Make Ahead Labor Day Meal: Creamy Chicken Artichoke Casserole

I don't know what you have planned this Labor Day weekend, but my father-in-law is coming to visit.  We love him dearly, but we are a family of 8 smashed into a 3-bedroom ranch. Entertaining even one extra guest for 2 nights requires quite a bit of planning.  And so while all of my friends are pinning beautiful recipes of things they can marinate for hours, grill at high temps, and serve on pretty place settings, I'm looking for fast dinners I can get on the table with little fuss -- preferably on paper plates.

I came across a pretty fantastic chicken artichoke casserole that you make in the crockpot, but -- if you know anything about slow cookers -- they make things soggy (not crispy.) The idea of mushy bread on top of anything I eat has me not very enthused.  I adapted a few different recipes I found to make it more palatable, and with better texture.

To create this dish, you'll need the following ingredients:
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken (I used thighs for flavor, but you can also use breasts)
  • 1 can artichokes (cut them into halves or quarters)
  • 1 10 oz. jar alfredo sauce
  • 1 cup mayo (not salad dressing)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 loaf of french bread (day old or stale bread is just fine), torn into chunks, divided
Start by cooking your chicken and cutting into chunks.  If you want to save more time, cook your chicken in a slow cooker the night before.  Add the chicken, alfredo sauce, mayo, artichokes (drained) and half of the bread (that's 1/6th a loaf) to the slow cooker.  Cook for 2 hours on high or 4 on low.

Scoop out of the slow cooker and put into a big casserole baking dish.  If you like your casseroles a bit more dry, you can use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken, bread, and artichokes and let some of the sauce fall back into the slow cooker.  Otherwise, you'll get a nice saucy dish if you dump the whole thing in the dish.

Top with the shredded cheese and the rest of the bread crumbs.  You can choose to bake the dish at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or put it under the broiler just until the crumbs are browned.  It depends on how much time you have which method you choose, although the baking method will help to firm up the casserole.

For extra presentation, bake in individual dishes!  I serve this with fresh tomatoes out of the garden and spinach leaves on the side with a light dressing.

This is just one of many meals I'll be trying to put together this holiday weekend.  And while I'm sucker for a good BBQ'd hot dog, it's more important this year that I actually get time to spend with my guest than having the perfect grilling experience.

Here are some other tasty recipes to help inspire you.....