Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Chicken with Corn and Lemon

My new place of residence is Gyöngyös, Hungary, about an hour away from Budapest. I'm the only native speaker out of eight English teachers at Berze Nagy János Gimnázium. I teach 24 classes a week, including one group of ninth graders who I see everyday. They have two students who don't know any English, plus a few who have already taken it for five years. The teaching has been okay so far--more details to come in later posts.

Gyöngyös completely lives up to my hopes for its culinary resources. Four days a week, farmers come in and sell their fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, and mushrooms at prices that are cheap even for Hungary. Butchershops are plentiful, and a lot of them sell what my dictionary claims is mutton. This is unusual in Hungary, where sheep are usually used here for cheese and wool and not eaten. There are also several butchers who only sell poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, and goose). Parmesan cheese is tough to come by, and the selection of olive oil is limited, but at least I can have goose fat again.

Chicken with Corn and Lemon

  • A chicken breast (i.e., two fillets)
  • Kernels from one leftover ear of corn
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tbs. or so of butter
  • olive oil, salt, pepper

Heat olive oil on medium-high in a large skillet. Dry the chicken breasts and put salt and pepper on them. When the oil is hot, add the chicken to the pan and cook it till it's just done (10 minutes or so), turning the heat down if necessary. When the chicken is done, move it aside. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the pan cool. Add the butter, corn, and a bit of salt and cook, stirring, until the corn darkens. Pour a tiny bit of water--one or two tablespoons--into the pan, turn the heat up, and stir to deglaze the pan. When most of this water has evaporated, turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and some more pepper. You can also add the chicken back into the pan if it's cooled off too much. Serve the chicken with the corn sauce.

This was really good. More butter would probably improve it. I also think it would work fine with raw corn kernels.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Salmon with Escarole

Despite the soy sauce and sesame oil, this tasted thoroughly European. Maybe it was all the olive oil I used. (It sounds like those flavors should clash, and if I had thought about it before I started, I would have done something different, but I'm glad that I didn't.) This only took 30 or 40 minutes, and it serves one. It could be scaled up as much as you'd like without any trouble.

  • 1 salmon fillet
  • escarole--use twice as much as you think you'd like
  • 4 cloves garlic (yes, for one serving)
  • 2 tbs. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • Olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Mince the garlic and sautee it in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat for a few minutes. (How much olive oil? Since I spent my formative years eating the escarole at Sam's (238 Court St., Brooklyn, NY), which is equal parts oil and escarole, I don't think it's possible to use too much.) Wash the escarole; don't bother to dry it. Add it to the skillet along with the soy sauce. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet, and stir every few minutes.

Heat up a pan that can be put in the oven with olive oil for a few minutes, and turn on the broiler. Dry the salmon. Season it with salt and pepper (not too much salt, but lots of pepper). When the oil is quite hot, put the fish in the pan skin side up. After two minutes, move it under the broiler--it should be about four inches away. It should be done in 2-5 minutes. While it's broiling, uncover the escarole and turn the heat up. When the salmon is done, take it out of the oven. Add the sesame oil and some pepper to the greens and put them on a plate. Put the fish on top. Pour the liquid from the skillet with the greens on top of the fish and serve.

I'm not sure if this is the right way to go about cooking salmon. The idea (stolen from Mark Bittman, of course) is to make the skin crisp. It worked, but as my salmon fillet still had scales, it didn't do me much good.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Godly Treats

A few weeks ago I found myself walking through Hamden, and I passed a bakery called Godly Treats. As I am tolerant of all religions that provide me food, I went in, where a very nice woman greeted me and told me I could have a free taste of anything I wanted. I went home with a bean pie ("Have you ever had one before?" they asked me) and the belief that the place was run by the Nation of Islam. Nope! It's run by the United Nation of Islam, a group "which is a separate and non related entity than the similar sounding 'Nation of Islam.'" I can't make too much fun of them because their bean pie was really good. It was like a pumpkin pie made with mashed up navy beans instead of pumpkin. In fact, I'm sure I could have passed it off as pumpkin pie. If I'm ever in Kansas City, I'll go to their restaurant, Your Diner, "A Place For Us To Develop Ideas And Enjoy Wholesome And Delicious Food In An Environment Of Righteousness."

Yes, this is a weird organization.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Honey and Caraway

It's not often that I taste something while it's cooking and it's bad. It's not that I have some extraordinary skill; it's just hard to cook good ingredients and make them bad. It was worrisome, then, to taste cabbage in the process of cooking and have it be as bad as it was. (It was actually a lot like the cabbage I cooked in Hungary, which Joel tried and wisely refused to eat.)

Since I don't usually write about my failures, you've probably guessed that it was good in the end. And yes, after I added more salt, honey, and mustard, it was delicious. So don't be discouraged if it's a bland, watery mess when you first taste it. Honey fills in most of the gaps, and mustard fills in the rest. This makes 4-6 servings and takes about an hour.

  • 1 medium head red cabbage
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tbs. caraway seeds
  • 1 lemon
  • 3-4 tbs. honey
  • mustard to taste (1-2 tbs., I think)
  • butter or oil or both
  • salt, pepper
Dice the onion and fry over medium-low heat in the butter or oil with some salt in a big pot. As it cooks, cut up the cabbage. When it's soft, after five minutes or so, add the caraway seeds and stir. After another minute, add the cabbage, some salt, and a little bit of water (less than 1/4 cup), and cover the pot. Stir occasionally, and add more water as necessary if the pot dries out. When the cabbage has started to soften, add the juice from the lemon. Add the honey a little bit at a time and stop when the balance is right. (My measurements are all approximate--next time I'll try to make them more exact.) Cook until the cabbage is soft, which takes a long time. When it's ready, add the mustard and taste. You'll probably want to add a bit more honey, since the sweetness goes nicely with the mustard. Mix in some pepper and serve.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Squash Ravioli

I would have blogged about this much sooner, but I was still too emotional about it to risk it. I didn't want to ruin a perfect thing by talking about it. But I've come to accept that I have nowhere to go but down, and now I can talk about the squash ravioli that were the pinnacle of my culinary existence. Yes, they were good. Oh, and Giovanna did all the work in making them. I just, umm, supervised. Many thanks to Mark Bittman. This serves four and takes forever.

The filling:

  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash
  • 2 eggs
  • nutmeg (a lot)
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cut the squash into inch-thick slices, remove the seeds, and cut off the peel. Put a bit of olive oil on a baking pan and put the slices on this, and put a bit of olive oil on top. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the squash. Bake until soft (30-45 minutes) in a 400 degree oven. Put the slices in a bowl and mash. When the squash has cooled a bit, mix in all the other ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning.

The dough:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour, about
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs
Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and crack an egg in. Beat the egg and mix it up, and repeat with the other eggs. The mixture should seem much too dry, but pick it up and knead it a bit. If it's still too dry, add water a tiny bit at a time, but it shouldn't need it. Roll the dough out as thin as you can into a giant strip---this will take a while---and cut it in half. Put the filling onto the first half in little mounds, spaced properly apart. (How far apart? One ravioli-distance, I guess.) Brush or drizzle water in the spaces between the filling; this will make the dough stick. Take the top sheet, put it on top, and press it against the bottom sheet where it comes together (i.e., press between the mounds of filling). Cut out individual ravioli. Do all of this on a lightly floured surface to keep things from sticking, and don't pile ravioli on top of each other. (You could probably get away with it if you dust flour on, but why go to that trouble?) Pour them into a big pot of boiling, salted water and cook till done (six minutes, maybe), giving it a gentle stir every now and then. While you're doing that, make the sauce:
  • olive oil
  • fresh sage, minced
  • garlic (I didn't use this, but I think it would be good)
  • salt
Heat the olive oil on medium-low. Add the sage, garlic, and a little bit of salt. Don't burn the sage.