Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Duck Tales: The Horror...The Tasty Horror!

I entertained both Briggi and Franny in Szeged last weekend. We cooked and ate wonderful dinners, had lots of farmer's market and flower shopping time, explored the city, and took a trip to the Pick Szeged Factory museum.

Friday night we had Japanese curry with roasted eggplant, rice, and pickles. Saturday afternoon after a long stroll in the market I decided to share my duck confit with Briggi so I dug it out of the fat and roasted it in the oven.

I served it on top of spinach salads simply dressed with lemon juice, a little salt, red onions, and some of the Mangalica fat that cooked off of the duck. The smell, texture, and flavor of the duck was amazing! It was so fragrant, tender, succulent, and earthy. The skin alone was some transcendent form of bacon. The Mangalica lard was a perfect choice for cooking the duck in. We paired the lunch with a fantastic Egri Cuvée (a gift from Briggi) that was dry and fruity. It complimented the duck and salads perfectly.

We all had salads of spinach, freshly pickled radishes, beets and red onions. It was a celebration of spring! A funny sidenote about the red onion: I wanted two medium onions and the guy at the stall gave them to me for free! I left 50 HUF behind anyway.

That night we had a ratatouille of radish greens, tomatoes, zucchini, and mushrooms. That was served along side a fresh orchiette pasta with butter sauce and basil. We all enjoyed making the orchiette by hand. It was a perfect dinner after walking all around Szeged that whole day. Briggi, thank you again for visiting I hope you had a great time!

Comfort Food: Lasagna

When I had to make a special dinner last night what came to mind? Lasagna...hmmm, fresh pasta lasagna...hmmm, a tri-color fresh pasta lasagna, that’s it!

I have a basil plant and it has a name: Rupert Basilbear. (You can blame Franny for the last name, and yes, I feel like a dork.) Anyway, I harvested some fresh basil and added it to a very large portion of some market spinach, which I bought a 1/2 kilo of on Saturday and am scrambling to eat. After blanching the spinach in salted water I added it to the basil, garlic, salt, and some olive oil and blended it until I had a spinach pesto. Green? Done.

For the color white I chose to count the fresh pasta which was a 1/3 all-purpose flour (finomliszt for those of you who are keeping track of the Hungarian) and 2/3 durum mixture. Included with this layer is the cheese mixture, for which I caramelized one large onion with crushed red pepper and after chilling it to room temperature I added 250g of ricotta, and 200 grams of finely chopped mozzarella and mixed it thoroughly. White layer? Check!

Last up: red team. Now I almost went with tomatoes for this one, but there aren’t any in season of course. I could have chosen some canned sauce, but resolved to wait until summer (when I will down a kilo of fresh tomatoes a day) to draft tomatoes onto this team. I decided to try something new, but stay within cold weather traditions. I started with a base of cream and butter for the sauce and added fresh paprika until I had a bright red cream sauce ready to complete the tri-color. As expected it tasted like roasted peppers....delicious!

To assemble: I started with paprika cream sauce, laid down pasta sheets, put some caramelized onion cheese mixture on top of that, and finished the pattern with spinach pesto. I built up a five layer lasagna and put it into a 175 C oven for about 40 minutes and cooked it to perfection. All of the flavors worked together really well. The salty caramelized cheese mixture was balanced by the roasted pepper sauce, which was put in check by the fresh green taste of the spinach pesto, and to hold it all together the pasta sheets were chewy and delicious.

I was really happy about this dish for a couple of reasons: 1) the prep work (pesto making, onion cooking, cheese mixing, sauce making, and pasta kneading) took an hour and a half, which was good quality me time, 2) I had Franny to help roll out the pasta sheets by hand (the pasta machine is in Kalocsa) and help with the assembly, and 3) olive oil being the only exception, all the ingredients came from the market or are local. The eggs, garlic, spinach, and even the paprika came from farmer’s markets while the cream, butter, flour, salt, and basil all came from Hungary. Buon Appetito!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Comfort Food: Confit de Canard part deux

We'll be right back but first, a word from our sponsor:

So the Pick brand Mangalica lard that sells for 998 HUF/Kg at Spar, but I bought it from the market stall in Mars tér from the Pick Szeged stand and got it at 780 HUF/Kg. Not only is it cheap but couldn't be whiter or firmer. What a deal! Now back to your regularly scheduled program...

This is the duck after cooking in a 75°C oven for ~4 hours.

I've made the pork confit recipe from Charcuterie and that was excellent, so I'm hoping that this is just as good if not better. I'm also getting ahead of myself, but I've already begun thinking about Mangalica pork belly confit with a paprika cure!

The duck in hibernation.

The duck was covered, but a little too thinly on top due to an uneven surface in the refrigerator, so I had to redistribute a little bit of fat, but otherwise this worked out great. I'm hoping that I can hold out from eating it for at least a week while it ripens...we'll see. More to come!

Comfort Food: Confit de Canard part 1

Every so often I'm reminded of the irony of moving to Hungary after having just bought my copy of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's Charcuterie and having to leave it behind because of the weight restrictions on baggage. Secretly I was hoping that spending hours scanning the pages with my eyes would have actually scanned them into my brain, but the files are corrupted and I only remember garbled bits and pieces. But I'm not going to allow that to slow down my research in charcuterie, at least not too much.

Thanks to some recent posts by Michael, and his updated recipe which I'm tweaking a bit, I have finally bought a duck leg, kacsa comb (kocha-stomb), and intend to make duck confit. So here's what the procedure is going to look like: I'm going to cover it in a cure of salt and spices such as cloves, garlic, bay leaf, and pepper and put it in the refrigerator for a day or two. After that time I will rinse it off, dry it, and submerge it entirely in fat and cook it for several hours afterwards allowing it to cool off before putting it in the fridge to cure. It's really simple, really.

I think the chosen fat will be Mangalica lard for two simple reasons 1) I want to experiment with it, and 2) I don't have the money for duck fat. As odd as it sounds the extremely luxurious Mangalica lard only costs me a couple of bucks which makes it more affordable than even olive oil, that's just good for me, and the duck. From what I've heard about Mangalica lard is that if it comes from the highest quality pig it will be neutral enough to cook the duck in. I'll find out in a couple of days. Until then I leave you with this picture of the the curing duck's leg. Don't worry though, I'll move it to the refrigerator.

Hús: 101

I began writing this as a post on duck confit, but looking back at the title now that I've written most of the following post I realized that I had to finish this post first. I'll retitle it of course.

I finally ventured to expand my Hungarian vocabulary by learning butchery terms. I thought I had adequate knowledge before arriving in Hungary to be able to point at a piece of meat and guess what kind of cut it is and what part of the animal it is from. The only problem is, and I knew this coming here, that although some cuts may be cross-cultural, many are not; so the cut may look familiar, but don't really know what it is. Even if it is labeled, though most of what I've seen is very poorly labeled, some words are easily translatable because it refers to a body part like leg, thigh, neck, or liver. The real problem begins when knew terms are used that either refer to a style, city, or simply is a word I haven't learned yet.

Below are some terms I've been working on. Thanks to www.chew.hu I've been able to easily look up terms, but the organization is lackluster and doesn't aid direct referece for a specifc animal. I must stress that this is all a work in progress and most likely has many errors and misunderstandings on my part. With that in mind, and taking this all with a grain of salt (I couldn't resist), I give you hús (meat)!

First the easy stuff: marha means beef, sertés means pork, baromfi means poultry which can refer to many different birds but the most common are- kacsa which means duck, csirke which means chicken, and pulyka which means turkey. Bárány refers to lamb, while juh refers to mutton.

OK, now that we know some animals the cuts are the next stop on the express train of Hungarian culinary knowledge: the Paprika Express. Some cuts refer to the same part of many different animals, one such example is mel which means breast. Still others only refer to only one animal. For example csülök refers to the leg cut of pig and translates to knuckle, whereas lábszár means the same thing but refers to beef.

Speaking of the cow: Beef
  • Bélszín-tenderloin
  • Szűzérmek-tenderloin medallions
  • Lapocka-blade or shoulder, good for gulyás
  • Fehérpecsenye-eye of round
  • Hátszín-round or rump
  • Nyak-neck
  • Rostélyos/magas hátszín-ribeye
  • Belsőségek/zúza-offal/innards/variety meats
  • Fartő-rump
  • Borda-ribs
  • Csontvelő-bone marrow, called velős csont if it's still in the bone
  • Felsál-tip/rump
  • Lapos hátszín-short loin or strip loin
  • Szegy-brisket/breast
The All-Holy Pig:
  • Csülök-knuckle
  • Lapocka-blade or shoulder, good for gulyás
  • Sonka-ham
  • Tarja-neck
  • Belsőségek/zúza-offal/innards/variety meats
  • Fartő-rump
  • Borda-ribs
  • Comb-leg
  • Frikandó-leg round
  • Oldalas-rack of ribs
  • Pecsenye-schnitzel, generically any thin slice of meat for breading and frying
  • Szűzérmek-tenderloin medallions
  • Fartő-rump
  • Mel-breast
  • Comb-leg/thigh
  • Bontott csirke-gutted chicken for roasting
  • Belsőségek/zúza-offal/innards/variety meats
  • Gerinc-literally spine this connotes the tender cuts of lamb
  • Szegy-brisket/breast
  • Belsőségek/zúza-offal/innards/variety meats
Who Knows?
  • Gyíkhús-lizard meat: this is unidentifiable and low grade meat, yum!
  • Belsőségek/zúza-offal/innards/variety meats
  • Máj-liver
  • Velőrózsa/velő-brains

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Comfort Food: Caramel!

One of the points of culinary culture shock has been the complete absence of corn syrup. While not an ingredient I enjoy at all because of where it comes from and what it represents, it is an important tool in the candy making arsenal, certainly for caramel. Out of necessity I’ve created my own technique for ensuring a caramel that does not become grainy without the insurance of corn syrup. I’ve also developed some different recipes in the process.

Beautiful AND delicious!
This process started last fall, October to be exact, when I wanted to make caramel apples. I’d made caramel many times before, while in Portland, but I had resources there that I don’t have in Hungary: a cast iron skillet to use as a heat diffuser, a thermometer, and corn syrup. The attempt failed horribly not only had the sugar, butter, and cream combination become grainy as it set up on the apples, but it hadn’t reached the proper temperature either and it simply sloughed off the apples. A couple of days later I tried again getting the temperature more or less right, again just using my eyes, nose, and intuition, but it still came out grainy, and harder than I liked, I called them toffee apples.

Caramel with Murray River salt from Australia.
I didn’t try again until December when I wanted to make caramels for my colleagues and my Christmas hosts. But this time I had my Polder probe thermometer at my side as it had been sent in a package in December! The caramel turned out perfectly and I thought I had my recipe figured out. I had thought that I could make caramel at any time now that I had mastered the art of caramel making in Hungary. That was until yesterday…the problem resurfaced when I tried to make caramel for Franny to take to her family in Germany: it became grainy and disgusting, what’s more is that I had topped it with some Hawaiian black salt, what a loss!

Caramel with Hiwa Kai-Hawaii Black salt.
Determined not to lose this battle I added more water to my recipe and decided to create a syrup first. Then transferring the syrup to a clean pan was the only way to ensure an absolute lack of seed crystals waiting on the sides of my cooking vessel waiting to ruin my caramel. I then finished caramelizing the sugar inside the new pan insuring that any stray crystals were dissolved before adding the cream, butter, and salt mixture. This has worked as I’ve now made two beautiful batches of caramel, one batch of regular and a harder chocolate caramel.

Josef's variation: chocolate with Fleur de Sel!
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Comfort Food: Brussels Sprouts

I made this dish on February 24th and meant to blog it long ago but forgot.

The inspiration for this dish comes from Franny's mom who made something very similar. Shopping at the farmer's markets in Kalocsa and Szeged I saw brussels sprouts in both cities. It was time to grab some and experiment.

This dish is easy. I washed and sliced the sprouts in half and cut the carrots on the bias. Heat up a pan with some oil then saute the vegetables adding salt and butter until the sprouts are browned. Then add pepper, honey, orange juice, and Parmesan cheese. Cook, pushing the vegetables aside, until the liquid becomes a syrup. Serve with more cheese.

Comfort Food: Mayonnaise!

For many who follow my blog you get it, I like food. So here is a useful culinary tool that has a million uses, you probably have one in your refrigerator right now: the egg. I try to get mine at the Mars tér farmer's market so that they are fresh. One other trait I love about the eggs I've gotten in Hungary is the color: a yellow so deep it's orange.

With an egg at the ready many sauces are at your fingertips, not the least being mayonnaise. One lonely egg yolk, a few drops of water, a pinch of salt, and a touch of lemon juice are the beginning of the emulsion process. Once they are all worked together it will look like this:

Once this has happened adding one drop of oil, sunflower of course, at a time while whisking will start the emulsion. By slowly adding the entire quantity, about a cup per egg yolk, mayonnaise will form before your eyes.

Of course once you have mayonnaise it can be used as a base for other sauces or dressings, or be paired with some leftover meat like chicken or fish. My target was a can of tuna fish sent to me from home. Tuna fish sandwiches are a childhood favorite of mine, but oddly enough this was contradictory of the fact that I hated mayonnaise as a kid. In fact I still do, because I don't have a taste for most mayonnaise on the market, but now that I make my own I don't worry about that anymore.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Chestnut Puree with Coconut Whipped Cream

A personal dessert favorite ever since introduction by my host teacher Trixi. Chestnut puree topped with whipped cream is the Hungarian equivalent of America's store-bought pumpkin pie: someone does all of the work for you all you have to do is cut it and top it with massive amounts of whipped cream. Cutting it really means grating it though, and one may whip their own cream. I mixed whipping cream and my homemade coconut cream to create coconut whipped cream to top the grated gesztenyepüré and be dusted with cocoa powder. Nagyon finom!

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Comfort Food: Sauerkraut Soup

This post is dedicated to my family who love to eat strange, but delicious, foods.

This is an aftershock of Eta's lángos party and another sign of how I'm learning Hungarian food. The second dinner she served that night was a nice sauerkraut soup with sausage and frankfurter slices. It was time to make my own version. So I set of to the Mars tér farmer's market with Franny and bought a half kilo of sauerkraut from one of the wonderful vendors, of which there are at least three, who pickle things. I say things because their products can range from whole cabbages to slices of watermelon!

I couldn't pass up the pickling onions or the sauerkraut-stuffed pickles. In my wildest dreams I could not have come up with this, but here it is.

Yup, sauerkraut-stuffed pickles!

My family, as weird as we are, love two things: pickled foods and spicy foods. Growing up we would usually consume an entire jar of homemade pickles when we went to Grandma's house, and we'd probably have a sauerkraut roast for dinner too. Of course we would have other dishes that prepared me for a life in Hungary such as cabbage and potato soup, so sauerkraut soup is not a stretch where I come from.

Instead of posting an even longer description of the process I'll simply post my recipe:

Sauerkraut Soup


2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 small parsnips, peeled and chopped with greens reserved
2 medium carrots peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons paprika
Vegetable stock
½ roasted red pepper, diced
½ kilo sauerkraut, slightly rinsed
1 teaspoon caraway
Sour cream


Heat oil over medium flame and add onion, parsnips, greens, carrots and salt to sweat. When the vegetables are soft add paprika and mix well. Add vegetable stock, roasted red pepper, sauerkraut, and caraway. Simmer for 40 minutes and serve hot with sour cream and rye bread.

Jó étvágyat!
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Exotic Foods: Coconut, Coconut Milk, and Coconut Cream

Since I've been in Hungary I've really tried to purchase foods in season and locally. I stopped buying any tomatoes once the cheap, end-of-season ones were gone, but have continued buying, on occasion peppers, because I'm pretty sure they are grown in greenhouses around Szeged. On February 14th in Kalocsa I was shopping at the farmer's market and spotted something that does not belong to any country even remotely close to Europe: a coconut. I thought long and hard about buying one, I think they are in season, but they don't belong to the country's cuisine, but I was wanting to experiment with one, so in the end I gave in and bought one. I didn't do anything with it until March 5th, 19 days later.

I kept checking up on the coconut, making sure that it was still sealed and OK. While waiting for my landlady to arrive to collect rent I thought about the neglected coconut and decided it was time to do something with it. I had no tools to work on it, but used my mini Leatherman to open up the eye holes and drain the coconut water, there was very little, which makes sense for how long it had been sitting in the fridge. I then cracked it open, almost perfectly in half by hitting it on my porch stairs.

The first thing I noticed was how thick the meat was. This goes along with how little water I got from the coconut: the water builds up into the meat, the more water, the less meat. Harvesting the meat and peeling off the skin I was left staring at a plate full of coconut chunks. After eating a couple pieces I was still left with a decision. I could have grated and toasted the coconut, or turned it into milk and cream. Either way it needed to be grated, so I further contemplated my choices while doing so.

I finally decided to make milk citing the fact that doing anything in a Hungarian oven is more tricky than it should be so I put all of the grated coconut into my beaker and added boiling water to steep it.

Then using the immersion blender I pureed it and let it steep for a moment longer.

Having finished that I simply strained the meat from the liquid and put the liquid back into the beaker, putting that into the refrigerator to separate the cream from the milk.

I used the coconut milk when making chai, a delicious variation of it anyway. Sorry I didn't get a picture of that.

I did add the coconut cream to whipping cream and made whipped cream to add to desserts. It was delicious!

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Comfort Food: Fettuccine Alfredo

This is the first in what I hope will become a food series of comfort foods. Hungarian food really lends itself to being comfort food, but my first post will be Italian.

Fettuccine Alfredo, as it's known to the international community, has a contentious history and cannot be found in an honest restaurant in Rome under the name Alfredo. What most people can agree on is that the dishes broader Italian name and roots is fettuccine al burro e panna ( fettuccine with butter and cream). Of course variations involving the amount of butter, the inclusion of cream at all, and various cheeses are as numerous as there are people who eat pasta. My version, however, is a more or less, middle-of-the-road dish that does not claim any truth to its heritage, only my taste. Buon Appetito!
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Monday, March 2, 2009


Train from Szeged to Budapest and bus from Budapest to Heves and then bus to Tarnaméra and and the whole thing back again, but it was the destination rather than the journey this time that made it all worthwhile. In Tarnaméra lives Eta who back during Margie's birthday weekend in Budapest invited us to her house for lángos. So here we were sitting in here house a couple of weeks later watching Carla mix the dough.

Carla trying not to strain herself...

Skillfully mixed for about a half hour Eta took the dough, divided it into balls and stretched them out in to oil, one by one, frying them to perfection.

Eta, the master, at work.

Perfectly golden-brown and delicious lángos.

Once perfectly golden-brown and delicious she removed them and using paper towels, in her own hands no less, patted the excess oil off of the lángos before serving them.

Dressed and ready for consumption!

After garnishing the lángos with minced garlic, sour cream, and cheese this delicious fried bread was ready for expeditious consumption! Eta was a fantastic host and entertained us in her home for most of the day. She even translated clues from a Hungarian board game, Activity, so we could swear and curse each other's successes and failures. What a day!