Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Relearning How To Cook. A humble beginning.

Smallest Child and I are embarking on a mutual project of learning to prepare more mate-friendly suppers.

    Her reasoning is that she and her husband work different schedules and she's often the one closer to home at a reasonable supper-preparing hour. She also claims she is tired of eating the same six things she knows how to cook over and over and over...
    My reasoning is that I work a four day weekend, so I have three whole days off in the middle of the week. A girl can't spend ALL her time just having fun, so I ought to resurrect some useful domestic skills. I am also tired of eating things that invariably start with "take a lot of olive oil and add a lot of garlic and sprinkle liberally with hot peppers" and rather than teach Someone Else to cook things the way I like them it seems more practical to just cook them myself and let Someone douse them with Sriracha to his heart's content.

   The beginning of our project was a lot of food related texted messages and a good bit of wallowing around in various recipe files and cookbooks. (I like reading cookbooks, even when I have no intention of cooking the things described therein.)
Then we remembered Queen Dot's chicken broccoli casserole, a mid-century classic, and I agreed to try and recreate it and to share the results with Smallest Child, who when I emailed the recipe to her promptly suggested I share the joy with the rest of the known universe. Or at any rate My Known Universe, which is rather smaller than the main one.

   Herewith is the email I sent her, because I'm too bone idle busy to re-write the whole thing when it is easier more fun to cut and paste.


Dear Sweetie Pie,

   Here's Queen Dot's Chicken Broccoli Casserole, a good "old fashioned" recipe from the 1960's, as made by me this weekend. It is a highly tweakable recipe.

   I started with 2 rather large humanely raised and undrugged chickens (not raised by me...I'm not killing my laying hens!)
   Queen Dot always used one chicken, but I wanted an extra casserole for the freezer so we could eat it on a day we don't want to cook.

    I washed the chickens, (removing the giblet packets) and plonked them in my big stew pot with a handful of carrots, about half a big celery, two fist sized onions and a spoonful of peppercorns.
    This I brought to a boil, then reduced the heat and simmered it for a long time.  Maybe couple of hours? Till the meat falls right off the bone.  Then I hauled the meat out of the pot onto a baking pan (the jelly roll pan with a good edge) and let it cool for awhile.

    As the meat cooled I strained the bits of veg out of the broth and set the broth to cool so the fat would rise to the top. I spooned off as much of the fat as possible and put it in a pyrex cup in the freezer to chill. The sediment sinks, and then the fat can be saved in a jar in the fridge for cooking.

   Next I greased my baking dishes (with chicken fat since I had plenty available) and layered chopped broccoli over the bottom and and added some of the cooked carrots just for a bit of cheery color. 

   I took the chicken off the bone, and layered the dark meat on top of the broccoli.  I was using two 9x13 inch pans, and just the dark meat really was enough to cover all the veg. They were big chickens.

  On top of the chicken I poured and spread out a can of diluted cream of broccoli soup (I found some with no MSG!). One can per 9x13 pan, and I diluted each can with about 3/4 c of chicken broth. Aunt Dot always used milk because that's what the original recipe says, but to me broth gives more flavor. You could also use cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, or a homemade white sauce.

  I made stuffing (also while the chicken cooled) of a loaf of whole wheat bread (dried in a 250 degree oven, just keep turning the slices till they're crunchy dry.) with broth to wet it good and chopped celery and onion. I also chopped up one chicken breast and mixed it into the stuffing.

    The other three breasts I double wrapped and tucked into the freezer for later use in soup, casserole, chicken salad or whatever. Queen Dot always used the whole bird, she must've had scrawny chickens.

  Next I put the stuffing on top of the soup layer.  It was thick, not something you can pour on or spread with a spoon. I formed it into flat blobs by hand, layed the blobs on and smooshed them together. (smooshed is a sophisticated culinary term.)

    Then I baked the whole thing at 350 degrees for about a half hour.

    And I put the second one in the freezer.

(Note pyrex pitcher with fat rising to the top)

    THOUGHTS: (Aunt Dot would write "Thots", as she felt the whole 'ought' spelling was a waste of time, space and ink)

    One chicken would make one 9x13 pan full, plus leave you an extra breast for something else. Or you could leave the breast meat out of the stuffing (it really wasn't necessary) and have two breasts for another supper.
     Soup Base or boullion cubes jazz up the flavor nicely if you have any on hand and like them.
     You could make it with canned chicken, thereby making it a good recipe for a not-shopping day since the rest of the recipe is stuff that is typically in the pantry.
    You could leave out the chicken entirely and add more vegetables (but then you couldn't rightly call it a chicken broccoli casserole so you'd have to think of a better name.)
    You could top it with commercial stuffing, which keeps nicely on the pantry shelf (but I don't because around here it has MSG in it)
    You could top it with savory cracker crumbs instead of stuffing if you had any around.
     You could layer in some shredded cheese somewhere.
  Anyway, there it is. Give it a try and let me know how you like it.

    Love you!

PS-  You could leave out then chicken, use chopped apples and pears and pineapples and maybe bananas instead of veggies. Then drizzle melted butter over it, top it with a mixture of oats and brown sugar, and after baking put some cream or ice cream on top. It wouldn't be a casserole, but it would be good.

Thus endeth the lesson.

   While things were simmering, and baking, I sorted a bit more in the loft and loaded up the truck for a happy jaunt to my favorite Goodwill store.

There I very happily parted with the old iron bed I've slept in for the last twenty years or so. I love the bed, but I love having less stuff even more.  I kept the mattress, not a modern innerspring sort but a simple cotton futon mattress that I inherited from Smallest Child many years ago. She was moving to New Orleans and as I recall it wouldn't fit on the very overcrowded moving van.
    A long happy summer of sleeping on the front porch on the futon mattress from the livingroom has taught me that I like sleeping at floor level better than up on a bed. I like the way the world looks from down low or something.  Since the decluttering began I've hauled off five truckloads of Stuff I Did Not Need, and so I no longer need under-the-bed storage space.
I'd like to hear an Amen!

I've learned that I like not having boxes of things stored underneath the bed when I sleep. It was nice for a few weeks to be able to easily sweep under the bed.  It is easier yet to have the mattress on the floor and not have dust bunnies get under there, and not have to sweep them away. Middle Child (who is an avid de-clutterer) reminded me that with the bed down low I'll have to wash the bedding more often, but with two adorable doggies who like to sleep on the foot of the bed and who shed and occasionally walk in the creek I wash bedding pretty often anyway. Sometimes quite suddenly. So I don't see this as a hardship or a drawback.

    Here's the bed as it looked about 90 seconds ago. I love digital cameras. I could not get either Daniel (left) or Lilly (right) to face the camera. I was lucky to get them to hold still., having awakened them by pulling out a camera.

   Now you know I didn't drive all the way to Goodwill in a pickup truck with ONLY A BED FRAME to donate. That would be a waste of space and gasoline, wouldn't it?  I also took along nine computer paper boxes full of miscellaneous, not photo worthy as the boxes are identical.  They contained extra sheets for twin beds we don't have, craft supplies, shoes, boots, more books and too many other things to remember. And with so much more stuff out of the way I also happily parted with a five drawer dresser, which adds 7.5 square feet of  useable floorspace to my loft. Yay!

    I see in the above picture another thing I did this past week. I sawed the legs off my mama's antique sewing table. The antique police will no doubt come arrest me any minute now.
    It's a small folding table with a measuring ruler carved into the front edge. Very useful for a person who sits around hand sewing a lot (as I do). I hadn't used it literally in years though.  Since I do most of my hand sewing whilst sitting crosslegged on the bed (look, another happy occasion to use whilst!)  I have been using my little black plastic useful-but-disheartening lap desk all these many years in the valley.

   I was thinking one day as I sewed that it would be tres useful to have a desk that was a bit bigger than the lap desk, and that had its own legs so that I didn't actually have to hold it on mine the whole time.         
    I thought the little sewing table would be a lovely size (it is 19x36 inches) but of course the legs were of sitting-on-a-chair height.  As I was raised by antique loving collectors I do truly know it is a mortal sin to whack the legs off an antique. Then I mused that Mama, who bought the table, has been dead a great many years, and she never used it much herself as it was.
      Next I considered that in the sin department I've been unapologetically divorced since 1993, I'm "Living In Sin" with the Manimal, and I covet my neighbors ass. (Miniature donkey actually.)
      So I thought In for a penny, In for a pound, and I measured where my knees come to when I'm sitting crosslegged, got out the Manimal's little Japanese chop saw and whacked approximately 13 inches off each leg. Of the table. 
    I say approximately because that is how I am with sawing things. Since the table when in use is sitting not on an even floor but on a mattress piled with quilts approximate is plenty good enough.
   I've used the table every day since I shortened it. Yay! It amply holds whatever I'm sewing, or designing, or drawing. It has that nice built in ruler so I don't have to get up and fetch one. My little mini computer fits neatly on one corner of it too, in case I want to watch The Vicar of Dibley while I sew or have the need to Google a stitchingn technique. Perfection!

   In other news (and I use the term very loosely)  on my days off my friend Candy "decorated" the front of my work locker with all sorts of random bits of cheerful rubbish she's collected in the dorms. Students tend to wander through life leaving behind them all sorts of peculiar things. Also in dorm living there's a tendency to come up with projects and festive occasions that require "one for everybody" which means if you find a wierd little cast off useless item in the dorm you're quite likely to find sixty more of them.
    One Two of the items inelegantly scotch taped to my locker were little rubber smiley face figures (I will not dignify them with the term doll). One green and ugly, one purple and ugly.  Funny. Ha. Ha.
    On my lunch hour yesterday, as a sort of counter-joke to Candy's decorating efforts, I decided to dress the smiley figures.  I've got the green one done, (I also made a peaked hat for her little bald head) and am just getting started on a gold suit for the purple one, Because of course you can't dress one and not the other, that would be mean.
     One of the guys at work, upon seeing miss purple dress, tells me he "has the whole family" in his supply closet, by which I think he means one of each color.  I wonder how many that is? I wonder if I could sneak in there and put clothes on them? Hmmm.
   Here's something about us  Blue Collar Workers: we are easily amused.

    I am able to do this sort of daft thing to amuse myself because happily somewhere along the rolling of the years I have gotten over caring whether people think I'm weird or not.  Very liberating, that.  If  "they" think I'm nuts, that is fine. I think they're nuts too. Which worries me not a bit. In truth I think the entire universe is just a giant can of mixed nuts, rolling around in space. And I'm happy to be here.




  1. I wonder how Aunt Dot's chicken dressing would taste without chicken...

    Your Great Loft Clean-Out 2012 continues to dazzle me. It's a little shocking to imagine your room without the big iron bed, but it's good to be shocked now and then. Lets you know you're alive.

    The smileys are fairly hideous, even if they DO have bespoke clothes.

    I'm glad the antique sewing table has been born again. As I recall, it was too wobbly to support much weight--- am I picturing the right table? Either way, it'll probably be more stable now, or at least won't collapse from such a great height.

    I love you! Thank you for blogging.

  2. I ENJOYED reading this post. It's funny. And interesting. I love low tables - have sawed the legs off a few over the years, and much prefer sitting on the floor. If you have a chance to get hold of any timber, it's a good idea to make a frame for the mattress to sit on, as the human body gives off an inordinate quantity of moisture in the night, and without a frame both the floor and mattress are likely to go mouldy.
    I thought the chicken casserole looked really nice.


If you disagree with me try to keep it clean, or I'll wash your mouth out with homemade soap.