A Cozy Chicken Casserole for a Wintery Day

This is so hot out of the oven that it's still bubbling! Lovely!

This is not one of those things that photographs well on a plate. Here it is fresh out of the oven…so hot that it’s still bubbling! Lovely.

Tomorrow marks the American Thanksgiving holiday celebration and the real beginning of the big holiday season. It seems like time—which has already flown this year—is speeding up incrementally each moment that passes. Yes, I’ll admit it, I’m feeling the pressure!

But this week I’m taking some time to give thanks and count the many blessings in my life. I give thanks for my supportive family (you know who you are) and friends who have helped us survive this rather traumatic year. Thanks for our home being repaired and secured, and the ability to stay warm and fed during the cold months ahead. And thanks to my loving husband for the 15 years of marriage we will celebrate this Thanksgiving Day!

Our young owl friend in the back yard.

Our young owl friend in the back yard.

As I sit here writing this post, I hear an owl just outside my window hooting and hunting as dusk falls. We have owls around here most of the year, awesome creatures—beautiful and yet terrifying if you’re the target of their dinner. A family of Red Tail hawks lives a few doors down from us and we see and hear them quite often, too.

And a couple of weeks ago my husband snapped this image of one of three pileated woodpeckers (Woody Woodpecker!) This one hung around in our back yard feeding on bugs in the pines for a while, and you can see the bug in its beak. Though they are loud birds, they are quite shy, so it was really a coupe for him to catch this one with a snap!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll of this rather natural and country living, right here in the deep heart of a metropolitan area. Blessed, I’m tellin’ ya!

I’m in the mood for a little comfort food at the moment to chase away the chilly rain, very high winds and wintery mix we’re having down south, so I made up this little casserole to fit that bill. Maybe this came about because I was thinking of the holiday foods ahead, because it definitely has the chicken and dressing kind of action going on here. But it was actually inspired by my Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad which seems to be a favorite of Pinterest pinners. The texture of this casserole is wonderfully comforting—nutty, chewy, savory and a teensy bit creamy, with a tiny hit of sweet from the grapes and the tarragon. It ticks off all the boxes, without being a super creamy, fat laden casserole—which I like as well as anyone, but don’t need this time of year! It takes some effort and a few dishes, but it makes a lot and the taste is definitely worthwhile. It also reheats well in the microwave. You can run your cursor over, or click on any image below to read through the process, or to see a larger image slideshow.

To all of those who celebrate, have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving and a Happy Hannukah as well. And I hope everyone has a happy, fun and safe weekend ahead.

Chicken, Wild Rice, Pecan and Roasted Grape Casserole
Makes about 8 servings

2 cups red seedless grapes, washed
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 bone-in and skin on chicken breasts, (about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 lbs. with bone)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups long grain and wild rice blend, uncooked
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 cups low sodium chicken stock, or homemade
1 cup finely diced celery (about 2 stalks)
1 cup peeled and finely diced shallot (about 4 medium shallots)
1/2 cup pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup low fat milk
1/2 cup additional chicken stock (I use rendered juice from cooking the chicken breasts)
1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Lightly grease a large ovenproof casserole (I use enamelware) with olive oil and set aside. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and lightly grease it with olive oil. Place the washed grapes on the cookie sheet and toss them in 1 teaspoon of olive oil to coat. Roast the grapes in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until they are shiny and plump. Remove and set aside to cool. Reduce the heat in the oven to 375 degrees F.

Lightly oil a glass dish that will comfortably fit the two chicken breasts and place them in it. Drizzle the 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over both breasts and sprinkle each with a tiny bit of kosher salt and black pepper. Bake the chicken in the oven for about 35 -45 minutes at 375 degrees F, until done and the juices run clear when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven and cover with aluminum foil. Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes, then uncover and remove the chicken to a plate to cool, reserving any drippings in the pan. When the chicken is cool enough to touch, remove the meat from the bones and tear it into bite sized pieces with your hands, discarding the skin and bones. Set the meat aside.

While the chicken is baking, put the rice into a large, heavy saucepan and cover with the six cups chicken stock and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover. Cook until the rice is just al dente and almost all liquid has been absorbed, about 35 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand covered for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a very large mixing bowl.

In a large, non-stick skillet, melt the 1 Tablespoon of butter over medium heat, then add the chopped celery and shallots, a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper, and sauté until the shallot is becoming transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir, cooking it for about a minute, then slowly add in the milk, then the sour cream, stirring until smooth. Add the drippings from the chicken (or the additional 1/2 cup stock if you prefer), 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, and allow the sauce to cook for a minute or two until thickened slightly, stirring, then turn off the heat.

Slice the cooled, roasted grapes in half and add them to the rice in the large mixing bowl. Add the chopped toasted pecans, the chicken and the sauce and stir to combine well. Add the tarragon and 1/2 cup of cheese to the mixture and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if needed, by adding more kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon the chicken and rice mixture into the large prepared casserole dish, smoothing the top, and sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of cheese. Bake at 375 degrees F for 35-45 minutes until the mixture is bubbling and the cheese is golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve hot. Great with a salad or roasted green beans.

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35 thoughts on “A Cozy Chicken Casserole for a Wintery Day

  1. Happy 15th anniversary, Betsy, wishing you many, many more. So happy to know your house is back to normal in time for the celebration and the holidays.
    Both the owl and woodpecker photos are just delightful, like they were posing for you. It is raining and windy today and your chicken casserole would be most welcomed.

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    • Thanks so much, Norma! We plan to enjoy celebrating this weekend. And yes, it is so good have all back to normal in the house except moving and placing a few items. 🙂 I’m amazed that my husband could catch the owl and the woodpecker…but he is a professional photographer so that helps. The do look like they were posing now that you mention it! Happy Thanksgiving to you!

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  2. I think it looks gorgeous and I’d fight you for the crispy bits 😉 Oh my what a year you’ve had – so glad you all came thorugh it ok and now you can celebrate 15 wonderful years – congratulations to you both nd wishing you many, many more years of love and togetherness.

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  3. I am thankful for our many years of friendship and that we have reconnected! and grateful for this recipe- I shall use leftover turkey and do this instead of my usual tetrazzini.

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    • Back at you, Bill! Hope your Thanksgiving is an awesome one. Leftover turkey would be excellent in this! And if you make turkey stock from the carcass and use that instead of chicken stock, I’ll bet that would be terrific, too. 🙂

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  4. Happy thanksgiving and happiest anniversary to and your husband, 15 years is a wonderful benchmark. How beautiful those photos of the birds are, it’s lovely that you and your husband were able to get such gorgeous photos.
    The casserole sounds delicious, I can imagine how wonderful your home must have smelled as it was baking and a wonderful fall dish. We’ve had a light dusting of snow already and I suspect it’s the beginning of real winter. I’m very glad that your home is finished, it must be so nice to have a fire on during those chilly nights.

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    • Thank you so much, Eva. We are celebrating anniversary all weekend! And yes, it was quite lucky that Dave was able to get those snaps of the birds. They are super hard to catch and we were both out there with cameras, though his had a zoom lens. We have enjoyed the leftovers from this casserole almost as much as the main event. It’s a keeper recipe. We saw our first little dusting of snow this week and were so glad to have the fireplace. Stay warm and happy weekend!

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  5. What a lovely, warming and comforting meal. I’m so glad you’re house was repaired in time before the cold set in. And happy anniversary! And your birds are gorgeous – we don’t have those varieties here xx

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  6. Well, Happy Anniversary to the Newlyweds! I hope the year ahead is a happy one for you both.
    Your casserole sounds terrific, Betsy, and this certainly is the time for one. It sure looks good coming out of the oven. Personally, I love ’em. They warm up the kitchen, perfume the air, and chase the chill from my bones. I like that you’ve added nuts to your dish and, surprisingly, grapes. I bet they’re a treat for the palate and offer a real contrast to the nuts.
    I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Betsy. 🙂

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    • Thank you so much, John! We actually do feel a bit like newlyweds this weekend. We closed on our house the week after we were married and moved in, so having it completed right now seems appropriate and cause for celebration as well! I love casseroles, too, and the roasted grapes and pecans in this one really do make it like a stuffing surrounding the bits of bird. It’s a keeper! We had a great Thanksgiving and I hope you did, too. Have a super weekend!

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  7. Betsy! I love everything about your blog!!! I can’t believe I found you. Sorry, I guess I should let you know who this is…Ginny Treadwell Risner. Yes, it is really me. This blog is wonderful. I’m a little behind on reading it. Might take me a couple of weeks to catch up. Glad you are doing well and happy anniversary! Take care, Ginny

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  8. Dear Betsy! First, Happy Anniversary! Seems a wonderful way to celebrate it with family and feast! I love the way you’ve taken such notice of the beauty and the blessings and given such thanks. I think it does us all good to hear one another’s gratitude…it can be infectious (IMHO, a very good thing!) May the season be gentle with you Betsy! xo

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  9. What a comforting and cozy casserole. I would love to dig into that on this chilly day (all of 60 degrees here in So Cal). Those birds are awesome. I am so jealous. What a beautiful view you have among the birds. I hope this coming new year finds you at peace with your house.

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    • Hi Geni and thanks…I’m so glad you like the casserole. It is rainy and cold here…typical GA weather for this time of year as is the fact that we will get up to 79 on Friday! We were down to 19 when I made this casserole and now I think we need to grill out this weekend. 🙂 Appreciate your good thoughts and and I hope the new year is all good things and filled with peace for you, too.

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  10. My sons say everything thing I make takes several pots and bowls, so I won’t mind one bit. I was just deleting a bunch of food blog emails ’cause I just don’t have the time right now to ‘check them out’ BUT I had to see your Cozy Chicken Casserole. And I’m so glad I ‘came to visit’. (I also want to check out your Chicken Tarragon Salad !!)
    Congratulations on your 15th anniversary!! And I really liked the photos of the owl and the woodpecker!!

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    • Hi Cecile, and thanks so much for not deleting me! I know what you mean, I keep trying to catch up every day and it’s impossible right now! So glad you like this casserole and the bird pics. We have cardinals out in the bare trees right now. 🙂

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  11. Sometimes the best of foods just don’t photograph so well…but it certainly does not matter! Your casserole looks so wonderful that I think I will be putting it on our holiday menu this season. It has all of my favorite things in it!

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  12. Pingback: Zero to Hero Day 4, The Incredible Never-Ending Blog Post of Doom Part 2 | Rose B Fischer

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