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

0411 A Very Smitten Kitchen Breakfast

Who thinks it’s a good idea to plan a breakfast – not brunch, breakfast – that requires at least an hour in the kitchen, especially when that hour is 8am on a Sunday?  Me, apparently.

See, the oven needed to preheat for an hour before the pita bread could go in, and the whole point of baking the pita this morning was to accompany the spicy Israeli tomato-egg dish that I saw on Smitten Kitchen on Friday, and making that dish might take most of that hour anyway, and besides, we had a full day of projects planned, so best to get an early start, right?  Right?

Long story short: up at 8, an hour in a million degree kitchen, and the end result?  Pitas that puffed up like happy little clouds:

Pita bread success!

I’m not sure if the magic lay in proofing in the refrigerator overnight, or sitting at room temperature in little rounds for 20 minutes, or being rolled out thin and then sitting for another 10 minutes, or misting with a bit of water before hitting the 475F oven – but there was some magic up in there.  Delicious, delicious magic.

So delicious that we barely let the pitas cool before tearing them open and dipping them into the shakshuka – eggs poached in a (supposedly) spicy tomato sauce.  I say ‘supposedly’ because while the sauce was warm and filling, it was far from spicy, and the eggs needed longer to poach than I gave them.  If I were to make this recipe again, I would NOT add any water (directions say to add tomatoes + their juices + 1/2 cup water), and would kick in another anaheim pepper or two.

A Very Smitten Kitchen Breakfast

On the whole, however, a savory and filling breakfast which provided good fuel for a day’s worth of projects.  And yay, finally pita bread success!

Recipes, both from Smitten Kitchen:
Shakshuka
Pita Bread

0410 Make Along Bake Along

For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to participate in a 24 Hour Make-Along just one week before our wedding.  Don’t ask me why.  Shane had a bunch of projects on his slate as well, so today turned into a full day of puttering, baking, bottling, moped-ing, and knitting.  I didn’t finish everything I intended to do – but I did make a few damned good treats!

First, I took on yogurt.  Why would I make yogurt when it’s comparably in/expensive to buy in the store?  Because Olivia makes it look so damned easy!  And also because I like the idea of making my own dairy products – I’ve made cheese in a couple of forms, so yogurt seemed like a good next step.  The process started with some science up in the kitchen:

Making yogurt

The milk took FOREVER to get to the appropriate temperature, but eventually it hit the mark and was ladled into Ball jars and tucked first into an ice water bath, then into the Crock pot-cum-incubation chamber, where it hung out for the rest of the day.  It’s not the best yogurt I’ve ever had, but it definitely is yogurt, and I’m looking forward to eating it with preserves or peaches that I canned last summer.

THEN – actually simultaneously – I made crackers.  My friends and I had these really delicious house-made curry crackers with a warm goat cheese dip at Schlafly Bottleworks last weekend, and I’m determined to crack the recipe.  I figured it best to start with a regular cracker, however, so I tried this recipe from a basic baking cookbook given to me a couple of years ago by my aunt.  This was seriously so easy, even though it did require buying a giant tub of vegetable shortening.  (Apparently the stuff only comes in giant tubs?  Or so it appeared.)  The cracker dough is pulsed together in the food processor, then rests in a big lump for an hour before getting rolled out thin and baked for about 12 minutes.  My crackers went into the oven looking like this:

Crackers before

And came out looking like crackers:

Crackers after

Real crackers!  Like from a box!  Now all I have to do is figure out the right seasoning for the curry crackers – oh, and avoid eating every cracker in the house.

Finally, I took on pita bread again, this time using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  Right now it’s hanging out in the fridge, waiting to be baked tomorrow morning for A Very Smitten Kitchen Breakfast.  Fingers crossed for a good result!

Recipes:
Seeded Crackers from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking
Yogurt from The Kitchen of Olivia
Pita Bread from Smitten Kitchen