In our house, the hour before dinner is the worst hour of the day; screaming, fighting, tantrums, unexplained episodes of crying and meltdowns over broken crayons or missing baby-dolls. It is like this for everyone, no? Complicating matters, for us, is that for the past several years I have worked the night shift. This means that in addition to handling the ‘witching hour’, and dinner – I also have to get ready for work. This doesn’t leave much time for dinner. Often I would find myself ignoring my best-laid plans of the morning (grilled chicken breasts! salad! pasta and spinach!) for a quick and convenient box of Macaroni and Cheese, Spaghetti O’s, or something equally processed and fattening. It’s hard, when it is fast and you are assured that your children will eat it – to forgo the simple solution for something healthier.
Enter Chicken Tetrazzini and my new found obsession with freezing things. This recipe makes TWO casseroles. Two! This means – we get to eat one now, and one later ( the days mom works). I try to make this recipe on the weekend, when we can eat it for lunch or dinner (and my husband can help with the dishes), and then I save the other one for later on in the week when work and life make it too hectic to prepare a meal. All I have to do is pop it in the oven, and we all eat something better than a boxed dinner.
I love this casserole, which I adapted by crossing a Cooking Light version and a traditional Betty Crocker recipe. It is by no means a gourmet version of this dish, but it is a satisfying comfort meal that is healthy and balanced. This recipe eliminates the traditional Bechamel sauce, reducing much of the fat and calories. Plus, both of my kids will eat this.
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/4 cups finely chopped celery
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 (8-ounce) packages pre sliced mushrooms – cut in half, and then pulsed in the food processor
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 Tablespoon Dalmation Rubbed Sage
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 cups (9 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
5 oz. 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
7 cups hot cooked angel hair pasta (about 1 pound uncooked pasta)
4 cups chopped cooked chicken breast (about 1 1/2 pounds) – I bake mine in the oven with some sage and cracked black pepper
3 (1-ounce) slices white bread
Preheat oven to 350°.
Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, sage, red pepper flakes, pepper, salt, and mushrooms; sauté 4 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add sherry; cook 2 minutes.
Lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup; level with a knife. Gradually add flour to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly – mixture will thicken . Gradually add broth, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil. Add oregano. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.
Add 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese and cream cheese, stirring until cheese is melted.
Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and return to pot.
Pour sauce into pot with pasta. Add chicken, and stir until blended. Divide the pasta mixture between 2 (9-inch-square) baking dishes coated with cooking spray.
Place bread in food processor; pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs form. Combine breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese; sprinkle evenly over pasta mixture. Top with cracked black pepper if desired.
Bake 30 minutes, covering casserole with foil last 10 minutes to prevent browning.
For the frozen casserole: I take it out the day before hand (if I remember), and bake it for 45 minutes at 350 degrees with the foil on until the last 15 minutes. Sometimes, I take it out the morning of (this is a more realistic scenario), and in this case I basically wing the cooking time. You have to be careful not to burn the top but cook the casserole all the way through. Usually, this takes me about an hour of cooking (with the foil over it) at 300 degrees, and thirty minutes at 350 degrees – removing the foil in the last fifteen minutes.
Nutrition Content (via SparkRecipe) :
Serves: 6 servings per casserole / makes 2 casseroles.
Serving Size : about 1 1/3 cups casserole
Calories : 403, Total Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 4.5g, Total Carbohydrates 39.1 grams, Sugars 2.7g, Protein 36g