a favorite of mine), I felt like the weight of the lasagna world just might be lifted from my shoulders -- and it was, because it worked perfectly.  I never boiled another lasagna noodle to make lasagna again -- and nor should you.

IMG_3620IMG_3621IMG_3625IMG_3629~Step 1.  Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" glass casserole (I use  glass to keep an eye on it as it bakes) with no-stick cooking spray.  Place 3 uncooked lasagna noodles in the bottom and break a 4th to fit the empty space.  Using a large slotted spoon, and allowing a good bit of excess melted butter to drizle back into the container, evenly distribute a generous one-third (1 cup) of the buttery onions over noodles.*  Using a tablespoon, dollop half (3 1/2 cups) of potato mixture over top. Using your fingertips, lightly pat, press and spread the potatoes, to form an even layer.

Note:  You are going to have some leftover butter in the bottom of the container after the casserole is assembled.  It can't be helped.  It was the minimum needed to adequately simmer 4 cups of onions, and, it is was my goal for this recipe to:  not bake it drenched in butter.  This is not because of calories.  You want just enough of the butter's moisture to soften the uncooked noodles as the casserole bakes, but not so much as to render the casserole mushy.

IMG_3632IMG_3634IMG_3640Step 2.  Break and place 6 more lasagna noodles, in the opposite direction of the first layer, over the top of the potatoes.  Distribute the second one-third (1 cup) of the buttery onions over the noodles, once again allowing the excess butter to drizzle back into the measuring container.  Using the tablespoon, then your fingertips, dollop, pat and press the second half (3 1/2 cups) of the potatoes evenly over the top.

IMG_3642IMG_3644IMG_3649Step 3.  Place 4 lasagna noodles, in the same direction of the first layer, evenly over the potatoes and break a 5th noodle to fit in the empty space.  Using the slotted spoon, distribute the last third of the onions over the last layer of noodles, once again, allowing the excess butter to drizzle back into the measuring container.  Top casserole with the 2 cups additional grated white cheddar cheese.

Allow casserole to rest 45-60 minutes, for noodles to soften a bit.

IMG_3659Step 4.  Cover casserole with aluminum foil and bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven for 1 hour.  Remove the foil and continue to bake an additional 15-20 minutes.* Remove casserole from oven and allow to rest 20-30 minutes prior to slicing and serving.

*After 1 hour, when the foil is removed, the casserole should be lightly and nicely browning on the bottom and around the beginning-to-bubble top edges too.  There is more.  A sharp paring knife inserted into the center should reveal the noodles are soft too: 

IMG_3661Continue to bake for 15-20 more minutes, uncovered, until a gorgeous, golden color & bubbly:

IMG_3663Allow casserole to rest 20-30 minutes prior to slicing:

IMG_3669Topped w/my favorite creamy sour cream & chopped chives:

IMG_3697Mel's Deconstructed To-Die-For Pirogi Casserole:  Recipe yields 7 cups of potato filling, 3 1/2 cups of butter and onion sauté, one 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, and, 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; box grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; vegetable masher; 2-quart measuring container; 4-quart saucepan; 1-quart measuring container; 13" x 9" x 2" (3-quart) glass casserole; large slotted spoon

IMG_5939Cook's Note:  Would you like to deconstruct another Eastern European favorite?  Trust me, it will make your life easier just before the holidays.    Check out my recipe for ~ Unstuffed:  Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~ in Categories 3, 12 0r 20.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

12/02/2016

~ My Creamy & Comforting Tuna Noodle Casserole ~

IMG_3582I was a foodie sprout back in the latter 1950's, developed a few taste buds during the '60's, and, by the time I left the nest in 1974, had blossomed into a gal with a limited, but, sophisticated palate.  Limited because I wasn't exposed to a wide-variety of multi-cultural fare.  Sophisticated because my mom, aside from an occasional can of cream of tomato soup and a rare TV dinner (which my brother and I had to beg for), never, ever, purchased stuff like cans of "cream of" anything, boxes of mac 'n cheese, 'burger helpers, or, any chef-r-dee products whatsoever.  

IMG_3539The food we ate was simple, but, it was always made-from-scratch and it included a well-rounded Eastern European diet of fresh milk, eggs, butter, cheeses, in-season fruit, meat, cured and smoked meats, poultry, some fish and seafood, potatoes, grains, a small variety of vegetables, pickled vegetables and all sorts of great bread.  For the most part, I liked everything. This having been revealed, it should come as no surprise when I IMG_3552report:  my mom never made a 1950's era tuna noodle casserole. The can of tuna in her pantry was solely reserved for tuna salad.

Decades passed.  Then, in 2006, when Joe's mom moved to Happy Valley, the day came when I was asked to make a tuna-noodle casserole.  I was happy to accommodate, but, I wasn't starting in the cream-of-soup aisle of my grocery store.  I set out to come up with a creamy and comforting casserole, for her, but, it had to be one that Joe and I would enjoy too -- a rich, creamy, cheesy casserole topped with crispy, buttery bread crumbs.  That said, I took into consideration it should be in keeping with the concept of this iconic, retro casserole.  

IMG_3566Tuna noodle casserole:  a creamy, comforting pantry meal that can quickly be mixed together on a bad weather day or if you are just too tired to cook -- or simply because your elderly mother-in-law loves it.

Note:  The following recipe fills a 2-quart casserole (11" x 7" x 2"), and, if served with a nice salad and some crusty bread and butter, it will easily feed a family of six people. In the event you've got hungrier mouths to feed (teenagers), a bigger crowd, or want leftovers the next day, simply do the math, double the recipe, and, bake it in a much larger 4-quart casserole.

IMG_3482For the casserole:

1  12 1/2-ounce can solid white tuna, packed in water, well-drained

8  ounces bow tie noodles (farfalle), cooked al dente and well-drained

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt, for seasoning water for pasta

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoons white pepper

1/4  cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1/2 cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion 

1/2  cup small-diced celery 

1 1/2  cups frozen peas and diced carrots, unthawed 

1  4 1/2-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, well-drained

2  cups heavy cream, half & half or whole milk, your choice

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated cheese with creamy melting properties (Note:  My three favorites are Provel, Velveeta or Gruyère, and, I'm using my #1 favorite, Provel.  You can learn more about this cheese by reading my Cook's Note at the end of this post, and, if would like to buy some, you can purchase it at Viviano.)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

For the topping:

2 tablespoons salted butter, melted

1/2 cup French-style breadcrumbs or panko 

IMG_3470 IMG_3471 IMG_3474 IMG_3479 IMG_3488 IMG_3489~Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil and add the sea salt.  Add the pasta and cook to a very toothy level of al dente, about 9-10 minutes, instead of the usual 11-12 minutes.  Do not overcook -- the pasta is going to cook a second time in the oven. Transfer to a colander, drain, and rinse in cold water to halt the cooking process.  Set aside to thoroughly drain of water, tossing it occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.  While pasta is draining, place the tuna in a small colander to drain, and using your fingertips, break it into bite-sized pieces.  Place the noodles and the tuna in a large bowl.

IMG_3492 IMG_3494 IMG_3496 IMG_3499 IMG_3500 IMG_3504 IMG_3505 IMG_3508~Step 2.  In the same 4-quart saucepan, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat then stir in the sea salt and white pepper.  Add the diced celery and onion.  Increase heat to medium and cook until onion begins to soften, about 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add the peas and carrots along with the sliced mushrooms and continue to cook until thawed, about 2 more minutes stirring constantly.  Add the flour, and stirring constantly, cook for 1 more full minute.

IMG_3509 IMG_3512 IMG_3519 IMG_3520 IMG_3522~Step 3.   Add cream and adjust heat to simmer.  Cook until thickened but drizzly, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Reduce heat and stir in cheese.  Stir until a thick sauce has formed, 1-1 1/2 minutes.

IMG_3528Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles and tuna.

IMG_3546 IMG_3548~ Step 4.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave.  Stir in the breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons at a time, until you have added the full 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons), stirring well after each addition.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the casserole.

Bake on center rack of 350°, until golden on top and bubbling around sides, about 25 minutes.

Tuna casserole going into 350° oven to bake about 25 minutes:

IMG_3564Coming out golden on top and bubbling around the sides:

IMG_3574Scoop it out & put it on a plate.  Can you feel the love?

IMG_3585My Creamy & Comforting Tuna Noodle Casserole:  Recipe yields 2-quarts, or 6-8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; large spoon; large rubber spatula; 1-cup measuring container; 11" x 7" x 2", 2-quart casserole

PICT0005Cook's Note: Provel cheese was developed by the St. Louis firm Costa Grocery in the 1950's.  Made in Wisconsin, it's a processed cheese made from provolone, Swiss and white cheddar and sold primarily in the St. Louis area.

6a0120a8551282970b0176177cdb72970cMy critique of Provel cheese:  It's a white, slightly smoky and slightly salty tasting processed cheese, with a texture similar to the orange-colored Velveeta.  The second you take a knife to it, you just know it's going to melt to a creamy state.  It's famously used on St. Louis-style pizza, and, is a great addition to cheese soups and cheese sauces.  

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)