Monday, December 13, 2010

Chicken Noel

We all have certain dishes we remember from our childhood.  Our Moms made just the perfect breakfast casserole or our Grandmas made the best beef dish.  Or pies.  Remember the desserts we loved as children?  (Ask me about my Grandma J's gingerbread with chocolate sauce...)  About 12 years ago, my mom put a little index card holder in my stocking.  Inside were index cards with all my childhood favorite recipes on it.  Grandma J's Noodle Casserole.  My mom's macaroni and cheese.  The Anna Anderson cookies we had every Christmas.  (Anna Anderson being some random Swedish woman who shared her recipes with my great-grandmother.)

Somehow, and I don't know when, I acquired an actual notebook meant for me to write my own cookbook.  It's labeled as the Heriloom Cookbook, intended to hold all of the recipes passed down to me by my family.  This weekend, I finally sat down to transfer all of those index card recipes into the cookbook.  Of course I had the recipe for my mom's beef stroganoff (still the best I've ever had) and Grandma J's beef in herb wine sauce and Grandma Rieke's egg casserole.  These index cards have all seen much better days, because I have pulled them out so many times over the years.  So I finally wrote those recipes into a more permanent book and threw away the index cards.  (I'm fairly certain that was cheese on the mac and cheese card.)

And then I saw it.  The index card with that beloved recipe I hadn't had in 20 years.  Chicken Noel.  Oh, Chicken Noel.  We used to love that.  We used to make that for every special occasion.  When we went to visit my Iowa grandparents, my grandma would make that to show that she was excited to see us.  We would have that during holiday seasons.  Not actually on Christmas, but near it.  I thought Chicken Noel was the pinnacle of fine dining, the best thing ever.  So when I saw that recipe on Sunday and had already offered to cook dinner for my friend on Monday, I knew.  I would cook her Chicken Noel.

All day today, I worried.  Maybe it wouldn't be as good as I remembered.  Maybe it's a lame recipe, a little too Sandra Lee semi-homemade.  Maybe I could make it better if I substituted the processed ingredients for more organic, wholesome foods.  Maybe my grandma's style of cooking really isn't for me.  But I made it exactly the way the recipe said to.  I used the canned mushroom caps and the frozen broccoli spears (not as easy to find in 2010 as they were in 1980) and the cream of mushroom soup, just as I remembered it.  And it was awesome.  Delicious.  Ridiculously good.  (My friend agreed!)  So good, I could go eat a second serving right now.  For once, the memory of my childhood survived, lived up to a revisit by my adult self.  I am now thrilled that I made those two extra servings, so I can have lunch the next two days.  Chicken Noel is just as fabulous as child Sarah thought it was.  It isn't often that our childhood memories survive in the cold, harsh light of adulthood.  I am so, so happy that this one has.  Grandma may still be gone, but her paprika-covered baked chicken dish will keep her near to me.

And I'm pretty sure my mom will make it this Christmas, now that I have made my sister and my mom crave it as much as I had.


Dinetonite said...

Great post

Nance said...

I love this story. I would have had the exact same worries: should I use fresh broccoli and mushrooms? Is it too "Sandra Lee?" Should I have tried it first before I take it to a party? Sigh. Probably we need therapy. LOL.

Is it "Chicken Noel" because it's a Christmastime Dish, or was it shared by some "random woman named Noel"?

S said...

I wish I knew why it is called Chicken Noel. I'll have to ask my mother that.

I'm definitely glad I didn't tinker.

loveable_homebody said...

Yes, there are so many fears when cooking or baking something new and I agree that dishes we've traditionally had trigger memories. It can mean for big, intimidating cook shoes to fill. Good for you for experimenting! It all sounds great. Happy holidays!

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