In the winter when its cold and frosty, we tend to eat things that are warm. You might remember a blog I wrote a few months ago about cravings and certain things which I like to have when it's cold. One thing I didn't include in there was Casseroles. Now, the previous post was more about how cravings might actually be a way our body tells us what it needs... this one is more about "comfort foods" in various climates. For example juices and citrus based items like lemon chicken, cold soups, fresh steamed veggies and fruits are all things we like to have in the summer or spring when its warm and humid outside, because they're fresh and light.
Getting back to the cold weather we generally want to have soups, warm breads, heavy/cheesy pastas, meats with thick sauces and generally heavy foods which are not only served hot but also comforting in nature. The easiest thing probably to make, after eggs that is, are casseroles. You can use any number of items you may have in your pantry and fridge. You can even turn leftovers in to a whole new dish! You can be as creative, or not, as you want.
The other night I made a chicken and vegetable casserole and I'm going to include the recipe here so you can try it, or use it as a guide to make variations based on whats in your fridge. I had a lot of frozen vegetables that were needing to be used up and ground chicken meat which hadn't yet been frozen.
1lb ground chicken meat
1 small white onion (diced)
1 -2 tsp crushed garlic (depending on taste)
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
some frozen corn
some frozen spinach
some fresh mushrooms (sliced small with stems)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 -2 cups shredded cheese
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (or to taste)
salt to taste
soy sauce to taste
Boil/cook about 1.5 cups of macaroni, mini farfalle or mini penne and keep to the side. In a deep skillet add some olive oil and diced onion, cook on medium to medium-high heat stirring occasionally. After about 3- 5 minutes (letting onion become completely translucent but not too brown) add the mushrooms and parsley. Cook for a minute or two until the mushrooms are coated. Then add crushed red pepper, chicken and garlic. If the chicken doesn't have much moisture add a 1/4 cup of water. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the chicken is about Medium-well done and the water is almost dry. You will want to stir everything a few times in between but do let it cook covered to retain some juice and not dry out the meat. Ground chicken tends to get very dry pretty quickly so be careful.
Now add all the frozen vegetables, salt and soy sauce. Let this cook until the vegetables are done, you should have some juice left at the bottom of your pan (in other words to not dry out the vegetables completely). Turn off the stove and add whole can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, mix in well.
Turn the mix out in to a casserole dish (glass or ceramic baking dish), then add the prepared pasta and 1/2 the cheese. Mix everything together and then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake in the oven (uncovered) for about 25 to 30 minutes. When the edges start to brown, your casserole is ready. Let the dish stand outside the oven for 5 minutes before serving since it will be very hot.
Please note: If for some reason you feel that there might be more pasta than sauce/meat mix, you can add some water, milk or chicken stock before baking to thin out your mixture a little.