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

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0114 Stuffed chicken thighs and braised brussels sprouts

This post is brought to you by an infectious good mood, courtesy of plans that are coming together and also a healthy dose of Fela Kuti.

For dinner tonight, a riff on this recipe, which we’ve previously made by the book and really enjoyed.  Instead of breasts, though, I flattened the remaining thighs from last night, spooned in a bit of herbed goat cheese, added a couple of fresh chives, and rolled the thighs up into little packets.  Into the oven they went on parchment paper, then were relocated to the toaster oven about 10 minutes later when a mystery something started smoking.  They came out packed with delicious flavors, a perfect partner to the dish I was honestly more excited about.

A packet of brussels sprouts jumped out at me when at the coop a few weeks ago after my miserable winter walk to the (basically empty) farmers’ market.  Tonight I braised them in bacon fat with minced leeks left over from the prep for Saturday’s soup and a few good grinds of black pepper. Just before serving, I gave the whole pan a good slug of balsamic vinegar, and set it aside to reduce while plating the chicken.  A very happy dinner after a very tired day.

Recipe:
Chicken with Herbed Goat Cheese from The Barefoot Contessa at Home

0113 Chicken Piccata

Sometimes recipes are very well written. The directions are clear, the proportions correct, and the process from prep to table smooth. Other times recipes are poorly written. Ingredients are required but not used. The main ingredient to accoutrement ration is all off. The sauce is too soupy, or the protein is too dry. Tonight’s fell somewhere in the middle.

On the whole I have few complaints about the Barefoot Contessa, but tonight something seemed all off with the version of this recipe that appears in The Barefoot Contessa at Home.  A WHOLE CUP of flour to batter 4 chicken breasts, but just 1.5 cups of bread crumbs?  2 minutes on each side to cook said breasts, batter and all, over medium-low heat?  I realize that often mileage will vary on specific aspects of a recipe, but this one was just all over the map.  By the time the plates hit the table, I was frustrated and we were both starving.  After all of that, though, the chicken was crispy and flavorful, and the delicate lemon-white wine sauce paired with both the intended dish and the small spinach salad tossed on our plates at the last moment.  Chicken piccata I’ll make again, but maybe not this take on it.

Recipe:
Chicken Piccata from The Barefoot Contessa at Home

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