Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 25: Lovely Memories and a Delicious Recipe

Food writers and chefs often refer to "food memories" which are tastes and flavors that evoke precious or sour memories in our psyche that can become as clear as looking at a photograph.  For me, most of my food memories are happy ones that summon feelings and memories of comfort, love, inclusiveness, togetherness, family, and a genuine lightness of heart.  At our home growing up we were very blessed to spend most evening meals together, and it is where I learned some of the most important lessons in life.  Opening in prayer together, listening to my parents talk about their days, sharing with one another, and partaking in nourishing meals.

To this day one of the meals that brings me right back "home" is chicken casserole.  This is a dish that was my mom's, my grandma's, and her mother's (my Edith Grandma's) dish, and probably a few generations before.  I'm not exactly sure of the history but I would venture to guess that it was derived out of all of their gifts for using up what they had available, which usually included chicken. 

Living on the farm having chicken didn't mean going to the freezer and taking out a pre-packaged bird from the grocery store.  More often than not, it meant raising the chicks to hens, and then being personally involved in the "process" of preparation, of which I won't divulge the details except to say there is plucking involved.  My Grandma tells the story of unexpected relatives coming to visit when she was a child and my Edith Grandma going out into the yard and selecting the evening's meal straight from the barn.

When you know the chicken that well, you definitely develop a full appreciation for using up every last part.  This chicken casserole is a great example of what you can do with the leftover meat if you have roasted or boiled a chicken for another purpose.

To start you will need a casserole pan (9x13 works well) that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, rice (instant will work just fine), one can cream of "something" soup although celery is my preference, mayonnaise, onion, celery, lemon, and chicken.

Start by cooking rice to package instructions so that you have approximately 2 cups cooked. Next chop 1 1/2 cups of celery or 5 large stocks.  Chop 1/2 an onion (I didn't have an onion, so I used up some scallions which worked well.

Next pour can of cream of "something" soup into a bowl.  (I have to pause here for a moment of confession.  I hate using cream of "something" soup in anything.  Not because I'm opposed to its contents - which I probably should be, but because I hate the bland color, gelatinous texture, and especially because I hate the "thuulmp" sound that it makes coming out of the can. I kind of have to do this and divert my eyes until its all over.) Next pour in 3/4 cup of mayonnaise.  Cut the beautiful yellow lemon in half and squeeze approximately 1 Tablespoon into the sauce.  The lemon is a very important part because it balances out the mayo and soup with a touch of sourness and sweetness, which in the end result give the recipe that "hmm, what is that" that will make you try seconds and thirds! Pinch of salt and pepper, and stir.

Chop the leftover chicken into bite sized pieces and place chicken, celery, and onion at the bottom of the casserole dish.  When rice is fully cooked, pour in rice. (Forgive my blurry iPhone picture, you get the idea.)

Next pour the sauce over everything and gently fold together until incorporated.  This will be incredibly thick, so with a spatula gently press mixture into the pan as you go. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about one hour, or until bubbly.
This is where I should show a picture of the dish coming out of the oven for the finishing touches, but unfortunately I was in a hurry and didn't take one.  At about 45-50 minutes or so into cooking you can finish the dish by crushing potato chips on top, and finishing in the oven uncovered.  I would recommend this, as it gives a great salty, crunchy crust to an already amazing casserole.

I should have a final picture of the beautiful brown crust, the gooey delicious casserole, and my family devouring it.  But alas, I do not.  When this came out of the oven we ate it so quickly that all there was left to show by the time I remembered the picture was a half eaten casserole and empty plates.  Delicious success!

What I Used-Up:
Cream of celery soup

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