Thursday, June 2, 2016

Chicken Spaghetti and Clean Nice Quiet

I'd never heard of chicken spaghetti until I started visiting Matt's family in Arkansas. Depending on how long you're there, and how many functions take place at a church, you will be served it a minimum of once. This last week-long trip it was on offer 3 times, 3 different recipes but all clearly from the same general conceit. It isn't just red sauce spaghetti with chicken in it, that much is for certain.  It is a creamy (usually Velveeta and Cream of Mushroom/Chicken soup based) spaghetti with some mixture of tomatoes and or peppers, maybe mushrooms. Usually it's a casserole with cheese melted on top, good for freezing or taking to a church potluck. Definitely a throwback to the height of convenience foods, which are not exactly in vogue anymore. And I love some convenience foods and think people can be obnoxious in their opposition them and that's not usually based on the taste but rather on pure classism. Velveeta, while mild in taste, melts beautifully and makes things creamy af and has its place. I happened to be watching Guy's Grocery Games as I write this and the whole show revolves around chefs cooking weird shit in a grocery store and when someone went to use the cheese from a Kraft mac and cheese mix one of the judges goes "oh no that neon cheese!" It's dye. Cheddar is dyed orange, too. All cheese is "processed;" it's a man made product.  Get over it.

But I'll be honest, I am no fan of condensed soups, or really canned soup of any kind. Something about the way they are thickened up and take the shape of the can squicks me out and that is only more evident in a condensed soups. But they are so vital in the classic recipes for chicken spaghetti that it would kind of be sacrilege not to include them. And I had presumably eaten chicken spaghettis made with Cream of ____ soups but I was choosing not to think about it too much. So I decided to make a "classic" one and a version without any soups.  I did use Velveeta in both but instead of condensed soup, I found a recipe that used cream cheese. I also decided to use fresh vegetables (tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, and mushrooms) in the soupless option as opposed to the the canned Rotel tomatoes and chilis in the traditional version. Also, the classic version I used just chicken breast but for the soupless I used a mix of dark and white meat chicken.

Our lovely friends Dan and Julie just had a baby and chicken spaghetti is a classic "freezes well" casserole that people bring new parents so it was a perfect opportunity to introduce them to the dish (they also had never heard of it) and for us to meet their adorable new addition. While all of us were fine with both, the consensus was that the "soupless" version was better. But that wasn't really a huge surprise; it had more of a spicy kick from the jalapeno, the vegetables lacked the canned taste of Rotel, and the secret snob inside me still blames the condensed soups. Velveeta and cream cheese kept things plenty creamy; fuck those soups!

We didn't listen to one record this time but rather a bunch of stuff that Matt was thinking about featuring on his podcast, Clean Nice Quiet. One artist Matt's been playing a lot is Dan Mason. The genre is "vaporwave" which sounds absurd but it's like re-imagined Miami Vice incidental music and it's actually very groovy. Another standout song was a catchy bubblegum ditty "Mercy" by Ohio Express. It's weird that I didn't get more into bubblegum pop in the heyday of my deep Monkees fandom but I was so protective of the Monkees as a "real" band that I couldn't just embrace the sugary pop. For example, I've always resented the fact that they were offered the song "Sugar, Sugar" before the Archies recorded it. How DARE they be considered in the same league as a cartoon band?! But of course, who cares? It's a catchy song! Luckily, Matt introduced me to more bubblegum, the finest example of the genre being Goody Goody Gumdrops by The 1910 Fruitgum Company. Watch the video below if you dare; be forewarned, you will probably find yourself on the rooftops yelling "goody goody gumdrops". Also check the host's sideburns! And the tambourine guy's dance moves!

"Classic" Chicken Spaghetti
(Inspired by a bunch of different recipes, this one, this one, an array of All Recipes options)

Olive oil for sauteing (enough to saute the onions, who really measures that?)
1 onion, chopped
2 cups Chicken broth
1 can Cream of Mushroom
1 can Cream of Chicken
1 can Rotel
8 oz spaghetti
4 oz Velveeta
3 cooked, cubed chicken breasts (I salt and peppered them and cooked them in the oven)
2 cups shredded cheddar

Prepare spaghetti as usual.

Saute onions in olive oil. Add chicken broth, bring to a boil. Add the soups (try not to be too disgusted by their appearance) and Rotel, let simmer for 15 minutes. Add chicken, spaghetti and Velveeta and stir until cheese melts. Spoon it into a casserole dish, top with shredded cheese. Bake on 350 for 30-40 mins.

No "Cream of " Soups Chicken Spaghetti

1 onion, sliced into chunks
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
2 jalapenos, split (remove some/all seeds depending on spice desires)
8 oz Velveeta
8 oz cream cheese
2 cups chicken broth
8 oz spaghetti
2 cups shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar and this "habanero jack" I happened to have)
2 cups of chicken (in this case a pre-seasoned half chicken from Whole Foods cooked in the oven.)

Prepare spaghetti as usual.

Spread veggies out on a baking sheet and cook them in a 350 degree oven until they start getting soft (also would be good under the broiler but our broiler is messed up.) Chop them all together.

Bring chicken broth to a boil and add Velveeta and cream cheese, turn down heat and stir while it melts. Add chicken, veggies, and spaghetti. Stir until well mixed, transfer to baking dish, top with shredded cheese, bake on 350 for 30-40 minutes.

Both recipes can be prepared ahead of time (just don't bake it yet) and refrigerated or frozen and then heated up at the time of casserole need.

A bonus Arkansas food item new to me was "hot water cornbread." Someone had picked up food from a local homecooking place and there was a giant container of these delicious looking fried blobs and I was like "what are those?" and someone said "hot water cornbread." And no one offered any further detail, people just kept repeating "hot water cornbread" like those words mean something together! And apparently they do, according to the Internet. It's literally just cornmeal and salt, mixed with hot water, and quickly fried. I only had white cornmeal, for some reason, so they didn't get as browned but they did taste quite good!