Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cooking in my new kitchen - chicken paprika

I love my new kitchen. It's an efficient space, not too big but with adequate counters and storage. As we settle into our new home I am becoming more and more enamored with cooking in this space. I'm (finally) using my cookbooks again and taking advantage of the riches around me.

Tonight I pulled out the old, deep frying pan used by my grandmother who gave to my mother who gave it to me. It's the first time I've used this pan. I wanted to honor our Hungarian and Russian heritage, so I made chicken paprika.

I modified a recipe from The World's Finest Chicken by Sonia Slyer and Janice Metcalfe. It's a nice cookbook, with easy recipes using stuff you'd generally have on hand, making very tasty food. Being who I am (and really, any decent home cook does this) I tweaked the recipe.

  • Saute one large, chopped onion in olive oil. As I poured the oil in I couldn't help but wonder if my grandmother used anything other than schmaltz and Crisco.
  • As the onion softened I added two heaping tablespoons of smoked paprika. Next time I will use more. I roasted the spice well, until the pan was almost smoking, then I added one large, roughly chopped green pepper. 
  • As the pepper began to soften I added three seeded, chopped tomatoes, about a teaspoon of marjoram, a bunch of freshly ground black pepper, two crushed veg boullion cubes (per the recipe), eight skinless chicken thighs with bone still in and then dumped a cup of water over the mess.
  • It came to a boil, I lowered to a simmer, gave it a stir, covered and let it cook for about 30 minutes, until the chicken was meltingly tender. I let it cook for about 10 minutes uncovered so the sauce could thicken. 
It was very good, though next time I will add a third tablespoon of spicy paprika and perhaps another boullion cube. Or maybe I'll just use stock instead of water. I didn't bother with the recommended sour cream as I had none in the house. If I'd had plain yogurt that would have been a fine substitution. 

As I cooked and later, as we ate, I imagined my grandmother cooking something similar, her cheeks red from the steam, and I welcomed her into my new kitchen in this old house. I think she would have been pleased. I know I certainly was. 

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer

Friday, January 25, 2013

For your consideration: Jimmy's Jigger/Jazz

Since landing in Kansas City last week (wow, only last week!) Kevin and I have been eating out a lot. Way more than usual. To a point where it's been a bit hard to get into the rhythm of cooking at home. What? I need to chop? Those dishes won't be whisked away? For all of then obvious economic and health reasons we're trying to cut back, but it's taking some time.

Earlier this week we we went to Jimmy's Jigger/Jazz, a Louisiana style restaurant right here in our neighborhood. Jimmy's Jigger (a name to be careful with) is a Kansas City institution, a dive bar that was bought out by Jazz and expanded into a music venue. We sat in the bar and listened to the band from afar.

The food was good. I got crawfish etoufee which had a rich roux base and a bit too much black pepper (though that may just be my palate). The rice was well seasoned and there was an ample serving of crawfish, with good consistency. Kevin got garlic seafood on tilapia which was delicious. Neither of us had the courage to try to coon ass chicken. Really, that's what it's called.

What I really enjoyed, however was the graffiti. It's becoming clear KC is a city with a proud graffiti tradition and the Jimmy's Jigger side of Jazz upheld it nobly. Almost every surface had something. Howling love screeds, pithy wisdom, broken-hearted questions, more and more and more. We spent dinner enjoying our food, the music, each other and reading the walls. How could we not?

I'm likely to go back to Jimmy's Jigger/Jazz. Not principally for the food, though it was decent, but for the opportunity to hear good music in my own neighborhood, while I read the shortest possible stories scrawled in sharpie on vinyl.

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Eating my way to home

If you read my other blog then you already know I am relocating from Boston to Kansas City. It's a big move, one undertaken for all the right reasons but still scary. A move like this opens up all kinds of questions: Will I find friends? Will I find community? Will I find anything to eat?

The first two questions will take more time to answer themselves (though I am quite hopeful) but the third, well, Kansas City is clearly a food town and I'm eating a space out for myself. If you follow me on foursquare then you know this already. If you don't, then please be patient. I don't want to recount every meal I've had in the last few days; I hope to revive this blog to include more of my eating adventures but, for now I want to think about what it means to be home, and to eat in a new home.

When we decided to move to KC, one of my first questions was Is there good food there, beyond BBQ? What I really meant was Will I be able to find comfort? Food carries such emotional weight, such symbolic meaning and we so rarely think about it explicitly. My relationship with food is complex - all of our relationships with food are complex, carrying history of family, community, health and illness - and one I need to know I can maintain and nurture, no matter where I live. Food helps me define home.

I began to think about what constitutes a home beyond a building in a town. Friends. Community. Food. I had a fair bit of control over friends and community, my actions would create those, but I didn't know if KC had good dumplings or a teahouse or pho or...what? What else constituted comfort when I thought about food?

So I began a list. Cooking is comfort. Good meals shared are comfort. Specific foods are comfort, some bought and others made. Access to good ingredients without spending a fortune is comfort.

And I am comforted. I found a house with a good kitchen, one that welcomes cooking. It's a few blocks from two Vietnamese restaurants and an Asian fusion place that makes wonderful wonton soup (and a great bookstore across the street). In the last few days I've had superb hummus, mind-blowing bbq, great soup and more. And there are farmer's markets here, throughout the winter. The grocery stores are cheaper and stocked with most of the ingredients I know, plus quite a few new to me. All of this together helps me feel at home, with my familiar tools at hand and mouth but enough novelty to encourage adventure.

As I write this I'm sipping excellent green tea in a teahouse. My stomach is full. I am comforted. My intricate relationship with food, comfort and exploration, moderation and plenty, will be maintained.  I can consider where I will put spices in my new kitchen. Where the fruit will wait, inviting us to eat it. What I will first cook.

There are adventures to come, but my core needs - friends, community and food - are being met. From this base I can ignore the lines, step beyond my comfort zone, and explore this new world. I am coming to feel at home, by mouth, by hand, by foot and eye. Yes, there are other things that will help (a gym, a library card, friends....) but I have begun to make a space for myself and, apparently, that space is delicious.

Tell me - what makes you feel at home? How do you define comfort? And what would you seek out, if you were to move 1500 miles away?

(c) 2013 Laura S. Packer