Thursday, December 6, 2012

On What Makes a Cook's Kitchen, and Moroccan Chicken

          I’ve been reading posts on a kitchen forum as we plan some changes in our little workhorse of a kitchen, and a recent thread posed the question, “What makes a cook’s kitchen?” There are gorgeous kitchen’s on the forum – rooms as large as the footprint of my whole house, with multiple refrigerators and freezers and cooktops and big, beautiful professional ranges – and oh, the marble countertops. It’s taken some reconciling with reality to figure out what changes will optimize workspace and function in our own space, on our own budget, and sometimes it’s easy to lose the big picture when gazing at those lovely rooms.

          But that question, and the ensuing thread, did something magical for me. It brought to mind the kitchen of the woman who taught me to cook, many, many years ago. Ditha was Lithuanian, and a professional chef who taught cooking. When I was a young teen, she hired me and two neighborhood girls from our small village to come to her home, and cook dinner for her and her husband each afternoon while they were at work. For two weeks, she trained us, and after that, we'd come in alone or in twos, usually barefoot, and let ourselves in through the back door. The recipes and ingredients would be laid out, and we'd cook the dinner, wash the dishes, set the table in the little breakfast room, and leave dinner warm in the oven or on the stove.

          Her kitchen was small by today's standards, but very functional, with "real" cooking tools everywhere. There were wire baskets of eggs, fruits and vegetables hanging from the ceiling, and the butter was always left out of the fridge. The sunny breakfast room had a special baking station, with a wooden top, Kitchenaid stand mixer, and sections of the countertop that lifted up to reveal flour and sugar bins beneath. My mother was a wonderful cook who made good use of ground beef and macaroni to feed our hungry family and the frequent visitors, but Ditha introduced me to ingredients I’d never seen before. I met my first boneless chicken breast at Ditha's house (and learned how to debone them myself), and used lovely ingredients like vanilla sugar from Germany. I sampled generously and know that she must have learned to adjust her quantities to account for that.

          I credit my love of cooking to Ditha, and when I stand in my own small kitchen and chop, or mix bread dough with my own stand mixer – white and industrial, like hers -  I'm so thankful for the gift she passed on to me. She had a stroke when I was a young mother, and I was able to see her one last time, show her my young children, and thank her. She couldn't speak, but a tear rolled down her cheek. As I think about her and her kitchen, and what she taught me, I realize how much of it is incorporated into the way we live and cook here. My two youngest – Littlest and the Musician - are my most avid cooks, and I love to watch them stir, chop and taste as they cook alongside me or alone. When I know a dish “needs” a little something, given a taste, these two are the ones who will suggest a spice or flavor I might add.

          I realized, in my reminiscences; what I’ve known all along. What makes a cook’s kitchen isn’t the custom-built cabinetry or the restaurant style range, but the tools, the food, and the people who make and share it. I get such great joy out of sharing Ditha’s gift with my children, and seeing them love real, good food. Would it make your heart sing to have boys come home from youth group and clamor for the beans and greens you’d cooked for your own late supper, and thought to save for your lunch? It did mine, and I gave them the leftovers, smiling. I like to think a little of Ditha and her kitchen lives on here.

          Earlier this week, we had the privilege of cooking dinner for a friend who barely survived a ruptured and undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy (thanking God for her life, and praying for her continued recovery). We chose Littlest’s favorite, Moroccan Chicken and Chickpeas. There are lots of spices, but they’re fun to add, especially when you have a helper, and it smells SO good while it cooks. We hope you like it too.

Trusting in Him,


Moroccan Chicken and Chickpeas
3-5 T Olive Oil
4 Chicken Breasts, boneless, cut into small pieces (I cut them into strips and each strip into two or three sections)
1 Large onion, chopped
4-5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 T Cumin (add more to taste – I usually add at least 1 t. more)
1 T Tumeric
1 t. Paprika
3/4 t. Cinnamon
¼ t. Black pepper
1/8-1/4 t. Cayenne Pepper
1/4 t. ginger
A dash each Allspice, Nutmeg and Ground Cloves
1 T Gluten free flour (your choice)
3-4 C. Chicken Stock (I love Kitchen Basics)
2 T. Honey
2 T Tomato Paste
2 Cans Chickpeas, drained and rinsed

          Heat oil in large saucepan or dutch oven. Add onions and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add spices and garlic, and cook for another few minutes, stirring constantly. Add chicken and stir well to coat with the onions and spices, and cook until the chicken is slightly browned and cooked through. Add the honey and 3 cups of chicken stock, stir, and simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and tomato paste, and cook for another 15 minutes, adding chicken stock if it’s too thick. Now, take the T of GF flour and put it in a small dish, and add a few Ts of chicken stock, and stir into a thin paste. Add this to the pot, stirring well, and cook another 5 minutes or so, until thickened slightly. You want a nice sauce for your rice, and can add stock if it’s too thick, or cook down a bit if it’s too thin.
          Add salt and pepper to taste (don’t be afraid to salt generously; I don’t normally like a lot of salt, but ½-1 t of salt really brings out the flavor of this dish). Serve over hot rice.

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