experiments in cooking

Archive for the ‘Poultry’ Category

Granny’s Chicken Gumbo

If you want to be a kid again, recreate the good smells you smelled as kid.

The part of the brain involved with scents also deals with memories. (See this UPI.com Health News article “Same brain part deals with scents, memory”)   and, as Discovery Health  has reported, because we encounter most new odors in our youth, smells often call up powerful childhood memories.

That’s why, when I smell a spring morning, I’m six again, leaving for kindergarten from my grandparents’ house in Longview, Texas.

When I smell hot chocolate, I’m eight, coming in from playing in the snow—or 12, daydreaming by the window on a winter morning—or 17, doing a crossword puzzle by myself on a Saturday night, listening to haunting Celtic music, and mooning over some boy who didn’t love me back.

Yes, food has tremendous power to revive our childhood memories.

The other night, I made my family’s chicken gumbo for the first time since I moved out on my own. As the gumbo simmered, the scent made me recall with sweet clarity how it felt to be a kid. Memories of dozens of family meals, conversations around the table, helping my mom clean up after dinner, all washed over me. And with the first bite, the distance that separates me from my younger self was gone. I felt younger than I have in a long time.

Chris had never had the dish before, but he ate two bowls of it. “This is one of the best things I’ve had in a long time!” he said.

“Brings back memories for me,” I said quietly. And that was an understatement. I was surprised by how happy I felt.

It happens to all of us. I read today that when French memoirist Marcel Proust dipped a pastry into his tea, the distinctive scent it produced suddenly opened the flood gates of his memory. And sometimes, you don’t recall a single memory, but instead find yourself feeling suddenly content.

I am the third generation to make this dish, and it’s tied to special memories for more than just me. My mom tells me she started making this simple gumbo before I was born. She got the recipe from her mother-in-law, my paternal grandmother. Mom first tasted this dish when Dad took her to meet his parents nearly 40 years ago. They drove several hours from Tucson, Ariz., north to Prescott, and Granny served her chicken gumbo to my mom, the thin, 19-year-old girl with the long, blonde hair who was going to marry her son.

This chicken gumbo is easy and quick to make, and it probably doesn’t taste anything like an authentic gumbo you’d find down in Louisiana. Granny did live in Shreveport for a couple of years, but a classic gumbo is a lot more complicated than hers. I’ve only had a real spicy Cajun gumbo once in my life. That’s a memory too. But this simple gumbo is the one for me.

What foods take you back?

 

Granny’s Chicken Gumbo

This dish offers a good chance to use up some leftovers—you can ladle it over leftover rice or potatoes and possibly day-old pasta. Chris ate his second bowl over a pile of oyster crackers that I bought on a whim because I thought the kids would enjoy eating little octagons.

1 chicken or equivalent in chicken pieces (I used just two boneless skinless chicken breasts)

1 ½ cups chicken broth or stock (a 14-oz can of broth will work fine)

Water

2 T butter or olive oil (I used olive oil)

1 large onion, chopped (I used a shallot)

1 green pepper, chopped

2 Tbsp flour

1 small can tomato sauce

½ Tbsp thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

Tabasco (optional)

Hot pepper (optional)

Okra (optional)

Put chicken in a pot and pour chicken broth over it. Add enough water to cover the chicken pieces. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat, then lower the heat until the liquid is barely bubbling. Cook until the chicken is done, approximately 25–30 minutes for chicken pieces but only 12 minutes for boneless skinless chicken breasts. Remove chicken from the pot; cool and debone. Remove chicken liquid from the heat.

Put butter/olive oil, onion and pepper in a large skillet and sauté until tender. Add flour and brown to nice color. Add chicken liquid, tomato sauce, salt and pepper, and thyme. Shred chicken, add to sauce, and simmer. Add peppers, okra, and Tabasco for a spicier gumbo.

Serve with hot sauce, steamed rice, potatoes, or crackers.

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Creamed Chicken and Bow Tie Heaven

This morning I got an email from my husband with Bow Tie Heaven in the subject line. The email read, I just want to say that I was thinking about your pasta dish on the way to work…it was really good!

Now that’s what I like to hear. And the funny thing is, while frantically trying to fix dinner last night, I thought dinner was going to be a failure. I was making creamed chicken, a Joy of Cooking chicken recipe combining poached chicken with a simple gravy that is typically served over rice, toast, or pasta, or baked in chicken pot pie, or baked in a casserole with pasta or rice in dishes like chicken tetrazzini or some versions of chicken a la king. And I had never made it before.

I intended to serve the creamed chicken over bow tie pasta (also known as farfalle pasta), a pasta I’ve never worked with but which I bought a bag of recently when it was on sale for under a dollar.

At first I thought I had a really great idea. But as 6 o’clock loomed and I rushed around the kitchen managing the various parts of the meal, I doubted.

Yes, I know that this particular meal doesn’t sound complicated. But, according to many cooking experts, you’re not supposed to serve new dishes to guests, and once again I had decided to try out something new on my in-laws—something that involved adding nutmeg—nutmeg!—to a flour gravy and serving it with chicken over pasta, something I never would have thought of doing a couple of months ago. I just wasn’t sure all these things really went together.

One reason for my doubting is that I felt really rushed. When I planned out how much time I needed to make the meal, I’d forgotten that the chicken breasts I was poaching would need time to cool down so I could skin, debone, and shred them. So, while trying to stir the creamed chicken gravy (consisting of butter, flour, broth, milk, salt and pepper, and nutmeg), I was also stirring a pot of unfamiliar pasta and trying to quickly shred very hot chicken, with my three dachshunds between my feet, pushing and nosing, all hoping I’d drop something yummy.

As I began to finish up each dish, I felt that each looked good on its own, but would they work together? Wasn’t nutmeg a weird spice to use in a meal like this? I couldn’t help it. I doubted my early confidence in the idea that creamed chicken and bowtie pasta would be easy and delicious. It might, instead, be weird and even a little repulsive.

When everyone was seated at the table and I brought in the dishes, I was pretty nervous. I explained to everyone that the creamed chicken was meant to be served over the pasta. And then I waited for the bad news.

Everyone served themselves and began eating. There was general silence for a few minutes. And then it came.

“You know …” said my father-in-law.

Let’s have it, I thought. You asked for it, serving a new dish to guests. Now you have to take the consequences.

“I think this meal ranks up there with your chicken enchiladas.”

With my chicken enchiladas? My father-in-law loves my chicken enchiladas!

“This is really good,” added my mother-in-law.

“This is good, Sarah,” said my husband.

“Are you sure?” I said.

The chorus of yeses was pretty definite.

“It’s not weird?” I pressed.

“No, no way!” someone said. Someone else chimed in, “It’s good! Very good.”

I almost couldn’t believe it. And then I took several bites of the creamed chicken and bow tie pasta on my own plate. And you know what? They were right. It was good.

“I’m kind of surprised this is so good,” I said. “I mean, bow tie pasta topped with a mixture that’s basically chicken pot pie filling? Wasn’t sure it would work.”

“Well, I hope you make it again,” said my father-in-law.

I didn’t tell anyone about the nutmeg.

I think it may be the secret to reaching bow tie heaven.

Chicken Fricasee

A few months ago, my mother-in-law served her mother’s chicken fricassee recipe at our Friday family dinner, and I was hooked. I think I was pretty giddy. In fact, everyone at the table loved it so much that we ask her to make it every few weeks.

And then, one day, I realized—it was the closest thing to my beloved Southwest Baptist University college cafeteria poppy seed chicken that I’ve ever had. I immediately determined to make it myself, with poppy seeds, to see if I’d found a match for my old favorite cafeteria dish.

This Saturday evening, I got the chance to try.

The original recipe calls for cutting up a whole chicken, but I took a tip from my mother-in-law and used boneless skinless breasts instead, cutting them into serving-sized pieces. I am not a patient woman, and me and chickens have issues. I love them, bless the yummy birds, but they frustrate me.

The recipe is an easy one, calling for using a can of cream of mushroom soup to make gravy instead of using a roux of chicken broth and flour as do some fricassee recipes I’ve seen.

The recipe also called for celery, chopped onion, and pimientos. I didn’t have any celery on hand, so I added a little celery salt. I used a shallot instead of onion, since I love the sweet, mild taste of a shallot. Also, I used poppy seeds for interest instead of pimiento. (Who keeps pimientos on hand, anyway? Although I’ve had pimientos in my mother-in-law’s ham stromboli. Mmm … maybe I should get some.)

I also added a small amount of skim milk to the sauce before baking the chicken because the mixture didn’t look liquid-y enough to me, and I wanted a lot of gravy at the end of the cooking process. The addition of milk turned out to work well for my purposes.

For this recipe, you brown chicken pieces in seasoned flour, then bake them in a soup-based sauce for a long time—1 ½ to 2 hours—at low heat (300 degrees). I cooked the dish for the minimum suggested hour and a half.

When the timer dinged and I pulled the baking dish out of the oven, then pulled off the aluminum foil I used to cover it, the chicken was fall-apart tender, swimming in chicken flavored gravy, and peppered here and there with poppy seeds. Already getting happy with anticipation—yes, we’re eating chicken fricassee!—I served it with fluffy white rice and homemade oatmeal dinner rolls.

Chris pointed out to me that his friend whom we had over for dinner ate six pieces of chicken and finally just spooned gravy into his plate to eat it solo. I think that counts as a success, yes?

Furthermore, ladies and gentlemen, I can tell you that I have found my throwback poppy seed chicken. This chicken fricassee is as good as Mellers Cafeteria’s poppy seed chicken. And because it’s not made in mass quantities using unknown ingredients for hundreds of college students—and because I get to eat it now, whenever I want, not just every eight weeks or so when the cafeteria director sees fit to serve it—and because it’s not just a memory anymore—it’s better than Mellers’ poppy seed chicken.

I am satisfied.

Below is the recipe. If any of you are Southwest Baptist University alumni who ate and enjoyed Mellers Cafeteria poppy seed chicken back in the 1990s and early 2000s, you may want to try this.

Chicken Fricasee

From Grandma Kathy Nichols and “Granny D” Dorothy Weber

Revised by Sarah Nichols

4 lbs cut-up chicken or 4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

¼ cup chopped celery (I used a dash of celery salt)

¼ cup chopped onion (I used 1 shallot)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

¾ cup water (I also added about ¼ cup skim milk in order to produce more gravy)

Optional: 2 pimientos, chopped

Optional: poppy seed, about 3–4 dashes

  1. Cut chicken in serving pieces and rub pieces with seasoned flour (2/3 cup flour, 1 tsp salt, pepper). I put the seasoned flour in a small bowl and turned the breasts in the flour to coat.
  2. Brown in hot fat or oil in a pan big enough to hold all the chicken. I used olive oil. If you have a Dutch oven that can go both on the range and in the oven, use it. I don’t, so I used a sauté pan with a lid. This step took me approximately 10–12 minutes.
  3. Remove chicken. Cook celery and onion (or shallot) in fat/oil until golden.
  4. If you are using a Dutch oven, drain off excess fat.  Add pimientos, soup, and water and Stir lightly to blend. Add chicken.  If you are using a sauté pan for the browning step followed by a baking dish for the baking step, place the chicken in your baking dish, then add the browned celery and onions, soup, water and milk, and pimientos or poppy seeds.
  5. Cover the dish and bake in a preheated oven (300 degrees) until tender, about 1 ½–2 hours. Arrange on platter surrounding mound of hot fluffy rice.

Easy Chicken Enchiladas for Those of Us Who Don’t Like Mexican Food

Back when I was a young teen, I refused to eat anything that sounded even remotely Mexican. Then my granny served some chicken enchiladas that I was required to try out of politeness—and I liked them.

Then again, I may not have been especially polite. It’s possible the conversation went something like this:

“I don’t like Mexican food.”

“But this isn’t like most Mexican food.”

“Still, I don’t like enchiladas.”

“You haven’t even tried them.”

“Why should I try something I know I don’t like?”

“You’ll eat the enchiladas if you want dessert!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll taste the enchilada.”

I hope the conversation didn’t go this way. But I’m sure I was thinking all of my side of the above conversation. And, today, I have versions of this conversation at every meal with my four-year-old.

Anyway, these enchiladas weren’t necessarily real Mexican enchiladas, but they involved tortillas and chicken and green chiles and onion and sour cream, and to my surprise, I liked them. And I stopped telling everyone that I hated all Mexican food.

This week I decided it was time to try making Granny’s chicken enchiladas myself, for my family, my parents-in-laws, and my brother-in-law at our regular Tuesday night dinner. I’d never tried to make the dish, and the recipe looked simple. And, even though I often don’t like sour cream, I remembered liking this dish a lot. Plus, I had a thrifty scheme to bake a chicken one night for dinner and use the leftover breast meat for chicken enchiladas the next night. Who doesn’t get a kick out of making really good use of leftovers?

To make the enchiladas, I first preheated the oven to 350 degrees and sprayed a large baking pan with canola oil. Next I shredded the chicken breast meat, chopped a single green onion, and then mixed the green onion and a small can of green chiles into the chicken. Then I thoroughly mixed one can of reduced sodium cream of chicken soup and eight ounces of light sour cream. I added three soup spoons full of the soup mixture to the chicken and mixed it together to bind the onion and chiles to the chicken. Next I divided the chicken mixture evenly into eight tortillas. I rolled up each tortilla and placed them, seam side down, into the baking dish. Then I poured the rest of the soup mixture over the tortillas and, finally, sprinkled a small amount of cheese (shredded fiesta blend) over the top to add a little color and texture. I put the dish in the oven and baked it for exactly 45 minutes. I served them with medium salsa on the side, along with a lettuce salad.

My chicken enchiladas turned out tasting exactly as I remember Granny’s enchiladas tasting years ago. Delicious! I noticed, pleased, that my father-in-law ate two of them, and my husband ate two and a half. I don’t like to encourage overeating, but I have to admit I liked to see the enchiladas disappearing.

Oh, and the way I figured it, everyone who ate one enchilada or two definitely earned their dessert. Everyone, that is, except my four-year-old, Jonah, who did not try an enchilada at all. Like a teenager I once knew, the kid doesn’t like Mexican food, doesn’t eat enchiladas, and doesn’t want to try anything he knows he won’t like.

The Chicken that Wouldn’t Cook – And Cookies to Mend the Ego

The Chicken

It should not be so hard to roast a chicken.

But last night, there I was, standing in my kitchen at 5:30, long after I thought the chicken was going to be done, yelling, “It’s never going to be done!”

My family didn’t really share my concern. Chris told me to calm down (which prompted a loud explanation on my part of why I didn’t need to calm down), and Jonah said, “Mom, you should not talk like that!” He always thinks I’m being naughty. But I was really worked up. “I put this chicken in the oven at 3:45,” I shouted. “We should be eating it right now!”

“Give it 15 more minutes, okay?” Chris suggested.

So I did, although it was a long, long, wait for me. And this time, when the timer went off and I checked the chicken, it was done. After approximately two hours. Then, because I wanted to serve something I felt good about, I made a gravy to go with our chicken and the rolls.

This time I blame the recipe, which recommended I roast the chicken, covered, at 350 for 1 hour 15 minutes. During the final 15 minutes of the long two hours, I checked my Joy of Cooking, which said to bake a five-lb chicken for about 1 hour and 10 minutes at 400 degrees. That’s right—400 degrees, not 350. Next time I’m trying the same time at 400 degrees.

No-Bake Cookies

Besides the gravy, there was one other bright spot in my culinary efforts last night. During the first hour and 15 minutes the chicken was baking, I had a craving for some cookies, so I decided to make some chocolate no-bake cookies since that wouldn’t require use of the oven. I used creamy peanut butter instead of chunky, and I cut back the amount of sugar slightly. Chris ate four cookies, and Jonah ate two (even though he said he didn’t like them, because he was hoping to get something else as a treat in addition to the cookies). Poor Neeley wouldn’t eat one at all. He was feeling sick to his stomach and feverish.

I am still waiting for one time when I can make a roasted chicken without any problems, but at least I went to bed last night knowing I didn’t screw up no-bake cookies. Because that would be embarrassing.

Two Types of People: Those Who Love Sour Cream, and Those Who Don’t

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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