Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Week Sixteen: A Journey to England

Even as I began my plans for a week focused on English Cuisine, I knew the challenge would be finding dishes with a specific flavor profile or ingredient that would surprise or intrigue me.  As Americans, we have many dishes rooted in English cuisine, and finding the nuances would prove to be an interesting journey.  Of course, I love a Sunday Roast, bangers and mash, fish and chips, and even chicken tikka masala (noted many times over as the national dish of England), but those are familiar dishes that I’ve eaten and prepared.  Interestingly, I found more real information about English cuisine on travel blogs than food blogs, and pub food tops the list of what the travelogues love about English cuisine.  With that inspiration, I set out to create a few simple, pub-inspired menus.

“Pie and a Pint Night”
Steak and Ale Pie

I could not resist the idea of “Pie and a Pint” night, a tradition dating back to the 1950s.  I read several different recipes and finally settled on the recipe for Beef and Guinness Pie on Epicurious with a few tweaks.  I took the lazy route and used store-bought puff pastry.  More importantly, I substituted Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale for Guinness in light of the fact that Guinness is not English.  (Plus, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is one of my favorite beers in the world, not just England, so it seemed appropriate to include it in this recipe.)  In addition to the ale, the filling included boneless beef chuck, onions, garlic, tomato paste, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, brined green peppercorns, and fresh thyme.  I braised it in the oven for an hour and a half.  The pie was amazing!  So good that the hubs starting saying things like, “You know, this filling would be good just served over rice…..Or, we could have it with egg noodles.”  When he starts thinking of ways I can make a dish more often, I know we have a winner!  Because the filling was so hearty, I made a simple mustard vinaigrette with Colman’s English mustard and dressed some fresh arugula greens to served with it.  The combination worked well together.

Bread and Butter Pudding
I wanted to conquer at least one dessert during this week’s project.  A braver woman would have attempted to make Spotted Dick, but I thought finding Beef Suet would be more of a challenge than I felt like attempting.  Instead, I opted to make Bread and Butter Pudding.  Having made many bread puddings previously, I was curious to experience this most basic version, and I must say that it was delicious and one of the easiest desserts I’ve ever made.  Quite simply, I buttered bread, sprinkled it with sugar and raisins, and covered it with a custard of egg and milk.  I let the bread soak in the custard for about an hour.  Then, I baked it for twenty minutes, sprinkled it with cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg, and broiled the top until it browned.  That’s it.  Nothing more.  I added a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream for good measure, and that made it even better.  So simple and comforting!

Scones for Breakfast
Cranberry Cherry Scones
I couldn’t resist making a fresh batch of cranberry cherry scones for breakfast on Sunday morning.  I’ve been a fan of scones since I discovered orange-cranberry scones at Red Rose Coffee House in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, during my college days.  Of course, later I learned that real scones are not nearly as sweet and dense as those orange-cranberry gems, but nonetheless, I grew to appreciate the simple goodness of an authentic, light, fluffy, mildly-sweet English scone.

Lunch Time:  Mushy Peas and Salmon Cakes
Yes, that’s right.  I started with the mushy peas, because I planned this quick lunch around my desire to have mushy peas.  In all honesty, I had never even heard of mushy peas until I visited A Salt & Battery Fish ‘n’ Chips in Greenwich Village.  (This place is definitely worth a stop for a quick lunch or late evening bite!  We tried the haddock, pollock, chips, onion rings, and battered beets on our visit last summer, and all were fabulous.  This little fish shop is a perfect way to sample great English cuisine.)  I opted for the deep-fried battered beets, instead of the mushy peas on that visit, but I never forgot about those peas.  In all honesty, I thought it was a novelty item on the menu, but the handsome young blokes working in the fish shop explained to me in lovely accents that mushy peas are the quintessential side item served with fish ‘n’ chips.  During my research, I found that they are also a common accompaniment to salmon cakes or grilled salmon, so I opted to serve them with a basic salmon cake. 
Mushy Peas & Salmon Fishcakes
For the salmon fishcakes, I found a basic recipe on the Hidden England website.  These fishcakes included flaked salmon, mashed potatoes, grated carrot, and minced onion with a binder of plain yogurt, paprika, and lemon juice.  This could be a great fishcake if it included the proper amount of salt and pepper, but I under-seasoned mine, and they were bland.  A squeeze of fresh lemon juice brightened the flavor a bit, but they still needed salt and pepper in the cakes.

For mushy peas, the traditional base is dried marrowfat peas, but I opted to use frozen peas as they are much more accessible.  Most recipes included sautéed onions, garlic, and/or mint, so I added all three for the full flavor punch.  Delicious!  The star of our lunch!  Forget about salmon cakes…I’d rather have a bowl of mushy peas any day.

While my week of English Cuisine did not include any cutting edge or ridiculously unfamiliar ingredients or techniques, I rather enjoyed its comfort factor.  The Steak & Ale Pies and Mushy Peas took top prize as my favorites for the week, and they were actually some of my favorite dishes of the year.  Now, I’m on to another week of discovery.  Cheerio dear friends!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Week Fifteen: A Journey to Japan

I began my week of Japanese cuisine with a serious history lesson taking me back in time to the third century when rice cultivation began and the Japanese shifted focus from hunting to farming.  I was fascinated by the constant shifts in Japanese society due to Chinese influence.  In particular, I was surprised to learn how the Chinese and Buddhist influences led to a decree which outlawed the killing of animals, even fishing.  The ninth century brought an end to the decree against hunters and fisherman, and the cultivation of Japanese cuisine as we know it today emerged.

As I considered a week of Japanese cuisine, I couldn’t stop thinking about the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  Jiro’s dedication to his craft and insistence on serving the highest quality ingredients inspired and haunted me.  I felt like I needed to honor this week’s dishes with the utmost integrity.  Perhaps that is also why I chose not to make sushi.  Too much pressure…I’d rather leave that one to the experts.  Instead, I focused on dishes that highlight the flavor profiles of Japanese cuisine:  soy sauce, miso, mirin, ginger, scallion, and rice vinegar.  In this challenge, I learned one important lesson…

Respect the Miso.

I should have learned that lesson when I made Cod in Miso Sauce on Wednesday, but I assumed the saltiness of the sauce was a result of common Japanese flavor profiles unfamiliar to my palate.  When I made Miso Soup later in the week, I didn’t just learn the lesson of respect for miso.  It smacked me in the face!  Consider the message received…loud and clear.  I will forever be more respectful in its use after experiencing its power in excess.

Wednesday Night Dinner:  Cold Spinach with Sesame, Cod in Miso Sauce, and Umeboshi Rice
This menu resulted from a few different inspirations.  Fortunately, my mishmash of ideas formed into a cohesive dinner that I enjoyed in individual components and as a whole.

Cold Spinach with Sesame
I wanted to include a vegetable on the menu, and upon reading Mark Bittman’s recipe for Cold Spinach with Sesame in his The Best Recipes in the World, my interest piqued at its simplicity.  In effect, that is the very essence of why this dish was my favorite bite in the meal.  The cold, previously-blanched fresh spinach and toasted sesame seeds are elevated by the slight subtle inclusions of soy sauce and sesame oil.

I have eaten at “Japan Fusion” in Guangzhou, China, on several occasions with co-workers and friends during my travels.  It is a large restaurant that touts itself as the largest Japanese restaurant in Asia.  Two dishes from there stand out in my memory:  Fried Chicken Knuckles (gristly nuggets that I can live without) and Snowfish (the moistest, most delicious cod I’ve ever encountered).  Inspired by fond memories of that cod, I endeavored to prepare cod filets in miso sauce (also based on a recipe in Mark Bittman’s Best Recipes).  I sprinkled the filets with salt and refrigerated them for a few hours to dry the exterior of the fish for the proper texture.  Then, I washed off the salt and smothered the fish in a paste of miso and soy sauce for another hour.  Finally, I washed off the miso paste, coated the top of the fish with a thin layer of the miso/soy mixture, and broiled the fish.  All in all, it was a delicious preparation, but I could have used less miso.  When I made this dish, I used a dark miso aged up to eighteen months, and I did not understand how much saltier and more full-bodied it was compared to a white miso.  In retrospect, the final dish would have been more appetizing if I had either spread a thinner layer of the mixture over the fish or used a white miso.
Cod in Miso Sauce, Umeboshi Rice
Those little packages of umeboshi catch my eye every time I walk down the “International Cuisine” aisle in Whole Foods.  Unfailingly, I pick up the package, consider what I could do with them, and put them back on the shelf thinking that I am not ready to invest $17 yet.  This week, I put them in my shopping cart.  Inspired by several different recipes for umeboshi rice I found online, I made traditional Japanese short-grained rice (sticky rice) and incorporated chopped bits of umbeboshi into the dish.  Mark Bittman recommends the addition of fresh shiso and notes that a combination of basil and mint will provide a similar flavor profile in its absence, so I added chopped basil and mint to my rice, too.  All in all, the dish was quite delicious, and the hubs actually raved about the rice more than anything else at dinner that night.

Thursday Night Dinner:  Miso Soup, Cold Soba Noodles with Dipping Sauce, Chicken Teriyaki, and Panfried Miso-Glazed Eggplant (Nasu Miso)
Miso Soup
I came home from work and immediately started making Dashi for the Miso Soup and the Dipping Sauce for the Cold Soba Noodles.  I began a plan to make the dishes on my menu in an organized fashion.  I prepped vegetables, made sauces, and boiled noodles.  While the eggplant softened in the sauté pan and the chicken bubbled in its teriyaki sauce, I made the Miso Soup.  Having decided that this would be a quintessential element of the night’s menu, I took care to closely follow Mark Bittman’s directions for making an authentic Miso Soup.  When I added the miso, I was shocked at the dark brown color of the soup and considered that I had just made the most authentic, rich and delicious miso soup that I would ever taste.  I quickly snapped photos and called out to the hubs that I was ready for us to begin dinner.   I grabbed our two bowls of miso soup and sat down at the table in anticipation of my brilliant first course….then, we tasted the soup.  Possibly the worst thing I have ever served us.  I couldn’t believe how inedible this soup was!  I had spent time researching several different recipes for miso soup, and this one appeared to have the same general ratios as all of the others.  The next day, I plowed through recipe after recipe for miso soup looking for answers, and I discovered the fault of my execution.  In over ten different recipes, only one included this special instruction next to the recommended amount of miso:  “add miso in moderation and to taste as some misos are stronger than others.”  If only I had read these words before I made the soup.  I also noticed that most recipes simply called for “miso” while several specifically included “white miso” which would have definitely resulted in a much milder flavor than that of my full-bodied dark miso.  Next time, I’ll know better. 

Cold Soba Noodles with Dipping
Sauce and Condiments
During this week’s research, I discovered a great food blog called Just Hungry, which focuses primarily on Japanese cuisine.  I turned to this blog for direction in making two dishes for this night’s menu.  The Cold Soba Noodles with Dipping Sauce intrigued me, and I must say this dish was a big hit!  Not wanting to fill us up to quickly, I only served a small portion of noodles to my husband who promptly devoured them and went back to the kitchen for more.  I served fresh ginger, toasted sesame seeds, nori, and scallions as condiments for the sauce, and we used them all.  Great dish for a summer night!

Chicken Teriyaki
Miso-Glazed Eggplant
I also turned to Just Hungry for a Teriyaki Chicken recipe.  I love this blog because in addition to providing a recipe, it explains the origin of the dish.  Interestingly, most of us think of “teriyaki” as a sauce, but in actuality, it is the name of the cooking method.  “Teri” means shining, and “Yaki” means pan-fried.  This simple presentation of chicken thighs in a sauce of soy, fresh ginger, mirin, and sugar was delicious.  I served it with Japanese eggplant and peppers that I sautéed and mixed with a miso sauce. 

Sunday Night Japanese BBQ:  Grilled Onigiri, Tokyo-Style Grilled Chicken Dumplings, Bacon-Grilled Enotake Muschrooms, Yakitori, Negima
In Planet Barbecue, Steven Raichlen includes several recipes and explanations of grilled Japanese dishes most of which are considered popular street food.  I selected several recipes from his cookbook and added a couple of other grilled dishes that I read about in other places to create a tasting menu by the grill.  We started with a bucket of ice-cold Sapporo beer and grilled each dish one at a time.  
Grilled Onigiri
Quite simply, onigiri are balls of sticky rice.  It’s a portable option for rice that is even sold in convenience stores in Japan.  They can be shaped in different sizes and sometimes they are even stuffed.  As a special treat, they can be grilled although this is not the traditional presentation for them.  I had leftover sticky rice and umeboshi, so I opted to make a few plain rice balls and a few stuffed with umeboshi.  We brushed them with a mixture of soy sauce and mirin while they grilled just until crispy all around.  I must say it was a tasty morsel although I think I should have only used about half of an umeboshi for filling.  The whole one was a bit overpowering.

Tokyo-Style Grilled Chicken Dumplings
Next, we made Steven Raichlen’s Tokyo-Style Grilled Chicken Dumplings.  Following Raichlen’s recipe, I used my food processor to pulse together chicken thighs, chicken fat, scallions, fresh ginger, coriando, black pepper, egg whites, and cornstarch just until they were combined and still chunky.  (According to Raichlen, this texture is the key to making authentic dumplings.)  The only thing I will change when I make them again is to simply make the patties without the fuss of the skewers.  I didn’t find them necessary in grilling.  Otherwise, the flavors were amazing, and the dumplings were moist and delicious.  This was the group’s favorite bite of the evening.
Bacon-Grilled Enotake Mushrooms
Bacon-Grilled Enotake Mushrooms was the dish I was most excited to try.  Unfortunately, they were also the most disappointing bite of the evening.  The chewiness of the mushroom stems was almost unbearable.  Honestly, this is the first time I ever cooked with Enotake mushrooms. Maybe I didn’t cut off enough of the stem.  I’m not sure where they went wrong.


Yakitori was the final selection from Steve Raichlen’s cookbook.  This is the ultimate street fare.  The key to authentic yakitori is the tare, a syrupy sauce of chicken stock, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, scallions, garlic, ginger, and lemon zest.  The chicken is grilled just until it is cooked on all of the outer surfaces, then it is dunked in the tare.  After another few minutes of cooking, it is dunked in the tare again.  In addition, tare is also served a dipping sauce with the final product.  All in all, this was a nice grilled item.


Negima served as our final grilled bite of the evening.  I pounded out thin slices of sirloin, slathered them with soy sauce, and rolled them around bundles of scallions that had soaked in a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and mirin.  Just before putting them on the grill, we brushed them with the soy mixture, again.  These were definitely a treat!  The bite of the scallions with the sweet sauce and rich beef created a balanced and satisfying flavor.

Matcha Ice Cream

Taking a cue from memories of childhood summer barbecues, I knew that the perfect ending to the evening would be homemade ice cream.  I found several mentions of Matcha Ice Cream being served for dessert in Japanese restaurants, and I decided that would be an appropriate ending for our Japanese barbecue.   I found a minimalist recipe on the blog Just One Cookbook which included only half and half, sugar, match powder, and a pinch of salt.  The result was a delicious sweet ice cream.  With the tea, it even felt a bit like a palate cleanser after so many rich meats and sauces.  A perfect ending to a gorgeous night in the backyard!

All in all, my week of Japanese cuisine revealed nuances that I had not expected to discover.  Although I never enjoy failure, I must admit that I had a really good laugh about my miso miss.  Sometimes it's good to have a few misses, because it makes the hits so much sweeter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Week Fourteen: A Journey to Myanmar

Before I organized my schedule for this year’s weekly projects, I scanned through online lists of cookbook titles categorized as International Cuisine.  For the most part, this activity served to assist in creating a concise list of fifty-two countries/cuisines that I probably would have selected without the assistance of a list; however, the multiple titles for Burmese cuisine piqued my interest.  For me, the mention of Burma or Myanmar provokes questions of the political and human interest nature.  With so much turmoil, I had not considered its cuisine as a topic of particular concern, but adding it to my schedule seemed an intriguing way to better educate myself about the culture.  In addition, one must assume that its cuisine will be interesting just by close association with its neighboring countries of China, Laos, India, Bangladesh, and Thailand.

Burmese cuisine’s primary flavoring agents are fish sauce and ngapi, a pungent paste made from fermented shrimp and then sun-dried.  As with most countries, consumption of fish and meat vary based on geography.  Most commonly, inland cities consume poultry and pork, while coastal cities located on the Bay of Bengal serve seafood more often than meat.  The primary proteins eaten within a certain region also vary based on the area’s religious affiliations.  Rice is the most commonly served starch although rice and vermicelli noodles are used consistently in salads and soups.  Tropical fruits are often served as desserts.  Mango is pickled and served as a popular condiment, as well. 

Reading recipes for Burmese cuisine proved to be an interesting study in how a region’s different influences can combine to create dishes that define it because of the combination of approaches and ingredients.  For instance, I would describe Burmese Curry dishes as Indian curries with the addition of ngapi or fish sauce, influenced by Thailand, prepared as a stir-fry, as influenced by China.  This blend of flavors and styles culminates in a distinctly Burmese-flavored dish.

As I approached my menus for the week, I considered my goals for the week. 
  • Incorporate ngapi in as many dishes as possible since it serves as the primary flavoring agent in Burmese cuisine. 
  • Make a Burmese Curry to experience the flavor profile of a curry influence with Thai and Chinese flavors and styles.
  • Read multiple recipes for Mohingar, Myanmar’s National Dish, to determine the most commonly used ingredients to create this diverse, regionally-influenced dish.
Breakfast for Dinner:  Mohingar
As a child, I was always excited to find out that our dinner would be breakfast.  Sausage, biscuits, sausage gravy, and eggs scrambled in the sausage fat fit the bill for a dinner where no one complained.  When I read about Myanmar’s national dish, Mohingar (also Mohinga), traditionally served as a breakfast dish, I just decided that we would be having breakfast for dinner one night of the week, because there was no way I could manage this dish before work.
The base of Mohingar is fish stock and fine noodles.  The herbs, spices, and garnishes served with the dish are determined by the chef’s regional origin.  The variations of the dish differ so greatly that urban street vendors often display signs showing the chef’s name and native region to indicate which particular version is served at a cart.  After reading several recipes and bloggers’ personal accounts about its significance, I selected a recipe from a blogger who wrote about his fond childhood memories of morning visits to a mohingar stall near the Shwedagon Pagoda.  He notated that every family has its own variation of the dish, and I chose to make his family’s recipe.  (Unfortunately, the blog has been offline for the last three days, so I have not provided links to the recipe in this posting.  I'm so glad I save a copy of the recipe when I read it the first time!)

I began with a broth made from fish, lemongrass, and turmeric.  The dish's strong flavor profile is imparted by a caramelized paste of onion, garlic, fresh ginger, lemongrass, dried chiles, shrimp paste, paprika, and turmeric.  Flaked pieces of the fish are added to the paste and cooked for about fifteen minutes in order to take on the fragrant flavors of the paste.  To make the soup, the reserved fish stock, a slurry of rice flour, and the soup paste/flaked fish are added to a stock pot and brought to a boil.  Traditionally, banana stems are added and simmered until tender, but without banana stems I added the recipe’s recommended substitute of whole, peeled shallots to the broth.  Fish sauce and black pepper are added at the end for final seasoning.  To serve the Mohingar, ladle the soup over a handful of cooked rice noodles in a bowl.
The garnishes served with Mohingar vary based on regional traditions and on what products are in season.  Based on the numerous listings of garnishes I read, I am fairly confident that the most often used garnishes include sliced boiled eggs, fritters (either gourd or onion), fresh cilantro, and lime.  I also found the following recommendations:  fried garlic, split pea fritters, chili flakes, shredded green beans, sliced scallions, and fish sauce.

All in all, I really enjoyed this dish.  As mentioned in previous postings, I generally do not like fish soups or stews, but the creaminess and balance of flavors produced a delightful, filling main dish.  So good that the hubs went back to the kitchen to finish everything left.  I served it with hardboiled eggs, cilantro, lime wedges, and onion fritters.  The hardboiled egg was the only garnish that did not make sense to me.  I tried a little crumbled on the soup, and I tried a bite as I was eating the soup.  In both cases, it seemed a heavy addition that did not provide an interesting contrast in flavor or texture to the main dish.  The cilantro and lime complemented the richness of the soup by added a fresh, tart aspect.  I crumbled part of an onion fritter on top of the soup, and that was a really nice touch. 

Traditional Dinner
A traditional dinner includes soup, meat curries, steamed rice, and ngapi yay served with raw vegetables.  For our dinner, I served soup, meat curries, and steamed rice.  After countless searches for more information about ngapi yay, I found that it is a dipping sauce seasoned with ngapi (shrimp paste), but I could not find any recipes or formulations for what actually makes ngapi yay.  I gave up on that aspect and focused on the other elements.  As I prepared for this meal, I discovered that has an extensive listing of recipes for Burmese cuisine, which I used as guidelines for the Chin Hin, Chicken Curry, and Pork Curry.

Chin Hin is a “sour soup” served at the beginning of a meal.  I read several different recipes and discovered that the sour elements may be delivered by various ingredients:  sorrel leaves, green tomatoes, tamarind, and even rhubarb.  For my preparation, I made a tamarind broth and added onion, turmeric powder, green tomato, and fresh spinach.  While I found the flavors to be interesting, this was not a soup I could eat in large quantities.  After a few spoonfuls, I was overwhelmed with its sour, bitter quality.

The bright, fresh flavor of this Chicken Curry resulted from the use of multiple fresh ingredients to create its flavor profile:  thin slices of fresh Serrano chiles, grated gingerroot, onions, garlic, tomatoes, lemongrass, and lime juice.  For this curry, the addition of turmeric and cardamom provided the “curried” seasonings.  It also included fish sauce, which offered an interesting background flavor and gave the dish a different profile than an Indian curry.

The Pork Curry included several of the same ingredients (onion, garlic, fresh gingerroot, turmeric, and lemongrass), but its flavors differed significantly from the Chicken Curry.  The addition of brown sugar, curry paste, ngapi, dried chiles, and soy sauce resulted in a dark, rich sauce with a depth of flavor similar to mole.  With every bite, I tasted something new.  I loved this dish!

After a week, I’m still not sure if I should be calling this Burmese cuisine or Myanmarese cuisine, but I am confident calling it unique, interesting, and delicious.  This week’s meals felt more experimental than others, perhaps because I was familiar with the ingredients but not their composition as it relates to this cuisine.  In the case of Burmese cuisine, the whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Week Thirteen: A Journey to Hungary

I began this week’s discovery of Hungarian food with minimal knowledge and, in all honesty, minimal enthusiasm.  By week’s end, my attitude changed as I discovered Hungarian cuisine's rich flavor profiles and exquisite baked goods.

Because of the Magyars’ nomadic lifestyle, they depended on their livestock as a primary source of food, which is why meat is so prevalent in many Hungarian dishes.  The Turks introduced paprika into Hungarian cuisine.  Hungarians learned to use garlic, onion, nutmeg, and fruits in their cuisine as a result of Western influence.  Other common ingredients found in Hungarian cuisine include sour cream, walnuts and hazelnuts, smoked bacon, cabbage, tomatoes, dumplings, butter, eggs, vinegar, and pickled vegetables.

Lunch is the largest meal of the day, and typically includes an appetizer, soup, main entrée of meat served with a salad, and dessert.  Sometimes, fruit may be served after dessert.  This week, I prepared one large feast based on this progression.  In all honestly, I’m not sure how anyone could successfully host such an elaborate lunch on a consistent basis.  I worked on this single meal periodically for two days.  Thankfully, we enjoyed it and even relished in its incredible flavors!

Appetizer:   Savory Crepe filled with Veal, or Hortobágyi palacsinta

The actual translation for this dish is Pancakes of the Hortobagyi, a group of people living in the Hortobagy region of Hungary.  I found conflicting information regarding its origins.  Some claim that its origin is in the Hortobagy region, while others state that this famous dish’s invention is attributed to the 1958 Brussels World Fair and does not originate from Hortobagy at all. Either way, the dish is delicious.

In Hungary, pancakes are served exclusively as desserts, not as breakfast.  The only exception to the dessert rule is the savory Hortobagyi palacsinta, a crepe stuffed with stewed veal, onions, and tomatoes.  Hot paprika, salt, and pepper season the meat.  After stewing the meat, onions, and tomatoes, the liquid is drained and mixed with flour and sour cream to create a cream sauce for the crepe.  My guests laughed that this meaty dish was only the opening dish for our Hungarian meal, but we all agreed that it was a great way to start the meal.
Soup:  Chilled Sour Cherry Soup
Interestingly, my American cookbooks include this in “Desserts” chapters although Hungarians clearly serve this as part of a traditional soup course.  While researching Hungarian cuisine, I found June Meyer’s Authentic Hungarian Heirloom Recipes website to be a great source of information, and I turned to it for a traditional Sour Cherry Soup recipe.  The combination is primarily flavored with sour cherries, sour cream, and sugar.  I found other variations including the addition of red wine, cinnamon, and cloves, but I opted with the basic traditional recipe.  The soup is surprisingly light, and it served as a great transition dish between the veal crepes and the next course of Chicken Paprikas.
Entrée:  Chicken Paprikas served with dumplings and Cucumber Salad

Because I used Hot Paprika for flavoring in the crepes, I opted to make chicken paprikas with mild, sweet Hungarian paprika.  The dish includes chicken cutlets served in a sauce of sour cream, paprika, and onion.  (Sound familiar?)  In most recipes for chicken paprikas, the notes stated to serve the dish with dumplings tossed in the sauce, so I followed those guidelines and made spaetzle (much more successfully than I did in my week of German cuisine) to toss in the cream sauce.

Serving a simple salad with meat is an imperative in Hungarian cuisine and tradition.  One simple salad that consistently reappeared as I reviewed Hungarian salads is Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream.  I chose June Meyer’s recipe, which includes a simple dressing of garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt, black pepper, and sour cream.  I was surprised at how well this salad complemented the chicken paprikas.  Even with its inclusion of sour cream, it provided a surprisingly light and refreshing escape from the heavier paprika cream sauce. 
Dessert:  Chocolate Orange Dobostorte

Without a doubt, this is my greatest dessert triumphant during my project.  The Dobostorte is named for its inventor, a well-known Hungarian pastry chef named Jozsef C Dobos.  The cake includes multiple layers of sponge cake and chocolate buttercream topped with a single layer of caramel.  A unique element is the layer of caramel atop the cake, which was added as a strategy to seal the cake so that it maintained its moist layers. 

For my presentation, I turned to my favorite yellow Gourmet Cookbook and crafted a Chocolate Orange Dobostorte, which included an orange glaze of melted orange marmalade and Grand Marnier to moisten each layer of sponge cake.  This cake is definitely deserving of its reputation for being served at special occasions…in part because its layers are so rich and luscious, but also because of the four-hour timeline from start to finish for the entire endeavor.

Despite the fact that I served only one Hungarian meal this week, I am confident that its complexities taught me more about the style of cuisine than I’ve learned in other weeks with several small menus.  We enjoyed every dish, and even as I write this blog posting, I’m craving that sauce of paprika, sour cream, and onion.  The good news is that we have two leftover pieces of dobostorte waiting in the refrigerator for tonight’s dessert.