Today is day 11 of the challenge I mentioned back in this journal. Back on day 1, I got through 3 rounds in about 36 minutes. Today, ten days later, I got through all 5 rounds in under 31 minutes. The nice thing about abs is that they're meant to function hard every day, which means you can work them hard every day without having to worry much about recovery time. Unless I'm going out of my way to stretch them, I really don't feel any soreness there at all.


With the exceptions of day 2 (sore abs were sore from being worked in a new way, only got through 2 rounds in almost 30 minutes) and this past Saturday (took it slow), I've seen nothing but direct measurable improvement every day. I have to wonder though: are my abs getting stronger, or are they getting better at the specific workout I'm doing? Further testing will have to be done at the end of this.


It also kind of looks like the right side of my abs are growing faster than the left, but that might be an illusion caused by internal organ placement or uneven fat distribution, so I'm not going to worry about it right now. If it turns out to be a thing, I can always correct it later.


Now, it's not widely understood that muscle growth doesn't happen in the gym - it happens in the kitchen. You can lift all the weights you want, if you don't eat right you won't gain muscle mass. That's why bodybuilders and strongmen eat many thousands of calories every day, including entire farms' worth of chickens and cows. Chicken is actually one of the best foods for getting your protein, because it tends to be pretty lean. But just baking chicken every few days gets boring. Why not change it up by making a casserole? How do you make one, you ask? Let me tell you.


How Chicken Casserole Works

There are three basic elements to a chicken casserole: the chicken (duh), the sauce, and the other ingredients. The basic method for making a casserole is to prepare the ingredients, mix them all together, then stick them in the oven to cook it. Here's an overview of how to make your casserole, so that you can change it however you like to make it the right one for you:


The Chicken

The first thing you need to do is cook the chicken. I like to bake 3 chicken breasts in the same casserole dish I will use for the casserole itself, because it means less cleaning up. I season it with salt and pepper, and bake it at 350ºF for 45 minutes, but you can cook it however you like - it's your casserole, so anything you do is correct. (caveat: correct is not necessarily synonymous with tasty)


The Sauce

While the chicken is cooking, you need to prepare the sauce and other ingredients. A simple way to make a cream sauce is to mix together two tins of condensed cream of chicken soup and a small carton (237ml - the really short one) of table cream. If you want to add some extra texture to the flavour of the sauce, you can use cream of mushroom, or cream of broccoli, or cream of whatever else soup instead of cream of chicken. You can even use cans of different soups. Again, it's entirely up to you. Using more cream will make the sauce creamier, and you can add anything else you like to the sauce as well - get creative, try things out.


You can also add spices and herbs to the sauce, like paprika and parsley. There are lots of spices that work well with chicken, so go online and find out which ones those are, and pick some. Remember to mix the sauce thoroughly, so that the taste is uniformly distributed! You're also not forced to use a cream sauce - if you want to give it a tomato sauce instead, you can do that. Again, it's your sauce, so it's up to you.


The Other Stuff

The other things you add to the casserole are what's really going to give it character. They can be vegetables, like broccoli or mushrooms; they can be grains, like pasta or rice; you can add cheeses to it (so many cheeses). Vegetables should be prepared raw, while pasta or rice should be cooked (they need to soak up water, and there isn't a lot in the casserole dish). Cheese should be shredded or diced. I add broccoli crowns to mine, because chicken and broccoli go well together, and cheddar on top.


The Chicken's Done Cooking!

When the chicken's finished cooking, it needs to be turned into smaller pieces, because you're making a casserole. If you baked it in the casserole dish, and there's fat to drain, then remove them to a plate and take care of the fat, then put them back in the casserole dish. I prefer tearing the chicken roughly with a fork and sharp serrated knife, because I like the texture it provides, and it makes it easy to remove the veins and such, which I don't like.


Next you add the other ingredients. Whatever they are, you'll want to distribute them evenly among the chicken, and then mix them together. That way you don't end up with a layer of chicken, then a layer of rice, then a layer of broccoli, etc. There are two exceptions to this: 1) if you're adding rice, you may want to put it on bottom rather than mixing it in; 2) if you're adding cheese, you may want to spread it on top of the casserole at the end rather than mixing it in. I use 'may' for a reason there - your casserole, your choice.


Once the ingredients have been mixed together, pour the sauce over them evenly, and mix it all again. This will distribute the sauce amongst the ingredients, so you don't end up with the sauce just sitting on top. Once everything is mixed, if you held back cheese to put on top, this is when you do that. You may also choose to sprinkle something like parsley over the top, if you want to add both flavour and something visual to it.


Time To Turn It Into Casserole!

Once everything is mixed together, stick it in the oven at 350ºF (if you baked it like I did, you can just leave it on while you do everything else) for 20 minutes, or until the cheese on top melts if you put some there. You probably have a mess of mixing bowls and food cans to clean up, so while the casserole cooks is as good a time as any to deal with that. When the 20 minutes are up, pull it out of the oven, and start serving! I prefer to use non-slotted serving utensils, so that I don't lose any of the sauce back to the casserole dish.


Making a chicken casserole like this usually provides 6-8 servings. There will be lots of protein, especially if you add a lot of cheese like I do, as well as a healthy distribution of fat and carbs (your body needs all three to function properly). I prefer to leave the leftovers in the casserole dish and just cover the whole thing and stick it in the fridge, because it's way simpler than moving it into something else first. Plus it takes up less space that way.


I should note again that since you're making the casserole, you can change it however you like. If you decide that the cream is too rich and you want to use half and half instead, or three cans of soup and no cream at all, then you can do that. If you want to see what happens when you add asparagus and spinach, go nuts. What I've provided you with here is not a specific recipe, but a general set of guidelines for how to make a chicken casserole. Part of the fun of cooking is in trying out new things, and seeing what works. So go experiment!


Starter Recipe?

Bake three chicken breasts, seasoned with salt and pepper, at 350ºF for 45 minutes. Shred the chicken into short strips. Add a diced crown of broccoli, and a sauce made of two cans of cream of chicken soup and a small carton of table cream, thoroughly mixed. Spread 8oz of shredded cheddar cheese on top, and sprinkle with paprika and parsley. Place in oven at 350ºF for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serves 6-8.