Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sandy’s EZ Chicken & Rice Casserole Recipe and an Excerpt


In my book, A DADDY FOR LUKE, the heroine, Sandy, is a single mom and legally blind because of a birth defect known as Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. She can see color and objects but not detail. Reading is difficult for her. When the hero, David, a mystery writer, comes to her home to finish reading his book to her she wants to impress him, to show him that she is capable of doing everyday tasks. And she wants him to stay longer.

She invites him to dinner and, because he is a bachelor and she assumes he doesn’t do a lot of cooking for himself, she offers to show him how to make the easy dish. Together they fix her standby recipe, Chicken & Rice Casserole.

This is a recipe I have made several times when I want something that is quick to put together. If you have children who don’t eat their veg, this recipe “hides” 1 c of broccoli or any other veg you want to try.

Here is an excerpt from A DADDY FOR LUKE, the scene starts with David and Sandy on the sofa. Sandy is fishing for information about David's past loves. She thinks he's talking about a girlfriend when in fact he's talking about her. It starts in David's point of view. The recipe follows the excerpt.

From Chapter Seven

“And she’s waiting for you?” She fiddled nervously with a simple gold chain at her neck. He hadn’t noticed it before. She pulled a small heart-shaped locket out from under her dress and fingered it. 
“She’s never been to Flagstaff as far as I know,” he said.
Sandy’s expression grew puzzled. “Oh. Then you met her on the tour? So you haven’t known her very long.”
“Is this twenty questions? Are you sure you’re not an investigative reporter?”
She laughed, then became serious. “Will you go to her when you leave here?”
“Sometime in the future, maybe.”
“Can you see into the future?”
“Not as well as you can see into me,” he said with a smile.
A bright smile lit her face, her eyes sparkled. “I can, can’t I?”
“What exactly do you see in me?” He never saw much himself, but he hoped she saw more.
She gave him a teasing smile. Her face was so open, so expressive. He wondered if, because she couldn’t see others’ expressions, she didn’t realize her own expressions were so candid.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” She changed the subject. “I don’t have a large repertoire of dishes, but what I do cook is good.” She sounded so hopeful. She probably had no idea he’d been waiting for her to ask. She put her feet to the floor. “I was planning to make a chicken and rice casserole.”
She was nervous. He wanted to reassure her. He reached out and stroked her cheek. She didn’t flinch. Her skin was soft, pale, but still blushed. His dove, his white dove. Had he predicted his own future when he’d written Hindsight“Sounds great. I’d love to stay. Thanks.” He moved his hand to her hair, letting the silky curls wrap around his fingers. He leaned closer and looked into her eyes, not seeing the recognition he was used to seeing in other women, not seeing the focus. Just beautiful, trusting, wide-open hazel-green eyes.
“Couldn’t you have laser surgery or something? I had it a couple of years ago. It’s incredible how...” He was going to say how well he could see without glasses. But luckily the words had been stopped by the lump forming in his Adam’s apple. He cleared his throat. “I read about this new type of lens transplant that’s having great results. If it’s the cost, I could help.” This was something worthwhile that he could do with the money Nick Blain was earning him. He wanted to do this for Sandy.
“I appreciate the offer, but there’s nothing wrong with my eyes or my lenses. I have a birth defect of the optic nerve. Nothing can change that.”
David felt his lungs freeze up. “Nothing? I don’t understand.” He dropped his hand and took one of hers in both of his.
“A few weeks before a baby is born the optic nerve makes its final connections. Millions of connections. Mine didn’t make millions. I’m luckier than some. I see shapes and colors, but no detail, unless it’s enlarged. A lot. My peripheral vision and depth perception are weak. And bright lights bother me. Some optic nerve hypoplasia patients are born with abnormalities of the brain in the same area as the optic nerve. I have a small one affecting gross and fine motor function. In other words, I’m a klutz.” She laughed, but he wasn’t amused.
She listed her symptoms as if she’d said them a thousand times, as though she were used to it. Of course she was used to it. She’d never known anything different. He was the one trying to comprehend it. Trying to accept it. Trying to justify it. There was no justification. It was just a quirk of nature, like Marc being born with cystic fibrosis. A misplaced gene, the chance of two minuscule, defective genes coming together to pass sentence on the embryo just starting to form. “Luke?”
“It’s not hereditary. He’s nearsighted. When he’s grown, he can have laser surgery, if he wants.” She scooted to the edge of the sofa, ready to pop up, out of his reach.
“It won’t get better, your sight?” He reached for any hope.
“I prefer to be optimistic. It won’t get any worse.” She stood and changed the subject again. “Would you like to help me make the casserole? Do you cook? It’s an easy dish for a bachelor. I’ll show you.”
“I barbecue, and I make the odd Italian dish, but I don’t think I’ve ever made a casserole.” It was one of the few types of dishes his mother had ever made. Something about tossing everything in one pan, putting it in the oven and forgetting it until the timer dinged. But with Sandy he was sure it had to do with her ability to see what she was doing. And he wanted to watch her in her own environment, where she was comfortable and knew her way around.
She was already crouched at a low cupboard pulling out a glass dish when he reached the kitchen. “Take this and put it on the counter. Thanks. The lid is in here somewhere.” She moved to her knees and reached in the back of the cupboard. He could hear glass and metal clinking as her head disappeared into the cupboard. “There it is. Must have slipped back.”
David was far more interested in his view of her backside and bare feet, toes curled.
***
Sandy emerged from the cupboard with the top to her favorite casserole dish. This was going to be fun, cooking with David. She could show off, not be the klutz, because she was in her own home, her own kitchen. She knew her way around.
Unfortunately, when she rose to her feet, she misjudged the distance to the counter and dropped the lid on the floor. Thank God for tempered glass! It bounced and rolled in ever smaller circles and then she lost it. Transparent glass against a white floor. She put on her glasses, but before she could get on her hands and knees David swooped down, grabbed it and handed it to her.
“Thanks.” Losing the lid was almost as embarrassing as listening to David read the passage in Hindsight where Bradley and Chenoa made love for the first time, because she’d pictured herself with David rather than the characters of the book.
She took the lid to the sink to rinse it off. “First, we spray the dish. You can do that.” She usually sprayed the oil all over her hands. She found the can and held it out to David.
“Should I turn on the oven?” he asked. “What temp?”
Oh dear, she’d forgotten the most important first step. So much for impressing him. “Three-fifty.” She was flustered, as if on a first date or something. She so much wanted to prove herself capable. Prove that she was like any other woman.
“Then rice, one cup.” She went to the small pantry and brought out a container of rice and found the measuring cup. They worked together. She handed him the chicken stock and spices, he measured and poured them into the dish. “Here’s the chicken. Lay it on top and cover. We put it in covered for thirty-five minutes, then take the lid off for ten.” She opened the oven door and he slid the dish in. The heat from the oven steamed her glasses and she took them off and placed them on her head. When David closed the door, then straightened, he was so close. She felt rather than saw him lift his hand to her cheek. Its warmth was so welcome. Her heart threatened to leap out of her chest.
“You’re beautiful. You know that?”
“I’ve been told, but it’s hard to believe when—” His lips on hers stopped her self-deprecation. And she knew that was one reason why he did it. But that thought dissipated like steam as his warm soft lips caressed hers, searching. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled herself closer, her hands caressing the taut muscles of his back. He cupped the back of her head with one hand and pulled her even closer with a hand on her bottom. Could they get any closer? Not in the kitchen . . .
“Mom-mee!”
David pulled away, leaving Sandy swaying in the middle of the kitchen. She placed a hand on his chest to steady herself. His heart beat as fast as hers, his chest expanding with each quick breath. They’d barely started the kiss and it felt more powerful than any she’d experienced before. “Be right there, Luke.”
“Sandy, I’m sorry—”
“Don’t apologize. Bookmark it. I’ll be right back.”
David was leaving tomorrow and she was falling even more in love with him. Real love. Mature love like real adults, not the young infatuations that had broken her heart years ago. No, this time it would shatter her. If she could just see him properly. Some said you could see it “in his eyes,” if he truly loved you. She wanted his attention to be love, not pity, not misguided protectiveness for the poor little blind girl. But didn’t the old song say it was in his kiss? But their kiss had been interrupted. She sat on the side of Luke’s bed. “Mommy’s here.”
“My nose is all stubbed up.”
Sandy helped her little boy blow his nose, then debated if she should give him children’s decongestant. She went to the bathroom medicine cabinet and pulled out a bottle. It was the bottle with the purple label. To be sure she took it to the living room, found one of her hand-held magnifiers, held the bottle to the lamplight and tried to read the tiny type.
“Can I help?” David spoke from over her shoulder.
She jumped and straightened.
“I didn’t mean to startle you.” David put his hand on her shoulder. The warmth of it penetrated the thin fabric of her dress and comforted her.
“If you could let me know you’re approaching it would help. I don’t have much peripheral vision.” Her frustration came out in her tone. But she was too concerned about Luke to add that to her worries. She held the bottle to the light again and moved the magnifier up and down. Then, with a sigh, she gave up and handed it to David. “Is this the decongestant? And can I give it to Luke so he can breathe easier?”
“It won’t make him better any sooner but it will make him more comfortable. He’ll be able to sleep better and that’s what he needs. One teaspoon every four to six hours.”
“I worry about giving him medicines.”
“It’s all right, but it’s your decision.”
She wasn’t alone; he was there to help her make the decision. He wouldn’t make it for her, but he would help her. That’s what she wanted.
“This is mild compared to what some children have to take.” His gentle voice held an edge of pain. She knew he was talking about his own son.
“You’re right. It’s just a cold. I shouldn’t obsess.”
***

Sandy’s EZ Chicken & Rice Casserole
Serves 6


This is the kind of recipe that's a little different each time I make it, depensing on what I have on hand.

cooking spray
1 can cream of brocolli soup (ubdiluted) or chicken stock
1 c. water (maybe 1/2 cup more if using condensed soup)
1 c. white Jasmine rice (uncooked) or rice of your choice
1 c. chopped broccoli (or similar veg)
2 boneless chicken breasts, trimmed. Whole or cubbed.
1/2 jar Tostinos Salsa con Queso (if you like it spicy), or 1/2 c. shreaded cheddar cheese.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Spray 1 qt. covered casserole dish with cooking spray.
Add water, soup, rice and broccoli. Stir. Broccoli will tend to float on the top.
Lay chicken on top. Chicken will tend to sink.
Cook covered for 45 minutes. Check rice for doneness.
Spoon con queso or cheddar over top, uncover and cook an additional 5-15 min. as needed.



***Do you have a go-to, quick recipe that saves you time in the kitchen?

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