It was my mother who officially started my career in food. One night in June 1984, a very excited Mamang presented an opportunity she insisted I should not pass up. A prime commercial space was available for a café, and she wanted me to grab that 27-sq m hole-in-the-wall.
Buoyed by my loving parents’ all-out support, this dutiful and obedient only daughter opened A La Diane Cake House and Coffee Shop at the National Book Store Arcade in Quezon City in October 1984. Almost straight out of college and with no previous job experience, I kept my plans simple. I buckled down to work and gave my own spin to my family’s favorites from the restaurants we patronized every weekend.
Given kitchen space constraints, my then two-page menu consisted of quick, easy-to-prepare and make-ahead comforting snacks and meals.
I offered beef pot roast, callos, lengua, chicken à la king, clubhouse sandwich, paninis, lasagna, sweet and savory crepes, hot fudge sundae. My all-day breakfast consisted of Kapampangan tocino, longganisa, tapa and a very thick tsokolate. My auntie Marietta, or Ima, infused Kapampangan flavors through our specials for the day.
My dessert showcase featured classics: chocolate truffles, carrot cake, chocolate icebox cake, black forest, tiramisu, pineapple upside down cake, mango crepe samurai, prune cake, homemade hot fudge and caramel sauce, brownie à la mode and crisp cornflake biscuits. My apple streusel pie with butterscotch sauce was my top seller.
Cook to ward off depression
Fast-forward to 2020 and COVID happened. After 36 years, and two relocations, A La Diane Casual Dining at 123 Sto. Domingo Avenue, Quezon City, closed during the lockdown and has not reopened. I also lost my beloved father six months after losing A La Diane.
On top of these devastating heartbreaks, my son hurriedly left home to pursue his master of business administration in Taipei. The university suddenly decided to open its doors to foreign students instead of waiting for COVID to ease up in the next term. My husband and I could not even accompany our son and help him settle in due to travel restrictions. I kept myself busy and productive in the kitchen to ward off depression.
It has been four months since my Papang’s passing and I still think about him every day. I miss our meals together. After his heart attack in 2016, I stopped serving him his favorite dishes like callos, lengua, salpicao and baby back ribs whenever he visited me at A La Diane. He ate mostly chicken, fish and soups. I also terribly miss the day-to-day rapport with my patrons. A lot of them have become like family.
Thanks to chef Reggie Aspiras’ encouragement, I am sharing my recipe for Chicken à la Ding in honor of my beloved Papang, Lolopop, Ding or Doming to his friends and colleagues.
This creamy and cheesy chicken à la king was one of the original items in my 1984 menu and my Papang’s favorite merienda. I served this basic recipe in bread cups, with fettuccine or as a crepe filling. For special occasions, I served it on patty shells or as a casserole dish topped with mashed potatoes. It is also delicious served hot and bubbly in ramekins with crackers and melba toast on the side.
Omit the milk, pound some garlic, sprinkle Mexican cheese and taco seasoning, throw in scallions and green chilies, then blanket in tortilla and you have mock quesadilla. The possibilities are endless!
Here is my simple but very versatile recipe. I have also added some delicious variations, all hearty, all comforting.
Eat all you want up there, dearest Papang and Mamang! No dietary restrictions anymore. Enjoy!
Chicken à la Ding in Bread Cups
Bread cups: Trim the sides of loaf bread slices. Flatten each slice with a rolling pin. Fit the bread slices into slightly greased muffin molds. Bake just a few minutes at 350°F until it holds its shape. Set aside and prepare the chicken filling
1 kg thigh or breast fillets, skinless
3 celery stalks
1 white onion, quartered
1 carrot, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp peppercorns
2 Tbsp rock salt
Put enough water in a pot to cover the chicken fillets. Add the celery stalks, white onion, carrots, rock salt and peppercorns. Boil the chicken then simmer. Skim the foam off the surface. Remove the chicken and strain the broth. Cool the chicken then dice into ½ inch cubes. Reserve the soup stock
¾ c butter
½ c white onions, chopped
½ c carrots, cubed
½ c green bell pepper, cubed
1 c sliced mushrooms
2 Tbsp flour
1 c fresh milk
1½ c reserved soup stock
¾ tsp fine salt, or to taste
Dash of white pepper
½ c green peas
Melt butter. Add the white onions. Cook a few minutes. Add carrots, mushrooms, and bell pepper. Add flour. Stir quickly. Add the chicken meat. Add fresh milk and soup stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over low fire until thick. Add the green peas.
Fill the bread cups and top generously with grated cheese. Brown in the oven or in the toaster. This recipe is even more delicious on puff pastry or patty shells. Dressier, too. Garnish with parsley. Makes 8-10 bread cups or shells.
Chicken Noodle Soup
The chicken filling and broth make a hearty base for clear chicken noodle soup. Just add more broth and cut pasta. For sopas, add more milk and some elbow macaroni. Add some celery, too.
Chicken à la Ding Crepes
Make the crepes by combining 1 c all purpose flour, 1 c water, ½ c fresh milk, 2 whole eggs, 2 Tbsp melted and cooled butter, and ¼ tsp salt. Cook over a crepe maker or any nonstick skillet pan. Makes 10-12 crepes depending on pan size and crepe thickness.
Make the white sauce. Heat ⅓ c butter. Add 1 chicken cube. Add ⅓ c flour. Add 1½ c water and 1½ c fresh milk. Cook until thick.
Fill the crepes with the cooked Chicken à la Ding. Lay them on a Pyrex dish. Top with white sauce, grated cheese and green peas. Bake until bubbly. Serve with crusty bread.
Using the basic Chicken à la Ding recipe, omit the milk, add minced garlic and sliced chorizo to the sauté.
Lay the chicken filling on a square Pyrex dish, top with mashed potatoes and grated cheese. Bake or broil until golden brown.—CONTRIBUTED
Now a work-from-home mom, the author keeps the memories of A La Diane and her beloved parents Ding and Laring alive with her comforting dishes, which her husband and three sons continue to enjoy.
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