Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The logical thing to do, or not

I had a novel idea: I could, if I wanted, cook food that my whole family actually finds enjoyable.


I ran this revolutionary idea past a couple other moms and they both stared at me like I was looney, a giant Duh-Lumpus. Other moms, it turns out, make it a point to cook meals that they know their family will like. They think it’s the logical thing to do.

This never occurred to me. Apparently I’m not logical.

Let me start from the beginning, three long weeks ago when I made breakfast for supper. We had Farmer Boy Pancakes, a dozen scrambled eggs, vanilla pudding, frozen (and thawed) strawberries, and grape juice. When I called my family to supper (or rather, finally gave them permission to sit down—they had been hovering anxiously while the pannycakes were frying), they came running, each and every one of them wearing a happy face. After the prayer, they attacked the food like they hadn’t eaten in weeks. They ate firsts, seconds, thirds, and fourths and then asked for more! When the food ran out, they rose groaning from their chairs and waddled off, completely sated.

It got me to thinking: wouldn’t it be nifty if every supper were as pleasant as this one? Instead of the groans and moans and do-I-have-to-eat-this-es and I-don’t-want-this-es and this-makes-me-throw-up-es, the kids would cheer and dig in. It would be so easy!


If I did decide to cook only family-pleasing foods, I would do it for an extended period of time, like say for a week or two. I could do it, too, you know. My kids are not picky eaters (it's just that their mother is an excessively creative cook). I could make them macaroni and cheese, pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, baked potatoes with veggies, honey-baked chicken and rice, beans and rice, grilled cheese and tomato soup, roast chicken, pesto, potato soup, hamburgers and oven fries, chef salads, etc. Cooking kid-approved food would sure make mealtimes a lot less stressful.

Or would it? I made egg salad for lunch yesterday. I thought I was being a good mommy, making my kids a treat that they all adored, but wouldn’t you know, Sweetsie insisted that egg salad made her feel like puke. Well.


And then I remembered that this is the reason that I don’t cook according to my family’s likes and dislikes—with four little(ish) ones with evolving tastebuds, their lists of acceptable foods are forever changing. I have tried to cook to please everyone (see previous paragraph), but it seems I always end up failing. As a result, I’ve decided it’s easier to assume that no one will like the food and cook food that I find interesting. If they like it, good. If not, too bad, so sad. This is how my logic works.

(I do cook food that everyone likes ... sometimes. I get on all sorts of weird food kicks, but when I notice that my kids’ chubby cheeks look a little hollow, that they have bags under their eyes, their mouths are pinched and their eyes dull, I change my pace and make a big ol’ down-home meal. After they have been sufficiently revived, I strike off on yet another cooking venture.)


Still, the pancake supper inspired me to try to increase my family-approved cooking repertoire—the goal would be to make new meals that are just variations on their established favorites—so when I spied a recipe for chicken and biscuits on Julie’s blog, I dove in headfirst.


Except for Mr. Handsome (who loved it, and that was gratifying), the response was mediocre at best, and it was a perfectly delectable meal, too.

Cooking to please is entirely over-rated, I’ve determined. It’s discouraging and frustrating and a dead-end street. So here’s the deal: I will cook to keep my family healthy and well-nourished and to broaden their tastebud horizons (and to entertain myself), but I will not cook to please everyone (on a regular basis). It’s the same as my parenting philosophy: I do not strive to make my children happy—I strive to love, teach, and nurture them. While their happiness is a pleasant bonus (three cheers for warm fuzzy feelings!), it is not my goal.

I made the chicken and biscuits again for supper last night, adapting and jotting notes as I went. Everyone ate it, though when I was snuggling with Sweetsie before bed and I asked her what the worst part of her day was, she said “supper.” The best part was playing outside in the snow.


You know, she didn’t used to like playing in the snow all that much. There's still hope...


Creamed Chicken with Cheese Biscuits
Adapted from Julie of Dinner with Julie

This recipe is highly adaptable. I've made a lot of changes from Julie’s original recipe, and you can make lots of changes from mine. Add more veggies (cauliflower, zucchini, etc), omit the meat, add mushrooms, use a different biscuit recipe, cut out the dairy, play with the spices, etc.

This last time around, I used provolone and Gruyere cheese (because that is what I had), but I would’ve preferred cheddar.

This recipe looks complicated, what with its three parts and all, but it's not really. You can make the creamed chicken ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator till you are ready to assemble the casserole—just increase the baking time by about five minutes if the sauce is cold when you put it in the oven.

For the vegetables:
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
½ teaspoon dried thyme
dash of smoked salt (optional)
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons sherry
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
2-4 cups chopped cooked chicken

Melt the butter in a soup pot and add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute for about five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for another minute or two. Set aside.

For the cream sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1-2 cups cheddar cheese, grated (optional)

In a heavy-bottomed kettle, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and gradually add the milk, stirring steadily. Add the broth and continue stirring till hot and bubbly. Remove the kettle from the heat and stir in the seasonings and cheese.

Add the cream sauce to the vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Taste to check seasonings. (At this point, the creamed chicken can be refrigerated till you are ready to assemble and bake the casserole.)

Pour the creamed chicken into a greased 9 x 12 pan.

For the biscuits:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup milk
1 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine the first five ingredients. Stir in the oil and milk. Turn the dough (it will still be quite sticky) out onto a well-floured surface and roll into a rectangle, roughly 10 x 15 inches. Spread the dough with the melted butter and sprinkle with one cup of the cheese. Roll the dough up as you would sweet rolls, and cut it into 8-10 pieces. Arrange the rolls, cut side up, on the creamed chicken.

Bake the chicken and biscuits at 400 degrees for thirty minutes. Take the casserole out of the oven, sprinkle the remaining half cup of cheese over the biscuits, and bake the casserole for another five to ten minutes.

Let the chicken and biscuits rest for ten minutes before serving.

About one year ago: Bits of daily life.

9 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading and agree with everything. keep up the good work being a mom and the cook...not an easy job in my opinion!

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  2. I laughed so many times during this post. Thanks for making me laugh. (That's what you were shooting for, right?)

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  3. That looks delicious. It reminds me of a tuna casserole with cheese biscuits my mom (and I) used to make. I'm going to have to try your version.

    I try to make things the family will like about half the time. I figure it's a good compromise. Some meals are happy. The others aren't so much, but they are trying new foods and new food combinations.

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  4. It really is impossible to always have meals that everyone loves. The cool thing about how you do it is that the kids learn to at least taste lots of different foods...they may even find something unexpected that they adore. That happened with my son and artichokes of all things. Simple steamed artichokes with some melted butter to dip the leaves in turned out to be a hit with him from about age three on. Then he got on an "A" kick and decided he liked asparagus, too. The casserole looks wonderful and I like that you can change it up to reflect what is in the fridge that day or what you feel like adding.

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  5. Haha, so true!
    My policy is, when you come to the table, if you complain and moan and groan one time. You get to spend mealtime in the livingroom and nothing until the next meal.
    It sobers them up right quick. AND greatly cuts down on the moaning and groaning for quite awhile afterwards.
    (the littlest ones are exempt from this policy but maybe that is my shortcoming, I allow them to get 'in the habit')

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  6. Oops! Forgot to sign

    S-

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  7. S, We've had a similar no-complaining policy, but it goes in spells. I think it's time we cracked down again.

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  8. I would love to grow up in your household. The food all looks amazing to me! :)

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  9. I will have to try this one! Yumm!

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