Editor’s note: Today we’re introducing a new monthly feature called “In My Kitchen,” where readers share their food memories, tips, tools and recipes.
Jackie Smith, 62, of Wichita
Occupation: Teaches cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma in Wichita
Kitchen philosophy: Smith is passionate about food, and she also finds comfort in cooking. It’s like “pulling on an old pair of jeans.” Practice, practice, practice is her mantra.
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In Jackie’s Kitchen …
Q. Why do you like to cook?:
A: I like the creativity – the challenge of creating something new or putting my own spin on a recipe.
Q: What’s the best food advice you were given?
A: Use the freshest, best ingredients you can afford. It really makes a difference.
Q: What’s your favorite kitchen tool?
A: Knives would be first and then my mandoline. Knives allow a cook to almost endlessly transform ingredients into various shapes and sizes. ... I love my hand-held mandoline because it is, essentially, an extension on knives in that it can easily slice vegetables paper thin. I still use my mother’s knives and sometimes even travel with them.
Q: Favorite cookbook?
A: My first cookbook was the 1970s edition of Better Homes & Gardens, a gift from my mother. Since I started out as a Midwestern cook, the recipes I found in BHG met my needs – biscuits, pancakes, pies, bread, cookies, roasts and canning – the things I found to be comfort foods. Years later, after becoming a more accomplished cook, my father gave me “The Joy of Cooking.” This was an eye-opener; it had an emphasis on fresh (versus frozen, dried, canned) ingredients. Although I now have hundreds of cookbooks, I still pull out these two classics on a regular basis.
Q: What’s your favorite food?
A: It has to be fried green tomatoes (see recipe). I’ve been eating fried green tomatoes since I was a little girl. My mother grew up eating them, too, so they are a family tradition. We all loved vine-ripened red tomatoes, but by the end of season it was all about the green tomatoes, the last of the harvest. Coming from German heritage, we loved tart and tangy foods. The crispness of the exterior, the juicy, tart and tangy tomato and the touch of salt and pepper made this side dish a piece of heaven. I’m salivating just thinking about them.
Q: Everyone who likes to travel, eat and entertain usually has a favorite food memory. What’s yours?
A: My first OMG experience was at Spiaggia Restaurant in Chicago. The setting, presentation, service and the uniqueness of the food was amazing. But my memories began in the small town in Iowa (where) I’m from when we had our first ethnic food – tacos made from an El Paso mix. It was so different. You just had to share it with family and friends.
Q: What’s the strangest food you’ve eaten or prepared?
A: Cucumber noodles. I thought the noodles were made out of cucumbers, but they ended up being “spiralized” cukes. The hardest thing I ever prepared was “Oeufs en gelée” (eggs suspended in aspic). The recipe called for gelatin made out of calves’ foot. I couldn’t find one so I substituted Knox for it. Came out great.
Q: Last question. You’re stranded on a deserted island, but one special food item is left for you every day. What would that be?
A: Butter. Preferably salted butter. I couldn’t live without it.
Beth’s tip of the week
Kale is, according to WebMD, the “queen of greens.” A super-food rich in vitamins and minerals, it has only 33 calories per chopped cup and 134 percent of vitamin C. Extremely rich in vitamin K and essential for blood clotting, it is an excellent source of antioxidants, phytonutrients and tastes great in salads and soups. Thanks to the thriving global market, kale is available year-round