Friday, January 28, 2011

The Art of Being "Infinitely Creative" in the Kitchen

When I was a teenager, I spent a month roughing it in the mountains at The Mountain Institute's Spruce Knob Mountain Center, which, to the uninitiated, is essentially a rustic hippie commune nestled in the wilds of West Virginia, complete with yurts and composting toilet. The rules were simple, treat others with respect, pitch in on chores, eat meals together, sleep anywhere you want, and write daily. We had the run of the campus, spending days and nights in the big yurts, hiking through the woods, gazing up at the stars, or writing in the partially buried "Earth Shelter," our computer lab. There were about 10 of us kids, mixed genders, all of us about 17 years old. Our chaperones placed tremendous trust in us, considering the "sleep anywhere" rule, and the propensity of teenagers to take the first opportunity to run off and have sex somewhere... To my knowledge, that never happened. Instead, hiked the mountains, carrying our journals around with us everywhere we went, writing down all our observations and most intimate feelings, and then we gathered together to share. We came together before meals, holding hands, and gave thanks, sharing with the group anything that had inspired us. It was Utopia, a safe-haven, perfect for drawing a studious introvert out of her shell. We took turns making meals, each washing our own dishes when the eating was finished. The kitchen was always open, and sometimes we would congregate to share a midnight snack. I think it was Liz who came up with the catchphrase, being "infinitely creative" in the kitchen, and it has stuck with me, as have so many moments from that summer. I try to take that 'infinite creativity' with me wherever I go, even in my own kitchen, much to my husband's occasional dismay, and the surprise of his co-workers when they come for dinner and find that my meatloaf is actually superb. I love to make something from nothing, to take seemingly random ingredients and put them together to make a cohesive dish, where the sum of the parts rarely equal the whole. It has caused the occasional inedible dish, but also many savory treats, from cheeseballs to casseroles, with some dishes being requested again and again. Today I created a new dish, this time starting my creative process in the aisle of the store, not the almost bare cupboards of my kitchen. I can tell you that only 50% of my children liked it (Eli's vote doesn't count, because he doesn't like anything), but, personally, I felt joy in both the making and the eating of my chicken and spinach casserole. Below is my recipe (written down as I added ingredients to the bowl). Feel free to try it yourself, to bring your own infinite creativity to the recipe, and post suggestions in the comments.

Spinach and Chicken Casserole
  • 6 oz package of chicken flavored stuffing mix
  • 2, 9.75 oz cans white chicken meat (drained)
  • 27 oz can pre-cooked Fancy Spinach (drained)
  • 1 envelope onion sup mix
  • 16 oz jar Ragu Alfredo sauce
  • 10.5 oz can condensed cream of mushroom soup 
  • 2.8 oz can French fried onions (topping)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients (except onions) in a large mixing bowl. Pour in a 9X13X2 glass casserole dish. Top with French fried onions. Bake for approx. 25 minutes. Enjoy!

Note: this is likely not a low sodium food, so if you are watching your intake, you may want to avoid this.

2 comments:

  1. All ingredients purchased at Dollar General.

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  2. I think more chicken, less spinach. And maybe croutons instead of stuffing mix, I don't really like all the sage.

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