Originally created 03/06/02

Southern comfort



I was never a big fan of casseroles when I was a child. I was a picky eater who liked everything "separate." No peas touching the chicken, etc.

So, when I left my Orlando, Fla., home to attend Auburn University, it was more than a change of location for me. At the school cafeteria, almost nothing was served plain.

If there was broccoli on the menu, it was in a casserole. The same went for sweet potatoes, green beans, peas and carrots. You name the meat or vegetable, and it was somehow sauced and baked.

After spending the better part of my freshman year dining on yogurt and packs of peanut butter crackers, I decided to give casseroles a try, and they quickly grew on me. Today, there's really nothing more comforting to me than broccoli casserole, but perhaps my favorite is chicken casseroles.

This cornbread-topped chicken casserole is a hearty main dish with a Southern accent. What starts out as your usual chicken casserole gets a new twist with a topping of crumbled cornbread.

I bake a package of corn muffin mix, crumble it over the top and drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of melted butter.

I used a package of Jiffy corn muffin mix for testing purposes, and found the package produced just the right amount of cornbread for the topping. The mix can be baked in muffin tins or in a square baking dish.

You could serve cornbread one evening as an accompaniment to big bowls of soup, baking additional cornbread or muffins to use later in this recipe.

Don't want to bother with baking cornbread? Some supermarkets carry baked cornbread or muffins in the bakery department, and I'll occasionally see frozen rounds of Marie Callender's cornbread in the freezer section. Dunkin' Donuts also carries corn muffins.

The casserole is a one-dish meal, and the only accompaniment I'd suggest would be a fruit or tossed salad. How about a Southern peanut butter pie made with a Girl Scout cookie crust for dessert? (Read accompanying recipe).

CORNBREAD-TOPPED CHICKEN CASSEROLE

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 1/2 cups cooked and cubed chicken

1 can Healthy Request cream of chicken soup

1/2 cup skim milk

1 2-ounce jar diced pimientos

1 10-ounce package frozen peas and carrots, defrosted

1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix, prepared according to package directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon butter or margarine in a skillet. Add the onion and celery and saute until tender and translucent. Add the cooked, cubed chicken and heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream of chicken soup, milk, pimientos and peas and carrots. Crumble the prepared corn muffins over the top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine and drizzle over the top. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the crumbs are lightly browned and the casserole is bubbly.

Makes 6 servings.

Write to Karin Calloway in care of The Augusta Chronicle Newsroom, PO Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30903. Or send e-mail to karin.calloway@home.com., You can find previous Quick Cooking recipes through the online archive at augustachronicle.com/karin

 Calories: 419
 Fat: 17 g
 Saturated Fat: 7.8 g
 Protein: 23.6 g
 Fiber: 3.5 g
 Carbohydrates: 40.3 g
 Sodium: 794 mg
 Cholesterol: 94 mg
 Nutrient analysis provided by Fran Frye, a licensed and registered dietitian of the Augusta District Dietetic Association. Send questions via e-mail to augustadietitian@yahoo.com.