Monday, April 20, 2009

Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole

My mom is the queen of casseroles. She is not very knowledgeable in culinary techniques, but hand her a can of "cream of mushroom" and she becomes a guru. I always marveled at how she was able to come home from a long day at work, and manage to whip up a full meal for five (sometimes six) extremely picky eaters. To give an example of what my mom put up with from me and my siblings and our eating habits: My older sister Christi would not eat anything that was packaged in polystyrene. Take a trip down the meat section at the grocer and tell me that isn't a problem! And there was no fooling her. She would go to the butcher and ASK if that meat had ever touched styrofoam. 

Now that I am cooking for my own family, I'm beginning to gain insight to my mother's method of the casserole. It was fast and easy, and it made it much simpler to please everyone. Things can be hidden inside of casseroles, so even the most distinguishing palate of a picky eater cannot detect it. Tastes can be masked in cheese or ketchup, and you can make a casserole with anything. So when I decided I'd be boycotting fish, and my brothers decided they didn't like brocolli, into the pan it went and suddenly it was transformed into a food medium that everyone would accept.

I'm sharing this memory of my mother's cooking habits because it's time to begin introducing Jonah to meats. Tonight I am making my own rendition of my mother's Creamy Chicken Rice Casserole for both the adults and for Jonah. I'm a little nervous giving him meat for the first time, and I cannot explain why. It has nothing to do with fear of an allergic reaction or digestive problems, or even a fear that he won't like the texture. I am positive that it's the fear of him growing up. The fear that he will soon be moving on to table foods. The fear of what I'm going to do with all of the pureed fruits and veggies filling the entire basement freezer when he does. 

The recipe for the casserole is almost identical in its components for babies as well as adults. The biggest two differences are the way in which the ingredients are prepared, and instead of using condensed soup, I am using breast milk and rice cereal for the creamy effect.

Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole Baby Food:
Dark meat chicken with the skins
ground brown rice cereal (as discussed in previous recipes)
frozen peas and/or lima beans
one cube pureed spinach and/or brocolli (thawed)
one cube pureed carrots (thawed)

Choosing the Chicken: To choose the chicken that I am using, I looked for all natural USDA organic chicken that lacks antibiotics, fillers, and genetic altering. I went with the drumsticks, because dark meat is richer in nutrients such as heme iron and fat. While fat may be something to keep away from as adults, it is important in the developing brains of infants. The heme iron is also something that is important to me as a mother who nurses and is also anemic. Although Jonah is no longer exclusively nursed, and he takes formula for many of his feedings, I know that iron is something that my milk lacks. I also looked for drumsticks that still had the skin, because it will also contain more fat and nutrients and help retain the nutrients in the flesh during cooking.

Preparing the Chicken: I filled a casserole dish with water until it was about two inches deep. I placed the drumsticks into the dish and baked uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 F. Then I turned the pieces over and covered the dish, baking for another 30 minutes. I left the chicken out to cool for about twenty minutes, then put it in the fridge to chill.

Once the chicken was chilled, I took the skin off and discarded it (fed it to the dog. When baby eats well, so does pooch!) Save the broth to use later! I removed the chicken from the bone and placed it in the food processor. The chicken was processed until I had fine crumbles. It's now ready for the baby food "casserole!"

Putting it all together: I used the cooking juice from the chicken to cook the rice cereal. I used about a half a cup of broth and brought it to a simmer, then added the ground rice. I let it simmer for about five minutes. While the rice was cooking, I prepared the peas/lima beans in the microwave. When the peas were cooked, I pureed them in the food processor. This step can be done ahead of time if needed. When the rice was finished, I combined the veggies, rice, and about a tablespoon of the chicken crumbles. I then finished it off by adding an ounce of breastmilk.

The chicken crumbles can be frozen, as can prepared meat baby food. However, it doesn't freeze well and it is recommended to use it as soon as possible. I would suggest cooking only enough chicken for the week, or using whatever you don't use for Baby's casserole in the adult casserole!

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