Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chicken Caesar Pasta Casserole


I watched a Chefography presentation of Paula Deen on Food Network one time. She talked about the time in her life when she was agoraphobic, afraid to leave her house. She said that in a time when everything wasn't right, she turned to her stove. I feel that way.

I lost my job in May and knew I would not be rehired in early August. I loved my job. I still love my job even though I am not there. I miss teaching, planning, having fun, etc. It kind of consumed my life. I did not know what to do when I lost it. I was so hurt, broken hearted, and just plain broken; in all reality, I still am. I have renewed my love for food and for cooking, though, and since God has allowed it to be such a healing part of this time in my life, I am going to share my favorite recipes with you starting with this one, Chicken Caesar Pasta Casserole.

Also part of the healing process was a trip to the house of my best friend from high school with two other wonderful friends of mine. It is about a 2+ hour drive to her house, so Merry Lynne, Mary Beth, and I caught up with each other on the way. Mary Beth has lived and worked in Europe for a couple of years. Did you read what I said? Europe! Austria to be exact. We got to hear about her travels, and what it is like to teach conversational English to high schoolers. Ridiculous. I would love to travel to her house with friends sometime, too.

Merry Lynne filled us in on a lot of what had been going on with her family since Mary Beth and I graduated. There are times in the Christian life when you see someone you haven't seen in a while, and after a small bit of conversation, you can feel just how much that person has grown in the Lord. You can just tell. When it has happened, the Holy Spirit in both of you lets you know. No one really has to say anything about it. You just know. I felt that way in the car with Merry Lynne that day. She's been a spiritual example in my life for a while (in spite of our joint efforts to play countless wonderful pranks throughout my high school experience), but I could just feel that she had grown that much more. It makes the heart smile, and the mouth smiles with it. It can't help it.

I've felt that way about my friend, Melonie, too. Even though she is hours away, now, I can feel the growth in the short messages we send to each other even though they are few and far between. When we got to her house in Mississippi, she had a casserole waiting on us. It was this casserole: Chicken Caesar Pasta Casserole. I do not know if this one is exactly the same, but I looked it up as soon as I got home.
While we were eating the casserole and as I was admiring her cute, little house, I had a thought, "How in the heck do people get chicken to shred so well?!" The chicken in the casserole was shredded nice and fine which is nothing like the mess of chunks, pieces, and strands that my chicken always came out to be. So, I asked her, "How do you get the chicken so shredded?" She made almost an embarrassed face and said, "I just use the food processor." Why the embarrassed face? I have no idea! I thought it was GENIUS! I decided that I needed to make this casserole...and I did...well, one that was super close to this one, anyway. ...And I'm not sure, but I think this casserole may have been the first one I made after the job loss that made me want to cook all the time, again.
Here's the recipe card for the recipe that makes me remember that wonderful September Saturday we spent at Melonie's. Happiness. Oh, and you will find as you read my recipes, that I don't even follow my own recipe cards written in my own handwritting exactly. My recipes tend to change a bit over time...so what I really do is on the recipe at the bottom. Enjoy!

First things first: Make Perfect Chicken (Click the link for the recipe). The short version: Mix 1/2 t. each of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and paprika together. Rub all of the spice mix on both sides of 3-4 chicken breasts. Sear both sides in a dutch oven, and then cook 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Let rest 5-10 minutes before cutting. This method makes perfectly cooked chicken for me every time.

 






Step One: Per the suggestion, chop the red pepper in the food processor.
Yes, those peppers are orange. I ran out of red! I usually buy a bag of assorted small sweet peppers at my grocery store because I can add as much or as little of whatever color I feel like adding. Orange is good in this recipe, but red is better. Bell peppers work just as well as sweet ones, too.
Yes, I realize this is not really a food processor. This is a handy chopper that wants to be a food processor when it grows up, but it gets the job done...just in batches.
 
Step Two: Chop/shred the chicken in the food processor (or the handy chopper that wants to be a food processor when it grows up). The seasoning on the chicken gives it nice color, don't you think?
Step Three: Chop chives or green onions with a clean pair of scissors or a knife. If you chop them in the food processor, they will just make a big stringy mess. They will still taste good, though.



Step Four: Add the chicken, chives/green onions, and peppers to a large mixing bowl, and mix well. This bowl just happens to be one that I have used since I was three. There was a Sesame Street stepstool involved...and my mom did most of the work at the time. She still does a lot of times!


 

Step Five: Add dressing...






...and mozzarella cheese,
...and mix well. 


 




Step Six: Add the well-drained, but not rinsed, pasta, and mix well. The pasta I used here was ziti, but I usually get the penne rigate because the little ridges hold the sauce better (in my humble opinion). The corkscrew pasta works well, too. You use whichever pasta your heart desires.

 
Step Seven: Spread evenly into a 9 x 13 casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.


 

Step Eight: Top with croutons and parmesan cheese. 



Step Nine: Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until casserole is heated through and croutons are golden brown.

Refrigerate leftovers (if there are any!).

 

Beautiful. I will post the recipe for Crispy, Roasted Asparagus which is shown in the foreground soon, too.











As a final note, my dad is pretty picky. He says he will eat anything, but he lies. :). He knows he does, too, which is why he follows that statement with laughter. There are some meals that I make that are absolutely delectable, not to mention delicious, that he does not like because they "are not simple enough." There are actually very few meals that my dad likes, let alone loves. He not only liked this meal, he made a point to beat the rest of us to the leftovers!

Chicken Caesar Pasta Casserole
Click here for printable version
2 c. penne rigate, corkscrew, or ziti pasta, cooked in well-salted water and drained
2 c. cooked, shredded Perfect Chicken
3/4 c. creamy Caesar dressing (I like Ken's Garlic Creamy Caesar Dressing, and you can use up to 1 c. if you would like)
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/3 c. chopped green onions or chives
1/4 c. red bell pepper
1 1/2 c. mozzarella cheese
1 c. seasoned croutons
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated

Mix all ingredients except croutons and parmesan in a large bowl. Pour into a greased 9x13 casserole dish. Top with croutons and Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until casserole is heated through and croutons are golden brown. Refrigerate leftovers (if there are any!).
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3 comments:

  1. When do you add the chicken broth that is in the ingredient list?

    ReplyDelete
  2. haha. Wow. I never noticed that I didn't put that in the post before! I usually add it and the dressing at the same time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow! Great recipe for grilled chicken. It was juicy and tender. I used the chicken this time to make chicken pesto sandwiches and will used the leftovers on my salad for lunch tomorrow. Thanks for the great recipe! Pickup Lines Google Gravity Tricks I love you quotes Good Night Quotes

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