27 March 2013

hungary/hungry like the wolfs

Last night I shared my dinner party menu with you; the theme was March: in like a lamb, out like a lion/in like a lion, out like a lamb. And though I certainly found inspiration in the seasonal uncertainty us Baltimore folks have seen over the past few weeks, the dishes I prepared were not brand new to me. They come from one of my all-time favorite vacations, shown in the picture I shared. A few years ago I went to Budapest in search of something and came home with a full stomach and no awesome new Hungarian words for my foreign vocabulary. I tried so many amazing foods while I was there but there was one flavor that really stood out and stuck with me as one that I wanted to incorporate into my cooking - hot Hungarian paprika! Based on my March menu, you can see that the Eastern European cuisine has stuck with me and now I think it's about time I shared the flavors with you, darlings. (Also, please don't mind the photos, I had to capture shots of my leftovers because I was afraid I'd scare away the folks by having my camera out to capture their every deliciously satisfied nibble.)

this light and crisp Spring salad represents the lamb of March
To start, or finish depending on your preference, I prepared a simple Spring salad with frisee, mache rosettes, and sliced radishes. I originally planned on using watercress because I like the bitter creaminess of it, but then I saw the mache rosettes and they just looked so pretty. I'd never had this green before but it looked pretty similar to watercress so I gave it a shot; it was kind of the same but maybe a little sweeter. I topped the salad off with a tasty mustard vinaigrette that was super simple to make. In a small jar shake/stir together 1/3 c garlic infused olive oil, 1/8 c red wine vinegar, 1/8 c white vinegar, 1 bulb diced shallot, a pinch of sugar, dash of salt, and a few (or many, knowing me) turns of the pepper grinder, and 1 heaping tbsp whole grain mustard (my favorite is Tin Mustard for its mild flavor; I used the last of it for this recipe and don't know when I'll make it back to Bk to get some more, egads!) Refrigerate the dressing before serving. I like to serve the salad naked and let guests spoon their own dressing because everyone likes a different green to vinaigrette ratio. Ooo I also got to use my new salad plates! I found the whole set of four for only $9.99 at Home Goods! After all what's a dinner party without proper salad plates? What are we, animals?

Since I've been been piling my plates with veggies lately, the side salad was only the tip of the green iceberg. Uborkasalata is a mild Hungarian cucumber salad that kind of tastes like pickles and reminds me of the cucumber salad at M Shanghai. Using a mandolin, slice two large, peeled cucumbers, sprinkle with about 1tsp salt, and squeeze out all the water by putting the slices in between two sheets of paper towel, two plates and putting about 3-5 lbs of weight on them. Drain the water from the cucumbers every few minutes for an hour, changing the towels as necessary. In a medium sized bowl whisk together 1/4-1/2 c water (depending on how dry you were able to get the cucumbers,) 1/4 c white vinegar, pinch of sugar, and dash of garlic powder. Soak the cucumber slices in the liquid mix for a few hours in the fridge (at least 3 hours) until you're ready to serve. This dish should be served chilled. Make sure you serve it with a slotted serving spoon so that the vinegary juices don't get all over the hot dishes on your plate!

My third and final veggie dish was a quick and easy sauteed kale. Double or triple rinse 5-6 cups torn kale leaves, (they're usually pretty sandy when you get them fresh) but don't completely dry them. In a large skillet, heat up about 1-2 tbsp hazelnut oil with 1/2 tsp minced garlic, 1 tbsp diced shallots, and a handful of chopped hazelnuts. Add the damp kale leaves to the skillet and let cook down until it's wilted and tender. Season with course salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

And now for the main course! The spaetzle can be made a couple of hours ahead of time which is probably a good time saving idea, especially since it will heat back up when you toss it with the brown butter. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large bowl mix 3/4 c scant cold whole milk, 3 eggs, 1tsp salt, 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper, and 1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg. Add 1 c whole wheat flour and 1 c all-purpose flour in half cup batches and stir furiously, the batter will be pretty goopy. Using a colander, a slotted spoon or a bachshaufel, push the batter through in stringy, squiggly batches into the boiling water. Let simmer for about two minutes while the strands float to the top. Set cooked spaetzle aside in a covered, buttered bowl. Prior to serving, heat up about 1/4 c unsalted butter in a hot skillet until it starts to brown, toss the spaetzle in the butter until warm and serve immediately alongside the creamy paprika chicken which is also quite easy to make -

creamy paprika chicken
5 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into large chunks
2 1/2 tbsp paprika - equal parts smoked paprika mixed with hot Hungarian paprika (like Szeged)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
5-6 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
1-2 c sliced mushrooms (optional)
2/3 c sour cream
course salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1. Toss cubed chicken in half the paprika mix with a little salt and pepper and set aside while you heat one tbsp butter in a large pan over a medium high flame. Cook the chicken, tossing occasionally until it is cooked through but not overcooked. Remove chicken to the bowl but keep the juices in the pan and slightly lower the heat.
2. Add the second tbsp butter to the pan adding the onion and cooking until softened, making sure to scrape up all the browning bits in the pan. Add the rest of the paprika and continue to cook, stirring and scraping for a couple minutes. Add in the tomatoes and 1/2-3/4 c water (depending on how much juice you've already got in the pan) and stir until the tomatoes are softened and the liquid is saucy. Add the mushrooms, if desired, and allow to cook through.
3. Dump the chicken and juices back in the pan to reheat and finish cooking, about five minutes. Stir in the sour cream and bring the mix to a simmer. Season with extra paprika, salt and pepper before serving  on top of or next to the spaetzle. YUM!

they might be leftovers, but they're still delicious!
All of this tasty goodness was served up with two Austrian wines, a red and a white (I went to Austria on that trip, too!) They were both bold a dry and perfectly complimented the whole meal. Thanks to the folks at Chesapeake Wine Co. for the recommendations! This is truly one of my favorite meals and it turns out that the Wolf folks love it, too! I think I did a darn good job and genuinely impressed and satisfied our guests. How could a meal this filling and flavorful not put a smile on your face and some warmth in your belly! It's absolutely perfect for cool or chilly nights or just when you need something comforting. Something you'd want to enjoy while sitting around the kitchen table with your family.

looking over the Danube to Buda from Pest 
P.S. Earlier in the post I mentioned my trip to Budapest and that my reason for going there was a little bit of a search. What exactly was I searching for? Well, it's a little corny and embarrassing but I was out to find my soulmate. You see, my adorably, madly in love, amazing parents who have been married for about a billion years met at a bar in New Brunswick when they were teenagers (you could drink at 18 back in the day.) The bar was called the Budapest. So in my silly, dreamy mind I thought that if I went to the actual city of Budapest I might have a chance of meeting my soulmate. I didn't find my soulmate on that trip but, along with some great culinary inspiration, I was able to do a bit of self discovery. Hungary was the most foreign place I had ever been to but I still managed to get by (with the help of the amazing folks at Carpe Noctem Hostel) and explore one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. Hmm, maybe I'll have to go back through my photo albums (yeah, I think this was before I even owned a digital camera) and share a photoblog of my Budapest memories with you, darlings. Something to look forward to soon!

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