Breadcrumb Instinct

COOKING ADVENTURE #21: Chicken Divan

[No Picture – Sorry!]

Every family has a recipe or two which are passed down from generation to generation. In some cases, such recipes are regarded as family secrets which must not be leaked to the outside world. In others, they unite families and induce memories of past events. Such is the same for the recipe of Chicken Divan.

This is a recipe from my mom’s side of the family, the Shacklefords. My grandma, mom, and aunt make the best Chicken Divan on the planet. It has been one of my ultimate favorite comfort foods since I was a kid. I could never/can never get enough of it. Now, it was my turn to make it. And it was a delicate task that lay ahead. After all, the family name was at stake.

Chicken Divan is a heavenly casserole that combines chicken, broccoli, cheese, and breadcrumbs together in perfect harmony. There are several different variations for this recipe out there but this is without a doubt, the easiest (and tastiest) in my opinion.

The first thing I did was heat up a skillet on the stove top with a little oil in it, rip open a package of chicken tenders, and dump them in to be cooked. After that, I took a saucepan and filled it half way with water. I rooted around in my freezer for a box of frozen broccoli and after I found it, unwrapped it, and placed it in the water to boil. Things were cooking. I was glad that at this stage, there wasn’t a ton of mixing and adding of spices to be done.

I turned my attention to the cream sauce that would go inside the divan. The first of the ingredients asks for 2 cans of cream of chicken soup. Well, dang it. I’d only bought one at the grocery store. I’d have to half the recipe. I popped the top on the can of soup and let it glop into the bowl. The viscous sludge took its sweet time coming out so I had to scrape it out with a spoon, lest I stand there for the next ten minutes waiting. Next, I was supposed to add 1 cup of mayonnaise (which became 1/2 cup), 1/4 tsp. of curry (which I didn’t change because I loooooooove curry), and a tbsp. of lemon juice. Now… we have a moment.

For certain cooking adventures in the past, I’ve bought fresh lemons, and cut them to get lemon juice. On ones where lemon juice isn’t quite as much a fixture in the recipe, I’ve used this squeeze lemon juice stuff. I failed to mention before hand in all of these instances that the lemon juice squeeze bottle has been in my refrigerator pretty much since I moved into my apartment… which was about 2 years ago. Now, I haven’t noticed a change in the juice in all of that time. So, as long as it tastes okay to me and doesn’t cause me to be as sick as an aquaphobic person on a sailboat, I’m just going to stick with it.

Lastly to the mix, I was to add 1/2 cup of grated cheese. This item doesn’t exactly “mix” with the others. It doesn’t play nice. So, you almost have to just swirl things around so that they are evenly distributed. With that all done, I set the mixing bowl aside and waited for my chicken and broccoli to be done.

The broccoli actually cooked first. I was kind of surprised. I turned off the heat and opened the cover to look at the broccoli. The frozen box had cooked down so that the broccoli was separated into teeny tiny pieces. I groaned as I looked at my massive yellow strainer that I’d hoped to dump the pot into. There was no way that the broccoli would actually stay in that. It would just go through the practically giant holes. I decided to forgo the strainer and just do it the good old fashioned way. This is the way that I’ve always drained my vegetables, my noodles, and anything else that I’ve boiled in water. I’ll hold the pot in one hand and the lid against the pot in the other, tip it to the side, and let the water run out without losing what’s in the pot. This method is most effective if you don’t have ADHD. At some point in my draining, my hand slipped and the majority of the broccoli dumped into the sink. I cursed. Thankfully, I had just washed the dishes and the sink before having embarked on this cooking adventure. I scooped the broccoli back into the pot, wishing I had used my strainer.

After the chicken was all cooked, I plucked each tender out onto a nearby plate, took up a knife and fork and proceeded to cut each one into tiny bite size pieces. The cat with his sixth sense for recognizing an opportunity for treats came flying out of some unknown area of my apartment and began squeaking at me for some. And not being immune to how ridiculously cute he sounds when he’s like that, I indulged him.

Now, it was time to mix everything together. From the recesses of my cabinet, I excavated my little 7″x9″ baking dish. On the bottom layer, I placed the pieces of chicken, completely covering the bottom. Next, I took the disgraced broccoli and sprinkled that over the chicken. Lastly came the cream sauce on the top. I had forgotten something though. There was supposed to be a breadcrumb topping. Now unlike the rest of the ingredients, the breadcrumbs don’t have a precise measurement amount. It says you can use anywhere from 1/2 cup to 3/4 of a cup. It’s something you’re just supposed to have an instinct for, I guess. I dumped probably a half a cup of breadcrumbs into a small dish along with a couple tablespoons of butter and put them in the microwave. I should have just put the butter in the microwave without the breadcrumbs because after about a minute of heating, they had burned to the bottom of the dish. I took a spoon and mixed the butter and breadcrumbs together into something that smells like ambrosia… breadcrumb ambrosia. You heard it here first.

I placed this buttery crumb mix over the divan. I turned the oven up to 350 and placed the dish inside to cook until bubbly. I wasn’t quite sure how long that would take, so I set the timer for 15 minutes and washed the dishes. Turns out that was pretty much all it needed. The moment I noticed the little bubbles coming to the surface, I shut off the oven and removed the divan.

Now, the reason that there is no picture for this is because, well, sometimes you’re just so excited about something that you eat it before you realize you were supposed to take a picture of it. I brought the divan to my parent’s for dinner and had a fleeting thought that I’d take a picture of it when I had it on a plate. But, it didn’t happen. And I’m not going to go pilfer the web for a picture of one either. That wouldn’t be fair. So, you’ll just have to close your eyes and imagine it and how beautiful it looked.

Folks, this has to be my first cooking adventure home run. It tasted just the way it was supposed to, looked just the way it was supposed to, and smelled just the way it was supposed to. It of course lacked the same kind of love and finesse that my mom, my aunt, and my grandma had given it, but I’m a beginner. I’ve got time to really develop my own flair for this dish. And most importantly, I haven’t let down the family name. I’m more amazed by the fact that I didn’t screw up any of the ingredients. As the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz once said, “Oh joy! Oh rapture! I’ve got a brain!”

Next week on Cooking Adventures, we’ll dive into the heart of Italian desserts with this legendary dish: Tiramisu. Stay tuned!


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