>> Tuesday, June 23, 2015
My Aunt Monica is the first person I remember showing real joy when she was cooking. There are plenty of fine everyday cooks in my family, but my flamboyant Aunt Monica was the one humming while she cooked, and giggling and making us taste little pieces of everything before she put it into the recipe.
Chicken Divan is one of those quintessential 70s casseroles that might not be trendy right now but is still really awesome. It's forever tied to Aunt Monica in my mind because she used to make it in Grandma's kitchen if there was a crowd at the holidays.
My parents, the dog, and my sister would drive from the farm in Michigan to the big city of Waukegan in Illinois. When our station wagon ran up I-94 highway past the big Magikist lips sign, we knew we were almost to Grandma's place.
Come to think of it, I have no idea what Magikist was trying to sell us when all the red lights flickered on.
It also just occurred to me that I can't imagine my grandma sharing her kitchen with anyone. Aunt Monica was a powerful force of nature, just like my grandma, and surely there were lightning strikes at some point.
Yet every holiday all the cousins would be shooed down to the rumpus room (yes, that's what it was, and I can describe the rumpus), and all the adults would settle in at the kitchen table with cigarettes and big 70s pipes and cocktails and catch up. Back then, my mom smoked only when she was around her mother, who made her nervous. It must have been a smoky kitchen!
Aunt Monica would announce when the casserole was ready and she would bring it out with a flourish and some sort of comment that has always made me imagine this was an exotic and fancy dish for special occasions. As it surely can be.
I'm pretty sure boneless skinless chicken breasts and cream of whatever soup were not in my Aunt's original recipe, but I've posted an easy version and a bit of an upscale version, depending on how you feel about cooking on a particular day.
I think it's also worth noting that this is one of a handful of recipes I've ever tried in which I actually don't mind broccoli, because I really don't like it.