Did you see The Wedding Crashers? I didn’t, but I did see the advertisements for the movie several times and the premise seemed pretty ludicrous to me. Do people really do that? And get away with it?
Would I ever crash a wedding? No. You have to just about drag me kicking and screaming to the ones to which I’m invited as it is. But, it got me thinking.
I could easily become a potluck dinner crasher. I live in the south; the Bible belt. There are over 50 churches within a ten-mile radius of me. I’m sure that at least one of them is having some kind of potluck celebration tonight; and on Wednesday night. And Sunday night.
I love potlucks. I love eating bits and bites of handed-down from generation to generation casserole recipes. I do shy away from the green pea gelatin salad, but that one rarely makes an appearance. For the most part, I will load my plate with a small spoonful of everything on the long, heavy-laden tables.
It’s not a stretch to say that this casserole would make an appearance. It has all the prerequisites; rice, chicken, cream of mushroom soup, cheese and bread crumbs. In fact, if I do crash a potluck, I might just bring this along.
For a casserole dish, I have to admit that this one is a bit time consuming. I’m used to just throwing everything in a dish and hoping for the best when it comes out of the oven. However, if putting in the work at the beginning means better flavor at the other end, I’m all for it. So we’ll just have to see if that’s the case with this.
To get to that other end, begin by toasting the sliced almonds on a baking tray in the oven. Since the oven has to be heated anyway, it makes sense to use it instead of the stove top.
It also makes sense to use the oven because the burners on the stove will be taken up with the rice, which will be boiling away on one of the large burners and a large skillet, which will contain the filling, on the other.
To make the filling, saute chopped celery and onions (don’t forget to chop your celery and onions) in butter. When they’re tender, add the chopped, already cooked chicken. Since you need five cups, you’ll probably want to roast up a whole cut-up chicken rather than hoping you can get away with using leftovers.
Once the chicken is added, also throw in the cream of mushroom soup, water chestnuts (I used sliced), sour cream, milk, salt and pepper. Mix it all together well, then add Cheddar cheese and the cooked rice.
Pour it all into a really big casserole dish for the potluck, or into two smaller dishes. Freeze one after covering it with foil and get ready to bake the other.
For the one you’re baking, sprinkle bread crumbs over it and about a cup of shredded Cheddar. I chose to pull my bread into small pieces directly over the casserole instead of using a processor. I liked the way it left some of the pieces a little bigger and gave it a rustic look.
Finally, sprinkle on the toasted almonds (please don’t tell me you forgot them in the oven!) and bake.
I went the route of the smaller casserole and it was gone in two days. All three of us loved this. The time taken to pre-cook everything is very worth it because the flavor of this dish is fantastic. Dudette discovered that she’s not very fond of water chestnuts, but ate the rest of the dish with gusto. In a way, Hubby and I were a little bummed about that because it meant that we had to share.
It’s everything you want from a potluck casserole; filling, lots of flavor without anything that would be considered exotic, crunchy yet creamy at the same time.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
Part of the reason I included the line about nothing being in the dish that could be considered exotic is because both Hubby and I thought we’d like this even better if it had a little umph. For me, I’d include a some Dijon mustard. For Hubby, he’d choose hot sauce. Not really exotic, just upping the ante a bit. I would also change out the bread crumbs for something with a bit more crunch. Crushed cornflakes or potato chips would work fine.
1 (2.25-oz.) package sliced almonds
2 (6.2-oz.) boxes fast-cooking long-grain and wild rice mix
1/4 cup butter
4 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
5 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 (10 3/4-oz.) cans cream of mushroom soup
2 (8-oz.) cans chopped water chestnuts, drained
1 (8-oz.) container sour cream
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups (16 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
2 cups soft, fresh breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350°. Bake almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan 4 to 6 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.
Prepare rice mixes according to package directions.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add celery and onions. Sauté 10 minutes or until tender. Stir in chicken, next 6 ingredients, rice, and 3 cups cheese. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 15- x 10-inch baking dish or 2 (11- x 7-inch) baking dishes. Top with breadcrumbs.
Bake at 350° for 35 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese, and top with toasted almonds. Bake 5 minutes.
To Make Ahead: Prepare as directed in Steps 2 and 3. Cover with aluminum foil, and freeze up to 1 month. Remove from freezer, and let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Toast almonds as directed in Step 1. Bake casserole, covered, at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 55 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle with 1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese and toasted almonds. Bake 5 more minutes.