experiments in cooking

When I was in college, there was one meal the university cafeteria served that I absolutely loved: poppy seed chicken over rice. Even after I moved off campus in the middle of my junior year, I always ate at the cafeteria the nights they served poppy seed chicken.

A few years later, I was a newlywed compiling recipes for my favorite childhood meals into a personal cookbook, and I thought about that poppy seed chicken. In a fit of nostalgia for the good old college days, I researched poppy seed chicken recipes online and added one of them to my cookbook, along with recipes from Mom and Aunt Marilyn and Grandma Tena and Granny Baker and my best friend’s mom, Linda Hensley.

Last week, I got to thinking that I’d never made several of the recipes in my personal cookbook. I sat down to read through the chicken section, and came across the recipe for “Poppy Seed Poultry Casserole.” Why not? I thought. I do miss that poppy seed chicken.

“Did you like that poppy seed chicken they served in the cafeteria back in college?” I asked my husband.

“Not particularly,” said Chris.

I wasn’t letting anything curb my enthusiasm. So I said, “Mind if I make some poppy seed chicken next Monday?”

Chris shrugged, and I think maybe he rolled his eyes. This means, Whatever floats your boat, Sarah. I guess he didn’t want to argue about poppy seed chicken.

Over the week I purchased a couple of ingredients for the dish that I didn’t have on hand—poppy seeds, dill, and one that concerned me: sour cream. I don’t like sour cream much. I’m not sure why I originally selected a recipe that included eight ounces of sour cream, but maybe back in the early 2000s there weren’t as many recipes online from which to choose. And I don’t mind sour cream when baked in coffee cakes or cookies, even though can’t stand it in a burrito or on top of nachos … I don’t know why I have these feelings about sour cream.

Maybe I wouldn’t be able to taste it in the final dish.

At any rate, I decided to forge ahead with the poppy seed chicken, and when Monday afternoon rolled around, I rushed home from my job and got to work.

While sautéing two boneless chicken breasts (cut into bite-size pieces), I mixed together one can of cream of chicken soup, eight ounces of sour cream, one tablespoon of poppy seeds, one teaspoon of dill, and 3 cups of cooked rice. I added the sautéed chicken, then pressed the mixture into a 9×13 baking dish. Then I mixed some Ritz cracker crumbs with a little butter and sprinkled the cracker crumbs over the top of the dish. Next I placed the dish in the oven to bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

At dinner, I took one bite and knew: I hated this dish. All I could taste was the sour cream, permeating everything. This was not the poppy seed chicken of my memories.

As I sat, trying to force down a few bites, trying to like it, Chris exclaimed, “Hey, I love this stuff!”

I looked up. I paused, then said, “I don’t think I like it.”

“What?” said Chris. “You better not be telling me I’m not going to get to have this again! Because that would be bad.”

“I don’t like the sour cream,” I said, mournfully. “I was afraid this would happen.”

“I can’t even taste the sour cream,” said Chris.

“Well, I don’t think I can finish this,” I said. “And I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot left over.”

“That’s okay,” said Chris. “I’m going to have seconds—and maybe thirds.”

I watched as Chris cleaned his plate, left the table, and then returned, the entire plate heaped with poppy seed poultry casserole (with sour cream). And told me several more times how delicious it was.

Well, I’m glad he liked it. Maybe a lot of people would like it. But now I have to find the dish I dreamed of—I have to find a poppy seed chicken dish that tastes like the one I had in the college cafeteria.

And when I do, will I love it and Chris hate it? No, I won’t believe that. Somewhere out there is a poppy seed chicken and rice dish that we both can love …

I am looking for you, chicken.

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Comments on: "Two Types of People: Those Who Love Sour Cream, and Those Who Don’t" (9)

  1. that was perhaps the best thing Meller’s served…only second to stir fry (once in a blue moon) night! i was just thinking about poppy seed chicken the other night. how did they make it? why was it soooo good? (and was it REALLY that good?? or am i getting old and my fond memories of college are wholly consisted of cafeteria food and time spent not on campus doing not college things?) btw, i am a sour cream fan and Adam is decidedly NOT! let me know if you find a Meller’s comparable recipe!

    • Kodie, I remember the stir fry–that was the only other meal there that I still dream of. 🙂 Anyway, every recipe for poppy seed chicken I found online even today was like the one I made on Monday–good, at least if you like sour cream, but not similar to the Mellers poppy seed chicken. However, my mother-in-law makes a chicken fricasee that I think is very similar–I am thinking of trying that recipe and adding poppy seeds to the sauce. If it tastes like the Mellers poppy seed chicken, I will let you know!

  2. Oh you are breaking my heart! Sour cream is a staple around here. My kids love it more than I do. It is loved so much in this house that I had to start buying the low fat kind, for fear of what it was doing to our insides as well as our pant sizes. I have to admit I don’t cook with it that often anymore for those very reasons, but when I do … mmmmm the goodness, words cannot explain.

    • Sour cream and I just have an odd relationship–I seem to like it with several things, even in dips, but absolutely not mixed with chicken. So weird.

  3. I’m with you on the sour cream.

    Surely there’s some way to work the alumni board or director or something to get the Meller’s recipe?

  4. Sarah, this is so true in my household! Joel loves red sauces and everything Italian. I make amazing Italian food (he says), but I don’t like Italian. The exception is alfredo sauce. That I love. I hope you find the recipe you are looking for.

    • Kara, we have a similar disagreement over red sauce/white sauce. I’m not crazy about red sauces, and Chris dislikes white sauce, especially alfredo! We both are okay with garlic butter sauces, though, so that’s our compromise. 🙂

  5. I am like that with sauces. I never eat non-recipe specific sauces on ANYTHING (even fries) but my man uses ketchup or hot sauce or BBQ on almost everything. Oh well.

    I LOVED the poppy seed chicken, too. Remember the boys on poppy seed day? They would get 3 or 4 platefulls. I also fondly recall the Catsnack pizzas. They saved me from starving on many occasions.

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