Like I'd mentioned on Facebook, this is one of those casseroles where you throw half your pantry in a casserole dish, put in the oven, and hope it tastes good. Although I love love love to cook, I really got out of the habit of it, between the busy 4th quarter at the store and not having fridge for a month.
This casserole came together because we needed dinner, and this is what we had for ingredients, so it is definitely one of those that could have a lot of different substitutions, depending on what you like or what you have on hand. The basic elements of The Casserole are the meat, the starch, the veggies, the cheese, and the "goo" that holds it together and makes it creamy.
For meat, I tend to go with chicken, because I usually have leftover rotisserie. Canned chicken or tuna work in a pinch. The starch is either cooked egg noodles or rice, and the veggies are obviously whatever I have that sounds good together. I like a little crunch in my casserole, so you could use water chesnuts, celery (though careful, it has strong flavor), or even slivered almonds. Plus, cutting them up nice and small is a sneaky way to get more veggies into your kids' diet - you hardly notice the texture, and the flavor isn't as strong, and you have the bonus of the added veggies. Cheese for me is usually cheddar, but in this case, swiss fit better and needed to be used up.
The "goo" typically starts with a can of good 'ol Cambell's Cream of Something Soup, then you can do a little bit of mayo, some sour cream, even plain yogurt. A great way to reduce the fat and calories of your casserole is to use lighter fat versions of these things, as well as the cheese. Just don't use fat free, for goodness sake - the texture and flavor just end up tasting flat.
Anyway, enough blabbing, let's make dinner!
Egg noodles, 3 big handfuls (about 1/2 a package or so)
Onion, about 1/4 cup minced
Garlic, 1 crushed clove (you can also use a shallot in place of the onion and garlic, as that's what a shallot tastes like!)
Mushrooms, about a cup, diced up
Frozen Spinach, about 1/2 cup chopped finely (I buy loose bagged spinach and grab what I need)
Water Chesnuts, 1 can, chopped up (unless you want large chunks)
Cooked Chicken, about 2 cups chopped
Cream of Mushroom Soup, 1 can (other flavors would be fine too)
Plain Yogurt, about 1/4 cup
Cottage cheese, about 1/4 cup
Swiss Cheese, about 2 or so cups shredded
Salt and Pepper to taste, 1/4 tsp each or so (if you have one of those salt-free seasoning blends, like Mrs. Dash or something, adding 1/4 tsp of that would also be tasty)
Ritz Crackers, crushed (use as many as you need to cover the top of the casserole with a light coating, which was about 10 for me)
1. Cook and drain the egg noodles.
2. While the water is boiling, and the noodles are cooking, chop up all the veggies as desired. Saute the onions, mushrooms, and garlic in about a tablespoon of butter over medium high heat until soft and yummy looking, about 5 minutes or so.
3. Combine everything together - the cooked noodles, cooked veggies, spinach, water chestnuts, chicken, soup, yogurt, cottage cheese, and about HALF the swiss cheese. Add the salt, pepper, and a seasoning blend if desired. I used 1/4 tsp of regular Mrs. Dash, and a dash (no pun in tended, that's just what it was!) of Tobasco sauce. If you have too many noodles, just add some more veggies. If you don't have enough noodles, don't worry, it'll taste great. The key is to have enough "goo" for your casserole to be nice and creamy. Chris' casseroles always taste better than mine, and I think it is because he puts more goo in his than I do.
4. Pour into a casserole dish. Mine fit into a deep dish 7 x 11 inch dish, but a 9 x 13 looked like it would have been right too. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, then sprinkle on the cracker crumbs.
5. Cover with foil, then bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Then take the cover off and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the casserole is heated through, the cheese is melted, and the crackers have toasted a bit.
Serve with a tossed salad or steamed veggies. Seems like it would serve about 6, with some leftovers.
I guess this casserole isn't that weird. It was just weird to me - I've never used yogurt or cottage cheese in a chicken casserole before, nor do I typically use swiss or sprinkle with crackers. It felt funny to me to keep opening the fridge, freezer, and pantry, take something out and throw it in. The flavor didn't turn out weird, though, so maybe I'd better think up a different name...