Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tomato Soup Cake - Don't Be Fooled By The Name; This Cake Is Incredible!

Campbell's Tomato Soup Can
Andy Warhol - 1962
I don't know if Andy Warhol ever had a tomato soup cake, but it predates his famous "soup can" painting by a number of years - published recipes for this dessert date back to the 1940's. If he never got to experience this incredibly moist, flavorful cake, then he really missed out. I remember my mom talking about this cake, but I don't know that she ever made one for us.

I found the recipe, not surprisingly, in the 1968 edition of Campbell's "Cooking with Soup" cookbook. My chief cameraman, recipe taster and food idea guy,  Ralph, was so intrigued by the notion of a cake that included tomato soup. Company was coming for dinner, so it was the perfect opportunity to make something special for dessert.

This is one of those wonderful recipes from America's pop culture heritage. Even today, manufacturers of processed foods still provide countless recipes (although they are mostly found on their websites rather than printed on paper). The end result is a cake that is very flavorful and very, very moist. There is no oil added in this cake - the fat comes from the butter/margarine and the soup. You need to know that the cake DOES NOT taste like tomatoes - much to Ralph's disappointment! It is, in practical terms, a spice cake. A rich, dense, moist spice cake that is the most beautiful color (thanks to the soup).  The cream cheese frosting makes it even better!

Tomato Soup Cake
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 stick butter or margarine
1 10 3/4oz can tomato soup (yes, I think Campbell's is the best, but use your favorite brand)
2 eggs
1/4 cup water

8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 TBSP milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 lb powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. In a bowl, mix together tomato soup and butter/margarine until combined. Add two eggs and water and beat at high speed for a minute or two. Sift dry ingredients together in a separate bowl (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices). Gradually add dry ingredients into tomato soup mixture and combine well after each addition. Once all dry ingredients are added and well blended, pour batter into a greased and floured baking pan (either two 8" cake pans, a 9x13 or a bundt pan). Put in 350 oven for 25-30 minutes. When cakes are done, remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool in pans for 15 minutes, and then remove cake from pan (unless you made it in a 9x13 pan - leave the cake in!).

Once cake had cooled completely, frost the cake. In a large bowl, put softened cream cheese and milk and blend with mixer until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla. Add powdered sugar about a cup at a time and blend well after each addition until frosting is smooth and creamy. Frost cake and chill until serving time.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Royal Recipe - Making Chicken ala King

This is one of those recipes that just make you feel good when you eat it - quintessential comfort food. It is a great way to use leftover chicken (or turkey - remember this recipe after Thanksgiving!) and it's relatively easy to make. It's hard to imagine, but this humble dish was sort of fancy and high falutin when it was created over 100 years ago. It's exact origins have been debated, but many think it was created by a chef in a Philadelphia hotel that had the last name of "King." When the chef died, he was given credit for creating the dish in his obituary. Regardless of where it came from, it has stood the test of time as a favorite American dish, and one that I endlessly enjoyed growing up.

Like any popular dish, there are many variations on Chicken ala King. Some include the use of a little sherry, others call for green pepper. While my version is very traditional, using fresh mushrooms (you could use canned, but I think the texture and flavor of fresh mushrooms really stand out in this dish) onions and pimentos, you could make some changes to include other vegetables. You can serve your Chicken ala King over toast, biscuits, rice or noodles. Whichever you choose, this buttery, creamy dish will find a place in your regular rotation!

Chicken ala King

6 TBSP butter
2 TBSP olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
8oz fresh mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
salt and pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 cup milk
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 2oz jar of pimentos, drained
3-4 cups cooked chicken, cubed (can also use turkey)

In a pot, heat butter and olive oil. Add onion, mushrooms, salt and pepper and saute until tender (about 8 minutes). Mushrooms will reduce in size and onions will start to become soft and translucent. Lower heat. Add flour and whisk in making sure that all the flour is absorbed into the butter/oil mixture and continue to stir for a minute or so. You want the flour to cook out the "raw" taste and become well incorporated into the fat. Add chicken broth and milk (both should be at room tempurature) and bouillon, increase burner to medium high. Continue to wisk sauce. As it begins to heat you will see it thicken up. When it reaches the boiling point, reduce heat to low (sauce should have thickened by this point) and add your pimentos and chicken. Stir together and keep on low heat until ready to serve, stirring occasionally. Put on top of toasted bread, biscuits, rice or noodles. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lazy bones - Making juicy and tender ribs in a slow cooker

When most people think of ribs they think of barbecue. Ribs slow cooked over smoky heat is one of life's greatest pleasures. But what if it is a rainy day, or if you don't have the right equipment, or the time, or the know-how (I possess none of the three)? How do you scratch that rib itch without going out for dinner?

Those of us of a certain age recall the slow cooker craze of the 1970's. I remember when my mom got her first one, I think it was Harvest Gold in color (we had an "Early American" motif in the kitchen because we caught Bicentennial fever with the rest of the country!). These little appliances ushered in a different approach to cooking. Today, we might call it "slow food," but back then it was more of a "throw the stuff in the pot in the morning - go out and live your life - dinner will be ready when you come back home" kind of thing. All the food made in the slow cooker (also called Crock Pot, which is a brand name of Rival's appliances) was moist and tender.

This is where we come back to that taste for ribs. Making ribs in a slow cooker is NOT barbecue or anything close. It is a totally different cooking method, it's closer to braising than anything else, and for the BBQ purists out there, it would be totally unacceptable to try to pass the ribs off as anything other than what they are. Yes, they have barbecue sauce on them, but that's about as barbecue as they get. But if you like tender, moist, fall-off-the-bone, no knife required ribs, then you may want to give these a shot.

Slow Cooker Ribs

You are going to need a 6-8 quart slow cooker for this recipe. If you don't have one this size, it would be a good investment to make (if you don't get the ones with all the fancy gadgets, timers, etc. they are less than $25). If you frequent rummage sales and thrift shops - as I do - you can pick one up for under $10.

Buy a rack of spare ribs. You could use baby backs, but for this recipe I prefer the standard pork spare ribs. I find them to be nice and meaty. Take them out of the fridge about a half hour before cooking. You may want to remove the thin membrane that is on the back of the rack of ribs. You can see it - it is somewhat translucent and very thin. Removing this membrane will allow the rub to get to the meat and I think makes for a more tender rib. Slide a thin, sharp knife under the membrane and then grab and pull. It can be a slippery little sucker, so you may want to pull with a paper towel in your hand. But try to remove as much of it as you can - it's worth the effort.

Make your dry rub - or use a favorite pre-made rub. I make my own because it's easy and fun. You can make it to suit your tastes. If you like it more garlicy, or more peppery, whatever. Here is what I use:

1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 TBSP granulated garlic
1 tsp. onion powder
2 TBSP. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 TBSP. brown sugar
2 TBSP. kosher salt

Depending on the size of your ribs, you may have more than you need. Put what you don't use in a jar and use later - it's good on other stuff, too. Rub both sides of the ribs with your rub. Let the rub sit on the ribs for about 15 minutes, then cut the rack into sections (about three bones wide) - this is the only way you are going to get it into the slow cooker.

1 large or 2 small onions, quartered
1 12oz. can of Coca-Cola (this is what I drink, but if you are a Pepsi, RC or other cola brand person, by all means use what you like - it will work just fine)

Place the rib sections in the slow cooker. Drop in the onions and then pour the can of Coke around the rim of the slow cooker (you don't want to wash away the rub from the meat). Put the lid on and set the pot on "high" for a minimum of six hours. Then switch it to "low" for another 1-2 hours. DO NOT TAKE THE LID OFF! This is a great thing to start in the morning and then go about your day.

At the end of the cooking time, carefully remove ribs from slow cooker - use a good pair of tongs. They are going to be very moist and tender, and you don't want them to fall apart taking them out of the slow cooker. Transfer ribs to a baking sheet (I line mine with foil). You will need a bottle of BBQ sauce and a brush. You can use your favorite brand or make your own, by all means. People laugh at me because I use Kraft BBQ sauce - a food snob I'm not - but feel free to fancy it up any way you want. Brush a liberal amount of sauce on top of the ribs. Turn your broiler on in your oven. When the ribs are all sauced, put baking sheet under broiler for about 5 minutes or until the sauce begins to form a nice crust on top of the ribs.

These ribs have never disappointed my guests. If you should have any left over, they are great the next day as-is, or you can easily pull the meat off the bones and have yourself a pulled-pork sandwich. Serve these ribs with baked beans, garlic toast or buttery rolls and a big salad. Enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer veggies galore - Making stuffed green peppers

There's more to love about summer than just the great weather. As we pass the mid-point of the season, the harvesting of seasonal vegetables has begun. Here in Michigan, there is great bounty in the late summer and into the fall. Tomatoes, the sweetest corn, melons, blueberries, beans, beets, peaches, cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, summer squash, zucchini, greens and all kinds of peppers. It's hard to go by a farmer's market or farm stand and not buy more than you can eat - it all looks so good. And when sweet corn is selling eight for a dollar and peppers are four for a dollar, what is one to do? Peel off a couple of bucks and get to cookin'!

It's funny how I often come back to dishes that my mom made for us growing up. In seeing these big, beautiful green bell peppers for sale, I couldn't help but recall the savory stuffed peppers I enjoyed as a kid. Peppers that were soft and tender, but strong enough to serve double-duty as bowls filled with ground meat, rice and tomato sauce. This is also a great make-ahead dish. Assemble everything and then the next day pop them in the oven. Feel free to make extras, because they are even better the next day.  Serve with a salad and crusty rolls or bread.

Stuffed Peppers

1/3 cup white rice
2/3 cup water
4 large bell peppers (green, red, or yellow), tops, ribs and seeds removed
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 top of green pepper, diced
1 sprig fresh basil (about 8 leaves -easy to have on hand if you grow your own!), chopped
1/2 lb ground chuck
1/2 lb ground pork (could use bulk pork sausage or Italian sausage here)
salt and pepper to taste
1 15 oz can tomato sauce

Rinse rice and put in pot. Add 2/3 cup of water and bring to a boil stir, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until tender - about 20 minutes. When rice is done, remove from heat and set aside.

In the meantime, clean out your peppers. Try to find peppers that will stand up straight, with a good wide bottom. Cut off the tops of the peppers, pull out the seeds and ribs. Reserve the tops - you will chop one of them up and put it in the meat mixture - eat the other ones! Bring a large pot of water to a boil and put in the four peppers. Reduce heat and simmer peppers about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from hot water and set aside to cool.

In a bowl, gently mix ground beef chuck and pork. Then put meat in a skillet and begin to brown. As the beef starts to sizzle, add your chopped vegetables (onion, celery and pepper). Add salt and pepper. Continue browning until meat is cooked and veggies are tender. Check for salt and pepper. Remove meat/veggie mixture from skillet (leave any grease in the pan) and put in a bowl. Add your rice, basil and HALF a can of the tomato sauce and combine. Put peppers in a casserole (that has a cover) or a baking dish (that you can put foil over) and distribute the filling evenly among the four pepper shells. Top shells with remaining tomato sauce. Bake covered at 350 for 40-45 minutes. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This is how we roll! - Making dinner rolls

There are probably a lot of us that grew up with idea that bread was an essential part of every meal, especially dinner. I know I have even made decisions about which restaurant to go to based on the bread they serve before the entree comes to the table. Crusty rolls, garlic sticks, warm pita, dense rye bread, etc. can make an ordinary meal very special.

This recipe is fairly straightforward and produces a dozen soft and chewy rolls. In my world, bread merely serves as a "butter delivery system," but on their own they have a good texture and taste. What I particularly like about these rolls is that you can customize them to what you are serving them with or the mood you are in. Before baking, the rolls are brushed with beaten egg, and then you can be as creative as you like with what you sprinkle on top. Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, celery seeds, salt, course black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, Parmesan cheese, etc. I happened to have on-hand some caraway seeds left over from making kapusta, so I put those and some coarse sea salt on top of this latest batch of rolls.

I love to bake in the morning, especially at the cottage. Without air conditioning, the cool mornings are the perfect time to turn the ovens on and get working. Then the whole house is filled with these wonderful aromas of things there a better way to start a day??

I am very lucky to have a large stand-mixer with a dough hook. This saves time and energy in mixing and kneading, but it would not be a hardship to make this recipe by hand (the dough is very manageable) and sometimes you feel more connected to the process by doing it manually. You just have to go by feel as to when the dough has been kneaded enough.

Dinner Rolls
1 1/4 cups water (heat to 110-115 degrees. The microwave is handy for this as is an instant-read thermometer)
2  TBSP vegetable oil
1 TBSP sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 packet rapid-rise/quick-acting yeast
1/2 cup instant potato flakes
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten

Turn your oven to 200 degrees. When it reaches the temperature, shut it off.

Combine heated water, oil and sugar in bowl and set aside. In your mixing bowl,  add flour, yeast, potato flakes and salt. Gently stir dry ingredients together. Start your mixer (with dough hook attached) and gradually add in water/oil/sugar mixture to dry ingredients. Combine until dough forms and then continue on low-medium speed for 5 or 6 minutes and allow dough to knead. When dough looks smooth and pulls from the bowl it should be ready.

Transfer dough to an oven-safe bowl that has been sprayed with Pam. Turn dough over so both sides of dough is coated with Pam. Put plastic wrap over bowl and put in oven for 45 minutes. The residual heat in the oven should be enough to assist in rising. After 45 minutes, remove bowl and press dough down (it should have doubled in size). Remove dough from bowl and place on floured board. Cut dough into quarters, and then cut each quarter into thirds. This will give you 12 pieces of dough. Shape each piece of dough into a ball (you can do this by working with the dough and "stretching and tucking" into ball shape. On a baking sheet that has either been sprayed with Pam or lined with parchment paper (this is what I prefer), place 12 dough balls and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Put them back into the oven for another 20 minutes or so - they should almost double again. Remove rolls after their second rising and set oven temperature to 400.

Beat and egg in a bowl and lightly brush the tops of the rolls with the beaten egg. Then top each roll with your choice of seasoning - I used about a tablespoon of caraway seeds and a tablespoon of coarse sea salt mixed together. The topping will stick to the egg. Put rolls in heated oven for 15 minutes - or until they are nicely browned on the top. Remove rolls and let them cool on the baking sheet for another 10 minutes and then take them off and put them on a cooling rack. If you happen to have some butter handy this would be the perfect time to sample them!! Keep in an airtight container for a couple of days, but chances are good they won't last that long!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cincinnati Chili by way of Lexington, Michigan

Back in 1989 or 1990, I can't recall which, I found myself staying a couple of days in Cincinnati, Ohio on business. I'd driven through a few times, but never spent anytime there. It's a wonderful town! Lots to see and do and nice people, too. A person I was working with who was a resident of Cincinnati took me to a place called Skyline Chili, and it was the beginning of a love affair that has lasted through the years. Beyond Skyline, many local restaurants and bars in the area serve this regional favorite.

Growing up in Detroit, I had my share of chili (most of which was served atop a natural casing hotdog in the form of a Coney Island), and I've had chili in other parts of the country like Texas, where they don't use ground beef but small dices of beef and NO beans. What sets Cincinnati's chili apart are a couple of things. First, the seasonings. There may be some chili powder in the mix, but there is also things like allspice, cinnamon, cocoa, and I've even see some recipes that call for cloves. Things one would expect to see in a baking recipe.

The second unique thing about this chili is the way it is served. Sure, you could ladle it right out of the pot and put in a bowl and eat it (that's a "one-way," by the way) or you could do like most and serve it on top of spaghetti noodles (that's a "two-way"). But why stop there?? Put some shredded cheese over the chili that is sitting on top of the spaghetti (welcome to the "three-way) and then put some onions over the cheese ("four-way") and show your gusto by topping the whole thing off with kidney beans (you're now experiencing the "five-way" chili)!

In my book, ANY WAY is good with this savory chili. It's easy to make, and with the add-on ingredients this recipe can feed a hungry crowd! Thanks, Cincinnati, for this wonderful gift!

Cincinnati Chili

2 TBSP vegetable oil
2 1/2 lbs ground beef (I prefer to use chuck)
1 quart cold water
1 6oz can tomato paste
2 large onions, diced
1 1/2 TBSP vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 TBSP salt
2 TBSP chili powder
5 bay leaves
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 TBSP cocoa powder (unsweetened)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat the oil and then add ground beef. Cook beef until just browned. Remove fat from pot (you may have to transfer the meat out to accomplish this, depending on how much fat is in the pan). Restore cooked meat to pot and add water and diced onions. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add 1 TBSP of salt, tomato paste, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and spices. Stir ingredients until well combined. Cover pot and allow to simmer for 90 minutes to two hours. TASTE! Add salt and pepper as needed (to your taste). It is now ready to serve over cooked spaghetti - feel free to add cheese, onions and kidney beans (cooked) if you're feeling wild! Serve and enjoy the hospitality of Cincinnati!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Celebrating Homemade Salsa!

Many are the times I suggested to Ralph that he just needs to get into the salsa business. After you have the first chip full of this smoky and flavorful salsa, you understand why he gets so many requests for it. Salsa is one of those foods where everyone who makes it does it a little different. There is no standard, per se, but you know good salsa when you experience it.

I love to watch people who have never had Ralph's salsa try it for the first time. The expression on their face says it all. When you spent years eating salsa out of jar that you buy at the supermarket and then someone offers you something homemade, it takes you to places you didn't know existed! What fun food is!

Ralph's version is very complex - so many different flavors happening at the same time. It starts with very slow roasted jalapeno peppers. Using a cast iron pan, the peppers rest over low heat until their skin starts to char and blister. And then they get turned and it starts all over again. The other ingredients are fairly straightforward: tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, and seasonings. And, like everything else, it is made to one's own taste. With this recipe, if you want it really hot, you can do that. If you don't like cilantro,  you can leave it out. Want more garlic? Knock yourself out.

With a little time, creativity and a blender, you can make a salsa that will stand out! I've had salsas in countless restaurants, markets and other homemade versions, but this salsa of Ralph's is easily the best I've ever tasted (and many other fans of Ralph's will agree!).

Ralph's Homemade Salsa

6 jalapeno peppers
2-28oz cans whole tomatoes
1 large white onion
5 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
2 tsp ground cumin (or to taste)
3 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 TBSP sugar (or to taste)

If you have a cast iron skillet use it, if not, then use the heaviest skillet you have. Put skillet containing jalapeno peppers over low heat. Check them every 10-15 minutes and see how they are doing. They should begin to char. DO NOT TRY TO SPEED THIS STEP ALONG! They take on a very unique and wonderful flavor when they are SLOW roasted, so please be'll be glad you did. Rotate the peppers so they get a nice char all the way around. This step could take more than a hour. When peppers have been roasted, remove from skillet and put on plate or in bowl and allow to cool.

When peppers have cooled, cut off the stem ends and slice peppers lengthwise. This is where you can decide how hot you want your salsa to be. The heat in the jalapeno is contained in the seeds and the membranes. More seeds/membranes equal more heat. Generally, Ralph will scrape the seeds/membranes out of half the peppers. You can keep the scraped seeds on the side in the event the finished product is not as hot has you want. You can always add more heat in by adding seeds - you can't take the heat out once it's in, however!

Your blender is good for more than just making whiskey sours and banana smoothies (although there is nothing wrong with either of those). Put it to use making salsa. Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to make your salsa in two batches. The recipe will assume you can do it in one batch, but if not, just split everything in half and do it twice.

Put your peppers in the blender and then the canned tomatoes (including juice). IMPORTANT NOTE: you don't need the entire second can - only half of it. Finding small (14oz) cans of whole tomatoes is sometimes hard, so just buy two 28 oz cans. Also, be careful when buying these tomatoes. Some have basil, garlic and other seasonings included. You just want the plain ones, although there will be some salt added.

Take your large white onion and cut it into chunks - the blender will do the work. Just peel the garlic cloves, no need to mince those, either. Put the cilantro in (if using). Try to use just the leaves - cut the stems away. Add your cumin and sugar. Turn your blender on and watch what happens!

The longer you blend the thinner the salsa will be. If you want your salsa on the thicker side, then blend until all the vegetables are completely chopped and integrated into the liquid. Then stop and check it. You can always blend more if you want. TASTE FOR SEASONINGS! You may find it needs a little more salt or cumin. If you want more heat, this is where you can drop in some of the discarded seeds from the peppers. Blend away.

Pour salsa into sealed container and refrigerate. This keeps well for over a week in the fridge, although chances are it won't be around that long. Get some good sturdy tortilla chips - or if you are feeling adventurous make your own (that's another episode!). Enjoy with chips, with vegetables, over tacos, enchiladas, burritos, etc. or use in chilequiles. When you lovingly create a salsa like this, whether for friends, family or just yourself, you will have something special that you'll go back to time and time again. Enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Celery Spectacular! The Celery Chicken Casserole

Some things in this world just never get the credit they deserve. So, it's important to sometimes stop, look and listen for all the things in our lives that make it better. I contend that celery is one of those things, and I'd like to shine the spotlight on this crunchy, fibrous vegetable. Whether we are using celery seed, celery root or the vegetable, the versatility of celery provides endless possibilities.

Sure it's fun to eat when you stuff it with cream cheese or peanut butter or if you dunk it into a big bowl of dip. But celery has a personality all its own. I read somewhere that the act of eating a stalk of celery burns more calories then you take in by ingesting the vegetable itself. What else are you going to eat that has a negative calorie count?  Let me be upfront that I don't count calories - and that's pretty obvious! Just the same, I thought it would be fun to make a dish where I could take an entire bunch of celery and use the whole thing.

So, here is our celery spectacular - Celery Chicken Casserole! I created this recipe from scratch, but you can see the influences came from reading hundreds of cookbooks published in the 1950's - tried and true!! This is something for the celery lovers out there, and if you're not crazy about celery this may just change your mind!

Celery Chicken Cassarole
4 large chicken thighs (you can use 2-3 breasts if you prefer white meat)
1 entire bunch celery
10-12 cups of water
a small onion, stalk of celery, a carrot, salt, 3 bay leaves and a few peppercorns
1 12oz bag of egg noodles (wide)
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cooking liquid from chicken and celery
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 small sprig fresh thyme (or use a 1/2 tsp dried if you don't have fresh)
2 cups of grated cheese (your choice - I use Romano or something on the sharp side)

Put chicken in a large pot and cover with at least two inches of water. Cut a small onion in half and put in pot along with a stalk of celery, a carrot (no need to peel) a tablespoon of salt, bay leaves, and a few peppercorns. Cover pot and bring water to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer 25-30 minutes.
Transfer chicken from pot to a plate and allow to cool enough to handle. When chicken has cooled a little, remove meat from bones and set aside. In the meantime, skim fat and chicken gunk from pot that you poached the chicken in. Remove the vegetables and bay leaves, too.

Chop the ENTIRE bunch of celery (leaves and all - there's a lot of  flavor in those leaves!). Put chopped celery in bowl of cold water and stir to remove any dirt. Remove celery and put in pot with liquid that chicken cooked in. Bring liquid to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer celery in liquid until tender to the bite - about 8 to 10 minutes.

While celery is simmering cook your egg noodles in a seperate pot. Follow instructions on bag, but reduce cooking time by 3 minutes - the noodles will continue to cook when you put it all in the oven and you don't want them to be too soft.

When celery is tender, remove from liquid (you can save that liquid - freeze it or put it in the's a good starter for soup!). Empty on cans of cream of celery and cream of chicken soups in a bowl. Add milk and a half cup of the chicken/celery cooking liquid. Add your spices: onion powder, dry mustard, celery seed, white pepper and thyme.

Preheat oven to 350. In large oven safe bowl or baking dish, add your noodles, cooked chicken, celery, soup mixture and 1 1/2 cup of cheese. Combine well - make sure all the noodles are coated with the soup mixture. Take remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and sprinkle over the top (you could also use buttered bread crumbs here, or crispy fried onions).  Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese on top is golden brown. Remove from oven, let stand for about 10 minutes, serve and wonder why you waited so long to enjoy the glory of celery!