Tuesday is for Turkey Casserole

I know, this is not what I usually write about on Tuesdays. Teachers, my apologies, but I am just too happy and thankful about this turkey casserole to pass this on to another post.

Why, you wonder, am I happy about a casserole?  It’s about food allergies.

My family has a complicated history with allergies, air-born and food. Two brothers had asthma, one had severe food allergies. Their children and grandchildren have allergies scattered among them – no pattern or logic is involved. Our parents did not have allergies, but we know some Stephens family members who have them. My allergist says there’s a gene hidden in there that we share.

My food allergies did not develop until I was 60 years old! How can that be? And I don’t have just one food allergy – there are two complete food families that make eating out and potluck dinners a risk with every bite. I won’t go into all the details of my years of food diaries, elimination diets, and final diagnosis, but a rather traumatic incident while teaching resulted in an ambulance ride to the emergency room. Now, I’m never without an Epipen, and those who know me well are quite vigilant at restaurants for me.

Over a period of years I slowly eliminated various milk products from my diet and was able to determine that I am allergic to cow’s milk and any products that contain milk or a trace of milk. Allergy testing confirmed my own research about milk but also determined that I am allergic to wheat and anything that might have a trace of wheat in it. In some ways life is a little easier for me now than when I was first diagnosed because more people are aware of celiac disease. Celiac is caused by a gluten-intolerance. More restaurants and people in general know about gluten.

When someone learns I have a wheat allergy they frequently nod and say, “Oh, you are gluten intolerant.” No, it’s not the gluten; it is wheat, only. I’ve learned though that if I find a menu or products that are gluten-free I am usually safe to eat the food. Unfortunately these two food groups (wheat and milk) eliminate a number of restaurants and even food categories for me. Very few desserts are safe as both wheat-free and milk-free, and breakfast can be a challenge in most restaurants.

This explanation (longer than it should be) finally brings us back around to turkey casserole. I’ve not had chicken casserole for at least five years. Nearly every recipe calls for cream of something soup (containing milk and usually wheat), sour cream or some other cheese with cracker crumbs on top. I’ve discovered two ingredients which are now much easier to find in grocery stores near me. Whole Foods is all the way across town, and I usually make that a day trip.  Plain yogurt made from coconut milk substitutes for cream of chicken soup, and pretzels made from potato starch, rice flour and tapioca starch provide the crunch in my new recipe.

Last night I decided to try making a casserole with the leftover turkey breast from Thanksgiving. The turkey was cooked in the crock pot, but it was just too chewy. I’d tried pulling it off the bone and cooking it longer with some broth, but it still wasn’t that great.

First, I found a simple recipe in a good Southern cookbook. In case you are not from the South, chicken casserole is a staple in a Southern diet. You can always substitute turkey for chicken, so I decided I’d chop up my leftover turkey in the food processor to improve the texture.

As with any recipe used at the last minute, you make-do with whatever ingredients you have on hand. With my new substitute ingredients and some tweaking (didn’t have slivered almonds and need to avoid mushrooms) I assembled the dish, tucked it in the oven, and waited to see the results.

My long-suffering husband has tasted some weird things in the past few years with my experiments in modifying dishes for my diet. Even though he is not a fan of casseroles, this one passed his taste test. Hallelujah! I think this is it. I am happy with it. My picture of the casserole was obviously taken after we’ve eaten a good portion since I didn’t set my hopes too high. I’ve learned that with the substitutions I have to make, just reading the recipe is not the best guide for good-tasting food.

Tonight I’m trying a recipe that is endorsed by Garth Brooks! His wife, Trisha Yearwood, made it on her cooking show last Saturday, and I’m hopeful. It’s lasagna! Have you tried lasagna without cheese? Just not the same. You see, cheese is crucial for so many Mexican and Italian dishes. We’ll see if this tofu will work, but you can be sure I won’t be announcing this dish as tofu lasagna to Larry. That’s a sure way to set up negative expectations!

JoyMartell’s Turkey/Chicken Casserole

Wheat-free and dairy-free

Preheat oven at 350.

  • 1 cup chopped cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 T. minced onion
  • ¾ cup cooked brown rice
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 carton plain coconut yogurt
  • ½ cup pretzel crumbs (wheat-free)

Combine all ingredients except crumbs in large bowl. Place in 2 qt. dish, a pie dish worked fine. Sprinkle crumbs on top. Bake 30 minutes.

For more flavor try some herbs such as tarragon, parsley or rosemary.

Counting some joys about food:

  • 3255. plain coconut yogurt
  • 3256. pretzels that I can eat! (Thanks Tricia for buying them)
  • 3257. a casserole dish I can eat.
  • 3258. Larry’s willingness to try new dishes
  • 3259. friends and family who consider my food limitations (“Let’s go out to eat! Martell, where can you eat?”)
  • 3260. more products available that expand my limited choices
  • 3261. helpful staff in grocery stores and restaurants to search for solutions to my diet
  • 3262. so glad I’ve not had these food allergies all my life!



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