This chicken casserole with wild rice is a great way to use up leftovers from your pantry or refrigerator. Also a great recipe to make with Thanksgiving leftovers!
This recipe for chicken casserole with wild rice was originally published in the Greenwood Daily Journal on Saturday January 7, 2012.
At the beginning of each new year my family and I have what I like to affectionately call ‘The Great Purge’. Out with the old, used and outdated and in with the new. Over the course of our holiday break we go room by room and remove anything and everything that we don’t absolutely need. I go through closets to weed out what doesn’t fit, pack up what is out of season and organize what’s left. I go through our bookshelves and sort what we have read into piles. One pile goes up to the attic, one pile goes to Goodwill and the other goes back on the shelf. The same goes for toys and other gizmo’s that the boys have cluttering their rooms.
This year I even traveled to Ikea in Ohio for suitable storage receptacles and by the next evening, our bedrooms were in tip-top shape. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we have a lot of stuff that we don’t need but as each year goes by tastes change and things just plain get worn out. Thankfully both of my kids are very much into cars, Lego’s and blocks so having too many toys has never been a problem we have had to tackle.
Next I moved on to the kitchen and pantries. I do this phase by myself as this is kind of my area on interest. If it were up to my husband we would have a skillet, a random selection of plates and silverware, a few cups and a coffee maker. Now I am a minimalist to say the least but over time things tend to accumulate here and there. I mean how many different types of tea bags does one family need? I don’t even remember buying this stuff!
I completely emptied my shelves in the kitchen pantry and reorganized my walk in pantry to better see what I was working with. What I found was that somehow I had started to almost hoard food. I am not prone to buying pre-packaged meals so what I saw was an enormous amount of flour, sugars, rice/pasta and canned pumpkin. Several boxes of chicken stock and an inconceivable amount of packaged chocolate chips was just the tip of the iceberg. Two kinds of couscous, every kind of pasta and several types of canned fruit was what I saw. Ashamed is what I felt.
I have always been a very careful shopper. It always seemed to me that I used everything I bought and I only bought what I needed. I do tend to occasionally pick up new or interesting items at the store or international market that I shop at that I save for later use or inspiration. What happens is that as soon as it is shelved I forget I have it. Now I am not talking food waste on a massive scale here but more than the usual household amount. You know how it is sometimes when you have a coupon you are almost subliminally encouraged to buy that item and assume you will use it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I forget I even have it.
So what I decided then and there was that for the rest of our break at home I would use up my stores of dry goods before I bought new supplies. I sat down and plotted out meals using what I had to the best of my ability. We had plenty in the freezer , fresh items in the refrigerator and fruit to get us by.
After it was all put back and organized I thought that I was probably not the only one with this problem. During the holidays many of us stock up for impromptu visits, family gatherings and the additional meals had at home due to being off of work and school. I am sure ,like me, many others do not use everything they buy. I asked my kids what I should do with all of this loot, food that had it gone unnoticed would have gone to waste. They both simultaneously said “Give it away!” so that’s what we did. What we did not use, we bagged up and gave away. I am fortunate enough to have a few friends with spouses that run food pantries. One is in Bloomington and the other is literally 2 miles from my home, Care Pantry. The food we were donating will go to help others in our area and it occurred to me that not a lot of people in my area may know this.
In the last few years the Givers have become the Needy. Many that had comfortable and secure lives have had to deal with losing jobs, their health or other such calamities that have made the numbers in need swell and the numbers of working poor have risen. These are not the obvious people you see on the streets. These are hard working families like you and I who are just trying to do their best to stay afloat. A situation can go from bad to worse over night and I for one feel better knowing that Johnson county has so many services to offer these families.
I find it fitting that I share one of what I like to call Pantry Dinners with you. This chicken casserole with wild rice can be made in one large dish or split into two small ones. One to eat now and the other to freeze for later. In the spirit of giving and sharing perhaps the second dish can be given to a friend or someone who could use a warm meal. Regardless, this quick, easy and delicious meal can be made with many things you may already have in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer. Feel free to make substitutions for what I have used, they are just suggestions.
So that brings me back to the problem of my overcrowded pantry. Yes, I tend to buy to many staples as if waiting for a catastrophic event to happen. No one needs 10 bags of frozen peas in their freezer at one time. However, I am going to continue to buy extra here and there when I can. If I can put together 1 bag of groceries from time to time and that even helps one family then I have done something that I can feel good about. Who is to say that couldn’t be me, couldn’t be any of us? Did I learn a lesson here? Yes. As the amount of people who can give lessons and the numbers that are in need increase lets not forget that need has no season. People are just as hungry in January as in November. I bet we all have just a bit that we can give and who knows? That gift of food may do more for your spirit than for the recipients.