Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Love and Chicken Casserole

Today was my day to provide dinner for two families from church.  Since they are both going through hard things and need comfort, I knew just what I was going to make for them: Poppyseed Chicken.

We just had Poppyseed Chicken for Mother's Day.  One of my favorite things about Mother's Day and my birthday is that I don't have to cook;  somebody makes food for me.  

I don't know where I learned the equation that food = love.  Possibly from my mother, who is a fantastic cook and made sure that we came home every day of the week to something delicious cooking.  (Exception: liver day.  My dad liked liver & onions, so I guess making that for him was her way of saying I love you, but the only message I associate with liver is, "Eat it, it's good for you." Blegh.  Since I love my husband and he also hates liver, I demonstrate my love by never cooking it.)

Possibly I learned that food = love by summers spent at my great grandmother's farm.  My grandmother was one of six sisters.  In August, they would all bring their kids to the farm.  In Arkansas.  They would get up at the crack of dawn, start frying bacon and rolling biscuits and tossing flour to lay out a full breakfast spread, clean it up and start frying the chicken for lunch.  By mid-afternoon it was 110 degrees in the kitchen.  That was when they would call us in from where we were playing under the big trees outside and make us sit at the kitchen table shelling peas for dinner because it was "too hot to play outside."

I learned to love food and laughter from my family.  I learned to love to cook, especially to cook for those you love.  I believe in the act of measuring and mixing and crumbling and baking to ensure that when the ones you love come home at the end of the long day, they are greeted with the message, "Everything will be okay.  There is comfort here. There is something warm and gooey."  I know that sometimes we just need to stuff something down and get on with our busy lives, but I believe in the servant act of making a mess of your kitchen, cleaning it up and laying a table that says, "You are loved."  And Southern cooks know how to show the love.

Food brought by Southern Baptist women is a good reason to have surgery, or to have a baby or buy a house.  Especially chicken casseroles.  Chicken Divan.  Chicken and rice.  Chicken Tetrazzini.  Chicken Pot Pie, oh my word.  Hot Chicken Salad.  But the winner, hands down, of the food = love contest in the chicken category is Poppyseed Chicken.  It has everything I find comforting in a dish - creamy sauce, buttery cracker topping.  The only thing missing is cheese.  

We had Poppyseed Chicken from Barbara's Home Cooking for Mother's Day.  I do love their recipe.  But I have a really good one from the Blue Willow Inn in Social Hill GA.  (If you love southern cooking, the Blue Willow Inn is Mecca.  You must go there just to eat.  I did.  I once took a bus trip from Atlanta out to Social Hill with a bunch of other Southern Baptist women.  We chartered a bus for the sole purpose of eating at the Blue Willow. And shopping in their gift shop, of course, which is where I purchased the Blue Willow Inn Bible of Southern Cooking. Yes, that is the title.)  

So this morning I got out my Blue Willow Bible and made my list and went to get all the ingredients and spent the morning making a double batch of Poppyseed Chicken.  I recommend you serve it with Uncle Ben's Long Grain & Wild Rice and green beans.  That's what I packed into containers and delivered this afternoon.  And cantaloupe. 

We are not having Poppyseed Chicken for dinner, since we just had it for lunch on Sunday and leftovers on Monday.  We're having pork chops.  But you might want to make Poppyseed Chicken.  Here's the recipe:

Blue Willow Inn Poppyseed Chicken

8   skinless boneless chicken breasts
10 ounces sour cream (not the fat free kind)
2 10-1/2 ounce cans cream of chicken soup
2 10-1/2 ounce cans cream of mushroom soup
2 sleeves Townhouse crackers
3 sticks butter (NOT margarine)
3 tablespoons poppyseeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Boil and cube the chicken.  (Alternately, you can buy a Rotisserie Chicken at the store, skin and debone it.  Whichever you find less work and more delicious.)  I do not cube the chicken.  I pull it apart into shredded chunks.  I like that better.

Combine the sour cream, chicken soup and mushroom soup.  Mix well and add the chicken.  Pour into a greased casserole dish.

In another bowl, melt the butter.  Crumble the crackers (not too finely) into the melted butter and mix gently.  Spread the mixture over the top of the casserole.  Sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Cover with foil (to keep the crackers from burning) and bake for 25 minutes.  (If you are taking this casserole to somebody, stop here.  Write down the rest of the directions for them to complete at home.)  If you are making this for yourself (and why not?), remove the foil and bake another 15-20 minutes or until the chicken mixture bubbles around the edges and the crackers are just golden.

Serves 8-10 normal people (6-8 Worleys)

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