25 Recipes #2: Goulash

I’ve been cooking up a storm since we got home from Cleveland last Wednesday – I just haven’t been blogging about it. I made hummus and fresh pita bread for our friends’ New Year’s party – the latter was perfect, unlike earlier pita efforts. We were both somewhat worse for wear on Saturday, and the Barefoot Contessa’s fresh pea soup was just the thing for our troubled stomachs. On Sunday, I made the first recipe from my new Essential New York Times Cookbook: mushroom caps stuffed with sausage and duxelles – simple but incredibly flavorful, and destined to be on our table many times in the future. I also took on the second recipe from my 25 Recipes list: goulash.

Goulash!

I’m not sure how goulash got on our list exactly. I approached it with a bit of trepidation, as Shane grew up in a city whose cuisine is as influenced by Eastern Europeans as my hometown’s is by the Swedes.

I was concerned because there seems to be a great deal of disagreement about what constitutes authentic Hungarian Gulyás. Many recipes call for tomatoes, while others swear that goulash never contains tomatoes. Some recipes call for potatoes to thicken the stew. Others suggest serving the stew over dumplings or egg noodles. The goulash I remember from my childhood always involved ground beef and elbow macaroni, and is apparently known as American Chop Suey in some parts of the country..

Browning the beef

Fortunately for me, Shane doesn’t have any particular memory of a specific goulash, so I was safe to proceed. The one thing all goulash recipes seem to agree on is the paprika, which gives goulash its characteristic color and savory smoky flavor. The paprika differentiates goulash from more pedestrian (but no less delicious) beef stew. In this goulash, the paprika is cooked in bacon fat already used to brown your beef and saute onions and garlic.

Sauteeing onions and garlic

Add everything to the pot – the browned beef and bacon, plus stock, diced red peppers, tomato paste (oh, the heresy!), seasonings, and water (or beer) enough to get the right consistency. Let it all simmer for an hour or so – enough time for me to shred and then prepare some pasta – and you’ve got a warm and hearty dinner. I was going to add ‘flavorful’ to that list of adjectives, but I was honestly underwhelmed by this recipe. It was good but not remarkable, which is probably the case with most comfort foods.

Kitchen Assistant

Either way, Mina was happy to supervise, Shane was happy to eat it up, and I’ll be happy to make it again. Maybe we’ll try a more authentic recipe next time.

Recipe:
Goulash from Smitten Kitchen – 1/4 recipe with egg noodles and some bread was enough for three portions

1129 Indian Spiced Peas and Tofu

I have mixed feelings about this dinner. It was good – and smelled even better – but it wasn’t a knock out, and I’m not sure how to fix it.

For one, the original recipe called for the tofu to be tossed in cornstarch, fried, then set aside for most of the recipe.  I don’t love the texture of fried tofu – or the extra fat from the oil – so we sliced it, gave it a good dose of olive oil cooking spray, then broiled it – so it had better texture but not much flavor.  Perhaps a ginger-y marinade would fix this?

For another, there was too much liquid.  The original recipe called for 28 oz diced tomatoes in liquid plus 1/4-1/2 cup water or broth.  I used fresh tomatoes but only had about a cup on hand, so I supplemented with a couple of diced peppers.  This meant that I added significantly less liquid to the pan than called for, and it still was a bit wet.  I’m not sure where the liquid is supposed to go, as everything in the recipe is full of its own moisture and certainly doesn’t need any extra.  I’m also wondering if coconut milk might be a nice substitute?

Finally, the seasoning.  Adding more of everything that originally called for – plus a teaspoon of red pepper flakes – gave the recipe a nice heat, but we both found ourselves salting generously.  Perhaps more salt and the coconut milk previously suggested would help?

Regardless, this was a fast and healthy dish, and made enough for dinner for the two of us and three lunch portions when served with steamed Jasmine rice.

Indian Spiced Peas and Tofu
Adapted from Whole Foods, presented as I made it.  See above for suggested modifications.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (14-ounce) package extra firm tofu, drained, and pressed for at least a few hours to extract extra moisture
2 yellow onions, very thinly sliced
1 generous tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 generous tablespoon garam masala
1 generous teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup diced bell peppers – I used green and red
1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
1 (1-pound) bag frozen green peas, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tofu into 1″ pieces, then slice again into bite sized triangles.  Spread on a broiler-safe pan lined with tinfoil, then spray evenly with non-stick spray or brush with olive oil.  Place under preheated broiler for about 8 minutes on each side, or until golden and a little crispy.

Heat oil in a large skillet, add onions and ginger and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Add spices, tomatoes, and peppers and simmer for 5 minutes. Add water or broth, peas and tofu, reduce heat, cover and gently simmer for 10 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, then spoon over rice and serve.

0728 Polenta with a Bunch of Veg

Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas, and Leeks

I think there are only two things I would change about this dinner.  First, in an attempt to save some calories and fat, I made the polenta with our normal recipe (instead of with whole milk and vegetable broth), and I swapped out the heavy cream in the sauce.  The polenta was as good as ever, but I would use the heavy cream, as the sauce really could’ve used the richness to complement the vermouth and leeks.

Second, there’s basically no seasoning in this recipe at all.  I can understand that as it is prepared in a number of separate steps – blanch the beans and peas and set aside, prepare the polenta and set aside, make the leek-vermouth sauce and set aside, saute the mushrooms – and so the potential for over seasoning is significant.  I skipped the seasoning of the leek-vermouth sauce, as it was flavorful enough on its own, but would generously season the mushrooms, adding more salt and pepper to taste when the beans and peas go into the pan.I might also saute some garlic with the mushrooms, as that might give a bit of oomph to the final flavor.

A bonus addition, if I’m allowed it, would be to skip the shallots and instead add some crispy fried onions when plating.  The flavor is all but lost, and I think this would give a nice bit of extra texture.

Despite all of that, I’m pretty damned pleased with a flavorful and filling vegetarian that looks as good as the magazine photo.

Recipe:
Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas, and Leeks from Bon Appetit
Basic Polenta from Giada De Laurentiis (for two portions, we’ll cut this recipe down to 1/3)

0109 Fresh (Frozen) Pea Soup

We planned this week’s meals over breakfast at Plum Market this morning, flipping through cookbooks and magazines spread around our coffee cups and pastry plates. I like this part of the weekend – anticipating what we’ll feel like eating for the week ahead, picking out the more intensive recipes for a special weekend meal.

For dinner tonight, Ina Garten’s Fresh Pea Soup, made from The Barefoot Contessa at Home, a Christmas gift a few years ago from my Mom (who really wanted the book herself).  We’ve made a very similar recipe from Jamie Oliver several times, but I think this is the winner – a soup that just bowls you over with its, well, greenness.  I liked how even after pureeing, the soup had some heft to it, something to spoon onto soft French bread, each bite releasing a bit of mint or chive.  Jamie Oliver’s recipe is accompanied by garlicky prosciutto croutons, which would’ve been a lovely addition – but with warm bread and a bit of salt, tonight’s soup was just perfect without.

Recipe:
Fresh Pea Soup from The Barefoot Contessa at Home

Eating and growing locally: week nine

Eating:

Local meal #5

Our OLS meal for the week was salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots from the farmers’ market, a Meritage from Rappahannock Cellars (67 mi.), and local pasta with homemade spaghetti sauce from local seconds tomatoes, ground buffalo, and herbs from our garden.  The spaghetti sauce was a big disappointment, but we froze a jar of it, which will be excellent later in the year reconstituted with some goat cheese.

Making Spaghetti Sauce

Tuesday night was a different story.

Day 332 - 6/24/08

We got a big hunk of prosciutto from Cheesetique for 99c, so I cubed about half of it, then sauteed it with local onion, garlic scapes, and peas, then tossed it all together with local aged cheddar and non-local macaroni.  So, so, so, so good.   I also roasted little local carrots with some maple syrup – they were like candy.  Too bad SB wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t enjoy it when it was hot.  😦

Our farmers’ market haul this week: pork sausage, ground pork, a little poussin, eggs, chocolate milk, squash blossoms, tomatoes, nectarines, onions, dinner rolls, carrots, green beans, and garlic.  Very exciting!

Growing:

  • Our tomatoes look sad and droopy, so yesterday we bought a big just of Terracycle and are hoping they’ll perk up with the introduction of quality worm poop.
  • I thinned the lettuce again, resulting in big salads for both of us.
  • We have OMG peppers growing!  I’m trying to resist the urge to pick them small so that they have a chance to turn red.
  • We have kept basil alive for two months.  This is kind of a big deal.

Eating and growing locally: week seven (late)

Not a whole lot to report this week as we were gone to Bonnaroo from Wednesday through Monday.  Our pet sitter kindly took care of our garden in our absence.  We have tomatoes growing on the vine, but both the parsley and cilantro are definitely gone.  Time to dig ’em up and plant something new!  Lots of lettuce, beans getting taller, and one little strawberry.  Nom nom nom.

In addition to our OLS meal,  we had some failed zucchini pancakes, awesome awesome bison burgers, and munched on local peas and cherries in the car while waiting in line outside the ‘Roo festival grounds.  While the food we had at Roo was fantastic, we’re both glad to be home and back to eating good things – well, in theory at least.

Eating and growing locally: week five

I have to say that we probably could have done better with our first OLS meal, but we were sooo hungry that we whipped something up with food from the market, smoked up the kitchen to the point that we had to have our patio door all the way open for half an hour to clear the air, and had our food completely devoured in under 10 minutes.

One Local Summer: week one

Menu:

French tarragon sausage from Cibola Farms, grilled on the grill pan.

New potatoes, quartered and boiled with a hella amount of salt until tender, then topped with a little butter.

Peas in the pod simmered with butter and a small amount of water (and wine, if we’d had it, but we didn’t), then tossed together with fresh mint before serving.


Other updates in brief:Week 5: growing

  • a few more strawberries
  • flowers on the tomatoes gives me hope!
  • thinned and transplanted the lettuce, which is doing well
  • planted beans

Week 5: eating

  • fresh cherries from the market! also broccoli!
  • sliced, sugared, and froze 3 containers of strawberries.
  • made 2 jars strawberry-rhubarb preserves (YUM).
  • I tried my first buffalo. I likes!
  • SB says no more chard.
  • bought asparagus for canning, but discovered that the pressure cooker doesn’t have a weight gauge, so we may have to eat a lot of asparagus this week.