Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Memories with Food At Gipsy House" by Felicity and Roald Dahl - Chicken Avocado Casserole

Date I made this recipe: May 17, 2010

Memories with Food At Gipsy House by Felicity & Roald Dahl
Published by: Viking
ISBN: 0-670-84142-0
Recipe: Chicken with Avocado Casserole – p. 70

Well, time flies when you’re having fun, right? I mean, in the blink of an eye, we shot right past Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day and shoot – now we’re cruising toward Memorial Day. And did I make anything in honor of these occasions? Nope! Oh well, nothing can be done except forge ahead from where I last left off.

Despite the hectic pace, my husband and I found time to watch a few movies, one of which was the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox with George Clooney as the voice of Mr. Fox (Even animated, Clooney is a total fox…and fantastic…and funny—one of the best lines he delivered was something about doing a fox trot!) and Meryl Streep as the voice of his wife.

British author, Roald Dahl, penned the story, Fantastic Mr. Fox, in 1970. He is also the author of James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Although I was a voracious reader as a kid, these books came out when I was on my way into junior high and never made the “to read” list. Of course, it’s never too late but given that many of these books were made into movies, perhaps I’ll just indulge my inner child that way.

Given that Roald is known for his children’s books, I was surprised to learn, many years ago, that he had written this cookbook. If memory serves, it is one of the first ones purchased for my collection and one that I ordered from Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York. I think it was on a list of “interesting” cookbooks that some magazine such as Gourmet or Bon Appetite printed and I checked in with Kitchen Arts to see if they had it. Back then, one small shelf was all I need – now I require several shelves and am still running out of room.

So I got this book and tucked it away on the (single) shelf to collect dust for years and years but then watched the movie and thought “I should make something.” But folks, finding a recipe was a little tricky—nothing seemed to really jump out at me and so I finally settled on this one. And as per usual, there were some recipe issues.

First and foremost, I am math challenged so didn’t know how to measure 3/8 of a cup of flour. (Somewhere in the heavens, Sister Rita Celeste is turning over in her grave wondering where she had failed me. In actuality, she failed me but we don’t have enough time to talk about the angst of being a Catholic school girl.) So thank goodness for Google because 1/8 of a cup = 2 tablespoons. (And not that I should assume anything but I figured 3/8 of a cup equal 6 tablespoons…and I was right. Whew!)

The recipe also called for 1 cup of light cream and so I went with half and half and yes, Jesus, that was correct as well (as verified by Google). But these days, cartons of cream and half and half post serving sizes by the tablespoon and that means nothing to me! I mean, who on earth runs around with tablespoon equivalents in their head! (No need for a show of hands.) So again I guessed that a small carton of half and half equaled one cup and it did.

Next up was the direction to use ½ cup grated strong cheese (as opposed to your weak cheeses?). What on earth did that mean??? “Strong cheese” could have been anything from gorgonzola to sharp cheddar but since I had sharp cheddar on hand, I went with that. (Waste not, want not!)

You wouldn’t think that herbs would necessarily pose a problem but you would be wrong. The recipe said “fresh chopped rosemary” and “fresh chopped basil” but didn’t say how much so I just threw in some dried herbs (my grocery was out of fresh basil and I was too lazy to go elsewhere) until it tasted good.

Finally, there’s the chicken itself. The recipe gives precise instructions for how to make your broth (and by the way, it makes a lot of broth) but never says what to do with the chicken once you put it in the casserole so I shredded it. Can’t go wrong with shredding.

As to the avocado, it was tasty but as always, when exposed to air, it started to turn brown and let me just say that this was not the most appetizing look of the day but it was edible, so there!

If you ask me, and you didn’t, I think you can shortcut this recipe by poaching the chicken separately and then using canned broth instead of going through the trouble to make it fresh. I only did that because I had time on my hands and wanted to stay true to the recipe.

By the way, long before I heard of Roald Dahl, I heard of his ex-wife, actress Patricia Neal. Baby boomers like me may remember that Patricia was the original Mama Walton in the TV movie, The Homecoming – the pilot for the TV series, The Waltons. Going further back, she also starred in, and won a Best Actress Oscar for, the movie, Hud, with Paul Newman. (Sigh—that man was gorgeous!).

Anyway…without further ado, Chicken and Avocado Casserole!

Chicken Avocado Casserole – serves 6
The chicken can be poached in advance and the stock reserved.

6-lb chicken cut into four pieces (or chicken pieces of your choice weighing approximately 6 pounds – I used chicken breasts on the bone)
5 cups water (this may be too little; I suggest adding water to cover)
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
2-c stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 tbsp salt
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
4 tbsp butter (you will likely need more)
3/8 cup flour (6 tablespoons)
1 cup light cream (Half and Half)
½ cup grated strong cheese (likely a sharp cheddar but your choice)
Fresh chopped rosemary
Fresh chopped basil
Hot pepper sauce, e.g. Tabasco
3 cups mushrooms
2 large ripe avocados
(Optional) ½ cup flakes almonds, roasted, for garnish

Put chicken pieces into a large pot with the water, onion, celery, salt, peppercorns, carrots and bay leaf. Bring up to the boil and simmer gently, skimming frequently. Simmer for about 2 hours or until the chicken is tender (the meat should fall off the bone easily).

After 2 hours, remove the pan from the stove and cool. Once the broth has cooled, remove the meat from the bones (except wings), put the bones, skin and wings back into the pan and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Strain stock (you should have about 3 cups) and cool.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a saucepan melt three tablespoons butter (I used about 4) and stir in the flour. Next, stir in the stock, cream, cheese, herbs, salt and hot pepper sauce. Stir until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil.

Clean and halve or quarter the mushrooms depending on the size. Saute them in the remaining butter.

Place mushrooms and chicken in the bottom of a casserole (I used a 9x13 pan), season and pour over the sauce. (Is it me, or does this sentence seem wonky?! I’m pretty sure he means to pour the sauce over the chicken…at least that’s what I did!). Cover and bake for 25 minutes or until the chicken is heated through.

Slice the avocados, place in the casserole, cook for about 10 minutes until the avocado is cooked through. (Note: I wasn’t sure whether or not to cover the avocados so I went with “covered” – final answer!).

Just before serving, sprinkle the roasted almonds on top.

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