Monday, July 4, 2011

Celery Spectacular! The Celery Chicken Casserole

Some things in this world just never get the credit they deserve. So, it's important to sometimes stop, look and listen for all the things in our lives that make it better. I contend that celery is one of those things, and I'd like to shine the spotlight on this crunchy, fibrous vegetable. Whether we are using celery seed, celery root or the vegetable, the versatility of celery provides endless possibilities.

Sure it's fun to eat when you stuff it with cream cheese or peanut butter or if you dunk it into a big bowl of dip. But celery has a personality all its own. I read somewhere that the act of eating a stalk of celery burns more calories then you take in by ingesting the vegetable itself. What else are you going to eat that has a negative calorie count?  Let me be upfront that I don't count calories - and that's pretty obvious! Just the same, I thought it would be fun to make a dish where I could take an entire bunch of celery and use the whole thing.

So, here is our celery spectacular - Celery Chicken Casserole! I created this recipe from scratch, but you can see the influences came from reading hundreds of cookbooks published in the 1950's - tried and true!! This is something for the celery lovers out there, and if you're not crazy about celery this may just change your mind!

Celery Chicken Cassarole
4 large chicken thighs (you can use 2-3 breasts if you prefer white meat)
1 entire bunch celery
10-12 cups of water
a small onion, stalk of celery, a carrot, salt, 3 bay leaves and a few peppercorns
1 12oz bag of egg noodles (wide)
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cooking liquid from chicken and celery
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 small sprig fresh thyme (or use a 1/2 tsp dried if you don't have fresh)
2 cups of grated cheese (your choice - I use Romano or something on the sharp side)

Put chicken in a large pot and cover with at least two inches of water. Cut a small onion in half and put in pot along with a stalk of celery, a carrot (no need to peel) a tablespoon of salt, bay leaves, and a few peppercorns. Cover pot and bring water to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer 25-30 minutes.
Transfer chicken from pot to a plate and allow to cool enough to handle. When chicken has cooled a little, remove meat from bones and set aside. In the meantime, skim fat and chicken gunk from pot that you poached the chicken in. Remove the vegetables and bay leaves, too.

Chop the ENTIRE bunch of celery (leaves and all - there's a lot of  flavor in those leaves!). Put chopped celery in bowl of cold water and stir to remove any dirt. Remove celery and put in pot with liquid that chicken cooked in. Bring liquid to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer celery in liquid until tender to the bite - about 8 to 10 minutes.

While celery is simmering cook your egg noodles in a seperate pot. Follow instructions on bag, but reduce cooking time by 3 minutes - the noodles will continue to cook when you put it all in the oven and you don't want them to be too soft.

When celery is tender, remove from liquid (you can save that liquid - freeze it or put it in the's a good starter for soup!). Empty on cans of cream of celery and cream of chicken soups in a bowl. Add milk and a half cup of the chicken/celery cooking liquid. Add your spices: onion powder, dry mustard, celery seed, white pepper and thyme.

Preheat oven to 350. In large oven safe bowl or baking dish, add your noodles, cooked chicken, celery, soup mixture and 1 1/2 cup of cheese. Combine well - make sure all the noodles are coated with the soup mixture. Take remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and sprinkle over the top (you could also use buttered bread crumbs here, or crispy fried onions).  Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese on top is golden brown. Remove from oven, let stand for about 10 minutes, serve and wonder why you waited so long to enjoy the glory of celery!

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