What is your favorite spice? For me, the award goes to this crimson beauty: smoked paprika. It’s interesting because growing up, paprika had only one purpose as far as I knew: topping the cream cheese-stuffed celery boats that my Grandmother used to make. I remember it not having all that much flavor, but it made that little crudité look fancier and definitely more colorful. I always thought paprika was one of those spices that you should have on hand–you never know when you’ll get a hankering for celery boats–but despite having it, I rarely used it. My attitude towards paprika changed when I discovered its smoky cousin.
Aside from desserts, one of the first things I remember cooking for other people is chili. I learned how to make my Mom’s “dump and stir” version–there wasn’t much to it. The recipe was exactly this: one pound of browned ground beef; one can Hunt’s “chili-ready” tomatoes; one can tomato sauce; and one can kidney beans. I made it often and people loved it–until one night I had friends over to my dorm room for dinner and I got busted by the RA. “No plug-in electrical skillets!” she scolded. Well, that was the end of my first dinner party era.