Crock Pot Chicken Casserole

In the last month, I have become a more active user of Pinterest. Part of the reason I because I am helping a great animal shelter called Wayside Waifs try to win the ASPCA/Rachael Ray 100K Challenge.

Wayside Waifs is Kansas City’s largest no-kill animal shelter. Each year, they find loving homes for near 6,500 abused, neglected, and abandoned animals in our community. Through the ASPCA/Rachael Ray Challenge, they are trying to increase their pet adoptions by the greatest percentage over last year. Since they run entirely on donations, their goal is to win the $100,000 grand prize so they can continue providing shelter for Kansas City’s most vulnerable animals.

One way I am helping achieve their social media goals designed to increase adoptions is by helping them with Pinterest. (I’m amazed I haven’t adopted one of these adorable little furry friends – they are so cute!) Spending a lot of time Pinning for them has increased my personal interest in Pinterest. With all the Pins of yummy food, I may never have to buy another recipe book/magazine again. This particular recipe came from a personal three hour binge pinning. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It kind of reminded me of Hamburger Casserole expect with chicken.

Crock Pot Chicken CasseroleCrock Pot Chicken Casserole
1 (32 oz.) bag of tater tots
1 package (2 cups) cheddar cheese
3 oz. of cooked bacon or bacon bits
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, diced and raw

Spray your crock pot with non-stick cooking spray. Pour in half a bag of tater tots. Layer with a 1/3 of cheese and bacon. Cover with diced pieces of chicken. Top with a 1/3 of cheese and bacon. Top with remaining tater tots. Finally top with remaining cheese and bacon. Bake on low for 4 – 4 1/2 hours (up to 6 hours if you have an older slow cooker.)

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Why Rachael Ray and I could be friends

When I was a kid, my mother went to work outside the home when I was in second grade. This often meant I was responsible for preparing my own afternoon snacks. Before the days of The Food Network, I used to pretend their was a video camera in my kitchen and I would talk to it about what I was making for my afternoon snack. My sister, next door neighbor Julie, and my friend Katrina can also attest to some of my microwave cooking experiments. I know, I know…it’s totally silly, right?

My original plan when I went off to college was to double major – Broadcast and Advertising. I ended up just pursing the Advertising side of the J-school.  But what I was  really good at volunteering and volunteer management (the extra curricular stuff). One of my friend suggested I pursue a career in social work. I actually looked into for a minute but decided it wasn’t want I wanted to do. With a nudge from a few other friends, I pursed opportunities which led me two terms as AmeriCorps member, mentoring and tutoring children. I loved what I did but pursed my Masters in Public Administration so I could actually get paid a decent wage for it. Although I love my career in the nonprofit sector, my heart still has a special place for that dream of one day hosting my own cooking show.

So why do I think Rachael Ray and I could be friends? In June, Rachael Ray came to Kansas City. I was super excited when I heard she was coming and bought her new burger cookbook immediately from Rainy Day Books so I could meet her (I was the 7th person to place my order). She’s my favorite celebrity chef. That weekend, I met Tony Dovolani and Chelsea Hightower (both very sweet) from Dancing with the Stars…but I was really hoping Rachael Ray would sign my book in front of me. Unfortunately, with over 1,000 attendees, she signed the books in advance.

Rachael Ray is just as cute and bubbly in person. I also loved this beautiful story she shared about how she still has a flip phone from over 12 years ago. She saves it to listen to about 20 voicemail messages her husband has sent since the day they first met. Gotta love that!

The story about how she got her big break is also amazing. Rachael was working at a few different food stores. At one, they realized the pre-cooked meals sold a lot better than the gourmet ingredients for people to cook those meals themselves. It sparked an idea,  Rachael said they figured if people would wait 30 minutes for a Domino pizza (back in those 30 minutes or less promo days), what if they could teach them how to cook a meal using their ingredients in the same amount of time. The idea was golden.  And without the funds to hire a chef, Rachael assumed the responsibility of showing people how to cook with their high end products. Pretty soon, she had a segment on their local TV station. The recipes turned into little cookbooks sold at their local grocery stores. As luck would have it Weatherman Al Roker got a copy of one of the cookbooks and gave it to his producer. When a snowstorm was scheduled to hit the northeast, Rachael got a call from Al’s producer to do The Today Show. This happened just after she was asked to cook a recipe on a NPR station. The cards aligned and producers at The Food Network took notice. And America fell in love with Rachael Ray.

So why do I think we could be friends? I’m not a culinary trained chef – just a person who loves to cook. Who knows, maybe I’ll get my big break to share a recipe in the local media. And although I don’t regret my decision to go the nonprofit PR route, a little part of me wishes I would have got the broadcast degree. As I learn more about telling people’s stories working with clients, I think I would have been a pretty good producer.

Today, I am sharing one of the recipes from Rachael Ray’s newest cookbook. I personally think it is her best one yet so I hope you go out and pick-up a copy. It even is filled with QR codes to link to more recipes and videos.

Tips by Rachael Ray that I love:

  • Bake bacon. Rachael suggest bacon on a wire rack so the grease drips off. Plus, you don’t splatter all over your kitchen.
  • Make your burgers thick on the outside than the middle. They will even out when cooking and also cook more evenly.
  • Take a pound of meat and flatten it into a square. Score it and divide into four sections. This way your burgers are all the same size without having to steal from a burger that is already complete.

Meat Lover’s Burger by Rachael Ray
2 plum tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 sprinkle of dried oregano
Kosher salt and pepper
EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) for drizzling
1/4 lb. bacon, finely diced
1 lb. ground beef
2 large garlic cloves, minced or grated
A handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 oz. salami pieces
1/4 lb. ham
4 slices of provolone cheese
4 crusty rolls
A handful of basil leaves, torn
A handful of arugula leaves
Thinly sliced red onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange sliced tomatoes on a cookie sheet. Season with oregano, salt, and pepper. Drizzle with EVOO. Bake for 40 minutes. Mix meat, garlic, and parsley together. From into four patties. Cook in a skillet with EVOO. When finished, top with cheese and melt for a minute. Serve on a bun with tomato, onion, and fresh greens.

Quick Substitutes and Baking Tips

  • Don’t want to wait 30-60 minutes for your butter to get softened? You can soften a stick of butter in the microwave. Unwrap and place microwave safe plate. Cook at 30% power for 15-20 seconds. 1
  • When recipes refer to baking pans, they are referring to metal pans. This is because they produce even, golden surface dishes. If you are like me and you prefer to cook with a glassware (because it dish-washer safe), note that glass dishes bake even faster than baking pans. You might need to modify your baking time on recipes to accommodate this change. 1
  • Evaporated skim milk can replace whipping cream in many recipes. If you decided to cook with reduced-fat evaporated milk, you might notice some changes texture and flavor. 1
  • What is the difference between evaporated milk and sweet condensed milk? Sweetened condensed milk is a mixture of whole milk and sugar where 60% of the water has been removed. Evaporated milk is unsweetened condensed milk. 1
  • Don’t have the fresh herbs on hand? You can substitute one Tablespoon of fresh herbs with one teaspoon of dried herbs. Remember to add at the beginning of a recipe though because it takes longer for dried herbs to come alive. 2
  • Have more fresh herbs from your garden than you can possibly use in the summer time. Cut them up and put them in an ice cube tray – approximately one Tablespoon per slot. Add water and freeze. Once frozen, remove from tray and store in a freezer tight container. This will provide you with fresh herbs when you need them during winter months. 3
  • To make ketchup from scratch: combine 1 c. tomato sauce, 1 tsp. cider vinegar, and 1 tsp.  sugar. Test to your taste liking. 2
  • If you are like me and you aren’t a huge mustard fan, you might not have a bottle in your fridge. I loved this suggestion to if you need to make special kinds of mustard. Combine 1 T. of dry mustard from your spice rack, 1 tsp. of water, 1 tsp. of vinegar (your choice of type), and a pinch of salt. Add honey or tarragon to make different kinds of mustard. 2
  • Have a recipe that calls for buttermilk but don’t want to go to the store and spend a fortune on a ½ quart size? Add 1 T. of lemon juice to a cup of milk. 2
  1.  December 2011/January 2012 issue of Taste’s of Home’s Simple and Delicious Magazine  (Get a free issue by clicking on the link)
  2. Rachael Ray Show featuring Sara Moulton on 2/21/12 (Watch the segment)
  3. Taste of Home Cooking School (Cooking Show in Lee’s Summit on 4/3/12 – $15 tickets went on sale 2/28 through The Examiner)