My mother’s best friend, in our small Rocky Mountain village, became my treasured ally. She and her husband moved to East Glacier Park, when he retired as a screenplay writer. Talbot Jennings was so famous that a prominent New York City television station featured his movies, such as The King and I, for a whole week, before he died.
This illustrious couple traveled the world during the production of these films; thus, Betsy schooled me in her prodigious cosmopolitan ways. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting under her tutelage, as she prepared me for the lions at Trafalgar Square and exceeding more, prior to my moving to London. I believe she was even more excited than I, about my valiant relocation to Tokyo half a decade later.
The voluminous New York Times brought the vast outside world to Betsy every weekend. She was forever clipping articles to prepare me for my numerous sojourns.
With this same spirit, starting in 1982, she helped me to grow as a historical caterer. My creative mentor was always sending me gifts, which she ordered from the New York Times. Ingenious gadgets were among a wide array of superlative food items. Many of these imaginative tools still grace my kitchen today.
While I was doing my early work in Billings, Montana, I journeyed to my hometown each year, where I catered multiple theme dinners per visit. The eight-hour drive across the wide expanse of the Big Sky Country thrilled my tender soul. How I delighted in approaching the backdrop of my beloved mountains, as I gazed across those colossal open prairies.
Once there, I spent many hours drinking in wisdom at Betsy’s feet. During one of these relished trips, she offered this delectable cheese ball to me. I was enamored with it then and still am today. Then it was a frequent hors d’oeuvre at my gala catered events; today it is still my constant contribution to every holiday meal, at which I am a guest.
May you make this blessed appetizer a family tradition as well!
Curried Chicken/Cheese Ball Yields: 2 ½ cups. Total prep time: 1 hr/ active prep time: 30 minutes/ inactive prep time: 30 min. Note: you may make this a day ahead.
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup raw whole almonds, chopped in a food processor (May use slivered almonds and chop with a sharp knife.)
½ cup unsweetened coconut, finely grated (Available in bulk, at Winco and other stores.)
2 tbsp mayonnaise (Best Foods excels all other mayonnaise.)
2-3 tbsp Major Grey’s Mango Chutney (Choose 3 tbsp if you want a full-bodied sweetness.)
1 tbsp curry powder, or to taste
½ tsp salt (Real Salt is important; available in health section of local supermarket.)
1 chicken breast or 4 frozen tenderloins (Natural chicken is best; Trader Joe’s works well for quality and cost.)
1-9 oz box Original Wheat Thins
- If you are using frozen tenderloins, thaw in cool water. Cook chicken in salted boiling water. When center is just faintly pink, after inserting a knife, remove chicken from water and cool in refrigerator.
- Chop almonds in a food processor, by repeatedly pressing the pulse button. Pulse until nuts are in small chunks. Some finely ground almond “dust” will be present; you will use this as well. There will also be some big chunks; cut them, by hand, with a sharp knife. Set aside.
- Mix all the above ingredients except the chicken. Note: it works best to insert a regular teaspoon in the narrow jar of Major Grey’s Mango Chutney, when measuring it. Be sure to use well-rounded teaspoons, as each approximates a tablespoon, for which the recipe calls.
- Leave this cream cheese mixture out at room temperature, while waiting for the chicken to cool. When meat is cool, cut it into small pieces. Mix chicken into cream cheese gently, as not to shred it.
- Criss-cross two large pieces of plastic wrap. Place chicken ball in the center of wrap. Surround ball with this plastic covering. Refrigerate on a small plate.
- Soften ball at room temperature for two hours before serving, to facilitate the spreading.
- Surround with crackers on a decorative serving plate.
- This is a winner!