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Just don’t ask what’s in it

There’s a counterpart to my grandmother’s beef stroganoff, a recipe dearly loved in my immediate family.  I continue to make it to this day, although very rarely.  Joe has refused to eat this ever since he watched me prepare it, and I can really only bring myself to even shop for the ingredients when I’ve had a very rough day or am sick, since it reminds me of being comforted.

I recently divulged the ingredients of this recipe, a hell spawn of a 50s inspired “from-the-can” casserole, if ever there was one, to a couple of my girlfriends, who are both in the food biz.  They started laughing at the sauce’s first ingredient, recoiled in horror at the second, then laughed again at the composition of the dish.  We were all out together for dim sum, and by the end of my explanation, we were laughing so loudly that the tables nearby were staring.  Typical.

But because of this conversation, I’ve come to the conclusion that all cooks have secret food vices.  I’ve yet to meet a cook that hasn’t been happily (if not somewhat shamefully) consuming some disgusting food in the privacy of their own home, hoping no one finds out (and then ardently defending their vice once it’s been revealed to OTHER cooks).

My two friends, for example, confessed to their mutual love of canned Cheez Whiz, which is a product I find so detestable I’d rather go hungry for a day than eat even a teaspoonful.  They also said they would rather eat a grilled cheese sandwich with Kraft singles or Kraft pre-sliced cheddar (they argued over the merits of each).  Me?  I think this is totally odd, given how delicious REAL cheddar is.

(“But the melting!” one of my friends said, “The way it oozes and melts when you pull the two halves of the sandwich apart!  How can you resist that?”  Call me crazy, but I find that strange, artificial ooze — not at all similar to the melt of non-pasteurized cheese — to be a total turn off)

We all have these weird food loves.  I could eat a whole jar of hot pickled okra in one sitting (and have).  And who can forget my childhood affinity for Pepperidge Farm seasoned croutons doused in ranch dressing?

In any case, I had been wanting to blog about Chicken Divan — the casserole recipe that set off this whole conversation — and my discussion with the girls about gross-but-lovable foods reminded me of it.  I know that NO ONE is going to make the recipe I post here, because after you read it, you’ll probably distrust my palate and my recipes for all eternity.  But TRUST ME.  There’s nothing in the world like this dish.  Someday, I’ll probably make it for you, call it something else, and then you’ll be onboard the Chicken Divan train with me.

Need proof?  Just ask my college roommates.  They tasted it before they knew what was in it, and loved it.  Once they found out?  Well, that’s another story…

What are some of your secret food vices?

Chicken Divan

  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cans Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup (you can already see where this is going)
  • 2 cups of prepared mayonnaise
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste
  • 2 1/2 tbsp mild yellow curry powder, more or less to taste
  • 2 cups cooked white rice (my grandmother liked to use boil-in-bag…)
  • 1 10-oz container of frozen chopped broccoli, complete thawed and drained
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.  Add in the chicken, and cook through, about 10 minutes.  Once cooked, allow to cool slightly, then cut or shred into large chunks

While the chicken cooks, combine the condensed soup, mayonnaise, lemon juice and curry in a large bowl.  Whisk together.  In a 9×13 casserole, scatter the chicken on the bottom of the dish.  Spread the rice on top of the chicken.  Spread the broccoli on top of the rice.  Finally, glop (snerk!) the sauce on top of the rice, and use a spatula to spread it evenly across.  Sprinkle the paprika over the top of the casserole, and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the sides are just beginning to brown and the sauce is bubbling.  Serve immediately.  This one is even better the next day.

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