This is a column published a few years ago when I was still working full time...
Changing Lanes: Chicken Surprise
I keep my culinary skills honed to a fine edge by making dinner once a week. This gives my wife, Emmy Lou, a break from kitchen duties on one of her busier days.
My specialty is what I call “Chicken Surprise”. I make this one dish, baked, surprise often, even though Emmy makes a face and pretends to shudder when I reveal my plans for dinner.
In the past, I switched off between “Chicken Surprise” and “Pork Surprise” but Emmy Lou stopped eating red meat. I have pointed out to her that pork really isn’t red meat but she’ll have none of it. My dinners became limited to chicken surprise only, although I have to say I come up with a lot of variety without switching meats.
I always begin with chicken breasts and condensed cream of mushroom soup, after that, is the surprise. This one dish can be prepared in so many different ways it’s remarkable.
Sometimes I add onions, potatoes, and carrots, maybe even turnips, or stuffing. It is when I really experiment with other ingredients, my wife strongly objects. I tried Lima beans, tomatoes and some raisins; it turned out great but I think Emmy has something against Lima beans.
I tried applesauce with “stiffeners”, (no matter how much flour or stuffing I added it came out soupy, and it didn’t taste that good). My spouse objected to further experiments with fruit of any kind in my Chicken Surprise and I bent to her wishes even though I was on the verge of a breakthrough with pineapple.
One time I decided to put whole sweet potatoes in my “surprise”. Then I figured if I boiled and mashed the sweet potatoes and then mixed flour and baking soda with them; it would come out of the oven like fancy chicken and dumplings.
It didn’t work out as well as I would have liked. I ended up with a sort of a chicken cake, which was a bit dry but I must say, delicious. Emmy ate some but said she had just started a new diet of which I was unaware, so there was a lot left over. Bob the dog loved it; he always loved it when I cooked.
Emmy often asks me where I got the recipe for this or that. I’m kind of dumbfounded that a person who has cooked as long and as well as she has, is so dependent upon recipes. That is like using a map every time you travel or asking for directions when you’re driving.
She sees recipes as strict specific road maps; I see them as general guidelines. Sometimes, you have to set your general direction and leave the map in the glove compartment, not worrying so much about arriving at a specific place. Life would be pretty dull if you always followed a map.
Last week I tried a new recipe, my own invention of course, in a crock-pot. I called it “Chicken Pot Roast” only to be informed by some stickler for definitions that “Pot Roast” doesn’t really involve a chicken at all but beef. I had to call it something else.
Being a forward thinker, I was sure that anything you started at three in the afternoon in a crock-pot would certainly be done by dinner.
I ordered pizza that night and we saved the “Crock-Pot Chicken Surprise” for dinner the next night.
I’ve had a new dish floating around in my mind for a while. I was going to call it “Fish Pot Roast” but apparently, beef still has some sort of patent on the “Pot Roast” name. I guess I’ll go simply with “Crock Pot Fish Surprise”.
I’m still sharpening my culinary skills..