Let's play dress up for this week's column.
Let's raid grandma's attic or grandpa's closet for smart little hats, spotless white gloves and dashing fedoras. We'll iron our handkerchiefs, then fold them in perfect squares. As for the kids, it's white lacy socks with black patent leather for the young ladies, while our young gentlemen will be wearing smart bow ties, short pants and plenty of Brylcreem. We're headed to town for lunch and shopping, and we want to look our best.
Certainly, we dress up on occasion these days. We enjoy shopping excursions, followed by lunch. We make our own memories, but in our informal society, we have lost a bit of the ritual that defined life for previous generations. It's a slowly fading photograph of a different time.
Of course, recipes let us recapture some of those moments. Jo Bork asked for the Chicken a la King recipe served at San Francisco's Tea Room in the 1940s. The dish was her husband's favorite lunch, the highlight of a special day when he and his mother took the train from Redwood City into the big city to shop.
And Chicken a la King is one of those tearoom/lunch room recipes, isn't it? Ladled over perfect toast points or puff pastry, it is creamy and rich, the dish of another generation. I can't tell you the last time I had Chicken a la King.
Plates regular Dona Dickie, of Livermore, remembers her grandmother making the dish. "We lived in Boston," she says. "She always served it over toast points. Made enough for just the two of us. And I remember it being so creamy and special."
Dickie's grandmother made her sauce using milk, cream, butter and a bit of flour. White pepper and paprika gave it depth. The chicken was cut into small pieces, and the dish included two chopped pimento-stuffed olives and a "big spoonful of sherry."
Lynn Spatz recommends the Chicken a la King recipe in "Joy of Cooking." "I used to make it quite often when I had young kids at home, and we weren't as concerned about fat," Spatz says. "It is delicious with a few extra finely chopped vegetables, like carrots and peas, added. Heavenly in Pepperidge Farm patty shells. Winter comfort food."
Plates regular Steph Zervas recently read an updated version of Chicken a la King in a Gourmet magazine from a few years back.
"January 2006 was their 65th anniversary, and they reprinted one recipe from each year," she says. "Unfortunately, they updated the 1944 Chicken a la King with colored bell peppers and left out the petite peas. But if you adjust it back, as many reviewers suggested, I think it would be faithful to the original style."
The health-conscious among you are going to chuckle a bit when you read Gourmet's supposedly "lightened" version. A trip down memory lane turns out to be a bit of an indulgence. Gourmet's recipe still includes five tablespoons butter, 1¼ teaspoons salt, 1¼ cups heavy cream and three large egg yolks. If you're using commercial chicken broth, you should be able to easily cut the salt in this dish. And I'm wondering if fat-free half-and-half would deliver a nice sauce with less guilt.