If you read this blog on a routine basis, you know I learned to cook from some very interesting people in my life. Family members, friends, co-workers and people who loved to share recipes for good home-cooked food have all been my tutors.
However, it was a different story when I was in home economics class at Van Buren High School. God knows the patience my teachers needed to muster up when dealing with the headstrong freshman girl who wanted to change the recipes before the stove was even turned on. I had learned to "tinker" from the best cook I knew, my grandmother.
"I understand your creativity, but, for now Ivy, let's just follow the recipe in the book," one exasperated saint of a teacher said when she took me aside one afternoon during class. "Why not take the recipe home and be creative there."
I did, and when I took a sample back to school the next day she gave me some bonus points for the class. Although she didn't give me anymore bonus points, at least twice a week I'd bring in samples of my creativity for her to critique.
But my biggest critic was at home, especially when it came to making chicken ala king.
My father, even to this day, refuses to eat anything with a white sauce. If it has milk in the recipe, you can pretty much count on the fact that he won't eat it.
It's odd; he likes cheese, but nothing with milk in it. Dad won't eat white sausage gravy and biscuits, no white pepper gravy over fried chicken and especially no soups with a milk base (which means he won't eat potato, corn or clam chowder soups, some of my kids' favorites).
The first time I made chicken ala king, my father wouldn't eat it. I understood why, but was still disappointed. He just couldn't get past the white sauce.
I continued to tinker with the basic recipe throughout high school and into my adult life, hoping to find a way to fix chicken ala king that he would eat.
I think I've come up with a way, but have yet to serve it for my dad, or my family.
In a large skillet on medium heat, melt 1/4-cup butter, two minced garlic cloves, 1/2-cup flour and 1/2-teaspoon salt and a dash of black pepper until it starts to lightly brown. Then slowly add one cup each of chicken stock and half and half, stirring constantly to prevent clumps.
When bubbling slowly, stir in 2-cups of cheddar cheese to make a mild flavored cheese sauce. Turn the heat down to the lowest stove setting possible.
Meanwhile, in a separate skillet with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, cook 1-cup sliced mushrooms with 3-4 cooked chicken breast halves that have been pulled into strips/chunks and a 1/4-cup of finely chopped celery until they are just beginning to turn a light crispy brown around the edges.
Add one small jar of drained pimentos or one fresh red bell pepper sliced thin to the skillet. (There are people who add peas to their recipe, but my family really isn't large fans of peas.) When heated through, add the meat/vegetable mix into the cheddar sauce mixture.
When heated through, serve over thick slices of Texas-style toast or the old favorite, mashed potatoes.
Anyone care to make this version of the basic recipe and let me know how your taste buds feel about it?