Monday, September 28, 2015

Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole

Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole
This hearty, easy-to-serve meal combines the flavors of
aromatic vegetables, chicken, cheese and buttery biscuits.

My best loved cookbooks are full of scraps of paper marking the location of favorite recipes. And in the margins alongside those recipes are the date I first made it, my thoughts on how it turned out, and all the future tweaks that inevitably happen if I make a recipe more than once.

The recipe that inspired this Chicken ’N Biscuit Casserole comes from a cookbook handed down to me by my mother. Inked in the margin next to the recipe is: “Very good! 2/07”

That means I first made this casserole when Dan was two months old. How is it that he’s now a third grader? And how on earth did I manage to put a real supper on the table with a two-month-old baby who never napped?

Now, I make this casserole while the kids are at school. Sometimes I use leftover chicken, which reduces the prep time. But we like this dish so much that, more often, I cook up a couple chicken breasts while I’m prepping the rest of the ingredients.

Chicken gets the naming rights in this recipe, but this casserole is full of flavors: carrot and celery and onion with sour cream and co-jack cheese. And then all of that yummy goodness is topped with a half-batch of Glen’s butter biscuits. The result is an easy-to-serve, family pleasing meal.

Dan and Monika enjoying Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole

This is also a fun make-together meal for the weekends. Dan and Monika love to chop vegetables and measure ingredients. Cooking together gives us some much needed quality time that’s hard to find during the week now that Dan and Monika are back in school.

And then when we sit down to eat, Monika, my first grader, always reminds me to write my recipes down so that she can make the same dishes for her kids someday. I sure hope this casserole gets passed along for another generation to enjoy.

Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole

Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole

Makes: One 9 x 13 pan
Prep Time: 30 to 40 minutes
Bake Time: 40 to 45 minutes


for the casserole

2 to 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 3 cups cubed, cooked chicken)

2 to 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (about 1 cup)
2 to 3 stalks celery, trimmed and diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 of a large sweet yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon chicken boullion

1 can (10 1/2 ounces) cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

for the biscuit topping

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup LAND O LAKES butter (one half stick)
1 1/4 cups shredded co-jack cheese, divided
1/2 cup milk
1 egg


for the casserole

Preheat oven to 375°F. Arrange chicken breasts in 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake chicken until internal temperature reaches 165°F, 30 to 40 minutes depending upon whether you’re starting with fresh or frozen meat. (If you have cooked chicken on hand, omit this step.)

While chicken is baking, dice vegetables and combine in small sauce pan with water and boullion. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

While vegetables and chicken cook, stir soup, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, and salt together in medium bowl. Stir cooked vegetables and cooking liquid into soup mixture. Cube cooked chicken and add to soup and veggies.

Spread chicken and vegetable mixture in bottom of 9 x 13 baking dish.

for the biscuit topping

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Cut cold butter into tablespoon-size pieces and blend into flour mixture using a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Lightly stir 1 cup of cheese into flour mixture. Mix slightly beaten egg and milk into flour mixture until flour mixture is completely moistened. Don’t over mix.

Using two spoons, drop tablespoons of biscuit dough onto casserole.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until casserole is bubbly and biscuits are golden brown.

Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese and return casserole to oven until cheese is melted.

This post also appears on the Land O'Lakes Blog.

I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner. I received compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One-Minute Budino

This dessert is so decadent and delicious,
nobody will know that it only took seconds to make.

chocolate fudge, butterscotch, and white chocolate budino in dessert cups

I originally shared a basic version of this recipe as part of my 100+ Reasons to Love Dairy post, but I've had lots of questions about preparing this budino, so here's a little more information about one of our favorite treats.

My One-Minute Budino is a simple combination of milk, heavy cream, and instant pudding mix. All of the ingredients are added to a blender, whirred for 30 seconds, and the result is a magical dessert that everyone loves.

But, really, I should call it "our" budino, because Glen is the one who came up with this idea. All I did was quantify amounts (because Glen never measures) and take some pictures.

Do you really just mix the milk, cream, and pudding mix in a blender?

Yes. We've been making regular pudding (milk + instant pudding mix) in our rocket blender for over a year now. That was Glen's idea, too. We will never whisk pudding again. Making pudding in the blender takes less than 30 seconds to mix. What other dessert can you whip up that fast?

Glen took pudding up a notch one day when he added heavy cream to the milk and pudding mix. Glen is a big fan of heavy cream; so much so that he often makes a big glass of chocolate milk with half milk and half cream. (I wish I had his metabolism.) So I really wasn't surprised when he added cream to the pudding, but I was surprised by the result: it was unbelievably delicious.

Of course, Glen had no idea how much cream he had added, so I experimented with a couple batches and found that half milk and half cream makes the best budino.

What is budino?

Budino is the Italian word for pudding. True budino is thickened with both egg yolks and corn starch. I first had budino at a fancy restaurant in Minneapolis a year ago. When I first tasted this cream-enriched pudding, it reminded me of that budino. Plus, this dessert is not at all like regular pudding – it's much smoother and silkier – so we decided it needed a name of it's own. Technically, you could call this mock budino, but it really is a lot like the real thing. And it's so much simpler to make.

What size rocket blender do you use?

The cups for our rocket blender hold exactly 2 ½ cups (20 ounces) of liquid when filled to the brim. That means I can comfortably put 2 ¼ cups of liquid in them and get the lid on without making a mess. The single serving cups that came with my big blender will not hold 2 ¼ cups of liquid. If your blender cups hold less than 2 ¼ cups, simply reduce the amounts of milk and cream a little, figuring that the pudding mix takes up about ¼ cup when dissolved. Keep in mind, too, that different flavors of pudding mix have different amounts of powder in the package. (See the note below under flavors about making chocolate fudge budino and cookies and cream budino.)

Since there's not a lot of extra room in the blender cup, it's important to put the milk into the cup first, then stir in the pudding mix, and, last, add the cream. The pudding mix won't dissolve in cream, so if you put the cream into the cup first, the rest of the ingredients won't fit.

If you'd rather use a full-size blender, I recommend making a double batch, to make sure you have enough liquid in the blender for good mixing.

What flavor pudding do you use?

Our favorite budino flavor, hands down, is white chocolate (made with Jell-O brand mix). It is pure bliss. It's so good we've talked about using it as frosting or cake filling.

Every other flavor we've tried – vanilla, butterscotch, coconut cream, french vanilla, chocolate fudge, cookies and cream – has been delicious, too. But not quite as divine as the white chocolate.

Our kids love the cookies and cream flavor, but it turns a slightly odd shade of grey because all of the cookie pieces are blended up. This flavor needs to be made as a double batch in a full-size blender; the mix takes up too much room to fit in a rocket blender cup.

The flavor we make the least is chocolate fudge. Chocolate fudge budino has great flavor, but it lacks the silky, smooth mouth feel of other flavors. And texture is part of what makes budino so great. If you do make chocolate fudge budino, use a smaller amount of cream; there's more powder in a package of chocolate fudge instant pudding mix and the powder mixes up thicker than other flavors.

one-minute budino in cones

One-Minute Budino

1 cup milk
1 3 oz. package of instant pudding
¾ to 1 cup heavy cream

Pour milk into single-serve rocket blender cup (20 ounce cup). Add pudding mix to milk and stir briefly to dissolve mix in milk. Pour cream into cup and put blender lid on cup. Blend for 15 to 30 seconds. (The sound of our blender changes when the budino is thick enough.) Serve immediately for soft-set budino or refrigerate 15 minutes for thick-set budino.

If you really want an impressive dessert, top with some fresh berries and/or a layer of freshly whipped cream. Or just add sprinkles.

Serves 4 - 5.

Jell-O has no idea who I am. My mention of their brand is solely my opinion.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Why I don't blog frequently

I've had several conversations in the past couple weeks that started with the question, "Why don't you blog more often?"

Before I answer that question here, let me say that I really am honored to know some people visit my blog regularly enough to notice how infrequently I publish blog posts.

I should also mention that I'm not a big fan of excuses, so please consider these an explanation, not a list of excuses.

It would be easy to say that I simply don't have time to blog more often, but that's not really true. I have as many hours in my day as everyone else. The truth is that blogging isn't on the top of my priority list. Which means that even though I would love to write a post every day, I have other responsibilities that are more important – namely my kids and my cows. I say this all the time: "Nothing is going to die if I don't publish a blog post today." Kids and cows, however, require daily attention.

I also believe that spending time on my blog should never be more important than spending time with my kids. There were so many things I wanted to blog about this summer, but Glen and I set a goal of making more fun time with the kids, so my blog posts had to wait. I shared this quote from Rory Vaden's book, Procrastinate on Purpose, in my last Dairy Star column, but I'm sharing it again here because I think it is such a good reminder.

Rory Vaden

The other part of this explanation is that I do have a lot more on my plate now than when I started blogging in 2008. We are milking twice as many cows and we have three times as many kids as we did back then. We choose not to have any employees, which means that all of the extra responsibilities fall on our shoulders. It would be easy to stop blogging altogether, but I cherish the stories I share here and sincerely hope that Dan, Monika, and Daphne will one day cherish them, too. If I didn't write these stories down, they would be forever lost.

I also now place more value on my need for sleep. Right after Daphne was born, I was part of a panel that discussed social media strategies. During the discussion, an audience member asked about what it takes to have a blog and be active in social media. When it was my turn, I answered, "Midnight oil." Everyone laughed, but my answer wasn't a joke. At that time, any blogging and social media I did was after the chores were finished and the kids were in bed. I'm not the spring chicken I used to be... I can't stay up late anymore and still function the next day.

If you're one of the loyal people who read my blog and you'd like to keep up with what's happening with our family and farm in between blog posts, I invite you to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I share photos and updates there several times a week.

You can also sign up here to have new posts delivered to your email inbox. The entire post, with photos, is emailed the morning after the post is published. The form only collects your email address and nobody else sees it. The only messages you will receive when you sign up are my blog posts – nothing else. However, the first message you receive will be a subscription confirmation, which you will need to reply to.

I hope this helps you understand why I don't blog frequently.

As always, thank you for reading.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Why dairy farmers lobby

Every once in awhile, it's important to trade your 
blue jeans for a business dress and your barn boots for high heels.

One of the coolest parts of being a dairy farmer is that I get to wear many different hats. Being a farmer means I'm also an educator, an advocate, and a community volunteer. And, every once in a while, I get to be a lobbyist.

My team with Congressman Collin Peterson.

I spent most of last week in Washington, D.C. with a group of farmer-owners and employees from my cooperative – Land O'Lakes. This was my fourth trip to our nation's capitol to meet with legislators and it was every bit as meaningful as each of my previous visits. It was also every bit as important.

Why do dairy farmers lobby?

For me, it's important to make time for lobbying because I believe legislators need to know the farmers who will be affected by the issues that come before congress. Legislators need first-hand examples of how proposed policies will impact farms, families, and small businesses. Even when there aren't pressing issues to discuss, I believe it's important to maintain relationships with my elected leaders so that when a dairy-related issue does come up, they have a constituent to turn to for input.

Spending time on Capitol Hill also gives me an opportunity to learn. My cooperative's staff does a good job briefing us on where each particular issue is in the legislative process. Because, honestly, when I'm at home, I'm focused on the needs and issues of my family and farm. It's pretty hard for me to keep up with everything that's happening in politics (and the rest of the world). When I can get away for a few days, it's a lot easier to focus on what's going on in the world.

On this trip, we also heard from Ambassador Darci Vetter, who is the Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. It was incredible to hear a farm-girl from Nebraska explain her role in negotiating foreign trade agreements.

With Ambassador Darci Vetter after the trade briefing.

What issues do dairy farmers lobby for?

That was the question from the gentleman sitting next to me on my flight to D.C. The short answer, I told him, is nearly everything. I then explained that dairy farmers are affected by all policies that impact business, food, and the environment, which includes everything from immigration reform to taxation to foreign trade to renewable fuels and everything in between. As a mom, I'm also concerned about education, health care, and every other civil issue.

On this particular trip, we spent most of our time discussing issues that will likely be voted on during this session: limits on sodium and flavored milk in school lunches, concerns regarding trade negotiations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and labeling of GMO foods.

Does lobbying make a difference?

Yesterday morning while milking, Glen asked, "So, you've had a little time to reflect on your trip. Do you think you actually made a difference?"

Yes, I told him, without hesitating.

Someday my senator or representative is going to need a real-life reminder of why he or she is voting for or against a bill; my visit could be that reminder.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Birth of a Calf

As a dairy farmer, I've witnessed the birth of countless calves. Most of our cows deliver their calves without assistance, but every once in a while a cow needs some help from us.

I realize, though, that most people have never watched the birth of a calf. How is a calf born? The photos below show how it happens. Birth really is a miracle and it's always amazing to watch.

The cow in the photos is Lily. I happened to be checking on our ladies in waiting one morning when I saw that Lily was about to give birth. I took out my phone, turned on the camera, and stood back. Lily delivered her calf like a pro, so I just watched.

The Birth of a Calf

birth of a calf: presentation of feet

9:13 a.m. – Lily is about to give birth. The calf's front feet are present. You can also see the thick mucus that Lily's body produced to help the calf slide through the birth canal.

Up until this point, Lily was likely standing up and laying down a lot to help position the calf for birth. Other signs that a cow is soon to give birth include standing or walking around with her tail lifted and distancing herself from the rest of the herd. Most, but not all, cows prefer solitude when giving birth.

birth of a calf: presentation of nose

9:17 a.m. – Lily has laid down (most cows give birth laying on their side). The calf's nose has emerged. The calf will usually stay in this position for several minutes as the birth canal finishes dilating from the pressure of the calf's head. For cows giving birth the first time, the calf might stay in this position for an hour or more. At this point, the umbilical cord is still supporting the calf's life.

birth of a calf: presentation of nose

9:18 a.m. – Lily has pushed the calf out a couple more inches. Cows have contractions every couple minutes and instinctively push with each contraction during the final stages of birth.

You can clearly see the white cushiony pads on the calf's hooves in the photo above. These pads protect the inside of the cow and prevent the calf from puncturing the amniotic sac. The pads will wear off quickly once the calf starts walking.

birth of a calf: head's out

9:22 a.m. – The calf's head is out. At this point, it was really hard for me not to grab onto the calf's front legs and pull the calf out the rest of the way. Once the calf's head has emerged, the blood supply to the umbilical cord is pinched off by the birth canal, so it is critical for a calf to be delivered quickly once it reaches this stage.

The white membrane around the calf's head in the photo above is the amniotic sac.

birth of a calf: final push

9:22 a.m. – One final push and the calf is (mostly) born. Lily didn't need any help from me; there were only a few seconds between the last two pushes.

The calf has already taken its first breath. If you look closely at the calf's mouth, you can see the bubble that formed when it exhaled.

birth of a calf: first lick from mom

9:23 a.m. – Lily hopped right up to check on her calf, who is already trying to sit up.

Truth be told, some cows lay there for a couple minutes to rest before getting up to tend to their calves.

cow cleaning newborn calf

9:23 a.m. – Lily starts vigorously licking her bull calf. Her sandpapery tongue removes the amniotic fluid covering the calf, which will help the calf dry off more quickly, and stimulates the calf's circulatory and respiratory systems.

Licking the calf off might sound gross to humans, but it's important for both the calf and the cow. Analgesic opiates (natural pain relievers) are released by the cow's body when she gives birth; ingesting the amniotic fluid makes those pain relievers more effective. In fact, most cows, after their "water breaks", will slurp up the puddle of fluid.

cow cleaning newborn calf

9:25 a.m. – Lily's calf is alert and sitting upright. Lily will continue licking him while he practices standing up (as seen in the short video below). Within an hour (or less), Lily's calf will be standing.

While I'm on the topic of birth, here's a cute story...

Our kids, like all farm kids, have been watching the birth of calves since they were little.

One day a couple of years ago, I listened from the kitchen while Monika and her cousin were playing midwife in the living room. After her cousin waddled around with a babydoll under her shirt for awhile, it was time for the baby to be born.

I heard Monika say, "No, the baby comes out like this."

I peeked around the corner to see Monika demonstrating. She was standing there like Super Woman with her arms over her head.

Monika as super girl

She assumed that human babies were born the same way calves were born – hands first (or front legs first).

I didn't correct her. Someday she'll discover that, despite all the similarities between mammalian species, there are some differences.