Friday, December 02, 2005

chicken mushroom magic

I love traditions. Big ceremonious ones are very satisfying, like graduations, weddings, and school plays. But I relish little ones, like setting up Christmas lights on Thanksgiving evening every year. My family was chock full of traditions. The great thing was that we had a combination of the ones we carried forward from old family ways and new ones we made up as we went along. I wasn't around for the inception of our Saturday night supper, so I can't speak to its origins (I should ask my Mom).

Sitting down for dinner was the norm in our house. The dining room was used as a dining room, with its large oval table and seven chairs commandeering the space. No television or radio played. We talked with each other while we ate (although never with our mouths full). If the phone rang, one of us answered it to take a message, hung up, and went back to the table. What a radical concept.

My mother was incredibly adept at providing a tremendous variety of meals for us. Pot roasts, turkey dinners, stuffed pork chops, baked chicken, tacos, chow mein, veal parmesan, spinach omelette (one of my favorites), liver kapama (another favorite, and yes, it was liver!), spaghetti and meatballs (with a small portion of rigatoni made especially for me because I didn't like eating spaghetti), the list went on and on. She must have tried hundreds of new recipes over the years. There was one night every week, though, where there was no variety. On Saturday, supper was always the same -- baked beans, sauerkraut, and hot dogs.

Although this may seem like it was an "easy" meal compared with some of the others, the truth is, she started preparation for this meal on Friday. Picking through the beans to remove stones, rinsing the beans, and soaking them overnight. First thing Saturday morning, she started preparing a brew of wonderous ingredients into which the freshly softened beans would go. I remember that the recipe included molasses. Mmmmm. Boiled and simmered on the stove before being plunged into the oven for hours and hours of slow baking.

Mom even added her own flair to the sauerkraut by cooking it with sour cream. Until I went to college, I never knew that people ate it without sour cream. The house always smelled delicious on Saturdays. I loved that meal. Strangely, I never asked her for the recipe. Perhaps because making baked beans for one person would seem so strange. I might have asked for it when Ted came into my life and I could cook for two. But he doesn't like beans. He has happily learned to love the sauer/sour combination, though.

Anyway, we decided earlier this year that it was time to have our own supper tradition. We decided on a dish that is super easy to make, that gloats in its comfort-foody-ness, and has precious little nutritional value. That dish is Chicken Mushroom Magic.

This is not Julia Child. This is not even Rachael Ray. This is two boneless, skinless chicken breasts (we do take them out of the freezer the day before and thaw them in the fridge) and canned Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup together in a Pyrex baking dish in the oven at 325F for 40 minutes. That's it. Nothing else. No oil. No spices. No milk.

About 10 minutes before the Magic is done, we whip up some Idahoan instant mashed potatoes (water, milk, margarine in the microwave for five minutes then potato flakes blended in and fluffed with a fork). Sometimes, I'll have peas (LaSeur canned sweet baby peas, to be exact). Ted doesn't like peas, so sometimes, he'll have corn. To drink, it's skim milk for me and diet cola for Ted. Other than that, there's no variation. It doesn't get much easier. It's very indulgent and yummy. It's our Friday supper tradition. Tonight was no exception.

Funny how embracing a new tradition can make a person long for an old one. Maybe I'll ask my Mom for that baked bean recipe this weekend.

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