Chicken Divan

by Stacey Jaros


Chicken Divan is a dish I definitely remember. I remember it having broccoli, cooked chicken, and some kind of condensed soup dumped in a casserole. I do not remember at all the curry powder or the bread crumb topping. It really makes me wonder if there's another Chicken Divan recipe floating around the family. This is The Red Box version.


An easy work night meal.

An easy work night meal.

Since I made this for only Jeff and me I halved the recipe. I think that decision worked out quite well. I thought about making the dish as written and freezing some but I wasn't sure how that would work out. Even halved we had two dinners out of it. What's better than leftovers on a work night?

The chicken breasts I picked up from the local butcher (boneless and skinless) were enormous so I used just one.

The recipe didn't call for it but I added a little salt and pepper to the cooking chicken.

The recipe didn't call for it but I added a little salt and pepper to the cooking chicken.

As I was cooking it up I realized you could substitute any cooked chicken (or even turkey). Once the chicken was cooked I spread it on a board to cool more quickly. I honestly didn't wait for it to cool thoroughly.

I steamed the broccoli briefly on the stove top.

I love how bright green briefly cooked broccoli becomes.

I love how bright green briefly cooked broccoli becomes.

Maybe it was the brand of curry powder I used but I thought it was a little too mild. When I make it again I'll add a tiny bit more of the spice. Otherwise it was a really yummy dish.

This photo is a good representation of the creaminess of the casserole. You can also see we had plenty of leftovers for another meal.

This photo is a good representation of the creaminess of the casserole. You can also see we had plenty of leftovers for another meal.

Chicken Divan

3 whole chicken breasts
2 10 oz frozen or 2 bunches broccoli
2 cans cream chicken soup
1 Cup mayo
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 Cup bread crumbs

Cook chicken until tender - cool and debone. Cook broccoli lightly. Place broccoli in bottom of casserole pan, layer chicken on top. Mix soup and mayonnaise, lemon juice and curry and pour over top of chicken. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and bread crumbs.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.


Mexican Spoon Bread

by Stacey Jaros


I was looking through The Red Box for a side dish that wouldn't take too much time to prepare. Mexican Spoon Bread wasn't a frequently made dish but I do recall having it at my grandparent's house.
 
This is a very straightforward recipe. What a relief since I served it with the somewhat complicated Savory Pork Steak.

A glimpse of the Mexican Spoon Bread in this photo with the Savory Pork Steak.

A glimpse of the Mexican Spoon Bread in this photo with the Savory Pork Steak.

The recipe offers the most important note, "Don't over cook - just till it sets."  This was the detail that kept me most nervous. Thankfully it came out of the oven just right.  

There were differing opinions at the table about a similar, but sweet, side dish offered at certain Mexican restaurants but everyone agreed this savory version is delicious. It was a big hit all around.

I definitely look forward to making it again soon.

Photo taken after the meal. There was a little Spoon Bread left to enjoy the next night. Only a little.

Photo taken after the meal. There was a little Spoon Bread left to enjoy the next night. Only a little.

Mexican Spoon Bread

1 can cream style corn
1 Cup yellow corn meal
1/3 Cup oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 Cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 Cup milk
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 can green chilies, chopped

Mix all ingredients except half of the cheese. Pour the mixture into greased 9x9 inch pan. Sprinkle with remainder of cheese.
Bake at 400° for 40 minutes. Don't over cook - just till it sets.


Savory Pork Steak

by Stacey Jaros


Confession: I'm not good at making gravy. I haven't tried it all that much and have only about a 50% success rate. Why I opted to attempt a recipe with gravy for the first entry I can't say. I wanted to try something I didn't remember having and that wouldn't take too long. As excited as I was to get started, it's difficult to plan ahead when instructions are unclear or ar incomplete. This is going to be a running trend. 

Thankfully I can sort of estimate how long it takes to sear a 1/4" piece of meat; I know potatoes will turn brown if they're grated too far in advance; if potatoes are grated and onions are sliced, carrots meant to be cooked at the same time ought to be sliced small-ish. I've grilled meat and made simple pan sauces before and I've made casseroles to be baked with seared meat on top. But I've never made this sort of thing on a stove top.

A handful of cippolini onions. I can never resist them when they're available.

A handful of cippolini onions. I can never resist them when they're available.

Do you know what a "blade steak" is? I sure didn't. Luckily I have a great local supermarket with knowledgeable and helpful butchers. Me: "Do you know what a pork blade steak is?" Butcher: "I'd better." Laughs all around instantly calmed my first fear surrounding this recipe. It turns out a Pork Blade Steak is sliced from Pork Butt. He said its usually quite thin (which made sense since the recipe calls for 1/4") and cooks quickly. He said he'd just grilled some the night before. Luckily it happened to be on sale that week. Bonus!

Problem number one (not knowing what a blade steak is) was solved pretty smoothly. Problem number two I would have to figure out on my own. Take a look at the instructions, after searing the steaks and removing them from the pan, "add the onions, potatoes, and carrots." Whataminute. Carrots? There are no carrots listed in the ingredients. Gulp. I estimated the volume of the sliced onions and the shredded potatoes and then sliced some carrots in about 1/2-2/3 the volume of each of those piles. I was really winging it at this point. I assumed I didn't want the carrots shredded small like the potatoes because I thought they'd cook too quickly and fall apart. I sliced them kind of chunky but in a way I didn't think Noni would've done it. It felt like the right thing to do though.

Carrots?

Carrots?

By the time to start cooking rolled around I was pretty confident I could make something edible out of the recipe and ingredients. I was so confident I suggested my husband, Jeff, invite his parents over for dinner. It was a weekend, I hadn't seen them in a while, and I knew I'd have plenty of food. Plenty of food unless I messed up in grand fashion, in which case we could just have takeout. Low stakes, no pun intended. 

My in-laws are wonderfully easy-going people and they were game for the experiment. I started by prepping the carrots and onions. I washed the potatoes. Next I started searing the steaks. Uh-oh, another problem. The ingredients list "oil." The instructions never mention oil but say to sear the steaks in shortening. I assumed oil/shortening were being interchanged (probably both subbing for lard once used for this purpose). I used a little vegetable oil. It worked fine. My biggest pan held only one steak at a time so I put each finished one on a plate, tented it, and held it in a barely warm oven.

Pork blade steak searing one at a time

Pork blade steak searing one at a time

About the time my last steak went in the pan I started grating the potatoes with a box grater. I'm still not sure this was the best approach. Getting out the food processor for only two potatoes seemed excessive. Grating them by hand was only a little frantic as things on the stove were coming together but had I done it any sooner they would've turned brown. They did turn a little browner than I was hoping. I don't know what would happen if I grated them in advance, held them in water and spun them with the salad spinner when needed. I assume they would still be holding too much water. I don't know what I'll do if I attempt to make this dish again. 

Into the pan went the broth (minus the 1/4 C. the ingredients say to set aside). I scraped the bits of steak off the bottom of the pan. Then added the onions, carrots (shrug), and potatoes. Gave it a stir, added the basil, and covered the pan. I probably should have turned the heat down more at this point. 45-60 minutes is a long time to cook these vegetables. I did turn it down a bit but not much lower than medium. I decided to give it 10 minutes to cook and sat down to visit with my in-laws

After 10 minutes I took a look and it wasn't pretty. Since I hadn't turned the heat down much there was a glob of potatoes/onions stuck to the bottom of the pan. More precisely the onions had melted into the potatoes and it was like a pan of hash browns speckled with carrots. I checked to be sure the bottom of the glob wasn't actually burned and was relieved to see it had merely formed a crust. Phew.

Hoping all was not lost I turned the pan heat way down & re-read the instructions. What's that? Take a look at that bit in the middle, "... cover and simmer 45 - 60 minutes, or until meat & vegetables are tender. Remove meat & vegetables ..." Remove meat? When was I supposed to put the meat back IN the pan? It's still tented in a warm oven. Of course I'd only browned each of the steaks. They were thin but they'd need more cooking. I put them back in the pan, along with the juices on the platter.  I covered the pan & gave it another 10 minutes.

After the second 10 minutes I found the pan was probably cooking at a good temperature (the stuff stuck to the bottom was still not burned) and the steaks still looked moist. They looked done cooking though and I was worried they'd dry out so I buried them under the potatoes and carrots. I was 20 minutes in to this process & the instructions said to keep cooking for 45-60 minutes. I was confident the steak was cooked and the vegetables were more a pile of mush than recognizable food items so it was safe to say they were done, too.

Back on the platter went the steaks. Since I'd covered them with the vegetables they were a little messy. I topped them with the vegetable mush and it was time to make the gravy. If I hadn't been making this for The Red Box project I would've served the food like that without attempting to make gravy. It was indistinguishable from gravy as it was. Plus there weren't any juices in the pan, there weren't any yummy bits of steak left stuck to the bottom of the pan because they'd become incorporated into the vegetables. But I pressed on.

Combine flour and ____.

Combine flour and ____.

Let's take one more look at the instructions.  "Combine flour and ____." That blank bit is indecipherable. Since there was no other mention of the 1/4 cup reserved broth I assumed it was to be mixed with the flour for the gravy. That's what I did. I did end up with a little gravy but it was pretty messy since there were so many bits of vegetables still left in the pan.

Since our dining table is really small I decided to serve up the plates in the kitchen. The steaks were really big and we all agreed 1/2 steak each to begin would be plenty. Onto each plate went 1/2 steak and a spoonful of vegetables. I left out the parsley entirely. It would've added some green but it didn't seem necessary. I served it with Mexican Spoon Bread, also from The Red Box. I'll be writing about that dish in a future post.

This dish isn't going to win any awards for beauty.

This dish isn't going to win any awards for beauty.

Savory Pork Steak looked nearly inedible but everyone went back for seconds. It was really delicious. There was still a whole steak left. We had plenty of food for a whole meal after work the next day.

Savory Pork Steak

2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 can beef broth
4 pork blade steaks, cut 1/4 inch thick
2 medium onion, sliced
2 medium potatoes, grated
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons flour
Snipped parsley (opt)
Carrots?

In skillet brown steaks on both sides in shortening. Pour off drippings. Season with salt & pepper. Reserve 1/4 cup broth. Pour remaining broth in skillet add onions, potatoes, and carrots. Sprinkle with basil, cover and simmer 45 - 60 minutes, or until meat & vegetables are tender. Remove meat & vegetables to warm serving platter to make gravy. Measure pan juices. Add water to make 1 cup. Combine flour and ____ Add to juices in pan. When thick pour over meat & vegetables. 


Taco Salad

by Stacey Jaros


I haven't spent much time in the kitchen lately. Last weekend I was away at a family gathering. Today I flew to a conference in Cleveland. The conference is the U2 Conference, "U2:Trans-." My Mom is joining me for the travel, though not the conference. I'm not sure why Mom was so excited to come along to Cleveland but I look forward to hearing what she explores while here. I'm pretty excited to visit the RRHOF which has been on my bucket list since it opened in 1983.

This is the second U2 academic conference. The first one was in Raleigh, NC, in 2009. I was very lucky to attend that conference as well. I had bought tickets for my Mom & me to see U2 at their Raleigh show and then the conference was announced that same weekend. Mom & I extended our trip so I could attend the conference.

Unfortunately this year's conference doesn't coincide with a show. U2 isn't on tour right now. Nevertheless I'm extremely excited to see friends from all over, meet friends I've only previously known online for the first time, and meet new fans. I've already met two women on my very flight. My fellow passenger-conferees were easy to spot in their Vertigo tour and (PRODUCT)RED shirts.

Since Mom & I had such an early flight this morning she arrived at my house while I was still at work yesterday & made dinner for us. What an awesome treat not to have to cook after work & then finish packing my suitcase.

I couldn't have been more surprised when I realized Mom was making Taco Salad. It's a recipe that's in the Red Box but I think it might be a late addition. I think it's actually one of my Aunt Bet's finds. Mom was surprised to discover it's in the Red Box.

Taco Salad is something I make pretty frequently. Frequently enough I have the recipe memorized. It's super easy to make & you can make some of the components ahead (the seasoned meat even freezes well). Jeff loves the salad. He loves it so much I've surprised him with it for his birthday a couple times.

My Mom hadn't made it in years. So she brought along her own handwritten recipe. I snapped a quick photo before we caught our BART train this morning.

I think it's written on the thinnest non-parchment paper I've ever seen. It's a pretty wrinkled little piece of paper. If I close my eyes I can picture it sitting in its home in Mom's own (off-white) recipe box. There are some treasures in there too.

Transient

Best Homemade Gift Ever

by Stacey Jaros


Noni, my Mom's mother, was an excellent cook and hostess. She was an artist in the kitchen who enjoyed trying new things and had a very good understanding of basic techniques.

Noni's reputation for being a good cook was agreed upon by everyone who tasted her cooking. I think she knew was skilled and was also happiest enjoying the company of loved ones over a good meal.

Noni's personal cookbook library was impressive. She frequently received food themed gifts (including cookbooks, gadgets, and years of subscriptions of Gourmet, Bon Appétit, and Cooking Light). Cookbooks overflowed the kitchen and took up some room in the den. In a guest room closet was an entire wicker hamper filled with loose recipes. Not the best organizational technique, admittedly, but all of that was secondary to "The Red Box."

As far back as I can remember next to or above Noni's stove rested a small, misshapen, plastic recipe box.

The Red Box as it appears today.

The Red Box as it appears today.

It was overstuffed with recipes, it had long ago lost it's lid (whether from wear or un-usefulness), and it had signs of heat damage from literally not being able to stand the heat in the kitchen. The box contained proper recipe cards, hand-written or typed pieces of paper, and a few pages torn from magazines. This collection included instructions for Holiday must-haves, favorites of close loved ones, and frequently requested items. The inventory changed a bit as new favorites world replace things that fell out of favor. But Lemon Meringue Pie and Angel Biscuits earned permanent tenancy.

When Noni left this world, and her belongings were distributed to loved ones, my mom and her siblings each brought home some of Noni's most iconic belongings. For reasons known only to my Mom, Aunt Bet, and their brother, Uncle Butch, the Red Box went home with Aunt Bet.

Throughout the years since Noni passed the red box has been consulted during meal planning for most family gatherings. On more than one occasion my uncle, Aunt Betty's husband, requested "anything from the red box" be prepared for his birthday meal. I've certainly called Aunt Bet to ask for a specific recipe I wanted to prepare. As time passed a few select recipes found their way into the collection. It could be considered a corruption of Noni's collection but I think she would approve of the additions. I know the red box is not a living creature but family gatherings continue to happen and celebrating the legacy of good times passed feels like the right way to honor our ancestors.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving weekend 2011. Close family, with whom I usually exchange Christmas gifts, decided we'd all make homemade gifts to exchange. It's an idea we try every couple years theoretically to reduce the commercial aspect of the Holiday, and minimize the shopping stress associated with the Holidays. While I like the personal aspect of exchanging homemade gifts I allege it increases stress in those of us who aren't particularly skilled at making things.

Regardless, the edict was handed down and since I hadn't started shopping for any of them yet I agreed. I'm so glad I did. I made two items for each recipient that stretched my repertoire and I was satisfied with the outcome.

The winner of the exchange, not that it's a competition, but her gift was so good it demanded the title of winner, was my Mom's younger sister, my Aunt Bet.

My Mom brought the gifts for the homemade exchange to my house for Christmas. Upon opening the gift from Aunt Bet I discovered a pretty, pastel floral, box.

My yellow recipe box.

My yellow recipe box.

Inside the box, astonishingly re-created, were the contents of the red box. Aunt Bet had not merely re-typed the recipes for each of us, she had re-created them. She scanned them and printed them on luscious card stock. It's a beautiful collection but the most amazing thing is that the recipes appear just as Noni had them. They're in Noni's handwriting. They have the same spots from battle-earned spills.

My "new" recipe cards.

My "new" recipe cards.

I pretty much burst into tears when I realized what the box actually is. She re-created Noni's Red Box for each of us.

I spent much of my post-turkey and wine sleepy evening combing through the box; reading Noni's handwritten notes; reminiscing over particular dishes from particular gatherings. I couldn't wait to make all the things. I noted the contents were heavy on casseroles and baked goods. Two items I don't happen to cook very often.

Pretty much before I knew it Holiday season 2012 was rolling around. My in-laws hosted Thanksgiving. They asked me to bring Angel Biscuits. Even though I've had the Angel Biscuit recipe since I liven in my first apartment, I reached for the red box (even though my personal version is a beautiful floral it is still known as The Red Box). As I did so I realized that was the first time I'd gone to the box since I perched it on the shelf. I immediately felt awful I'd never consulted the box since I'd received it. Once my initial disappointment passed I decided what needed to be done was cook my way through the box - to cook my way through the box and share it with you here.