With the husband away on business, I tend to fall into my single-me mode of eating: a box of Stove-Top stuffing, or a bag of popcorn for dinner. “This is silly,” I thought while at work one day. “This is my chance to truly experiment with a recipe, try it out, and then I’m the only one affected if it turns out to be inedible.” So I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and picked up a few things.
The random idea bouncing around in my head was to create a casserole version of one of my favorite easy dishes, ranch chicken and tri-color pasta. I had found a stash of old Alton Brown Good Eats episodes on YouTube recently, and had watched an episode where he goes into what makes up a good old-fashioned casserole: 1-2 main ingredients, a starch, aromatics, seasoning and a binder.
So, arriving back at home, I unpacked my casserole ingredients and sorted them out. I had chicken and frozen vegetables for main ingredients, tri-color pasta for a starch, italian seasoning for seasoning, and a packet of ranch dressing mix for my aromatic and binder. I would also be using eggs to help bind everything, and breadcrumbs on the top to give it a nice crust.
I started out by cooking the pasta until it was just al dente. I chopped the chicken into cubes and browned it in some olive oil until there was no pink inside the pieces. I mixed the ranch dressing up as per the instructions (1 cup milk, 1 cup mayo), and whisked in two eggs. Once the pasta was drained, I mixed it with the chicken in the casserole dish, and added about a teaspoon of italian seasoning. Then I poured in the ranch dressing/egg mixture and stirred everything up well. It looked sort of watery, as though the dressing didn’t have enough stuff to cover. I was a little concerned, but figured it would all work out. I sprinkled the top generously with breadcrumbs, and put the casserole into a 350° F oven and washed up the dishes.
I had intended to leave the casserole in the oven for about 50 minutes, but just as I was sitting down after doing the dishes I was struck by the horrible realization that I had forgotten all about the frozen vegetables! I had put them in the freezer to make more room on my work surface, and they had completely slipped my mind. Only about 10 minutes had elapsed since putting the casserole into the oven; surely there was still time! I rushed back to the kitchen and pulled out the casserole.
After puzzling for a moment about what the best way was to fix this, I stirred in the breadcrumbs that had been sprinkled on top, and mixed in about a cup of frozen vegetables. (I was using a California mix: cauliflour, broccoli and carrots.) Now it wasn’t watery at all. I sprinkled more breadcrumbs on top, covered the casserole and placed it back into the oven, crossing my fingers.
I let the casserole cook for an extra 10 minutes to make up for the time it had been out of the oven, and then set it sit for 10 minutes before trying it. I had a serving for dinner, and tried it again the next day warmed up for lunch.
It was… well, it was ok. It was not a pretty casserole, but it was passable. The ranch dressing did not provide enough flavour, though; if I try this again I’ll need to try something else. Perhaps sautee some onions and celery with the chicken? Maybe a few teaspoons of garlic powder? And to be honest, it didn’t seem to need the chicken, which surprised me. Perhaps if the chicken had been marinated in something flavourful it would have been better, but I actually preferred the bites that didn’t contain any chicken. And, as an interesting side-note, it was far better the next day.
So, overall I’d say it was a success. It was edible! Now, I just need another week alone to try tweaking the recipe…