We have been using this recipe in our family for over a decade and making it brings back memories of all the meals we’ve prepared and shared as a family. Since this is a casserole, you're usually making it for a few people, so part of the comfort in this food is perhaps having somebody there to help prepare it with you and share it with afterwards.
“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey. To eat such a meal is to remember that, though the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for kindness. The angels, who know no hunger, have never been as satisfied.” ― Eli Brown, Cinnamon and Gunpowder
Step 1: Gather Ingredients
2 – 3 cups cooked chicken (shredded or diced)
3 – 4 cups fresh potatoes and carrots (diced or sliced)
1 medium onion, diced or mince
½ cup celery, sliced or minced
1 can peas (8 oz. or 15.5 oz.)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
About 1 1/4 cup of bechamel sauce * (recipe included) or equivalent in gravy
1 box dressing mix
0 – 8 oz of shredded cheese
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/8 cup milk
salt and pepper, to taste
Step 2: Start Chopping the Vegetables
Chop the potatoes into 1/3 inch cubes and the carrots into disks about 1/4 inch thick. There’s a lot of chopping to do, but it’s comforting to me to be able to prepare something my family is going to love. It’s comforting to produce the little cubes and disks and hear the tap-tap-tap of the knife on the cutting board.
Step 3: Keep Chopping
Dice or mince the celery and onion. I mince the celery and onion as my kids aren’t wild about them, but if it’s small enough they won’t really notice it. They don't mind the taste at all.
Take comfort in knowing the amounts and kinds of vegetables can be varied. Use more of what you like and none of what you scorn.
Step 4: Saute Vegetables
Saute the vegetables in the vegetable oil. Cook on medium and stir until they’re done. Al dente is fine, as they are going to cook for 30 minutes in the oven. Salt and pepper to taste.
Step 5: Make the Bechamel Sauce
While the vegetables are sauteing, you can get the bechamel sauce started.
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add flour and keep stirring until smooth and bubbling. Let it bubble, but stir it so it doesn’t burn. Don’t rush this. You are making a roux and it’s important that the mixture cooks for a few minutes to get rid of the flavor of raw flour.
After a few minutes, remove roux from heat. Gradually add all the milk, and whisk it to keep it smooth. Return to heat and bring to a gentle boil, whisking constantly until thickened. It takes a few minutes, but the sauce should thicken noticeably. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If I’ve cooked chicken and have pan drippings, I’ve made gravy instead of bechemel sauce. Take comfort in knowing that whichever one you use, you’ll have a tasty casserole.
Step 6: Add the Cooked Chicken
Add the cooked chicken to the sautéed vegetables.
I have used several kinds of chicken. Easiest is canned chicken and that is fine. I have boiled breasts or thighs and stripped the meat from the bones and shredded it. I have also used leftover roasted turkey, or part of a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Again, part of the comfort of this recipe is knowing that it's forgiving. I have varied the type of chicken, and it's always good.
Step 7: Stir
Add canned peas. I’m not a big fan of peas but these green orbs and the orange discs of carrot give the dish a comforting mix of color and shapes.
Add béchamel sauce. Stir all the vegetables, chicken, and sauce together
Step 8: Add Mixture, Dressing, and Cheese to Baking Dish.
Put the mixture into a 9 x 11 casserole dish.
Make the dressing according to the instructions. I use a stuffing mix that is prepared in a pot on the top of the stove. Spread dressing over the top of the filling
Sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the dressing. You can use little or no cheese, or a half pound of cheese. I used a mixture of cheddar and Colby in this preparation, because that’s what I had on hand. Take comfort in knowing just about any mild cheese will do, or skip the cheese if you wish.
Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.
Step 9: Share and Enjoy
This makes 6 to 8 servings, so share and enjoy.
"You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients."
"I genuinely believe that food connects us all." -- Eric Ripert