Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Cookie Baking + Caramel!

This post begins where the last one left off. I received some reinforcements from home in the form of a wonderful care package. This delivery also included a bag of Nestle's Toll House Semi-Sweet morsels, and a bag of Hershey's Chocolate Kisses in addition to my probe thermometer and baking sheet which were both crucial to the weekend's success. I took these supplies to Kalocsa for some good 'ol fashioned Christmas baking as is my family tradition. Though I should note that "baking" doesn't quite capture the reality of this family tradition. Pictures of chain-gangs, industrial speed, and true artistry all come to mind; in the best way possible. : )

Chapter 1: Ovens

Since the ovens here, all of them I've seen, I'm sure there's one or two professional model ovens in Hungary, all have a knob with arbitrary numbers to control the heat of the oven. This means nothing to me, and up to this last weekend I had not used an oven to bake anything, I've only used the broiler, because that's just about all these ovens are useful for until you can get a handle on the heat. So I put a paper clip on one of the racks and suspended my probe thermometer through that to take readings of the oven at different numbers. This gave me a ballpark idea of where the oven runs, but it was still wildly uncontrollable...

Chapter 2: Cookies

With the oven as tame and as reliable as a drugged circus bear it was time to bake, so we offered traditional chocolate chip cookies as a sacrifice to the oven gods. The dough was amazing! The baking was another story. It probably took 5 batches before we were happy with the results. We were constantly moving the orientation of the cookies on the sheet, adjusting the temperature, and doing rain dances in the living room, but to no avail some cookies were getting singed. Luckily we persevered as the flavor of the final product was not drastically affected, just the visual aesthetic. A side note: Saying "cookie" makes just about any Hungarian laugh because when they hear it they think "kuki" which is slang for penis.

Chapter 3: Breakthrough!

Between batches of cookie dough I conceived an idea: put the broiler pan in the oven to block the direct heat of the broiler. This was a promising idea as it would shield the cookies from some of the direct heat and instead bake more by the indirect heat of the oven walls and the broiler pan. This was a major help! This enabled Franny to successfully bake her walnut crescent cookies which were not only absolutely beautiful, but delicious and perfectly baked. I learned earlier this week that Hungarians refer to this as dios kifli.

Chapter 4: Kissey Time

Although the oven had been mastered for the walnut crescents that was not to last. Although we didn't experience the same problems as with the chocolate chip cookies the kiss cookies would be a little underdone at the proper time, or begin to scorch before the time was up. This was really frustrating after having believed that the oven had been tamed. Here's an important Hungarian lesson: just because something works for you once doesn't mean it'll work again... or something like that. :P

Chapter 5: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Between batches of cookies I put my thermometer to further use. I've attempted caramel twice since I've been in Hungary; and without a thermometer. It was hard times without a proper gauge or recent enough experience to estimate the temperature of the caramel. The first batch prematurely recrystallized and became a chunky horrible mess after I added the cream and butter, not good. The second batch was nice and smooth, but when I tried to make caramel apples with it I succeeded only in making toffee apples: I had gone too far. So this time was just right. I had my trusty helper to tell me exactly when the caramel was ready to pull and cool. I sliced the solid sheet of caramel into ~2 inch squares and wrapped them in baking paper.

Chapter 6: End Game

These attractively festive tins were purchased at Tesco *shakes fist* for a decent price. Franny made them look even better by expertly installing the baked goods and candy to their new homes! Everyone I've given these to has loved them. I gave Trixi, my host teacher, the biggest tin because she has been the biggest help and because she's wonderful. She gave cookies to fellow teachers and I had the experience of walking into the teacher's room between classes and have teachers kind of point at me while nodding at Trixi and then Trixi would tell me that they loved the cookies. I had many requests for recipes and baking advice, what a day! Too bad two of the cookies are nearly impossible without the imported chocolates.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Birthday/Christmas Delivery!

Now to preface this those of you who know me probably know that food is kind of important to me, and to those of you who don't really know me, you probably know the same thing. So I got a text today while I was at the bus stop in Sándorfalva leaving for Szeged. It was Trixi, and she was telling me that two packages had arrived for me at the high school. Then not two minutes later Sándor called me telling me that there was yet a third package. This all happened at once: I was so excited that I got off the bus early, but closer to the high school than my usual stop, to walk the rest of the distance instead of taking another bus to Csillag ter. When I got into the office what teachers that were still remaining from the day's lessons seemed to be waiting in anticipation for me to open the boxes. But I was hesitant because I was trying to figure out how to get two giant boxes in my arms and on the bus to my apartment on the other side of the city.

Luckily I now habitually carry plastic grocery bags with me where ever I go. So I opened the boxes and started to pretend like I had just gone to some magical store where Jiff peanut butter, the Nestle's Toll House chocolate chips, Tao of Tea loose leaf teas, udon noodles, Vietnamese cassia, Japanese Curry, Ghirardelli chocolates, and Oberto beef jerky, and real soy sauce were available. Or how about my silpat, probe thermometer, kosher salt (yes, you heard me, kosher salt), and "real" baking sheet. (Sorry Hungary, you just don't win when it comes to readily available baking supplies.)

So I loaded up all of my treasures when I realized that one giant bag would be really nice but I didn't have that, so I used the next best thing, the biggest of the boxes that was sent to me had been reinforced by the Hungarian Postal Service, there is "Posta" tape all around it where the box was beginning to fail, and filled it up with my grocery bags. So now I'm this awkward American in the middle of Szeged carrying a huge box of something, people really can't tell, but, is that a ....baking sheet sticking out of the top? Anyway, I made it home fine and was so excited I took this picture. I'm really excited to do some Christmas baking this weekend. Seriously, these packages couldn't have come at a better time! I'll be sure to post about my candy making. Stay tuned!
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Monday, December 8, 2008

Kömény Update!

I found kömény, that is real cumin, at a "middle eastern" market just two blocks towards the city center, on Kálvária Sgt., from my flat! I also bought some tahini, chickpeas, yellow lentils, and 100% Halal certified corned beef.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kömény Madness!

This is a picture of caraway fruit, yes they're fruit...

So I've had this problem trying to figure out the difference, in Hungary, between cumin and caraway. This is not a problem when specimens of either one of the two fruits are in front of me: the appearance, smell, and of course, taste are all unique to either fruit. Now this has eluded me ever since I was told some pálinka I was drinking in Transylvania was cumin flavored, it definitely was not! Why would a VERY intelligent Hungarian native speaker with a near native fluency of English make such a mistake and tell me I was drinking pálinka made from cumin? And how could this EVER be a confusion in the first place?

So what we have here is a good 'ol fashioned cultural and linguistic mystery. I turned to my dictionary, two of them actually, a matching set written by the same Hungarian language experts: one is Hungarian to English (Magyar-Angol), the other English to Hungarian (Angol-Magyar). So I started from the Hungarian side of the equation by looking up the presumed word for cumin: kömény. The dictionary tells me that this is the Hungarian word for caraway, yay! No more confusion! But that was a little TOO easy, and it didn't account for the entire misunderstanding in the first place. So I dug into my English to Hungarian dictionary and looked up cumin: kömény. What!? No help there, so I turned to caraway and saw the very same entry: kömény. So I have one dictionary telling me that two very different spices are the same, while the other is telling me that kömény only means caraway.

With this mystery only half solved, if anyone looks these words up the authorities are telling them that one Hungarian word is just as good as two English words when in reality that just isn't true and it misleads good people seeking knowledge, I had to go deeper...

So, I did a little digging on the internet and found a site for spices and found a little history on the matter. To begin: caraway is more native and has been adapted on a far wider culinary scale in Northern and Eastern European countries. The opposite is true for the part of Europe and Asia where the cumin fruit reigns supreme. Some languages also have equal and opposite names for the two spices that include naming the native fruit by a local name, then referring to the other fruit by a similar name, but with an exotic twist. For example, in Hungarian you now know that caraway is called kömény whereas the foreign cumin can go by the exotic misnomer of egyiptomi
kömény: makes a lot of sense, right?

This is a picture of cumin fruit, yes, they're fruit too!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Thanksgiving was a great meal and party. The day after was just a little different, a nice rest and a chance to savor some leftovers. When I lived in Rome I learned a really cool trick using leftover risotto called suppli: a breaded and fried ball of mozzarella stuffed risotto. The possibilities are as endless as combinations of risottos. I made a vegetarian mushroom dish. This is what the sequence looks like...

1) Form balls around mozzarella cheese.

2) Then it's time for an egg bath and a roll in breadcrumbs

3) Repeat and fry a few at a time in a heavy skillet using a good oil

4) Be sure to keep on eye on them and roll them when needed for even cooking

5)Cook until golden-brown and delicious! Buon Appetito!
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hirschboxerl and Bergkäse

Betwixt the Mozart kugel, the waldhonig, the Hirschboxerl and the Bergkäse I found many new favorites. Not to mention that I found most of these foods in one place, the public market. As I look out the bus window on my way to work every morning, which is a different bus and different destination for every day of the week, and as I travel through Europe one fantastic, heart-warming constant is the sight of the public markets, big and small. You win for public markets Europe!

This delightful discovery was made in Salzburg, Austria and is made locally. The charcuterie artisans use venison to make this very simple yet tasty salami.

The Bergkäse is a mountain cheese that is made in the mountains (duh!) in the immediate area of Salzburg. The wheels are massive, but thin which makes them manageable. Please note the cutting board for this cheese: a table with a large enough diameter for a single wheel of Bergkäse and a giant knife hinged to it to cut to the center of the wheel; genius! The cheese is aged 8 or 12 months with the latter being a little more dry tasting, and sharper. Delicious!

The pretzels are top notch and made fresh daily!

Austrian organic forest honey: probably one of the best souvenirs anyone can find!

The Mozartkugel, first called Mozartbonbon when created in 1890, are a Salzburg native chocolate created by Paul Fürst. Fürst's original achievement of the Mozartbonbon was the first perfectly round confection. The original recipe to this Paris fair gold medal winner (1905) remains a secret, but the subsequent name "Mozartkugeln" had no copyright and has since been used to launch a severely successful campaign of chocolate famedom. I had the good fortune of going directly to the industrial source of this wonderful confection: the Mirabell chocolate factory (A Kraft subsidiary) in Grödig which is just outside Mirabell (Salzburg). Though I wasn't able to tour the factory itself, I was able to go into a store in the factory that sells all of the chocolates, candies, cocoa powder, marzipan, stb. stb. at about a 1/3 of the retail price! It must be noted that the handmade counterparts to the industrial "knock-offs" can still be found in Salzburg in 4 stores that bear the name Fürst Confiserie. The original recipe handmade chocolates continue to win medals over the industrial counterparts today.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pálinka and Kerítésszaggató

It just occurred to me that I had not given any specific word on pálinka. Pálinka is an eau de vie, a distilled fruit brandy, usually twice distilled, and must be made within the borders of Hungary or specific areas of Transylvania or Austria. There are similar spirits, but they cannot be sold under the label of pálinka.

The most common, and popular varieties I've encountered range from fruits like peaches, plums, apricot, and cherry, but also include cumin and paprika. I've seen all varieties take on further variations by adding honey or other fruits such as raspberries.

This alcohol also has an infamous reputation. Going back to legalities according to law the pálinka must contain alcohol in a range anywhere from 37.5% to 86%. I recently found a reference for the most alcoholic pálinka: kerítésszaggató which when translated means "fence-ripper". Cool, huh?!

Körösfő and Kalotaszentkirály

More to come.... until then this blog is brought to you by the letters:


Gyergyoszentmiklós- October 24, 2008

More to come...

Székelyudvarhely/Odorheiu Secuiesc- October 24, 2008

More to come...

The Hungarian Holiday- October 23, 2008

More to come...

Zetelaka/Zetea- October 22, 2008

We arrived to Zetelaka to a fantastic event of Imre and Anikó in traditional costume handing us palinka as we got off of the bus. I didn't know it at the time, but they were about to become my favorite hosts of all of Transylvania! After "moving in" because we were staying here for two days we were served a wonderful meal of soup, csirke tejföl, fried potatoes, rice, and wine.

Segesvár/Sighisoara- October 22, 2008

On to Segesvár, the purported birthplace of Vlad Ţepeş , a.k.a. Dracula. He may have lived here for a few years but left when his family had to opportunity to make him a princeling in the south.

Marosvásárhely/Târgu Mureş- October 22, 2008

Marosvásárhely was once a great Hungarian city that was ruined by the Ceauşescu regime. The Communist Romanian government ordered the eviction of nearly all of the ethnic Hungarian residents and at the same time offered monetary incentives for ethnic Romanians to move to the city and take up newly formed jobs as part of the Romanian industry. The city itself is still a great center of Northern Transylvania, but the percentage of Hungarian residents is minimal.

Torockó/Rimetea- October 21-22, 2008

Back in the aqua mobile and on to the Transylvanian village of Torockó. Upon arrival we had a fantastic meal, beginning with pálinka of course, and consisting of a carrot and parsnip soup, meatballs, and mashed potatoes.

After dinner I walked through the village and as there was so little light pollution I was able to look at the stars! It was so nice to see stars again, and whats more, the milky way. After such a wonderful evening it was a pleasure to be able to turn in for the night.

Before breakfast the next morning I was up early and decided to walk around the village by myself. It was during this time that I snapped some of my favorite shots of the entire trip. Then I headed off to eat. For breakfast we had coffee, tea, csipke bogyó lekvár (a thick rose hip jam), bread, meats, cheese and my newest obsession: zakuszka! Zakuszka and csipke bogyó lekvár are traditional foods of the region and are served as hearty supplements to the winter diet that usually lacks any fruits or vegetables. The rose hips contain massive amounts of vitamin C, as does paprika, but the peppers aren't grown in the mountains and what paprika is here must be imported from the Carpathian basin and greater Hungary. Zakuska contains some paprika but is a special mixture of tomatoes, onions, and eggplant as well. This wonderful sauce is spread on bread in the mornings and couldn't be more delicious!

After breakfast the whole group went to the Torockó museum that captured village life as it was when Transylvania was still a part of Hungary and fame and riches of this village was brought not by tourism, but sweat and toil from the iron mines and forges. During the 14th century German immigrants moved to the area to mine and smith the ore found there. This continued until industrialization moved the jobs out of the village collapsing its industry and artistry.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bánffyhunyad/Huedin-October 21, 2008

I was thankful for this stop not only to break up the monotony of traveling and only stopping at gas stations through Hungary and Romania, but for its cultural substance and for the minister who gave us a great start to the trip by explaining the recent history of the area in a church that goes back to the strength of Hungarians in Erdély.

This traditional Hungarian Protestant church had two sets of carved hand carved and painted ceilings. The motifs are that of the traditional Székely culture and include pre-Christian symbols. The entire church was also bedecked in embroidery from the community. The traditional colors of this artform are black, white, red and blue. The only way embroidery survived as strongly as it did was that it was passed down from women to girls within the church community. A peice of embroidery was made for baptisims and especially for confirmations. The funeral wreath of Kossuth Lajos is also enshrined here, as his memorial took place in this church.

This was especially important during the time of the Ceauşescu regime during which ethnic Hungarians were not allowed to speak Hungarian in public and the church became the only safe place for their culture. In essence Ceauşescu attempted to erase one of the most historically entrenched cultures of the Transylvanian region from its future. As this is a very controversial subject I'll limit the remainder of my comments. Suffice to say this was a moving site, and a great introduction to the region.
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Sunday, November 9, 2008

This is a 1 kilo bag of paprika. Pure, unadulterated, Hungarian Red booger sugar, I mean ground pepper. This is serious stuff, and a daily essential for Hungarian dishes, yup, it's not just a garnish. This set me back 2,400 HUF, not too bad, especially considering that it's way better than 99% of the paprika exported to the States! It's fresh and that means a lot to volatile spices like paprika. Plus I bought it in Kalocsa from the farmer direct. I know exactly where it was grown, dried, and ground.
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Food Fight: A documentary

A quick word before I get on with blogging about my trips to Transylvania and Salzburg. If you see a movie with this title arrive in a theater near you, GO SEE IT! For many people who actually read this blog and know me will already know some, or a lot, of what this movie will tell you, but more people need to be aware of what the role of food plays in their lives. Please, go see this movie, because I won't be able to for a long time.

Here is a link to Michael Ruhlman's blog where I first read about it.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Harvest Festival

So to celebrate Halloween before the October vacation, Franny bought a pumpkin at the Mars tér market. Franny and I carved it and named him Csaba!
Then I carved him and made pumpkin soup and toasted pumpkin seeds. I also made a gnocchi dough, and had Franny spent a lot of time rolling and cutting it out. So I put both together and created pumpkin soup with gnochhi dumplings.

Oh the Pleasure of a Simple Soup...


So while I'm procrastinating finishing my blog entries for my vacation, from which I learned so much that it's hard to process in even a few sittings, I made some soup. This is a vegetarian soup made from celery root, and has a Hungarian pasta called Eperlevél that finishes it. Enjoy!
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Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Prelude...

So I went to Transylvania from October 21-October 26 turned around in Budapest and jumped a train to Salzburg, Austria and stayed until I went back to Budapest for Halloween, turned around to Kalocsa then finally back to Szeged tonight. It's been a lot of hours traveling, lots of new foods, and 3 countries. I'll be making a lot of posts, hopefully, about the separate cities and topics.

Friday, October 17, 2008

OK, T-Kabel

It took you three weeks but you finally hooked me up with the Internets. It's been fun dealing with you, but I hope I don't have to deal with you any more than paying the bill.

Oh, how happy I am to have Internet!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lecsó and Tarhonya

OK, one last food blog for tonight, I just couldn't wait any more to finally post some of these. A big thanks to everyone who reads through them. So Lecsó is a basic pantry item for any Hungarian kitchen. It is a stew made of tomatoes and paprika, two vegetables that are readily available in mass quantities by the end of the summer. It is not uncommon to see people buying burlap sacks of paprika at the market to make and can this at home. Lecsó can be added into lots of different dishes or to help beef up a sauce.

Tarhonya is a traditional Hungarian pasta that is then formed into pellets and dried. To cook it add onion to fat and saute. Then add the tarhonya to lightly brown, then add paprika, parsley, and water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Easy and delicious!

Jó étvágyat!
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Orcchiette alla Vodka


The Pasta-

This amazing pasta is made completely by hand. Franny came over and was key to making this work. It is also a double batch and I didn't measure anything so don't ask. I also made the pasta on the counter by putting down enough flour and salt and making a volcano. Into the crater I cracked 4 eggs and added some olive oil. Mixing this and folding the flour into the eggs, then kneading it and letting it sit to let the flour fully absorb the moisture.

The pasta is divided out into 8 equal portions. Each portion is then rolled out by hand into long snakes then cut into small pieces then pressed into the palm of my hand to make a coin shape that is thin in the center and thicker on the edges. This creates a chewy delicious pasta that holds onto sauce very well.

The Sauce-

This is started by slicing an entire bulb of garlic as thinly as possible, and then sweated in olive oil until the only thing you can smell is delicious garlic. Meanwhile scald tomatoes then separate the seeds and skins from the fruit. Add a good deal of vodka to the oil and cook down to a syrup. Add the, now crushed, tomatoes and add salt then simmer. Add to this a good deal of cream.

To finish this dish add fresh chopped parsley and grated cheese.

Buon Appetito!
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