ONE OF THE most labor-in- tensive dishes I ever made was chicken crêpes mornay from a Seventeen magazine recipe.
I was 16 and still picky, but I saw no danger in an ingredient list of chicken, mushrooms, scallions, parsley, flour, butter, cheese and cream. I was impressed that the sauce went through many French-sounding stages--from roux to bechamel to mornay. Very sophisticated.
And I liked that the recipe was complicated, requiring first a big batch of homemade crêpes, then a batch of filling and then that multi-step sauce before the crêpes were assembled and baked in a casserole.
As I remember it today, 29 years later, my mom financed the ingredients and offered her kitchen and guidance on the condition that I stick with it. No getting bored halfway through and wandering off to my room to read. And I'd have to clean up, too.
I was a slow and painstaking direction-follower, so though the recipe estimated total prep and cook time of about three hours, I figured it would take me four.
It took all day.
Along the way I succeeded, failed, rejoiced, panicked, and called on my mom for moral support and hard labor. Looking back I picture us standing in the kitchen, lightly dusted with flour and laughing like maniacs.
After about 10 hours' work, we had a lovely-looking pan of stuffed, sauced crêpes and a war-torn kitchen.
That night my grown-up sister and her new boyfriend (now her husband) came over for dinner, and the four of us ate and ate. I have no idea what else we served or really anything about the meal except that the crêpes were a big hit.
I know I made chicken crêpes mornay a few more times by request, on special occasions.
Then I went to college, and along about my junior year my mom moved into a new condo.
Somehow that recipe--two ragged and grease-stained pages from the magazine--disappeared.
REPLICATING A MEMORY
A couple of months ago, with the approach of an annual family gathering I host, my sister made a request.
Can we have chicken crêpes mornay?
Through the power of Google, I thought it might be possible. I didn't find the exact recipe, but I found something similar from an online cookbook of a women's organization.
It had the homemade crêpes I remembered; the chicken, mushroom and parsley filling; and a mornay sauce that started with a roux.
A few weeks before the party, I tried it out.
It was less labor-intensive than I'd remembered. For one thing, I broke the work into parts, making the crêpes one night, the filling and sauce the next, and assembling the casserole to be baked on the third day.
And for another, I used precooked, prepackaged chicken.
Here is a lesson from an earlier time: When I was 16, if you wanted cooked chicken, you bought a whole chicken, boiled it, cooled it, skinned and boned it, then chopped it. And while you were complaining about that, your mother pointed out that when
was 16, if you wanted a cooked chicken you first had to wring its neck and scald off its feathers.
Anyway, I made the Internet chicken crêpes mornay recipe, and my intrepid gentleman friend and I guinea-pigged the dish one weeknight.
It looked OK. It was certainly edible. It just didn't taste very good.
The crêpes themselves--delicate pancakes made from a batter of flour, eggs and milk--were fine. But the sauce was bland, and there was way too much of it. It made the crêpes soggy and overwhelmed the flavors of the filling.
With not much time to tinker, I made a few adjustments and hoped for the best as I prepared a double batch for the party.
First, I ditched the called-for Swiss and Parmesan cheeses in the mornay sauce and instead bought a good-quality Gruyere and some aged provolone.
Second, while I can't imagine that a recipe in a 1970s teen magazine could have called for wine, this sauce definitely needed some.
Third, my sister suggested that I "brighten" the sauce with a tiny amount of cayenne pepper. It sounded risky, but she promised it would work.
I also tinkered with the filling, using lots more parsley and scallion than the Internet version called for. And the chicken? No pre-cooked squares from a box. I baked several boneless, skinless chicken thighs in red wine and garlic, then chopped them.
The tinkered-with recipe didn't make quite as much as I'd hoped it would--two pans of seven crêpes each, instead of two pans of nine--so I bought an emergency backup ham as a second entree. And I made a load of side dishes.
That turned out to be a good thing, because my guests and I descended upon the crêpes with forks flashing. We wiped out both pans and made a good dent in everything else.
To be honest, this updated version of chicken crêpes mornay may be better than the one I made so long ago.
But it was sweet of my mom, sister and brother-in-law to tell me it was exactly as they'd remembered.
Laura Moyer: 540/374-5417