Easy Chicken Noodle Casserole

Leftovers are the bane of a lot of cooks, but they shouldn’t be. Some pretty awesome – and easy – dinners can be made from leftovers. Often left forgotten in the refrigerator, they can be transformed into something pretty tasty – with minimal effort – the next day.

Chicken is one of those foods that lends itselt to leftovers. For example, you make things such as quesadilllas, wraps, salads and pot pies with leftover chicken.

My favorite is a casserole, one that you can make on the stovetop, just like the following, which we had for supper the other night.

Easy Chicken Noodle Casserole
3 cups cooked chicken, cut up
1 pint sliced carrots with juice
1 cup frozen peas
1 small onion, diced
1 cup leftover chicken gravy
Salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces egg noodles
Saute onion in olive oil while cooking pasta according to package instructions. Add chicken, vegetables and gravy. Cook for 10 minutes. If you need to thicken, mix some cornstarch with water and add to pan.
Once mixtures thickens, serve over cooked pasta.
Note: You also could use other vegetables such as corn.

Mushroom and Beef Tacos with Salsa Verde

Tomatoes lend themselves to all sorts of ethnic fare, especially Mexican food. Can you imagine what south-of-the-border cuisine would be without the delicious red orbs of summer?

For one thing, there would be no red salsa or sauces. Tomatoes also are frequently used in Mexican soups and stews. And how about their use as a garnish for fresh tacos?

Here’s a classic Mexican recipe for tacos with salsa verde, courtesy of the Mushroom Council. The salsa also contains another food, avocado, which figures prominently in Mexican cuisine. And that’s not to mention cilantro, Serrano chilies, garlic, onion and lemon or lime juice.

Mushroom and Beef Tacos with Salsa Verde
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
¼ pound 85 percent lean ground beef
¾ pound white button mushrooms
¾ pound crimini mushrooms
2 cups julienne of sweet onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons ground chili pepper
Salt and pepper if necessary
Lime juice to taste
8 corn tortillas
1 cup shredded green cabbage
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons Cotija cheese, grated
1 large, ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut in ½-inch dice
1/3 cup diced tomato
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon seeded and minced Serrano chili
½ teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
¼ teaspoon sugar
Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Place ground beef in pan and cook; season with salt and pepper. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes until golden brown. Chop mushrooms to approximately the size and texture of ground beef and saute in a separate pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes. Combine mushrooms and meat and set aside.
Heat saute pan used for ground beef over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden brown. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the mushroom/beef mixture and ground chili pepper. Saute  2 to 3 minutes, stirring. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lime juice.
To serve, toss shredded cabbage with salt, pepper, lime juice and cilantro. Place 2 tablespoons of shredded cabbage on a tortilla, and top with 2 tablespoons of mushroom and beef mixture. Top with a generous tablespoon of avocado salsa, and sprinkle with Cotija cheese to taste.
To make Avocado Salsa Verde: Combine all salsa ingredients and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 270 calories, 12 grams fat (3grams saturated), 20 milligrams cholesterol, 70 milligrams sodium, 11 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber.

Mushroom Steak Fajitas

What’s there not to like about Mexican food? Aside from the fact that it’s mighty tasty, it also can be nutritious as well — especially if it’s something like a fajita that is loaded with veggies. And when you put it in that context, fajitas are one of the best summer foods around.

The following recipe, courtesy of the Mushroom Council and Produce for Better Health Foundation, spices things up a bit while keeping your family’s plate balanced with this steak and mushrooms as well as bell peppers, tomato, onion and some nonfat sour cream.

I’m looking to give this recipe a try, especially since Therese just came home from the grocery store with some tortillas, and we have some fresh garden vegetables and a package of elk steak that will fit right the bill to a T.

Mushroom Steak Fajitas
12-ounce sirloin or other boneless steak, about ¾-inch thick
1 tablespoon no-salt fiesta lime seasonsing (like Mrs. Dash), divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups sliced crimini mushrooms
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 medium yellow or white onion, sliced into strips
8- 6-inch whole wheat tortillas
1 medium tomato, diced
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
4 tablespoons non-fat sour cream
Slice beef across the grain into ¼-inch strips. Place in a medium bowl with ½ tablespoon fiesta lime seasoning, toss to coat.
Place mushrooms, peppers and onion and remaining fiesta lime seasoning in a large bowl; toss to coat.
Heat oil in large, nonstick skillet. Add beef strips; cook about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from skillet. Place coated vegetables in skillet and saute until vegetables are slightly tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add beef back to skillet and saute mixture 1 to 2 more minutes.
Assemble fajitas by dividing beef-vegetable mixture evenly on each tortilla, top with remaining ingredients and roll up.
Yield: Serves 4 (2 fajitas each).
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 430 calories, 16 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 60 milligrams cholesterol, 590 milligrams sodium, 27 grams protein, 46 grans carbohydrates, 7 grams dietary fiber.

Grilled Vegetables with Rigatoni

Grilled vegetables and pasta are a great pairing. And if you’re a fan of veggies, it’s a great way to turn them into a meal — and one that is meatless. Not only do you get your boost of carbohydrates from the pasta, you also have the benefit of nutrient-rich produce — be it home-grown or from a farmers market or supermarket.

Our garden is loaded with vegetables this summer. We have an abundance of summer squash (yellow crooked neck and zucchini), tomatoes and eggplant as well as adequate onions and peppers.

The following recipe, one which I revamped from another that came to my attention this week, makes use of all of those vegetables, plus some fresh basil. And it definitely was a meal in itself.

Along with some fresh bread from our local bakery, it was a meal that the owners of any Italian restaurant would not hesitate to serve.

Grilled Vegetables with Rigatoni
¾ pound rigatoni pasta
8 roma tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thinly
2 medium zucchini, sliced
2 medium yellow summer squash, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 medium sweet banana pepper, seeded and sliced
½ teaspoon seasoning salt
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup fresh sliced basil, chopped
Preheat the grill to medium-high. While the grill heats up, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving water.
Place vegetables and basil in bowl and drizzle with half of olive oil, seasoning salt and black pepper. Put vegetables in double piece of tin foil that has been sprayed with oil and place on grill.
Meanwhile, place tomatoes on a double piece of foil. Drizzle with remaining  olive oil and sprinkle, kosher salt and pepper. Enclose the tomatoes in the foil and place on the grill after other vegetables have been cooking for 30 to 40 minutes.
After about 20 minutes, check the tomatoes; they should have burst open in the foil packet and be nice and juicy.
Remove the vegetables from grill and place in a large serving bowl, toss the hot pasta with the grilled vegetables. Add the tomatoes with all the juices and toss to coat. If the mixture is too dry, drizzle with some of the reserved pasta water or use a bit more olive oil. Add the mozzarella and toss again. Serve in bowls.
Yield: Serves 6.

Grilled Salmon with Chunky Gazpacho Vinaigrette

Salmon on the grill is a special treat in itself, no matter if it has been marinating in a special sauce, coated with a tangy glaze or cooked on a cedar plank. And for grillers who are tired of burgers, steak or chicken, salmon is the way to go.

I recently cooked some Lake Michigan salmon on the grill using a tasty herb and white wine marinade from Lawry’s. It was delicious.

But now, with a couple more of the fillets awaiting my attention, I’m turning to a new recipe that was created by Sara Moulton, who was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. (She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”)

The salmon is dressed with a gazpacho vinaigrette. Gazpacho, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is a cold Spanish soup with many variations, but the basic recipe is a refreshing tomato-based vegetable soup. In Moulton’s recipe, she has added extra-virgin olive oil and sherry wine vinegar, thereby “repurposing” the soup into a chunky vinaigrette dressing.

Grilled Salmon with Chunky Gazpacho Vinaigrette
½ red bell pepper, diced
½ pound ripe tomatoes (about 2 medium tomatoes), diced
4-inch piece English cucumber, diced
Kosher salt
½ clove garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 6- to 8-ounce pieces center-cut salmon or arctic char fillets, skin on
Olive oil cooking spray
Chopped fresh herbs (such as basil, chives, tarragon, cilantro or parsley), to garnish (optional)
Heat the grill to medium.
In a medium bowl, toss together the pepper, tomatoes, cucumber and ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix well, then spoon half of the mixture into a blender.
To the blender, add the garlic, vinegar, a few grinds of pepper and the olive oil. Puree until smooth. Add the puree to the bowl of diced vegetables, stir well and season with salt and pepper.
Use paper towels to pat dry the salmon fillets. Spray the fillets all over with the olive oil spray, then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Arrange the fillets, skin side down, on the grill grate over direct medium heat. Cover and cook until the flesh right next to the skin looks opaque, 6 to 7 minutes.
Flip the fillets and cook until just cooked through, another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the fish from the grill using a wide metal spatula.
To serve, divide the sauce between 4 shallow bowls, then set a piece of salmon over each, skin side up (you can easily peel off and discard the skin at this point, if desired). Garnish with chopped herbs, if desired.
Yield: Serve 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 450 calories, 58 percent of  calories from), 29 grams fat (5 grams saturated, no trans), 115 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams protein, 1 gram fiber, 360 milligrams sodium.

Orange Beef

September is just around the corner, and that means National Rice Month. And people who are familiar with this know that it’s also time for the Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Council’s “Get Wild with Wild Rice” Recipe Contest, which offers visitors to www.mnwildrice.org the opportunity to vote for their favorite wild rice recipe.

Wild rice long has been a favorite of cooks everywhere who utilize its unique flavor to add flair and depth to their meals. It serves as a great addition to soups, salads, sides, main dishes, stir-fry and even desserts, conveying a smoky, nutty flavor quite unlike anything else.

Each year, contestants submit their wild rice creations which go head-to-head in a taste test conducted by the council’s culinary specialists to determine which recipes are selected as finalists. This year, the 10 finalists who made the cut will be featured in an online contest (grand prize winner receives $500). Voting will begin Sept. 1.

The finalists are:

Springtime Wild Rice Soup – Mary Marlowe Leverette, Columbia, S.C.
Quick & Spicy Pork Wild Rice Soup – Sally Sibthorpe, Shelby Township, Mich.
Curry Corn & Chicken Soup – Roxanne Chan, Albany, Calif.
Wild Rice Beef Stew with Red Wine – Sugiyarti Jorgenson, Kodiak, Alaska
Zesty Wild Rice Salad – Angela Smith, Bluffton, S.C.
Hearty Heartland Succotash Salad – Roxanne Chan, Albany, Calif.
Conquistadors – Margaret Bracher, Robertsdale, Ala.
Chicken & Wild Rice Enchiladas – Angela Smith, Bluffton, S.C.
Wild Rice & Sausage Frittata – Anne Lauer, Hugo, Minn.
Elegant Italian Stuffed Flank Steak – Margaret Bracher, Robertsdale, Ala.

My favorite way to use wild rice is in a baked pheasant dish, which features the grain in a dressing with cream of mushroom soup, onion, celery, garlic, red wine and a bit of half-and-half. (For hundreds of great-tasting wild rice recipes and ideas on the different ways wild rice can be used to liven up your own favorites, go to www.mnwildrice.org/search.php.)

Here’s the recipe for last year’s grand prize winner, Orange Beef,  created by Deborah Puette, Lilburn, Ga. It wild rice with sirloin steak, green onions, ginger and broccoli with hints of citrus and garlic.

Orange Beef
1½ pounds sirloin steak, cut into bite-size pieces
Zest and juice of a medium orange, reserve juice
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
½ cup tamari
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 9-ounce package frozen Green Giant Simply Steam Broccoli Cuts, prepared as directed on package, drained
1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained
3 cups cooked wild rice
In large skillet, saute sirloin and orange zest in oil. Stir in onions, garlic and ginger; cook 2 minutes. In small bowl, mix tamari and cornstarch; stir into skillet mixture slowly. Stir in orange juice and remaining ingredients; heat through.
Yield: Serves 6.

Fresh Tomato Salsa

School is just around the corner and for a lot of people, that means this is the busiest time of the year with all that getting kids ready entails. And it’s especially true if you have a garden, since August is prime time for ripe produce. I can’t speak for the former, but the latter is something else.

Tomatoes are one of those vegetables that can overwhelm a gardener when they turn from green to red. I have the luxury of time, so canning juice, whole tomatoes and salsa can be done at my leisure. (See story at www.grandforksherald.com/event/article/id/242888/.) But not everyone has that option.

For those who like salsa, here is a go-to recipe (from the American Institute for Cancer Research) for fresh tomato salsa that takes very little time. All you need is some fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic and a few fresh herbs. This salsa will keep in the refrigerator for a week, and it is good enough to eat repeatedly, so making a double batch is useful.

The best choice of tomato for this recipe is the roma. Its meaty flesh makes a real nice sauce. Since there is not a lot of liquid to boil off, it cooks quickly enough for the tomatoes to still hold some shape when it is done, hence the chunky texture.

And the thing about a tomato salsa, especially one that is cooked, is that it’s loaded with lycopene, a known cancer-fighting antioxidant.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
3 pounds plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup finely chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut thin slice off top of tomatoes. Peel tomatoes, using either serrated swivel-blade vegetable peeler or hot water method. For this method, drop 2 to 3 tomatoes at a time into large pot of boiling water until their skins crack, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately transfer tomatoes to bowl of ice water. When tomatoes are cool enough to handle, use your fingers to pull off skin. Halve tomatoes lengthwise and use your thumb to push out seeds, then your fingers to remove pulpy ribs. Chop tomatoes and set aside; there will be 6 to 7 cups.
In large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until onion starts to color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano and stir well. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Taste sauce, adding sugar if it is too acidic. Mix in basil and cook until tomatoes have broken down to your taste, 10 to 15 minutes for chunky sauce, 12 to 15 minutes for pulpier one.
Note: Using ripe tomatoes is important. Supermarket ones usually require sitting at room temperature for 5 to 10 days to turn really red. They make a more chunky and drier sauce than local tomatoes in season because they are less juicy.
Yield: Serves 6 servings. Per serving: 1/2 cup.
Approximate nutritional analysis per ½-cup serving: 75 calories, 3 grams fat (less than 1 gram saturated), 12 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 3 grams dietary fiber, 19 milligrams sodium.

Eggplant and Zucchini Gratin

Anyone who gardens knows that by the time Aug. 15 rolls around, there is an abundance of almost all the vegetables that were either transplanted or grown from seed. That’s especially true for tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini.

Here’s a recipe that includes all three, a colorful eggplant and zucchini gratin, which comes from “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin (Knopf, $40). It’s an appropriate choice, since today would have been the 100th birthday of  Child, the grand old lady of the culinary world who died in 2004, but not until she had deciphered French cooking techniques and but brought them to us through TV.

Eggplant and Zucchini Gratin
½ cup or more olive oil, divided
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, about 1¼ pounds
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 medium zucchini, about 1 pound
3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ cup or so fresh bread crumbs (not too finely ground)
1/3 cup or so freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Put the rack on the lower-middle level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
Smear a large, shallow-rimmed jelly roll pan generously with 1/3 cup of the olive oil.
Trim the ends of the eggplant and slice it on the diagonal into ovals ½-inch thick.
One at a time, place the slices on the sheet; press to coat lightly with oil and turn them over. Arrange the slices, oiled side up, in a single layer and sprinkle them with ½ teaspoon each of herbes de Provence and salt.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the eggplant slices are soft and somewhat shriveled; allow to cool briefly. Leave the oven on if you will be baking the gratin right away.
Meanwhile, trim the ends of the zucchini and cut them lengthwise into slices no more than ¼-inch thick. Core the tomatoes and cut into slices ¼-inch thick. Spread out the slices and sprinkle them lightly with ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
To assemble the gratin: Coat a gratin or shallow baking dish with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle a teaspoon of the herbes de Provence all over the bottom. Place one or two eggplant slices, lengthwise, against a narrow side of the dish. Arrange a long slice or two of zucchini in front of the eggplant, then place two or three tomato slices in front of the zucchini. Repeat the procedure to fill the pan with alternating rows of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Arrange each new row of slices so the colorful top edges of the previous row are still visible.
In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, ¼ teaspoon black pepper and remaining herbes de Provence. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, then toss and rub it in with your fingers to coat the crumbs but keep them loose. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the vegetables and drizzle the rest of the oil over all.
Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft, the juices are bubbling and the top is a deep golden brown. If the crumbs need more browning, put the dish under the broiler for a few moments. Serve hot, directly from the baking dish.
Cook’s note: After the vegetables are assembled and topped with the crumbs, the gratin can be covered lightly and stored in the refrigerator for several hours. Preheat the oven and drizzle on the last olive oil just before baking.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 203 calories, 68 percent of calories from fat, 15 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 420 milligrams sodium, 3 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams fiber.

Greek-Stuffed Tomatoes

There’s no such thing as too many home-grown tomatoes. For home canners, you can put up whole tomatoes, tomato juice, salsa, ketchup, tomato sauce if you get tired of eating the tasty red orbs. And if you’re short on time, you can freeze them for later use.

I’m right in the middle of tomato season. Ours are ripening at a pace of one large bowl a day. I just finished putting 8 pints of whole tomatoes into our big canner. It’s the second batch of whole tomatoes that I have canned. It won’t be long before I start canning tomato juice and salsa. And that’s not counting all the tomatoes Therese has used in salads and the ones for BLTs.

For people who are looking for more ways to use tomatoes, there is “The Too Many Tomatoes Cookbook,” by Brian Yarvin (The Countryman Press, $19.95). It’s loaded with good recipes such as the following.

Greek-Stuffed Tomatoes
4 large ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus oil for baking dish
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
½ pound ground lamb or beef or pork
½ cup uncooked white rice
2 tablespoons pine nuts
¼ cup raisins
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup chicken broth
Cut the tops off the tomatoes. Use a serrated grapefruit spoon to hollow out the bodies. Reserve bodies, tops and pulp.
Heat the oil, onion and garlic in a skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 15 minutes or until the onion begins to turn golden on the edges. Add the lamb and 1 cup of the reserved tomato pulp and continue cooking for about 20 minutes or until meat is completely browned. Mix in rice, pine nuts, raisins, salt and broth.
Lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from heat and set aside.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Oil a baking dish. Fill the hollow tomatoes with the meat mixture and stand them on end in the baking dish. Place the reserved tops on the tomatoes. Brush tomatoes with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes or until completely cooked. Serve warm.
Yield: Serves 4.
Note: Lamb can be difficult to find and sometimes you need a change-up from ground beef, so try ground pork in this recipe.

2-Step Skillet Chicken Broccoli Divan

Chicken divan generally is a rich indulgence, one of those comfort foods that can make you feel good even when things don’t see to be going your way. And it doesn’t have to be a big production, either. All you need is some fresh broccoli and some leftover roasted chicken for a number of stove-top recipes that are both easy to make and tasty.

My thoughts turned in this direction recently after I read a recipe for the dish in Parade magazine. (Incidentally, chicken divan originally was made in the bygone Divan Parisienne Restaurant in the New York Chatham Hotel and featured a rich Mornay sauce that often contained cream of mushroom soup, mayonnaise, sour cream and cheese.) I thought about making the dish using pheasant and was well on my way to doing so until deciding to check out a few other divan recipes on the Internet.

Running out time because of a hectic afternoon of canning (pickled beets and turmeric dills), I chose a the following recipe from Campbell’s, with a few improvisations of my own. (Cream of mushroom soup instead of cream of chicken; Cheddar cheese soup instead of shredded Cheddar; half-and-half/milk combination instead of all milk; and additional cup of sour cream).

We had the chicken divan with some steam potatoes (with skins) and a fresh green salad, and the result was fantastic.

2-Step Skillet Chicken Broccoli Divan
1 tablespoon butter
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets
1 10¾-ounce can cream of chicken soup (regular or 98% fat-free)
½ cup milk
½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Heat the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until well browned, stirring often.
Stir the broccoli, soup and milk in the skillet.  Reduce the heat to low.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.  Sprinkle with the cheese.
Variation: Try this recipe with cream of mushroom soup and shredded Swiss cheese.
Yield: Serve 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 328 calories, 16 grams fat, 3 grams fiber, 35 grams protein, 735 milligrams sodium.