One of the first contests I entered, I won. But, let me clarify. It was a “Fan Favorite” contest. It was sponsored by the 92nd Street Y in NYC and I am sure that they were perplexed as to why a bunch of Okies were voting for Loaded Baked Potato Mac ‘n Cheese.
I recruited everyone at work to vote.
I won a great gift basket of Kosher food.
For the non-Kosher version, you can see the recipe at this previous post.
But, one of my proudest moments was honoring one of my favorite aunts by winning a spot in Cook’s Country Best Lost Suppers Cookbook. This is the story and recipe that I submitted:
When Aunt Leah married my favorite uncle, she brought her own special style to our family’s holiday dinners. Although our family gatherings always offered a bountiful table of comfort foods, Aunt Leah seemed to bring a cosmopolitan flair to the table. It might be baked Eggplant Parmesan or this recipe, Chicken Tetrazzini, which soon became not only a family favorite, but also a tradition. As Aunt Leah ran her own family’s business, she would cook on the weekends and freeze enough to bring out family portions for her and Uncle Chuck for the next week.
I remember a family friend witnessing the magical making of Aunt Leah’s tetrazzini. He tells that she kept adding and adding ingredients to a huge mixing bowl. Laughing, he watched her add and add more and more to the bowl. He knew that with the next ingredient, it would overflow, but it never did. It must have been a magical bottomless bowl.
Although I update this recipe when I make it with chicken breasts and store-bought chicken stock, it still makes me nostalgic for those family dinners with all of the aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. This is truly one of my comfort foods. I have included the original recipe as it is found in the family cookbook that was compiled from the hundreds of recipe cards, clippings, and scraps of paper that we found in my grandmother’s kitchen after her death. From the way this recipe reads, I am sure it was found in my grandmother’s flowing hand, written on the back of an envelope. Here is the original recipe:
The original recipe from Aunt Leah, passed down by her mother.
1 lb. Velveeta
1 chopped gr pepper
1 chopped onion
1 or 2 pkg spaghetti
1 lb. Old English cheese
chopped ripe olives
(mushrooms may substitute)
recipe white sauce
Stew hen and leave in broth overnight. Remove hen from broth and debone, reserving broth. Cook spaghetti in broth. Combine chicken, spaghetti, cheese, gr pepper, pimento, onion and olives. Add white sauce and spaghetti mixture. Serve hot. Can freeze. The cheese should be cut real fine.
My Aunt Leah was the most sophisticated, cosmopolitan and elegant person I had ever known. When she married my uncle, I was in awe. Every family dinner we had, she would bring this recipe that was passed down from her mother. I have updated (with the help of my own mother) as an homage to a wonderful person that brought a great deal to my life.
Chicken Tetrazinni (à la Aunt Leah)
My version (with help from my mother)
1 1/2 to 2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts
2 1/2 c. chicken stock
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 lb. package of spaghetti
4 T. butter
4 T. Flour
2 cups milk
2 t. chicken bullion*
1 lb. Velveeta, cubed
2 cups sharp cheddar, grated
1 green pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
2 (4.3 oz) cans chopped ripe olives, drained**
8 oz. fresh sliced mushrooms
1 small jar pimentos, drained
Place chicken breasts in large sauce pan. Add the chicken stock, bay leaf, and salt and pepper. (Add water if needed to cover chicken.) Cook over high heat until liquid reaches a rolling simmer, then reduce heat to a low simmer and continue to cook, covered for about 30 minutesr. Remove chicken and let cool. Remove bay leaf and bring stock to boil. Add spaghetti and cook in broth for 8 minutes or until al dente. (Add more water until you have enough liquid to cook the spaghetti.)
While spaghetti cooks, prepare sauce. In a heavy sauce pan, melt butter. When butter is melted, stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly. Slowly add milk and whisk until smooth. Cook on medium heat until sauce boils, stirring constantly. Reduce heat. Add chicken bullion and stir to incorporate. Add cheeses and stir until cheeses have melted. Remove from heat.
Drain spaghetti when done. Place in large bowl and stir in sauce.
Shred chicken. Add chicken to bowl. Add the green pepper, onion, olives, mushrooms, and pimentos; stir well. For a large crowd, pour into a large casserole dish and bake. For smaller groups, freeze portions to cook later.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
The editor’s of Cook’s Country made some improvements to the recipe. They substituted two cups Colby-Jack cheese for the Velveeta.
I like these additions, but to be quite honest, I think they made the instructions too complicated. (For all of their changes, you will have to buy the book.)
*I now use a bit of the pasta/chicken stock water to the sauce and omit the chicken bouillon.
**I used some of the Herbed Olives here.
This made enough for one large casserole plus a large ziploc bag for the freezer. We will probably get about four meals out of it.
Besides the pleasure of honoring my favorite aunt and finding a place in the Best Lost Suppers cookbook, I also received an autographed copy of the book, signed by Christopher Kimball, complete with a bow tie stamp.
Did I win the prize? A trip to Vermont? No.
But I was so honored that my aunt’s recipe made it into this book for posterity.