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Crunchy Almond Chicken and Rice Casserole

I want to share a recipe I made for my hubby dear's thanksgiving potluck at work. This is one dish you can make for big work potluck parties which is very easy and does not consume much of your time. I can tell that this dish turned out real well from the fact that there are no left overs. They ate it ALL!!
All the chopping and dicing can be made ahead the night before and all you got to do on the day of is to put everything together....
1/3 cup Butter
1 medium Onion finely diced
3 stalks Celery finely diced
1/4 cup all purpose Flour
2 cups Milk
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Thyme
4 cups cooked Chicken, diced (around 2 lbs boneless chicken)
3 cups cooked Rice
1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts drained
1 cup Mushrooms sliced
1/2 cup silvered Almonds
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 15 to 20 crackers)
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup silvered almonds + hand full
Prep Work on previous day
Preheat the oven to 375F. Take the chicken breasts or boneless thighs. Clean them, sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Place them on a baking sheet.  Put the sheet in the oven and let the chicken cook for 10 to 15 minutes per side (20 to 30 minutes). Take it out and let it rest for 20 minutes. Then cut the chicken into small cubes, put it in zip lock bag and store it in the refrigerator. 
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Melt 1/3 cup of butter in a sauce pan. Toss in finely diced  onion and celery.
Cook till the onion and celery are tender. Add in the sliced mushrooms and fry for a minute or two. Now whisk in the all purpose flour. Keep whisking and add in the milk. Keep whisking for a minute to avoid any lumps. Now add in the salt, pepper, nutmeg and thyme. Keep stirring and cook on medium heat till the  sauce is thickened. Once the sauce is thickened turn off the heat and set the pan aside.
In a large bowl mix the rice, slivered almonds and chicken. Drain and coarsely chop the Water Chestnuts, and add them to the chicken and rice mixture. Mix well. Now pour the sauce into the rice mixture and mix all together. Spread this mixture evenly in a baking dish(13x9 inch). Set aside.
Melt 3 tbsp of butter. Mix the melted butter, cracker crumbs and almonds. Sprinkle the mixed topping over the rice mixture evenly. Sprinkle the handful of almonds on the top.
Place the baking dish in the oven uncovered and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.


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