The Casserole

I went to a concert a while back. It was Brandi Carlile, it was acoustic, and it was in an old church. I should not have to tell you that it was dan dan good! What made it even better was that she did a lot of chit-chatting in between songs, and as it turns out, she is quite funny. One item of discussion was how Southerners share a penchant for putting “the” in front of certain nouns as if to signify something as the only real one. Case in point—Mama made “the” casserole, or Aunt Shirley came down with “the” cold. This observation made me chuckle to myself because, well, it’s true.

Brandi lounging on an antique couch while a little ray of sunshine burst through the serene room. I love the boots!

Brandi is from the Northwest, but she can throw down a Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson song like no other chick I’ve ever heard. Her music speaks to the very depths of my soul, which interestingly enough is also where the redneck lies. Speaking of redneck tendencies, in my family, we each have certain dishes that Mama makes specifically for each one of us on a special occasion. These favorite dishes are usually in casserole form—since in the South, we do love our casseroles.

When my brother comes home, it’s chicken pot pie casserole. When I come home, it’s a creamy chicken and broccoli casserole that is covered with cheese and topped with cubes of buttery, toasted bread. It is The Casserole, and no casserole could come close to my mom’s, which prior to being my mom’s was my grandmother’s casserole. However, my roommate Matt prepared a casserole that has come closer than any other one thus far. It’s a play on the Italian-American dish Chicken Florentine. Allow me to explain.

First of all, Chicken Florentine did not wash up on our shore from the boot country of Italy to christen our tables. “Florentine” actually comes from a French phrase “a la Florentine” which means “in the style of Florence (Italy)” and refers to dishes (usually eggs or fish) that are presented on a bed of spinach and topped with a white cheese sauce known as Mornay. Here in the US, we like to dish up chicken atop the spinach, but Matt’s casserole takes it one delectable step further. He throws all the ingredients together in a casserole-style consumption method—sprinkled with cheese and browned lightly in the oven.

In case you don’t know, casserole in Latin translates to “pile of sinful goodness.” Alright, maybe that’s my own interpretation. Needless to say, this casserole is NOT as nutritious as it is delicious, but heck, it does have some spinach in it. It’s just disguised by an unholy amount of creamy, cheesy goodness. It’s really all about moderation. Right?!

Unfortunately, casseroles are not so photogenic. Say cheese!

SIDENOTE: I’ve had the great pleasure of attending a concert by Ms. Carlile a total of three times, and all of which exceeded my expectations. She is an amazing singer/songwriter who dabbles in a cluster of genres—a good helping of indie/folksy inspiration, drizzled with some rock-n-roll, a twist of country and maybe the slightest hint of yodeling. Her grandfather was a yodeler. No, I’m not a stalker. Well, at least not yet. She informed the audience of this before serenading us with an improvised yodeling session. Let’s just say, it doesn’t get any better than a Brandi Carlile yodeling. She is also accompanied by a handsome set of twin brothers, who lend their voices and instrumental skills as bandmates. The bottom-line is she puts on one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. My only complaint is that every time I see her she seems to get skinnier and skinnier. I’m just saying maybe somebody should indulge in The Casserole.

Sidenote to SIDENOTE: Whoever decided on the genre name Adult Alternative shouldn’t have; it sounds really lame, which is unfortunate because most of the music is not.

This blog brought to you by—Miranda Lambert, who also speaks to my redneck soul, and baby cheeses.

Chicken Florentine Casserole

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1 (9-ounce) bag of fresh spinach

2 tablespoons butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 (10 ¾-ounce ) can condensed cream of mushroom soup

½ cup half-and-half

½ cup Parmesan cheese

1 (8-ounce) package fresh white mushrooms, sliced

1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Place chicken on a baking sheet, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until no longer pink and juices run clear. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Increase oven temperature to 400°.
  4. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, add spinach to pan; sauté until wilted. Set aside.
  5. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stirring constantly, mix in garlic and next 4 ingredients (through Parmesan cheese).
  6. Arrange spinach over the bottom of a 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Cover spinach with mushrooms and pour half the sauce mixture over mushrooms. Arrange chicken breasts in the dish, and cover with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
  7. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until bubbly and lightly browned. Yield: 4 servings
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