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Thursday, May 2, 2013 12:43 am

Happy birthday, King’s Daughters, with an apology

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Chicken tetrazzini contains chicken, pasta, mushrooms, cream, spices and more. For an American retro topping, try crushed potato chips.

The King’s Daughters Organization celebrates its 120th birthday this year. Actually, their celebration began last fall with the long-awaited publication of their cookbook, Dining with the Daughters. I wrote about KDO and the cookbook back then. Normally I don’t revisit topics so soon, but I have good reason to do so in this instance: I totally screwed up the recipe I included.

I’m obsessive about recipe accuracy in my columns, not least because it infuriates me when I see it in other publications. But hard as I try, I slip up occasionally, though rarely as much as with the Dining recipe. I do have an excuse: I was on IV antibiotics and more than a little pain medication at the time. Even so, I feel badly about it.

So … happy birthday, King’s Daughters! And to you and my readers, my sincere apology. Below are excerpts from my original column and the correct recipe.

“Do you want to come with me out to King’s Daughters this afternoon?” asked my grandmother.

“Sure!” I replied. “When do we go?”

Nana and I had countless similar exchanges throughout my childhood. Though it might seem strange that a young child would be so enthusiastic about a trip to a retirement home, I loved those outings. Just the name – King’s Daughters – made it seem special.

Then there was the King’s Daughters Home itself. Although it wasn’t exactly like the castles and palaces in storybooks, it was a real-for-sure mansion, big enough and grand enough that I could envision it as the home of a bevy of princesses, perhaps banished there by a villain who’d usurped their father. Someone who’d kept those princesses around so that he could produce with one of them a son to legitimize his hold on the kingdom. (I was somewhat older when I thought of that scenario.)

Originally it had been built as a home for one of America’s aristocratic families that scored wealth and social position by industrial production rather than land: that of cereal giant C.W. Post. His daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post, was born there. After C.W.’s death, M.M. Post became the wealthiest woman in America, a founder of General Foods and one of America’s leading socialites.

Eventually I realized the King’s Daughters Organization (as it’s now called) wasn’t comprised of fairy tale princesses, but something better: a Springfield charitable organization whose mission was helping elderly women by providing them a home and support, both physical and emotional. Circles were organized; some of the originals are still in existence: groups of women who met, sometimes for social reasons, but primarily to provide help and personal relationships with their own circle’s “ladies.” For many of those ladies, the circles became their extended family.

The KDO has faced more than a few hurdles in its history. They had financial help from the city of Springfield, and support from the Post family after they left the area. In 1895, the King’s Daughters Home opened its doors to the first residents. But in 1902 a fire almost destroyed the gracious mansion. The Post family was instrumental in the rebuilding process by lending its formidable financial resources.

Through all the changes over the years, the circles have maintained their personal relationships with their “ladies,” celebrating birthdays and holidays with them.

It was painful – for some beyond painful – when the KDO realized in 2006 that they couldn’t afford the Post home’s upkeep. Members helped find the residents new lodging, making the transition as smooth as possible, and continued those personal relationships. The mansion became a Benedictine University women’s residence hall, while the KDO “continues to honor our past and maintain our niche in the history of Springfield and … promote the well-being of the elderly in our community.”

Several years ago, the KDO began a “huge project” that would help increase their revenues to meet the organization’s needs: A cookbook – one that would be more than just a bunch of recipes. There would be tips on ingredients, substitutions and variations. It would also contain information not just on the Daughters Organization, but also on the history and interesting places of our own capital city. I was asked to contribute some recipes. Remembering those long-ago trips with Nana, I was happy to comply, but slightly dubious: too many “community/organization” cookbooks supposedly “homemade” recipes are primarily combinations of box mixes, canned soups and prepackaged stuff, the local exception being Springfield’s Junior League’s cookbook.

Fortunately, the King’s Daughters’ cookbook, Dining with the Daughters, is far removed from those out-of-date tomes. A few utilize canned this or that, but most call for real ingredients; there are many I’m tempted to try. The book is also filled with recipe tips, wine pairings and historical tidbits that should make this a welcome gift for both Springfield residents and visitors.

Dining with the Daughters costs $29.95 and can be purchased at The Wardrobe, Homescapes, The Corkscrew, Flora Scape, Pease’s, Chatham’s Apple Barn, Tinsley Dry Goods, Dana-Thomas House, New Salem and Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

I chose this recipe partly because of the name – Nona is Italian for Nana – but also because it’s delicious, combining Italian ingredients with a truly American retro topping: crushed potato chips. That topping was my favorite part of Mom’s tuna noodle casserole.

Nona’s chicken tetrazzini, corrected
Nona’s seasoning:
• 2 1/2 tsp. paprika
• 2 T. salt
• 2 T. garlic powder
• 1 T. black pepper
• 1 T. onion powder
• 1 T. cayenne pepper
• 1 T. dried oregano
• 1 T. dried thyme

For the chicken:
• 7 T. unsalted butter, divided
• 12 oz. bowtie pasta, or other sturdy pasta, such as rigatoni or penne
• 2 T. olive oil
• 1 1/2 c. chopped onions
• 1/2 c. chopped red bell peppers
• 1 tsp. minced garlic
• 1 1/2 tsp. Nona’s seasoning [I like a bit more]
• 1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
• 1 lb. button mushrooms, ends trimmed, sliced
• 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
• 1/4 c. dry white wine
• 2 c. chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
• 1 3/4 c. heavy cream
• 4 c. coarsely chopped or hand-shredded roasted chicken either from a store-bought rotisserie chicken or one roasted at home
• 1 T. freshly minced parsley leaves
• 1 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1/3 c. [or more] freshly grated Parmesan
• 5 1/2 oz. bag of potato chips, crushed

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Combine all the Nona’s seasoning ingredients. Store extra seasoning in a jar or place that keeps it away from light. Coat a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish with a tablespoon of butter.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente [cooked completely, but still firm]. Drain, place in a bowl, and toss with the olive oil. Set aside.

Sauté the onions and bell peppers in the remaining butter in a large skillet over high heat until they’re soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, Nona’s seasoning mixture, the thyme, and the mushrooms, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mushrooms have softened and released their liquid, about 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add the wine and chicken stock and cook, stirring, until smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Add the heavy cream and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to a bare simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is flavorful and coats a spoon, 15-20 minutes.

When the sauce has thickened, add the pasta, chicken, parsley, salt, black pepper and Parmesan to the skillet; combine thoroughly. Check the seasoning.

Transfer mixture to the prepared dish; top with the crushed potato chips. Bake, uncovered, until bubbling and golden brown; about 30-40 minutes. Serves 8 to 12.  

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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