My son Kellen is a single guy who works about 60 hours a week. Along with working that more-than-full time schedule, he also tries to get to the gym as often as he can and he's finally come to realize that his diet also needs to fall into place with his "getting fit" agenda. His problem? Very little time and/or knowledge when it comes to cooking. He's become bored with turkey sandwiches, basic salads, and grilled chicken breasts. Next week he's planning on taking a few days vacation and coming to visit me for Mother's Day. He told me that he and I could "hang out" on Friday and do whatever I'd like to do. Guess what? I've decided that he's going to get a crash course in cooking on that Friday so he can go back home armed with some simple recipes and techniques that will get him started in the cooking world.
If you haven't figured it out yet, I have quite a few recipes on my blog that are easily adaptable to whatever ingredients you might have on hand. I feel that once a basic technique is learned, you can substitute or even omit certain ingredients depending on your own tastes and availability of ingredients. Once you've acquired even just a little experience, you learn quickly which ingredients are absolutely necessary and which ones can be changed and/or omitted.
For instance, this particular recipe for chicken, mushroom and brown rice casserole could be easily changed by substituting leftover pork loin, roast beef, or even canned tuna (which he loves.) The cheeses could be switched out to cheddar and Monterey jack if desired, and the roll of the rice could be played by orzo or even some type of whole wheat pasta. The wine could be omitted all together and the broth changes only depending on which type of meat is used.
So what are the the constants here? The base of this recipe is in the use of aromatics for the sauce. I rarely cook any casserole or soup without beginning with olive oil, onion, celery and garlic. Next come the spices. I chose thyme here, but since my son's spice rack includes only salt, pepper and hot sauce, our first order of business is to fix him up with some very basic seasonings to have on hand. Here's where I'm going to ask for your help. If you had to pick 10 starter spices/seasonings that would benefit a beginning cook, what would they be?
Chicken, Mushroom And Brown Rice Casserole
1 cup brown rice
2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded, diced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
3/4 tsp dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP flour
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/2 cup half and half (can use fat free or use whole milk)
3 oz swiss cheese, shredded
3 oz gruyere cheese, shredded
3 cups seasoned, cooked and diced chicken breast meat (about one pound)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Cook rice per package instructions. Set aside. (One cup uncooked rice yields about 4 cups cooked rice)
In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery and bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper and saute for 5-6 minutes. Add mushrooms, season with thyme and pepper and saute until mushrooms start to brown and lose their moisture, 5-6 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to cook the flour, about two minutes. Add the white wine, chicken broth and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil stirring constantly until mixture is smooth. Remove pan from heat and add the half & half and the cheeses, stirring until sauce is thickened and smooth. Fold in the diced chicken, rice and parsley. Stir to combine well. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. Pour mixture into casserole dish and bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.