Monday, April 13, 2009

From Hungary to Japan and Back to Germany - 4.13.09

Last week my cooking had a decidedly international flair. Let's start on our whirlwind tour:

Hungarian Goulash

First stop is Hungary for some goulash. There's nothing like slow-cooking some beef to make it nicely tender and full of flavor. Some of you may be familiar with a recipe involving some macaroni and ground beef, but this is a decidedly more sophisticated version. First you brown about a pound and a half of cubed beef in a pan, then remove it from the pan. Cook 3 chopped onions and 1 green bell pepper until they are softened, stirring in some garlic afterwards, followed by 2T tomato paste and 2T flour, cooking for another minute. Return the beef to the pot and add 1c beef stock, 1 bay leaf, 3T parsley, 1T paprika, 1t salt, and 1/4t pepper. Let the mixture cook on low heat for 2.5 hours. Remove the lid and simmer for another 15 minutes to thicken the sauce. Serve on top of egg noodles with a dollop of sour cream. The veggies and paprkia give this dish a slightly sweet nature to pair with the tomato-based sauce that makes the beef delicious. The sour cream serves to add some tang and a little richness to the sauce.

Hoisin-Glazed Scallops

Next, a quick and easy seafood dish with some Asian flavors. First you dry and season some large sea scallops, then sear them in a hot pan. After they are seared, remove them from the pan and brush with some hoisin. Wipe out the skillet and add a full bag of baby spinach, 3 sliced scallions and 1c chopped cilantro, cooking until wilted. After removing from the pan, drizzle some sesame oil on top of the greens. Serve the scallops on top of the greens and enjoy. The flavors of this dish are simple, bold and enjoyable. The hoisin, which by itself can be overwhelmingly sweet, makes a nice glaze for the scallops. And if you are iron deficient, an entire bag of spinach cooked down to 4 servings will do the trick.

German Sweet Chocolate Cupcakes

A graduate student in my lab had her final defense a couple weeks ago. She's a big fan of coconut, so I made these delightful confections: German sweet chocolate cupcakes. The cupcakes are very light, helped out by a dose of sour cream in the batter. After baking, the cupcakes are split and the butter-sugar-pecan-coconut filling is put in the middle and on top. I thought these tasted pretty good, and most everyone else who had one agreed. My lab is going to love me for using them as an excuse to bring in goodies (for Easter I brought in Cadbury cream eggs and jelly beans, mostly so I could eat just one).

100th Post Michigan Special - 4.11.09

I can't believe it's been 100 posts already since I started this blog a couple years ago. Looking back, I've made and eaten some good food and I also remember some not-so-good food that came nowhere near this blog. Examples: my attempted caramel candies that turned into a large, flat, burnt disc of horribleness; making fruit gelees in the wrong pan, transferring to a different pan (thereby disrupting the gelatin setting up), resulting in liquid blah; lemon-honey biscotti that refused to set up into biscotti form and tasted like cough medicine. I'm not one to focus on the negatives of food, either mine or that made by others, which is why I focus on the positive aspects of the foods I consume and post. In other words, I'm too embarrassed to post the disgusting-looking foods.

Instead of some new foods in this post, I'm going to share some of the culinary side of my recent trip to see my extended family in Michigan.

Cowboy Carrot Cake

We all gathered to celebrate the 10th birthday of my youngest first cousin. Her party was cowboy themed, as you can tell from this cake. The cake itself was carrot with raisins (a semi-homemade recipe from my Aunt Julie), topped with cream cheese frosting. It was nicely airy but balanced by a powerful sweetness so, in the end, you feel satisfied by a decently sized piece. One tip I will offer, though, is to avoid putting bottle caps on your cakes. I'm not sure who snuck it on there, but I'm glad I'm not overly concerned with germs in my food. Also at the party, we had hot dogs (both turkey and Koegel's - a Michigan favorite for the crunch), vegetarian chili, cowboy cole slaw (apparently "cowboying" something means adding chopped apples and grapes to it in this case...), Asian noodle salad, baked beans (made with at least 2 different kinds of beans), congo bars (like a chocolate chip cookie bar, but made with shortening), and peanut butter cookie sandwiches.

Deep Freeze

Above is something I'll always remember at grandma and grandpa's house: a huge freezer in the basement. It is always filled with everything from pierogi to vegetables to brown sugar to applesauce. Mom definitely stole a fudgesicle after dinner (a habit I'm sure she's had for years). I would love to stock up like that on so many different foods that I could use at the drop of a hat. Then again, scientists are saying that people tend to eat more when there's more food for now, I'm trying my best to keep my food stores small in the hopes that my waist does the same.

Lastly, I would like to thank everyone who has perused my blog for whatever reason. I started it just as a personal account of what I've been cooking and eating, but it has actually connected me with people in ways I had not thought, with both random food enthusiasts and family members that I haven't seen in a long time. Let's see where the next 100 posts takes me...