Bon Appetit, the magazine, had an article the other day about food's power to give you great memories, and how important it is to preserve them. Because it's really not about food. It's how families & friendships are forged in the kitchen, working together to create something delicious to eat. We all have to eat, right?
Women in the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia dealt with their present by writing down recipes from their pasts, on scraps of paper, in hopes that it would be for their children. The book looks amazing, and is called "In Memory's Kitchen".
And it makes you think about those simple things in life. How to preserve some of our past, for us, & our children to enjoy.
I grew up in a family who cooked. But it wasn't like it is today, someone's "hobby", but out of necessity. It makes you take for granted all the knowledge that came with making food every day.
And we all know, it's difficult to get "recipes" out of Grandparents. It is always "a little bit of this, and a little bit more of that" & "it's done when it feels right". There was always a lot of touching the food involved. How do you put that down on paper?
So we did a lot of "show me" instead. Palt is one of those delicacies that you just have to eat growing up to fully enjoy. Grate raw potatoes, add flour, salt, maybe some ox blood, wrap it around a ball of ground beef (meatball sized), make into balls, boil for about 40 minutes in salted water, eat with butter and lingonberry preserves. Today we call it Poor Man's Food, but I call it the best food in the world.
We all inherited the desire to cook. Here my sister is making ladyfingers. From scratch. For the tiramisu we were making later. I think we finished it around midnight, I was leaving to go back to the US the next day, but still got to eat some of it! See that braid in her hair? I just realized that I must have made it, because everytime I see her I always have to braid her hair. It's one of those childhood things. These days she sits more still than she did 20 years ago. Kind of.
This is called Sillbord in Swedish. Direct translation is "Herring table". After an entire evening of eating & drinking & talking & being silly until the wee hours, I walked into my Mom's kitchen and this is what I saw. "It's time to eat something salty before we go to bed, we'll feel better tomorrow". Hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, pickled herring, sour cream, hard tack, & of course, beer. Ice cold beer. Now that's how you end a great evening. My Mom knows.
Everytime I go back to Sweden, my Mom always asks "What do you want to eat when you get here?" And my answer is always the same. Her tarragon stew. She always huffs & puffs and complains, it's so boring, and don't I want something fancier? But it is always on the table when I get there. And it's so good. She makes it with pork loin, but my attempts at home are always made with chicken.
Last night when I made it, I tried to actually write down the recipe. Usually it's blandly called "my mush", trust your instinct and don't follow it to the letter if you don't like how I do things. That's why cooking is great, there are a hundred ways to make one single dish. Or maybe even a thousand.
The chicken is cut into chunks, today it was 1/2" squares. S&P the chicken, add 2 tbsp of butter to a hot pan, quickly brown the chicken (sometimes I add 1.5 tsp of tarragon to the chicken while it browns, i feel like it releases the flavors more than adding it later, or maybe I just love the smell of licorice). Don't let the chicken cook all the way through. Remove the chicken from the pan.
Chop the onions. Add 1 tbsp of butter to a pan, and saute the onions until translucent. If you'd like to reverse these steps you can do that; saute the onions first, then the chicken. Whatever works for you. I'm not really sure which way I do it sometimes. Do we want the onions to flavor the chicken or the chicken to flavor the onions, or maybe both? See? 1000 ways.
I love the smell of onions cooking in butter. Even if you don't like to eat onions you have to love that smell.
Add the chicken back into the pot along with about 1 tbsp of flour. Let the flour cook for about a minute. Add 1-1.5 cup of chicken stock and deglaze the pan. Let it putter until the chicken is cooked, add about 1/2 cup of cream (you can even omit the cream to make it "healthier", but I think that's kind of crazy.) S&P & add tarragon to taste.
Really, do you want to omit the cream? Didn't think so. Just try not to overcook the chicken, it's the trickiest part, to reduce it enough to make it thicker, while keeping the chicken moist inside. I'm not terribly precise, I just love the flavors of tarragon, cream, chicken all together, so it doesn't have to be perfect. Once in a blue moon it is close, and I have no idea what I did.
We eat it on a bed of brown rice, which means, start cooking the rice right before you start the chicken, and it will finish at the same time. Slick, huh?
White or a lighter red wine works really well.
Tarragon Chicken (for 2-3 people)
1 lb chicken breast cut into chunks 1/2-1" square. (about 2 breastesesesess)
1 cup of chopped onions (one large, or two medium onions, or close enough)
3 tbsp butter (2+1 tbsp)
1.5 tsp tarragon
1 tbsp flour
1-1.5 cups chicken stock
0.5 cups cream
S&P & tarragon to taste.
One day I hope this girl will look back on her childhood and feel the way I do about mine. Filled with memories of friends & family & a hot kitchen where everyone cooked together and had fun.