Sunday, March 21, 2010

Potato Paprikás

Paprikás krumpli
(Potato Paprikash)

This is the food I grew up on. It's technically a form of gulyás (goulash), and usually made with chicken. This potato version is the 'poor man's paprikás' and my grandmother glares and asks me if I think we're low-class every time I mention it, but I was a vegetarian for years and years and, in truth, this version is better than the slightly greasy chicken one. Paprikás has been a Hungarian staple for generations, originally cooked in big pots over fires by herdsmen on the puszta (the Hungarian version of the prairie). The nokedli (like German spätzle) is a bit fussy, but you can buy pre-made spätzle or kluski (Polish egg noodles) at the store and serve it over those if you don't have the time (or apparatus) to make nokedli. This recipe makes enough to feed a family of four for about three days, so you might want to cut it down if you're not cooking for so many. It does keep well in the fridge, though. Serve with a dollop of sour cream to mix through for the light-colored creamy version (pictured above), or leave it out for the traditional bright red one.

Paprikás krumpli

1 large red onion
96 ounces of vegetable broth*
3 tablespoons butter or lard
4 heaping tablespoons of paprika**
1 tomato (de-stemmed)
5-6 potatoes (I usually use Yukon Gold)
2-12 hot peppers, depending on your taste***
1 heaping teaspoon of salt

* My mom usually uses chicken broth, even when leaving out the actual chicken. It's really good this way too.
** It's very important to use good paprika and not just some random plastic jar that's been in the back of the pantry for years. The best ones we've found that are not brought directly from Hungary by our relatives are the Pride of Szeged (their hot paprika is particularly good, and the tin is so cute I keep it and refill it from the stuff my family brings), which is in most decent grocery stores, and Tone's Spanish Paprika, which you can usually find at Costco. I usually use three tablespoons of sweet paprika and one of hot, but I've made it with all of one or the other as well. By the way, when I say 'heaping,' I mean 'about to topple off onto the floor.' Heaping!
*** You can use any kind of hot pepper, but I tend to steer towards longish red ones. Jalapeños give this a weird flavor. You should wash the peppers, but leave the stems on. One or two will inevitably burst during cooking, the rest are for the individual bowls of heat-craving dinner guests.

- In the bottom of a big, heavy stock pot (remember, you're using three quarts of broth), roast the onions in the butter/lard over medium-high heat until they're soft, stirring constantly.
- Take the pot off the heat and add one quart of broth. Mix in the paprika, and add the rest of the broth. Peel and cut up the potatoes, add with the whole tomato* and the small peppers.
- Bring the whole thing to a boil (this can take a while, I recommend putting the lid most of the way on) and add the salt. Cook uncovered on medium-low for about 55 minutes.
- Serve hot over nokedli, spätzle, or kluski. For spicy paprikás, pull the stem out of one of the peppers and squeeze the seeds and juice into your bowl.

When the paprikás (and our first round of stuffing ourselves on it) is finished, we usually turn off the heat, put on the lid, and let it sit on the stove overnight. It's even better the next day.

* The tomato flavors the stew, but isn't really meant to be eaten. I've actually decided to start cooking it in a cheesecloth bag or something similar, because often the skin comes off during cooking and I end up with weird, chewy tomato-skin pieces in among my onions. The only person I've ever seen actually consume it is my friend Laura, who swears it's tasty. Up to you.


These dumplings are made with a hex, which is a weird, hard-to-clean kitchen implement that you probably can't use for much else. Wells suggested putting the batter in a pastry bag (or corner-cut plastic bag) and snipping off bits as they fall out.

12 eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt

- Fill a big, heavy pot 3/4 of the way up with water and set on the stove to boil.
- Whisk the eggs lightly in a bit mixing bowl. Add the flour and salt and mix well. Add water, a little at a time, until the batter is about the consistency of sour cream.
- When the water is at a rolling boil, spoon a big dollop of batter into the hex and slide the cup back and forth until all the batter has fallen through the holes into the water. When the nokedli float to the surface (which takes about five seconds), move them to a strainer and rinse for a few seconds under cool water. Shake to drain and transfer to the serving bowl. Repeat until all the batter has been used up, making sure to keep the water at a boil. It's best to do this with two people, one taking care of the hex and the other doing the rinsing.
- Rinse the pot and scrape off the batter that collects on the edges, it's horrible to clean off once it hardens.

Friday, March 19, 2010

march flowers

In theory, I have a rule against buying flowers on occasions of less than red-lettered importance. This is due to the fact that, given free rein, I'll buy flowers every time I leave my apartment. Broke my rule today, and have decided to justify rationalize it by considering the fact that this is the first place I have ever lived where I don't walk outside to find at least a decent-sized planter. My last place had a whole yard full of violets and daffodils in the spring, and I miss that. Plus, my apartment now smells like hyacinths, and it can't get much better than that.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

For the Holiday: Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

I know I'm too late for anyone (in this time zone, anyway) to make this for St. Patrick's Day, but I'd seriously urge you to consider making this bread for year-round consumption, as it is ridiculously delicious! I didn't know until this morning when I was looking for recipes, but apparently the raisin-studded soda bread that most Americans eat is actually something called spotted dick. Spotted dick, of course, being one of those things that turns up in British novels in order to make junior high students giggle.

Regardless, real soda bread is a wheat bread filled with crunchy grains. A bit too crumbly for sandwich bread, but would pair well with soups. It's just as good a platform for sinful amounts of butter as the American version, too. Trust me. Plus, the sunflower seeds react with the soda during baking and turn green, so it can match your beer! I don't mean that. Green beer is gross. Have a nice pint of Guinness or Harp like a sane person.

Recipe is from Epicurious and was reprinted from this cookbook. The online version (and presumably the print one) has a very interesting introduction if you care to go read it. I've modified it a bit based on what I could and couldn't find at Whole Foods and the fact that the dough didn't hit the right consistency until I'd added quite a lot of extra flour, but feel free to go try the original if you prefer.

* 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour or graham flour, plus more for shaping*
* 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
* 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
* 1/3 cup oat bran
* 1/4 cup untoasted wheat germ
* 2 tablespoons flaxseed
* 1/3-1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
* 1 large egg
* About 1 3/4 cups buttermilk**

* Original calls for only 1 cup, but I ended up adding at least another 1/2 cup in order to get the dough to a workable dryness. You might want to start with one and add more as needed.
** I made my own, with about 1 3/4 tablespoons of white vinegar in 1 3/4 cups of regular milk.

Instructions (copied directly, with my notes added in italics)

Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 425°F. Coat a heavy baking sheet with vegetable cooking spray or line it with a silicone baking pan liner or aluminum foil (I'm in favor of the last one).

In a large bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the fat particles are very fine (This seemed incredibly weird to me, until I realized that the butter isn't supposed to absorb all the flour. Just mush it around with your fingers, pressing the flour into it, until you can run your fingers through the bowl and not find any lumps of butter). Stir in the baking soda, salt, sugar, wheat bran, oat bran, wheat germ, flaxseed, and sunflower seeds.

Beat the egg lightly with a fork in a 2-cup glass measure. Add enough buttermilk to come to the 2-cup line and stir with the fork to combine well. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dough gathers into a thick, wet-looking mass (Much wetter than you think bread dough should be, at least in my experience).

Sprinkle your work surface with whole wheat flour and scrape the dough onto it. Dust the dough with a bit more whole wheat flour (I tried these two steps. Then I dumped it back into the bowl and mixed in a lot more flour. Tried it again. Ended up going directly from bowl to baking sheet, in the end). Pat the dough into a circular shape about 7 inches across and 2 inches high and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet (If you haven't already done so. Dough will be kind of saggy and sticky and seem very wrong). Don't be concerned about evenness—the loaf should look rustic. Make a cross-shaped indentation on top of the loaf going right to the edges. I use a plastic bench scraper and press it into the dough very gently; don't actually cut the dough. During baking the indentation expands, giving the top of the loaf an attractive pattern.

Bake the bread for about 40 minutes (I took mine out at 33 minutes), until it is well browned and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should register 195° to 200°F. Cool the loaf on a wire cooling rack, and serve warm or at room temperature. Cut into quarters and slice each quarter with a sharp serrated knife. Delicious with butter.

The loaf keeps well at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for 2 to 3 days. The entire loaf or quarters of it can also be frozen when completely cool. Wrap in plastic wrap, place in heavy-duty resealable plastic bags, and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Thaw completely before unwrapping. If desired, refresh the bread in a preheated 300°F oven for 10 minutes.

Coming soon: more Wardrobe Therapy, plus paprikas and dessert recipes from the long-ago birthday party. Oh, and soft pretzels wrapped around stuff.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Birthday Food Part I: The Appetizers

My twenty-fourth birthday was this past Monday, and, true to form, I decided to cook a whole lot of food for every person I know in this city. Fitting fourteen people into my tiny apartment turned out not to be quite as tricky as I'd imagined, and we had a lovely time stuffing our faces. Unfortunately, being used to feeding ravenous boys, I forgot that girls aren't quite as good at packing away food, and I ended up with enough leftovers that Kelly, Wells, and I still haven't finished them.

Somehow the theme of the food at my birthday party ended up being red foods... for appetizers I made the beet hummus from my Christmas entry, the Gruyère gougères from this post, everyone's favorite red pepper dip (finally putting up the recipe!), and my family's beloved bacon-wrapped water chestnuts (these leftovers were gone by morning). Sadly, I was too busy getting everything on the table to take pictures, so the hummus one is from Christmas, the pepper dip is the last of a batch Kelly just made, and the water chestnuts are from google.

Beet Hummus

From Bon Appétite June 2006.

* 1 large (8-ounce) beet, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
* 1 cup drained canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas; from 15 1/2-ounce can)
* 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for chips
* 1/4 cup slivered almonds
* 5 garlic cloves, peeled
* 1 1/2 tablespoons (or more) red wine vinegar

Cook beet in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain; place in processor. Add garbanzo beans, 3/4 cup oil, almonds, and garlic. Blend until smooth. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and blend well. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional vinegar, if desired. Transfer dip to medium bowl. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Serve with pita chips, crackers, or fresh vegetables. It's as good with or without almonds. Can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, and I'll let you know how it freezes when I thaw out the rest of this batch.

Red Pepper Dip

No idea where this recipe came from originally, but my mother and I have made it often enough that I think it can just be classified under 'family recipe.'

* 2 jars roasted red peppers (about 5-6 big peppers)
* 1/2 cup walnuts
* 1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
* 2 heaping tablespoons Greek yogurt

Chuck everything in the food processor and chop it up until it looks edible. Refrigerate overnight for the best flavor, or eat immediately to satisfy your eternal craving.

Best on sourdough toast rounds, Wheat Thins, or pita chips. Lasts about five days in the fridge.

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts*

Another old recipe of my mother's, which she transmits to me over the phone every time I need it. Luckily this time Wells was kind enough to write it down. And, actually, make these. Picture from here.

* 2 large cans whole water chestnuts (about 24-36 water chestnuts)
* 1 package bacon (I like the Trader Joe's apple-smoked type)
* 1/4 cup brown sugar
* 1/3 cup soy sauce
* 4-5 tablespoons water
* wooden toothpicks

Drain the water chestnuts. Cut the bacon strips into thirds (halves if they're short pieces), wrap around the water chestnus and secure with toothpicks. Mix the brown sugar and soy sauce together, adding tablespoons of water until it forms a thin paste. Roll the water chestnuts in the mixture and place close together on a shallow glass baking dish (I use a Pyrex pie pan). Drizzle the remaining sauce over them. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes or until the bacon is crispy at the edges.

Put the pan in the sink to soak immediately or you will regret it when you go to clean! Let the water chestnuts cool on a plate for a few minutes and then serve.

*This post is tagged vegetarian for the first two things. I don't recommend trying this with fake bacon.

I won't include the recipe for the gougères because I just made them, it's long, and you can just go to the original post. I also served the puppy chow with the appetizers, but you'll have to wait for the desserts post for that one. Or buy a box of Chex.