Weekly Winner: The Conundrum Casserole

This dish totally befuddles me.  The definition of a conundrum is “anything that puzzles” and this does just that.  It puzzles me.  It’s called simply, Chicken & Rice Casserole.  First of all, I find chicken and rice dishes to generally be comfortingly bland…mild….soothing.  As a matter of fact, when we got our first cat many years ago and took him to the vet right after adopting him, he suffered from what the vet called “shelter stomach” or what we refer to as an upset tummy.  He prescribed that I feed him white rice mixed with chicken baby food for a few days.  He loved it and it seemed to do the trick.  That’s the thing with chicken and rice…. it’s something you crave when you don’t want anything too flavorful.  But I digress… back to the conundrum casserole.

Chicken rice casseroleI really shouldn’t like this dish as much as I do.  First of all, I am basically not a fan of wild rice.  Given the choice between various rices, my order of preference is always: white, brown, and then wild… if nothing else is available.  Then there is the almonds.  I don’t like almonds.  But they totally work in this recipe.  It just wouldn’t be the same without them.

There is just something so incredibly hearty, rich, smoky (thanks to my beloved bacon) and elegant about this dish, that it floors me every time.  I never think of a casserole as a dish I would serve to company, but I would serve this without hesitation.  I just can’t quite figure out what makes it so dang good.  It is a puzzle … which indeed makes it a conundrum.  A very tasty conundrum at that.  I believe the recipe came from Cuisine at Home magazine, but I’m not entirely sure about that either.  See?  Everything about this dish confuses me!

Chicken and Rice Casserole

Serves 8

Ingredients:

4 strips of bacon, diced

¾ cup diced carrot

8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced

½ cup diced celery

1 cup sliced leeks

1 T minced garlic

4 cups cooked brown and wild rice blend (about 2 cups dry)

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 cups sour cream

½ cup slivered almonds, toasted

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

2 T chopped fresh thyme

2 T fresh lemon juice

8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly coat a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick spray.

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp.  Transfer bacon to paper-towel-lined plate; drain and discard all but 3 Tbsps drippings from skillet.

Add carrot to drippings and cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.  Add mushrooms and celery to skillet, cook until mushrooms soften, then add leeks and garlic.  Cook vegetable mixture until tender, about 4 minutes, season with salt and pepper.  Transfer mixture to a large bowl.

Stir rice, chicken, bacon, sour cream, almonds, parsley, thyme, and lemon juice into vegetable mixture.  Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.

Combine Jack and Parmesan cheeses; sprinkle over top of rice mixture.  Bake casserole until cheese begins to brown, 25-30 minutes.

 

 

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