Chicken Paprika (We Return)

We appear to be nearing the end of renovations on our house–and since I do not appear to be a blogger who soldiers on in the face of adversity, this also means the end of our hiatus. I’m looking forward to getting back. It’s been a long slog to get in a place where we finally feel at home again.

The house includes a new kitchen, one for which I’m exceptionally grateful because for about 10 weeks I had no kitchen at all and no appliances except the refrigerator. Have you ever considered how wonderful it is that the faucet in your kitchen rotates? Or that you can rinse a pot in it? If not, try washing your dishes in your bathroom sink for a couple of months. You will have a new appreciation for the luxury in which you live.

The renovation experience also revealed to me how dearly I love to cook. Rather than eat out, I tackled and defeated my nemesis, The Grill, and set up shop in the living room using my great-grandmother’s pie safe, pictured below.

Luckily, summer lends itself to salads, sandwiches, wraps, and many other items that don’t require a stove. I also concocted several nice cold soups and determined that indeed you must seed cucumbers before pureeing them.
But the best discovery of the summer was paprika chicken. This was Fred’s favorite. His aunt recommended this dish to us ages ago, but I was prompted to try it only recently because I was desperate for something I could put together on a countertop the size of a handkerchief. I never wrote down a recipe but this is a dish that doesn’t really need one. The zest of the paprika, the crisp chicken skin, the juiciness of thigh meat, and the smokiness of the grill all come together in a simple but unbeatable combination. 
You can make this dish in a 350 oven and finish under the broiler, but only the grill gives you a crispy exterior and a properly thick coating of the sauce.
Grilled Paprika Chicken
Four servings (one chicken thigh per person)
Grill directions are for a large kettle grill. Make a medium hot fire. I use a big pile of lump charcoal. Once flames have died down I cover the grill and open the vents, and wait until there are red embers. The whole thing usually takes about 30 minutes. My grill has a thermometer & the temperature needs to be about 450 for this to work well. 
For the chicken, salt four chicken thighs, bone in & skin on and set aside. Make a paste of paprika and oil. You can use smoked or regular paprika and whatever oil suits you. We have tried canola and olive with success. Use about a quarter cup of oil and three tablespoons paprika. Spread over the chicken breasts. Grill, covered, for 20 minutes or so, turning once.

Cole Slaw with Serrano Peppers

It’s been a year and a half since the Great Hot Pepper Avalanche at the community garden at St. John’s Presbyterian Church–and we’re still struggling in the aftermath.

Constitutionally incapable of letting food go to waste, I spent an afternoon gathering every stray pepper from the garden before the first frost. I ended up freezing five one-gallon bags of Serrano and jalapeno peppers. The date was October 10, 2010. (I believe in labeling.)
 
In the ensuing months, the peppers were flung into soups, tossed over the top of pasta, and folded into eggs. They were roasted and stirred into salsa. They were minced and spread over quesadillas. They were seared with steaks. Eventually, they were moved 384.93 miles from Durham, NC back to Atlanta.

As of today, we still have 2 gallons left.

Freezing, it turns out, is an excellent way to preserve Serrano and jalapeno peppers. A dreadful experiment with drying, and the recommendation of a friend, led to my discovery of this. Freezing preserves most of the flavor and is incredibly easy. I did nothing to the peppers–didn’t even wash them–before I placed them in the bag (labeling them, of course), and put them in the freezer.

When I need them, I usually set the whole peppers into whatever I’m sauteing to thaw a bit before I chop them up and add them to the dish. Sometimes, if guests are coming, I remember that I never washed them and rinse them beforehand.

One of the best experiments to come out of  the Great Pepper Avalanche is this cole slaw. Fred loves a finely chopped cole slaw, and we both love the kick from the peppers. If you have a food processor this dish is also remarkably easy to prepare. It’s an excellent side with a mild white fish or as an appetizer spread over crackers. 

I’m reluctant to give exact proportions for mayonnaise or salt. Let your taste be your guide. The more mayonnaise, the creamier the texture and the milder the slaw, since it seems to counteract the heat of the peppers. In the version below, I used about 3/4 to 1 cup of Hellmann’s Light (a concession to middle age).

Cole Slaw with Serrano Peppers

4 servings

1/2 large head cabbage
1 small onion
2 Serrano peppers, fresh or frozen
Mayonnaise to taste (can use reduced fat)
Salt to taste

Place a dry small iron or other sturdy metal skillet on high heat. Roast peppers on skillet until very lightly brown. Remove from heat. Let cool, then mince.

Mince cabbage and onion in food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to large bowl. Stir in mayonnaise in approximately 1/4 cup increments until slaw is to desired consistency and taste. Add salt to taste.

Cabbage and Carrots

A friend of mine used to decry what she called “inefficient frugality”–that office practice of inexplicable cost-cutting measures like monitoring Post-It note consumption or shaking the last tiny bit out of every toner cartridge. Fred and I practice a version of this called “erratic frugality.” We’ll spend $5 a pound for a locally raised, cage-free chicken without batting an eye but freeze up at the prospect of shelling out more than $3 on a bottle of shampoo.

Lately, though, our desire to escape from the Jerry Springer show that is our neighborhood has spurred our efforts to economize. These people aren’t kidding around–today, for instance, I discovered that the murder rate in our neighborhood is 7 times the national average.

Thank goodness we’ve put an offer on a house, in a neighborhood where the murder rate is only twice the national average. (Please don’t tell my landlord. It’s a short sale so she probably won’t lose us as tenants until 2015.)

To afford this we’ll need to scrape together about $10,000 extra dollars a year, and the first step will entail reducing our total monthly food bill (including eating out) from somewhere north of $1,200 a month to a more reasonable $900 or so. Plus, we both still need to lose weight.That should be easy because Atlanta was recently voted the 18th healthiest city in the country. I’m not sure how our neighborhood’s murder rate factors in there, but perhaps the joggers in Grant Park help balance that out.

So, to help our budget and improve our chances of survival, we are eating cabbage. There’s a reason the poor eat a lot of it. It’s high in fiber, vitamin C and calcium, and it tastes pretty darn good. And the smell may deter the murderers.

Joking aside, I love this dish. The herbes de Provence and carrots lend a sweetness to the cabbage, and it’s tender without being soggy and drab. It’s lovely as a side with chicken or pork.

Cabbage and Carrots

1 tbps. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise and sliced into thin strips, the strips cut in half1 clove garlic, minced
4 carrots, sliced lengthwise into thin strips, the strips cut into pieces about 3″ long
1/2 head cabbage, sliced lengthwise in strips about 1/4 inch wide, the strips cut in thirds
About 1/2 cup chicken broth, or enough to cover the bottom of a 10″ skillet
Generous tbsp. of herbes de Provence
Salt to taste

Heat olive oil in 10″ skillet on medium high heat. Saute onions in oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic carrots, and herbes de Provence, stir, and continue to saute for a few more minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Cover and cook until cabbage is sweet and tender, 15 – 20 minutes.

So much for being back

We’ve been back home in Atlanta going on six months now and I still can’t seem to find the time to write. I seem to have lost my voice for the moment. A nasty comment on my last post may have affected me more than I want to admit. In any case, my writing self has lain dormant for a while.

The good news: the cats. They couldn’t care less. They have catnip . . .

 … and food.

Never mind that their humans live in a part of the city hell bent on recreating past episodes of the Jerry Springer show for the entertainment of the neighbors. In the six months we’ve lived here, we’ve seen furniture thrown off the porch during a particularly dramatic spat, had to call the cops on a domestic dispute, dealt with teenagers who seem to have mistaken our front yard for their own personal football field, and headed to the back of the house when we heard gunshots.

And I love being here, in Atlanta, my home. I’m cooking again. I’m writing again. I will be back. Thanks for being patient.

Back

We’re back! Back in Atlanta, stuck in traffic, sweltering in the heat, wondering if our trash will ever get picked up, marveling at the number of mattresses that make their way onto the interstate. It’s wonderful to be home.

I tried to like Durham and North Carolina. I should have liked it a lot more since I went to college there and had a good experience. But my heart is in this messy, inefficient, traffic-filled, smog-coated, crowded city in the part of the world I love best, where I can drink wine outside with old friends on a warm evening, and find a Korean taqueria tucked into an industrial park and it not be the only Korean restaurant in town, and see the skyline while jogging around Grant Park (our new neighborhood), and sit on the deck at Six Feet Under and look over the cemetery, and have dozens of interesting neighborhoods to explore, and not be subject to the fashion whims of bald, graying professors laboring under the delusion that the ponytail they grew in 1972 still looks cool.

I’ll be posting on a regular basis again sometime in the coming weeks, once I get a bit more settled into my new job. Glad to be back!

Hummus: Sweet Potato and Pumpkin

My world underwent a quiet but dramatic change about a month ago. My dear friend Rocco, who is a fabulous cook, started it all when he pointed me to the beet hummus on the Simply Recipes site.

Up to that point, I’d never considered anything other than chickpeas and roasted red peppers as the basis for hummus. How foolish I was! If the unloved beet could be converted into a delicious hummus, then anything was possible.

Luckily, two purple sweet potatoes from the Durham Farmers’ Market rested on my counter top at that time, waiting for their moment of glory. Looking at them, I was certain I was about to blaze a trail through the hummus jungle, forging past black bean and red pepper and into a territory of new taste. I’d be the first person to make sweet potato hummus. I’d be famous. I’d never have to work again.

Following the general contours of the beet hummus recipe, I came up with a sweet potato hummus using the purple sweet potatoes, with just the right mix of spice with lots of lemon to brighten the flavor.

My success made me think that other vegetables in the same genre, such as winter squash, might also work. Having bought about a dozen cans of pumpkins (on sale!) over the holidays, I tackled pumpkin hummus next. Experiments led me to tone down the lemon, allowing the pumpkin to assert itself. The addition of tomatoes increased the acidity but provided a softer, earthier complement to the gentle pumpkin than more lemon would have and made for a more balanced flavor.

After my work was done, I googled “sweet potato hummus” and “pumpkin hummus” just to confirm that I was the first.

I won’t humiliate myself by linking to the results. So the blogosphere is not likely to be wowed by this post. But I like both these recipes. Unlike many of the other hummus variations I discovered, these don’t include chickpeas, which allows the flavor of the base ingredient to stand out. Maybe I’m not the first, but I’ll imagine I’m among the best.

Pumpkin hummus, foreground, and purple sweet potato hummus. (My limited photography skills kept me from getting a good close-up of the sweet potato hummus Let’s just say that the close-ups took the idea of “food porn” to a new and somewhat disgusting level.)

Sweet Potato Hummus

1 cup cooked sweet potato (about 1 medium)
1/4 cup olive oil (or more to taste)
1/4 cup tahini (or more to taste)
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 – 2 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. cardamom
2 tsp. cumin (or to taste)

Mix ingredients in food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with celery, carrots, bread, or crackers.

Pumpkin Hummus

1 can pumpkin
4 tbsp. tahini
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. cardamom
4 tbsp. crushed tomato (or more to taste)
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Mix ingredients in food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with celery, carrots, bread, or crackers.