Thursday, October 26, 2023

Happy Halloween and Goulash Madness!

Want to go mad? Try finding an "authentic" recipe for Goulash! Goulash, which is considered to be a national dish of Hungary, can take many forms, depending on which region of Europe it is made. Goulash is not the hamburger helper-like ground beef/macaroni/tomato bastardization peddled by cafeteria ladies across the US. From what I can tell, Hungarian goulash is a beef (or veal or pork) soup, made with equal parts onions and meat, seasoned with garlic, paprika, caraway, and sometimes additional vegetables, like turnips, parsnips, potatoes, and peppers. Goulash is traditionally served with steamed dumplings or tiny egg noodles called csipetke (like German spaetzle), which are pinched off (csip means pinch) and added to the simmering soup. Traditionalists consider tomatoes a faux pas, as well as using flour to thicken the soup.

Goulash, or "guylas" meaning "herdsman," originated with the cowboys of the region. Comparable to what chili is to Texas cowboys. It's also important to note that paprika was not an original ingredient in the dish, as paprika was not introduced to the region until the 16th century. Let's add a little bit more confusion, enter "porkolt." Porkolt is a meat stew that also has it's origins in Hungary. Porkolt is a stew, not soup, made with meat, vegetables but not potatoes, and seasoned with the ever important paprika. In fact, most goulash recipes that I have tried (which is a lot!) are actually the rich porkolt stew. In addition, I've also read that goulash is soup made with leftover porkolt!?! Oh, and then there are "paprikas" (aka., Paprikash) which are made with meat, paprika, and thickened with sour cream. Feeling a little mad, yet?

Anyway, with Halloween almost here, I can't think of a better meal to ward off the sugar comas my kids are soon to induce, than a nice rich bowl of hearty goulash! This recipe is adapted from Wolfgang Puck's recipe for Beef Goulash. I found his version to produce a more complex and appealing flavor, from caramelized onions to the addition of a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Changes I made were to brown the meat first, reduce the amount of caraway as it is quite strong (note: caraway and cumin are not the same thing, nor do they taste similar), upped the amount of paprika, added a dash of cayenne pepper, and opted to serve it with buttered egg noodles rather than spaetzle, to make it a little more streamlined. Although this delicious recipe is more accurately a cross between goulash and porkolt, the name "goul-ash" is just more fun to say and perfect for All Hallows' Eve!

Beef Goulash

Serves 4


3 pounds beef chuck, cut into approximately 2" cubes, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and ground (don't leave them whole!), optional
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (can also use red wine vinegar instead)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced (if you don't have fresh, use 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
Sour cream, for serving
1/2 pound cooked and butter egg noodles, to serve


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When shimmery, add the beef cubes in batches, as to not overcrowd the pan, and brown on each side, adding more oil if necessary. (This step is very important to ensure a nice beefy flavor.) Set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add the onions and sugar. Stir until the onions are caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and caraway. Cook for 1 minute. Deglaze with the vinegar and add the tomato paste, paprika, cayenne, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, stock, reserved beef cubes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven until the meat is very tender, about 2-2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. If the mixture looks too soupy, remove the cover the last 30 minutes in the oven.

When tender, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in some of the parsley, reserving some for garnish. Serve over egg noodles with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of parsley. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Magic Mushrooms

"If you see a fairy ring,
In a field of grass,
Very lightly step around,
Tiptoe as you pass;
Last night fairies frolicked there,
And they're sleeping somewhere near.

If you see a tiny fay
Laying fast asleep,
Shut your eyes and run away,
Do not stay or peep;
And be sure you never tell,
Or you'll break a fairy spell."

          -William Shakespeare

Fairy rings (aka., fairy circles, elf circles, elf rings, or pixie rings) are naturally occurring rings of mushrooms. Centuries-old tales depict fairy rings as meeting places of fairies to dance and sing, and were thought to be portals to a magical kingdom where fairies and other mythical creatures dwell. For thousands of years, some people have believed that walking into a fairy ring could bring misfortune from either death at a young age (that's awful!!!), or the possibility of being trapped in a fairy world, unable to escape. According to these old traditions, the only way to be safe was to run around the fairy ring exactly nine times (never ten) while under a full moon. Wearing a hat backwards is also said to offer protection, as it is supposed to confuse the fairies. Really? Today there is little superstition linked to fairy rings; although, some delight in the notion that if you step in a fairy ring, you are granted a wish. (If you want to risk the chance of dying at a young age!) 

Whatever you choose to believe, mushrooms are enchanting and delicious when stuffed! This delightful version, stuffed with fresh goat cheese, sauteed mushroom stems, thyme, and shallots, garnished with fairy-size sprouts and a swirl of balsamic glaze really allow the mushrooms to shine! How enchanting!

Stuffed Mushroom Caps

Serves 6

6 hockey-puck-sized button mushrooms
Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3-4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs (Panko works well, too.)
Handful chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 4 ounces fresh chevre (goat cheese)
Watercress or other sprouts, for serving
Balsamic glaze, for serving (can be purchased at most grocers)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Carefully remove and finely chop the mushroom stems, set aside. Set the caps, holes downwards, on a baking sheet, rub with a little olive oil, and bake 10 minutes to shrink slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat, and gently fry the shallot until slightly soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushroom stems, and cook until soft, about 5 more minutes. Add the garlic, chili pepper, and thyme, saute 1 more minute. Stir through all but a spoonful of the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat, taste, and season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the parsley and remaining bread crumbs.

Pull the mushrooms from the oven, and turn them holes skywards. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the cheese evenly among them, pile on the filling, then scatter the parsley mixture evenly over the top. Drizzle with olive oil, and bake until the tops are golden and the filling very hot, about 20 minutes. Serve with watercress or sprouts, lightly dressed with olive oil and salt, on the side and a generous swirl of balsamic glaze. How pretty!

Recipe adapted from French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating, by Laura Calder.