Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

Since we went out on Friday night and were waking up very early (7:30 AM) on Sunday to start watching/celebrating the half marathon, Albert and I decided to make Saturday night date night.  We lined up some quality tv programming and I cooked a meal.  Albert can be tough to cook for.  I wouldn’t exactly call him picky, he’s just more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy.  Funky sauces: not his his thing.  He’ll at least try anything, but I know I have some limitations.  It has become my personal challenge to find meals that play within his preferences while still allowing me to try new things.  Through Pinterest I discovered this recipe for chicken cordon bleu casserole and thought it would be a great place to experiment.

The basic flavors of this dish are chicken, ham, and cheese so I figured Albert would be happy.  I, on the other hand, would enjoy teaching myself a new technique with the sauce.  The sauce is a bechemel, also known as the mother of all French sauces.  It is a cream sauce made by melting butter, adding flour to form a roux, and then whisking in milk, stirring until the whole thing thickens.  I had tried making a roux before and let’s just say it did not go well.  So not well, in fact, that I had to throw the whole thing away.  A sauce like this needs to be coddled.  You need to whisk it constantly, never taking your eye away for a moment.  Though I failed miserably last time, I actually mastered it this time.  Just like anything else, once you do it properly the first time, you realize it was never that hard to begin with and will be able to successfully produce the same result again and again.  I pretty much leaped for joy once it worked out for me.  Like a little leprechaun.
Traditionally, chicken cordon bleu is chicken stuffed with ham and swiss cheese that is then breaded and pan fried.  This casserole takes away the trouble of stuffing and watching the pan by having the ingredients layered in a dish.  Though chicken cordon bleu is a pretty European meal, turning it into a casserole makes it feel very Middle America.  A thick creamy sauce makes this comfort food to the max.  Speaking of that sauce, I recommend using about half of what the recipe calls for.  After pouring half the sauce over the casserole it seemed like any more would be too much for anyone to handle and poured the rest down the drain.  I like rich foods but more sauce than that would put me over the edge.  If you do use all the sauce and like it, I may have an idea where this country’s obesity epidemic is coming from.  Also, I didn’t have white pepper or dried parsley and it still tasted amazing.  Leaving out the dijon mustard, on the other hand, would be a mistake.
This dish was the perfect one to please both Albert and myself.  For the first time since I’ve started using him as a guinea pig cooking for him like a caring girlfriend, he fully cleared his plate.  I also got to perfect my technique when it came to the scary roux.  Everyone was full and happy, and we were able to be in bed at a reasonable hour so our early wake up call wasn’t so bad.