Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hungarian Beef Paprika Stew

Hungarian Beef Paprika Stew (Pörkölt)

This Authentic Pörkölt is What Most People Call “Goulash”

Everybody has heard of goulash, right?  You know — that hearty meat stew with a thick, rich gravy spiced with paprika and caraway seeds.  And a flavor that goes on until next week.

Well, guess what?  That stew is actually called pörkölt (pronounced pur-kult).  Goulash (gulyás), although made from similar ingredients, is a soup.  No thick gravy in sight.  But the flavors of the two are similar.

You can use almost any meat to make pörkölt.  In Hungary, pork or veal often star in this dish.  In the US, beef tends to be what cooks reach for most often.  Its flavor becomes delectable when braised in a long-cooking dish like this. 

You can make pörkölt ahead, and reheat just before serving.  Dish it up with a side of Homemade Spätzle, and you’ll be the most popular cook in the neighborhood.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Homemade Spätzle

Homemade Spätzle

Central European Comfort Food

Spätzle is a dumpling made from flour, eggs, and a liquid (such as milk, or sometimes water).  The name is Swabian (High) German, and translates as ”little sparrow” (someone must have thought the shape looked sparrow like). You can find virtually the same dumpling throughout Central Europe, although it may be called by a different name. For example, in Hungary it’s Galuska. In Switzerland, Chnöpfli or Knöpfle.

These plump little dumplings combine perfectly with hearty stews. Or you can serve them as a starch to accompany meat or seafood. They’re easy to make, and you can prepare them ahead of time (just reheat with a quick simmer or sauté right before serving). So they’re perfect for company, since they require no complicated last-minute preparation.

And the flavor of spätzle is satisfying and comforting. Just like the adulation you’ll get for making these little gems.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fennel and Tomato Gratin

Fennel and Tomato Gratin

Olives Add Zing to this Provençal Dish

When I think about the flavors of Provence, I think of sweet tomatoes, fragrant herbs, and salty olives.  Oh, there are plenty of other Provençal foods, too.  But for me, these three ingredients conjure the essence of southeastern France.

Fennel is also popular in Provence.  That isn’t surprising, since it plays so nicely with tomatoes and olives.  And the longer you cook it, the sweeter and mellower it becomes.  So it’s a no brainer to combine all these ingredients in a gratin.  Topped with flavorful cheese, they make a great sidekick for roast or grilled meat, chicken, or seafood.

This flexible dish is ideal for busy schedules.  You can make it partially ahead.  Plus, it tastes equally good hot from the oven or cooled to room temperature, so no split-second timing is required.  

And the flavor?  Well, you’ll think you’re in the south of France.  Without having to buy a plane ticket.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pasta with Shrimp and Fennel

Pasta with Shrimp and Fennel

A Piquant Tomato Sauce Adds Full Flavor

Lots of us eat more fish this time of year.  Some are still following New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier.  And what’s healthier than fish and seafood?  For others, Lent means fish or seafood every Friday at a minimum, so new recipes are always welcome.   And some of us just crave the taste. 

Shrimp is a favorite of most seafood lovers.  Almost everyone likes its briny tang.  But in much of the US, it’s still cold, so we’re also craving hearty dishes.  Like a big, warm plate of pasta — which just happens to pair wonderfully with shrimp.

So why not combine the two in a spicy tomato sauce?  Then add some fennel (a perfect winter veggie) for extra credit.  The result?  A welcoming cold-weather dish with flavor that won’t quit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shaved Fennel Salad

Shaved Fennel Salad

This Simple, Lemony Starter is Perfect for Cold Weather

Produce crops have been hit hard by a cold snap in California and Arizona.  Lettuces seem to be particularly affected.  Here in St. Louis, lettuce prices have increased by a good 50%.  So if you want a salad, maybe you should think outside the box (or the bin). 

Luckily, other salad-friendly veggies are available.  Like fennel, which reaches its peak in cold weather, and seems to be in good supply. 

Fennel has a subtle anise-like flavor that adapts well to a range of dishes.  For example, we recently featured it in our posts on Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans and Braised Fennel.

Though fennel is delicious when cooked, many people think it’s even better eaten raw. Dress it up with some extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, and you’ve got a piquant salad that’s the perfect starter for a meal.

So forget about the lettuce shortage! When life hands you lemons, squeeze them and use the juice to dress this terrific salad.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Red Beans and Rice

Red Beans and Rice

This Creole Dish is a Mardi Gras Favorite

Red Beans and Rice is a traditional Creole (not Cajun) dish popular throughout Louisiana. This long-cooked comfort food used to be a staple every Monday — the day many people did their weekly laundry — because it could simmer unattended for hours, and be ready when dinnertime rolled around. Nowadays, we often associate the dish with New Orleans (where it’s available in many restaurants) and with Mardi Gras (because a batch feeds a crowd).

Red Beans and Rice is great any time of the year, but it’s particularly good in cold weather. So with chilly temps throughout much of the US at the moment, and Mardi Gras coming up later this week, maybe now is the time to cook some up for yourself.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Hurricane Cocktail

Hurricane Cocktail

Celebrate Mardi Gras with a Classic New Orleans Cocktail  

When people think of New Orleans cocktails, two drinks usually spring to mind: the Sazerac and the Hurricane. The Sazerac is the city’s official cocktail, but the Hurricane is probably more popular today in the Big Easy. In large part, that’s because it’s the signature cocktail of Pat O’Brien’s Bar, a well-known tourist hangout in the French Quarter.

Pat O’Brien may not have created the Hurricane (which probably originated at the Hurricane Bar in New York City in 1939). But O’Brien certainly put the drink on the map.

Funny thing, though: the drink that’s typically made today at O’Brien’s (and most places) isn’t the original recipe. Most bars serve a Hurricane that is a bright, fluorescent red — while the original had a more subdued, orangish hue. Sadly, today’s version isn’t as tasty as the original, either.

But no worries! The recipe for the original drink is still available. I’ll include both versions here, and let you to decide which one you prefer.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Microwave Peanut Butter Fudge

Microwave Peanut Butter Fudge

A Quick and Easy Way to Make Fudge

Fudge made the traditional way is a pain.  You know, you combine sugar with other ingredients in a saucepan and heat the mixture until it reaches that elusive “soft-ball” stage.  The whole process requires constant attention — otherwise you risk scorching the sugar, among other potential bad things.  Periodically you might even have to “wash” down the saucepan’s walls with a wet brush.  How fun.  Not.

Once you achieve soft-ball nirvana, most recipes tell you to let the mixture cool undisturbed until it’s lukewarm (which can take a while).  Then you get to stir (and stir) until the fudge sets up properly. 

If you make a mistake along the way, the fudge turns grainy.  Or runny.  Even if you don’t make a mistake, it often turns out wrong anyway (the humidity, you know).  And the whole affair takes time, lots of time.  A strong arm helps too.

Fudge made this way is good, but it’s trouble.  Enter the microwave. 

Fudge made in the microwave takes just a few minutes.  It’s easy and almost foolproof.  The result?  A sweet treat that’s as smooth as the patter of a 3-card monte dealer.