“I want your recipe for that chicken casserole you brought to the church luncheon,” my friend told me.
“Sorry, I can’t give it to you,” I replied.
She looked offended. “Why not? Is it a secret family recipe or something?”
“No,” I said. “It’s just that I make it using the TLAR method.”
“The what? Is that some kind of new cooking process?”
“No. TLAR stands for ‘That looks about right.’ I don’t actually measure anything. I just put ingredients together until everything looks about right.”
“You don’t use a recipe when you cook?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Rarely. That’s why I can’t really write anything down, because I don’t know how much to tell people to put in of each ingredient.”
“Well, surely you can give me a rough idea of how you make it, can’t you?”
I mentally calculated. “Okay, boil a big bag of noodles.”
“Sixteen or twenty-four ounce?”
I blinked. “I don’t really know. Or you can use macaroni.”
“One or two pound box?”
“I’m not sure. Enough to fill the baking dish.”
“What size baking dish?”
Hah! I KNEW this one. “Nine by thirteen,” I rattled off, proud of myself. “Spray the bottom with cooking spray.”
She was actually taking notes! “Okay, then what?”
“Cook some chicken and cut it into small pieces.”
“How much chicken?”
I gave her my standard “I don’t know” look.
“Never mind,” she said. “What’s next?”
“Mix a can of cream of chicken soup with enough milk to make it ‘soupy.’ ”
“Just, you know, soupy. Then stir in a bunch of grated Parmesan cheese with a dash of salt.”
She stopped taking notes and looked up. “A dash or a pinch?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well, a dash is more than a pinch.”
I tried to keep my facial expression from revealing my thought of, surely you’re kidding. “No, a dash. Definitely a dash. Unless you have high blood pressure, then maybe just a pinch.” Thankfully I didn’t have to clarify “a bunch of grated Parmesan cheese.” I searched my brain. “Next, stir in about ¾ of a carton of cottage cheese.”
“Small or large carton?”
Hah! I knew THIS one, too! “Large. Mix it all up, add peppers or mushrooms if you want and pour it over the noodles and chicken. Top with grated cheddar cheese.” Since I knew what was likely to come out of her mouth at this point, I added, “ Just sprinkle the cheese on until it looks good. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.”
She returned her notes and pen to her purse. “I’ll give it a try. But I honestly don’t know how you just eyeball everything and make it turn out right.”
I smiled. “It’s a gift.”
There. You have my famous recipe for three cheese chicken casserole. More or less. Make it at your own risk.