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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 2000 of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch over 125 Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. "We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie

05/11/2022

~ The Retro History of All-American Chicken à la King ~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a13fc6200cYou'd be surprised, perhaps not, how many folks think the same mixture that goes into pot pie, is the same mixture that gets used to make à la king.  It is not.  If the mixture it is similar to anything, it would be that contained in other all-American creations like chicken or turkey Divan, chicken or turkey Tetrazzini, and even tuna noodle casserole.  Read on to find out the difference:

À la king vs. pot pie -- À la king is not pot pie & vice versa.  

In its purest form, à la king is a refined, American restaurant dish consisting of perfectly-poached white-meat chicken or turkey stirred into a silky sherry-cream béchamel-type sauce containing mushrooms, and, green peppers (peas are commonly substituted by people who don't care for peppers).  Classically, it's served served over toast points, puff pastry or rice (with noodles or pasta being acceptable substitutions).  Pot pie is a very thick, gravy-like stock-based chicken stew that contains noodles or is topped with a pastry crust.  Worst case pot pie recipes are made using cream of chicken soup.  For those of you who are inclined to disagree with my assessment:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c84df5200dIn 1980, in a New York Times article, Craig Claiborne shared the original recipe for chicken à la king (reprinted from a brochure given to him by a reader).  Here is the original ingredients list:

butter, chopped green pepper, sliced mushrooms, flour, salt, cream,  poached chicken, egg yolks, onion juice, lemon juice, sherry, pimiento (for garnish), toast points (for serving)

Notice:  The original recipe contains no chicken stock, it is made with a cream-based béchamel-type sauce, and, pimientos are used as garnish, not a stirred-in ingredient (all of which are common misconceptions in modern day à la king recipes.

At the beginning of the 20th century, chicken à la king was the pinnacle of upscale comfort food in New York City.  In that era, almost anything with a vaguely-sounding French name was adopted by appetites of the rich and powerful.  That said, it's not French, and, there are several NYC restaurant chefs claiming the origin of the dish, most notably:  Delmonico's, the Brighton Beach Hotel, and, the Plaza.  The most credible account, however, is that it was created in the 1890's by a hotel cook, William "Bill" King, of the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia, as it appeared in his obituary in 1915, as well as a New York Tribune editorial written shortly thereafter.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49f1af0200cIn the 1950's, chicken à la king was a staple on the menus of elegant wedding receptions, expensive banquets, and, fancy sit-down in-home dinner parties all across America.  Sadly, as James Beard lamented in his 1972 book, James Beard's American Cookery, "chicken à la king, now usually prepared in a mediocre fashion, can be quite good if prepared with care, using fine ingredients."  This can be said of too many things we Americans eat, but, since I'm in the business of writing and publishing really-good, high-quality recipes, you'll find no mediocre shortcuts or ingredients in my version.

Dinner fit for a king.  Try my version of Chicken à la King:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ca6a2e200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)

05/08/2022

~The Retro History of All-American Chicken Tetrazzini~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49def1d200cExperience has taught, "what's old is always new to someone", and cooks of all experience levels appreciate learning about it.  Experience has also taught: "what's old has often been lost to someone", as many times, these retro classics, which evoke fond memories, have sadly, been lost (grandma never taught it, shared it, or worse, never wrote it down), or tossed (instead of being handed down from generation to generation).  Tetrazzini, which is prepared in separate stages on the stovetop then finish-baked in the oven, is one such vintage recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49dec54200cTetrazzini is named after Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.

A bit about Tetrazzini (teh-trah-ZEE-nee):  Tetrazzini is a rich dish combining cooked, stranded pasta (usually angel hair or thin spaghetti) tossed with chards of tender, cooked poultry (usually all-white chicken or turkey breast) or pieces of succulent seafood (never red meat) enrobed in a sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce.  Lightly sautéed mushrooms (a requirement for the dish) get tossed in, along with some optional steamed peas and carrots too.  Each individual-sized dish, or the entire casserole, gets sprinkled with sliced almonds and additional grated Parmesan, then broiled (individual dishes) or baked (a casserole) until a crunchy, bubbly and golden top forms. The airy combination of almonds and Parmesan (not heavy breadcrumbs) causes strands of exposed pasta to crisp up too, which makes this super-rich dish all the more charming.

All food historians agree that even though the dish contains pasta it is not Italian.  It is an all-American concoction.

All food historians agree on one thing: this dish is not Italian, it is an American concoction named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.  It is said to have been invented for her in 1908-1910 by chef Ernest Arbogast at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA, where it is said she was either a regular guest or a long-time resident of the hotel.  I can find no specific documentation to say the dish prepared for her was made with poultry, as seafood, which is common to San Francisco, would make more sense.  A follow-up to this story is:  Luisa then gave the recipe for Spaghetti Tetrazzini to Louis Paquet, chef de cuisine at The McAlpin Hotel on Harold Square in NYC (the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912), who made famous a chicken-based version. To muddle the dish's history up a bit, in October of 1908, Good Housekeeping magazine made references to Tetrazzini being served "in a restaurant on 42nd street" -- The Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC, located on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street claims the rights to the recipe as well.

Tetrazzini = Stranded Pasta (Spaghetti) NOT Egg Noodles.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49d33c1200cUnfortunately, Tetrazzini took a slow downhill slide after that.  Spin-offs started turning it into a casserole made of of leftover poultry or canned tuna, which is totally, completely understandable, as we Americans love our casseroles.  I have no ax to grind with that, it's tasty and family-friendly, but it was not what the elegant Ms. Tetrazzini had in mind.   Read on, because the worst was yet to come.  The cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise versions that replaced the silky sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce:  they were the death of the iconic dish.  

One last item:  Tetrazzini is made with stranded pasta/macaroni (any width will do but angel hair or spaghetti is most common), not egg noodles.  Egg noodles (a different product) = a noodle dish or a noodle casserole (example:  tuna noodle casserole) -- it's not Tetrazzini.  Got it? Good.

Get tangled up in my version of Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49def8e200c"We are all in this food world together" ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)

05/05/2022

~The Retro History of Divine Divan Chicken Casserole~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bab6f0970bWhen I moved into my first apartment in 1974, Chicken Divan was the second meal I cooked -- lasagna was my first.  I didn't choose it randomly, it was a dish I loved to eat when I was growing up.  It was on page 306 of my bright red Betty Crocker's Cookbook.  "Betty" and the The Joy of Cooking were the only cookbooks I owned at the time and both served me, and continue to serve me, well.  Both contained wonderful recipes for my Divine Divan -- Betty Crocker's recipe was a bit less complicated, but, it was scratch-made (no cream of anything soup or mayonnaise).

6a0120a8551282970b01bb095d8e5e970dChicken divan is a baked casserole containing poached white-meat chicken and blanched broccoli florets enrobed in creamy béchamel sauce (it's called Morney sauce if cheese is added).  This rich-and-decadent creamy casserole was invented in the 1940's and was a popular, medium-budget chicken entrée on the menus of fine-dining restaurants and country club catering menus during the 1960's and 70's, which is where I originally encountered it. Chicken Divan is great served for brunch, lunch or dinner.  It can be baked in one large casserole and served family style, or, it can be baked in individual-sized casseroles to serve at a fancier gatherings.  It can be served with toast points, buttered noodles or steamed rice -- noodles are my favorite.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d243f1e0970cChicken divan is classic American. It was created in the 1940's in the Divan Parisienne Restaurant of New York City's Chatham Hotel by a chef named Lagasi.  He had entered his dish in a contest, and, after winning money for it, it became the hotel's signature dish.  In French the word "divan" means an elegant meeting place or great hall, and it was this meaning that caught the attention of the owners as they searched for a name implying continental elegance.  In America, the word "divan" had come to mean "sofa", and, in the 1940's and 50's, I have been told that in the Divan Parisien restaurant, diners ate at tables that were drawn up to small sofas (or divans).  Photo courtesy of Card Cow.

Try my Classic & Comforting Chicken Divan Casserole:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2447c33970cTry my Creamy & Comforting Retro Tuna Noodle Casserole too:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b89322970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)