Thursday, November 12, 2015

"Best of Postal Recipes Volume II" - Henny Penny Casserole (a nod to the children's book, "Chicken Little")

Date I made this recipe:  November 8, 2015

Best of Postal Recipes, Volume II by the National Association of Letter Carriers Auxiliary
Published by:  House of Specialties Inc.
© 1987
Purchased at Eat My Words bookstore, Northeast Minneapolis
Recipe:  Henny Penny Casserole submitted by Doris Wright, Indiana #219 – p. 269

This past weekend, I "tidied" up my cookbook collection by storing some and rearranging others so that they all continue to fit.  This book, Best of Postal Recipes Volume II, was at the top of a pile to be re-shelved, but instead, I decided to cook from it and then store it.  It's a thick book and that makes finding shelf space challenging.

This book is really another form of a community cookbook and generally, I don't cook from those seeing as how other books grab my attention, but this title made me think of my friend, Andrea.  Andrea's mom, Mary Ann, was a retired postal service employee and was active in postal association groups like the one featured here (letter carriers auxiliary).  Andrea's mom passed away this summer and since I've been thinking about Andrea lately, I thought I'd feature this cookbook in her mom's honor.

And then while I was looking at recipes and came upon the recipe for Henny Penny Casserole, I thought of my mother, also deceased.  I hope at least some of you recognized "Henny Penny" as a character in the children's book, Chicken Little.  My mom read Chicken Little to me all the time and I can hear her voice saying "The sky is falling, the sky is falling" as we speak.  My mom had the cutest voice ever (kind of high like Minnie Mouse) and she totally nailed reading children's books, especially Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but I digress.

If you don't know the story of Chicken Little, it starts off cute but then like many a children's story, has a terrible ending (and what is up with that).  And so, a synopsis:  One day, an acorn falls on Chicken Little's head.  Not knowing that it was an acorn that fell, Chicken Little panics and tells everyone "The sky is falling, the sky is falling."

At that, Henny Penny, Turkey Lurkey, Goosey Loosey and Ducky Lucky – fellow friends in the barnyard – rush off with Chicken Little to tell the king that they sky is falling.  Unfortunately, they are met en route by Foxy Loxy who promises to show them the way to the king, only to lure them into his den and.... well, lets just say they never made it.  And I don't recall ever being upset by this tragic ending because all I latched onto was Chicken Little and company's mantra, "The sky is falling, they sky is falling."  In fact, every now and again, I latch on to a saying and put it to use in real life and this is one of those sayings that is often fitting in a business setting where things are going wrong and everyone is in a state of panic – sometimes merited, but mostly not.  And so for levity, I've often uttered "the sky is falling, the sky is falling" and maybe one person laughed which makes me wonder if kids no longer read this book; if so, it's a miscarriage of justice and childhood!

At any rate, dear reader, this is how what started as an ode to Andrea's mom really ended up being an ode and a nod to childhood and stories and mothers in general.  And PS—I hope that your mother read this book to you as a kid and if not, why not?  It's. a. classic.

Andy and I liked this casserole a lot and had I not selected the Henny Penny recipe for nostalgia reasons, there were several other dishes, especially casseroles (I love casseroles) for your consideration.  I started out hoping to make a recipe from a  Minnesota auxiliary member but the book doesn't make it easy as they list recipes by the post office auxiliary number instead of the city, e.g. Minnesota auxiliary #67's recipes can be found on pages 167, 390, 395, 423, etc. and looking them up that way gave me a headache so I stopped.  And really, when I saw the "Henny Penny Casserole," I knew this was it although I did search the cookbook for "nut" recipes and there's a reason why and it has to do with a great story Andrea told me about her mother which makes me laugh every time I think of it.  (In fact, it was so good that Andrea told the story while speaking at her mother's funeral and I sure hope her mom was laughing from above.)

So here we go:  back in the day, Andrea's mother, and mine, often hosted card parties – mostly bridge – during which "nut cups" were set out next to each player.  Nut cups were tiny little paper cups that were filled with nuts and mints and – my favorite – Brach's Bridge Mix – to tide the player over until the usual and customary light luncheon could be served.

So anyway, Andrea's mom was hosting a bridge party and went to Target and asked a pimply young boy working there where she could find nut cups and he led Andrea's mom to the one and only section – he thought – containing nuts cups and upon arriving, proudly pointed out a display of athletic supporters, usually also known as "jock straps," or, in this case – "nut cups." And as they say in the south, Andrea's mom "like-a died" right there on the spot of utter embarrassment (despite the fact that she raised two sons in addition to her daughter).

It would be months before Andrea's mom returned to her local, neighborhood Target

And  so yes, this book contained several recipes containing nuts (mostly desserts) but when I thought about it, I decided that using nuts as an ingredient is not the same as putting them in the nut cups which is how you ended up with a recipe for Henny Penny Casserole.  You're welcome.

I hope you are inspired to re-read Chicken Little and I hope you think of your moms when you do.

Henny Penny Casserole – serves 4 to 5
2 lb. chicken breasts
1 c. grated Cheddar cheese
¼ c. melted butter (or margarine)
2 cup soft bread crumbs
1 (10 oz.) pkg. mixed vegetables, cooked
¼ c. flour
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ c. melted butter (or margarine)
1 c. milk
1 c. chicken broth
1 c. grated Cheddar cheese

Ann's Note:  This recipe calls for margarine but I used butter.

Cover chicken with water and simmer until tender.  Skin chicken and remove bone.  Ann's Note:  I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts and just gently poached the breasts for about 15 minutes.  You can look up instructions on the internet.  But once the breasts were cooked, I was unsure as to how they were to be used in the casserole.  It appeared that I was supposed to add the whole breasts into the cheese sauce but that seemed unwieldy so I cut the breasts into cubes and added them to the sauce.

Combine 1 cup cheese and melted butter; pour over bread crumbs and toss lightly.  Reserve ½ cup of this mixture and place the remaining cubes in a 2-quart casserole.  Cover with mixed vegetables.

To make the sauce; Sift flour, salt and pepper into melted butter.  Add milk and broth.  Cook until thickened, stirring constantly.  Add cheese and stir until melted; add chicken (see my note above).  Pour sauce over vegetables and top with reserved cubes.  Cover and bake for 15 minutes at 350.  Uncover and bake for 15 minutes longer, until bubbly and lightly browned.

Ann's Notes:  I hate when recipes don't tell me how long to cook ingredients.  "Cook until thickened" not only does not tell me how long to cook the cheese sauce, but it doesn't tell me what temperature is best for thickening.  I decided a medium heat worked best, and spent about 15 minutes on the cheese sauce.  Whether this was correct or not was anybody's guess.  And like I said earlier, the instruction to simmer the chicken until tender doesn't tell me how long to keep it on the stove.  And while not knowing this wasn't the end of the world, it made it hard to tell my hungry husband how long it would be until dinner was ready.  All told, the total elapsed time was about 1 ½ hours.

Ann's Final Note:  this recipe is almost like an upside down chicken pot pie which was fine by me!

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