Life might be a stormy sea, but dinner is an island. The older I get, the more important it is to me, the moment to sit down and look my people in the eye. This is why, when I know a good friend is having a hard time, and I want to do something helpful to comfort them, I like to bring something simple, easy and familiar to put in their oven.

My go-to dish is a take on a casserole from the bad-old, Betty Crocker days of yesteryear. It isn’t beautiful, but it hits important nostalgic notes. It’s a (gasp) cream-of-mushroom soup casserole known in Pinterest-y circles as “Forgotten Chicken,”  updated, veggified and sans-MSG. The beauty of it is it just slow cooks in the oven for two hours and nobody has to worry about it. (Sometimes I slip it in the oven before I pick the kids up from school. And BOOOOM: dinner is served two hours later.)

I made it just this last weekend for my friend Becca who spent a day in the ER with a sick kid while her husband was out of town. She sent me the photo above to say thanks.

The natural food section boxed cream of mushroom is key. (The stuff in the regular soup section is pretty gross in the sodium/MSG department.) I sometimes also throw in carrots if I have them. I always use a disposable pan when I’m making it for somebody else. That way they don’t have to worry about getting it back to you and they don’t have to wash it.

Preheat the oven to 350º if you’re planning to cook it at your house.

Chop a couple ribs of celery and throw them in:

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Throw in an 8-ounce carton of chopped mushrooms (or chop them yourself), and 1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice, mix it all around:

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Nestle about six pieces of chicken into the rice. Skin-on is good, but I could only find skinless chicken thighs (my opinion: thighs > breasts) when I went to the store. I like to use organic chicken. I think it has a much better texture.

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Now open your box of health-food cream of mushroom and mix it with 2 cups of water. You can also add two tablespoons of low-sodium tamari or soy sauce, if you want to kick up the flavor a little more. Pour it over the chicken.

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Pour in one cup of milk. I’m using whole. You can also skip the milk and just increase the water by a cup. (You can mix the milk with the water/soy step. I just forgot.)

This is the part where, back in the day, a person would shake a bunch of french onion soup mix on the casserole. Instead of doing that, I use a couple tablespoons dried onions for nostalgia and 1 or 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme (dried thyme works fine, too). I also grind on a healthy amount of black pepper.

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And then I cover it tightly with foil. At this point, I either bring it to a friend and put it in their oven or I put it in my oven and set a timer for 2 hours.

Here’s what it looked like when it came out:

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New School Forgotten Chicken and Rice

Ingredients: 

(A disposable baking pan)

Two ribs celery, chopped

Two carrots (optional), chopped on the diagonal

One 8-ounce box chopped fresh mushrooms

One box/can healthfood-section cream-of-mushroom soup that does not contain MSG

Two tablespoons tamari or soy sauce (optional)

1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice

About six chicken pieces, organic skin-on thighs preferred

2 cups water

1 cup milk

1 to 2 tablespoons dried onion

1 to 2 teaspoons fresh thyme

Pepper

Instructions:

Preheat over to 350º

Mix mushrooms, celery, carrots if you’ve got ’em and rice in the baking pan. Nestle chicken on top. Combine soup with water, milk and soy sauce, mix until soup concentrate is mostly dissolved. Pour over chicken. Shake onions over the chicken and sprinkle thyme. Give it a dose of pepper. Cover tightly with foil. Bake two hours or until the rice is no longer toothsome.