Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pasta with Artichokes

I had pasta with artichokes in Italy (Saturday, 12/24). At the time, I said,

Pasta with artichokes was a great appetizer and struck me as really easy to make: it looked like just artichokes, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.

And so it was. I put in some garlic, too. You can buy artichoke hearts at Culinaris on Perc utca in Óbuda.

  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 30 dekagrams (a bit more than a half pound) of artichoke hearts in oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. (or so) red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper

Boil water. Cut up the artichoke hearts. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and start heating some of the artichoke oil along with some normal olive oil. When it's hot, add the diced garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. When the garlic starts to brown, add the artichokes. Take the pasta out when it's done, toss it with some olive oil, and add the sauce.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Jens Lekman

Since I'm writing about Jens Lekman, I may as well link to his Pitchfork interview. (I don't hate Pitchfork. Am I still cool?)

Jens Lekman's music is hit-or-miss. I used to think he only had one great song (Black Cab). My love for that song recently inspired me to give the rest of music another chance. Now, I realize he has a second great song: Higher Power, the last track on When I Said I Wanted to be Your Dog.

When promoters send CDs to college radio stations, they often put stickers on them describing the band. The stickers on Jens Lekman's CDs always mention the Magnetic Fields, even though they don't sound much like him. (The defunct MP3 blog The Mystical Beast says something like that here.) This song, though, sounds exactly like the Magnetic Fields. It has strings, and it has these lyrics:

In church on Sunday making out in front of the preacher.
You had a black shirt on with a big picture of Nietzsche.
When we had done our thing for a full christian hour,
I had made up my mind that there must be a higher power.

It's more intimate than any Magnetic Fields song. Sorry that I'm not an MP3 blog--you'll just have to go hunt it down yourself.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Pork with Parsnips

Mark Bittman gives a recipe for pork braised with turnips in the Minimalist Cooks at Home. I made it once, substituting Hungarian fekete rétek (black radishes), which happen to taste exactly like turnips. It was good; I wanted to make it again, but my roommate Joel had discovered that he didn't like turnips, or at least black radishes in the guise of turnips. We stood in front of school pondering what to make for dinner. Suddenly, we thought of parsnips. (Which one of us actually came up with this? I'm not sure, but it was probably Joel.) We were joyful, and we spent our walk to Kaiser's trying to come up with other alliterative dishes.

And so, here is our adapted version of the recipe:

  • 1 and 1/2 pounds of boneless pork shoulder (tárja in Hungarian)
  • 1 tbs. canola or sunflower oil
  • 1 tbs. goose fat or oil
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds of parsnips (or however much you want)
  • 1 and 1/4 cups white wine
  • parsley, salt, and pepper

Cut up the meat and trim the fat and connective tissue. This takes me more than twenty minutes, but is worth it. You should be able to do it faster if you're better at it, and if you have a sharper knife.

Brown the meat in the oil and goose fat, giving the meat five minutes at very high heat, plus some more time with a bit less heat. Grind some pepper over it. Cook it until it's well browned, maybe ten minutes in all. While you're doing that, cut the parsnips up into big chunks; there's no need whatsoever to peel them. Throw them on and cook them for a few minutes when the pork is browned.

Add the wine, salt, and half of the parsley. Cover and turn down the heat to maintain a light simmer. Stir every ten minutes, and cook for at least thirty minutes.

When you can easily pierce the parsnips with a fork, it's done. If you have too much sauce (unlikely), uncover and let it reduce. Add pepper and more salt if necessary, and the parsley.

The goose fat is completely unnecessary, but good. I don't like using butter in this, though. (Hungarian pork already tastes like butter.) The parsley is actually very important. I think thyme would be good too. I also might try putting in some cabbage next time.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Szeráj, goose fat, and sesame oil

Szeráj (Honvéd utca and Szent István Körút, near Nyugati Pályaudvar) continues to be terrific. Budapest has thousands of indistinguishable gyros/falafel places. Szeráj joins them in being cheap and not having waiters, but their gyros and falafel are always fresh, and they have a wide selection of other things. I still haven't tried their meat and vegetable dishes that sit in a tray as in a cafeteria; at most gyros places, these have a tendency to make you sick, but I imagine they're good here. I have tried their grape leaves, humus (or in Hungarian, humusz), and pizza-like things that they sell. They're all excellent. They also have the best pita I've had in Budapest. It's comfortable, with well-separated smoking and non-smoking sections.

My landlady/host-mother/roommate uses margarine instead of butter. She also uses goose fat instead of butter, which makes me wonder why she uses margarine. I don't like to put butter on bread, but goose fat is delicious. It's as rich as butter, but it tastes like roast goose. (I barely ever eat it, so my arteries are perfectly safe.)

An open question for my many readers: what can I make with sesame oil?


  • Conjecture & Proof. The name of this class suggests that it is an introduction to basic mathematical thinking. This led my roommate last semester to not take it, which was probably the biggest mistake he's ever made. (He really would have liked this class.) The class's lectures are devoted to proofs that are really cool (there's really nothing else linking them); the homework is a few hard problems that require a lot of creativity to figure out, like Putnam problems. You're only expected to answer 60% for an A. And despite its name, I expect it to be my hardest class this semester.
  • Graph Theory, with Gábor Simonyi. He did a card trick in class. I got to cut the deck.
  • Combinatorics 2. This is a class on hypergraphs, which are a generalization of graphs. The professor, András Gyárfás, is very good. The first problem set is fun so far (though not easy).
  • Topology. Also seems fun, also a good professor (Alex Küronya, whose name breaks Hungarian vowel harmony rules). There are too many people in it, though there's still plenty of time for them to drop it. Tomoko may be taking a class on advanced Galois Theory with this professor, in Hungarian. He told me and her that it wouldn't be hard, because he could give us reference material in English and German. Are all math professors in Hungary trilingual?
  • Hungarian II with Erika. Patrick and I returned to take it, plus one girl who only started Hungarian last month but is very good at it. It will only meet once a week, which is a bit silly for a language class, but I'm talking plenty of Hungarian at home.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Hungarian pork tastes better and is more tender than American pork. Everybody always says that American pork has gotten much worse because it's now bred so lean. This is true: the National Pork Producers Council brags about it in Nutrition: Pork Is Vital to a Healthy Diet. People also say that American pork is bad because you have to overcook it to prevent trichinosis. This is false: there are almost no cases of trichinosis anymore (Trichinosis Fact Sheet).

Yesterday Tomoko and Rosanna came over for dinner. I cooked pork chops. This is how I cooked the pork:

  • 4 pork chops
  • ginger
  • two (or so) tbs. olive oil
  • half an onion
  • white wine
  • parsley

Salt and pepper the pork chops and fry them in a really hot pan with some diced ginger. Put them in warm oven when they're done. Take the pan you just used for the pork chop, heat up the oil (which shouldn't take any time), and fry the onions for a few minutes with a bit of salt and some more ginger, until they've lost their bite but still have a bit of crunch. Add the parsley (maybe about a quarter cup, loosely packed) and let it cook for about thirty seconds. Then, add in a cup (maybe more) of white wine and let it reduce. When it doesn't taste like wine anymore (five to ten minutes), add pepper and, if necessary, more salt to the sauce. If your pork chops got cold because you couldn't figure out how to light the oven (this might not be a problem for you), throw the pork chops back into the pan with the sauce until they heat up again. Put some more parsley on top.

And the cabbage, which is so easy it doesn't need an ingredient list:

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil up in a big pan and throw on the cabbage, salt, pepper, and a little bit of white wine (less than a quarter cup). Cook this at whatever temperature is convenient. (If you feel like stirring a lot, then use a high temperature.) When it's ready (not very long--should still be crunchy), turn up the heat all the way and stir more often for a minute. Next time I'll try adding some garlic.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Visszajövök Budapestre - Wednesday, February 1

  • breakfast: toast with jam; toast with sausage; a piece of tepértő
  • lunch: kolbász (sausage), bread, mustard, and turó rudi (Hungarian candy bar that I will write more about later)
  • dinner: pasta with tomato sauce
  • dessert: tejberizs

Now I live here, in the building on the northwest of the triangle. The apartment is comfortable (but too warm--how can you sleep if you're not freezing?). It's one of the best places in Budapest to live for its proximity to Batthyány Tér, where you can either take the metro or get a palacsinta. I had one last night: it was filled with apricot jam and cost 120 forints (60 cents or so).

After I woke up and started programming Pavement ringtones into my cell phone (so far I've done Shady Lane and No Tan Lines), I went shopping for basic foodstuffs and came home around three. At about six, I woke up lying on my bed with my jacket draped over myself. I remember reading, and I remember lying down; I also remember realizing I would end up falling asleep, but I think I fell asleep before I decided to do anything about it. So, I needed to make dinner out of only the food I had bought, which meant pasta with tomato sauce, the second-least-complicated meal I can cook:

  • 2 small onions
  • 1 or 2 carrots/parsnips
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 small cans of tomatoes (400 gram cans); it's winter--fresh tomatoes have no taste now
  • herbs (I put in dried oregano and basil)
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • salt, pepper
  • more than 1 tbs. olive oil

Heat up the oil, and then sauté the onions, carrots, and parsnips. Add some salt. After a few minutes, turn down the heat, cover the skillet, and let cook undisturbed until the carrots and parsnips have lost their crunch, about ten minutes.

Turn the flame up a bit and add the chopped garlic. Now, spend fifteen minutes looking for a can opener, settle for a bottle opener, and poke holes in both ends of the can like you've seen in condensed milk cans. Unfortunately, even crushed tomatoes are rather solid, so you'll have to do some prying to expand the holes. (I only used one can because I couldn't face doing this again. I also hit my head while looking for a can opener. I blame the jetlag.)

Let the sauce simmer, and stir occasionally. Add the herbs. (Dried basil doesn't seem to do anything, but the Asian market didn't have any fresh--is this the end of the season, or were they just out for the day?) Cook the sauce until it looks right (should only be twenty minutes or so). Then add a small amount of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar and added too much of it), a very small amount of sugar, and lots of pepper. (Jeffrey Steingarten says pepper loses its flavor when cooked for longer than ten minutes in liquid. I trust him absolutely.) Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve on pasta, which you should have cooked by now. When you cook it, add huge amounts of salt to the pasta water. I think this makes it taste better, but mostly it's fun to see the look on people's faces when you take a box of salt and let it stream into the water.

After I ate, Márta came home and made tejberizs. Despite the name (the rizs part of it), she made it with semolina, stirring it into hot milk, cooking until it thickened, and adding sugar. It's good with cocoa sprinkled on top. I talked to Márta for a while--my Hungarian was better than it was the day before.

I've been listening to Philip Glass's Music with Changing Parts, which I stole from my father's record collection. It's my favorite thing to listen to right now, but I wonder what I would think of it if I actually paid attention to it while it played. I will experiment and report back.