Monday, October 25, 2010

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

My first taste of Hungarian Mushroom soup was back in college at the beloved Feasts of Reason in Chestertown, Maryland. Although it’s been years since I enjoyed a perfect roast beef sandwich on their fresh baked baguette with blue cheese mayonnaise (do I have your attention?) and a cup of their soup, my love affair with the soup continues.

I started working out a recipe for my own version of this soup years ago in my collegiate kitchen back on High Street, and it has maintained top billing in my mental rolodex. In the early stages, I would use condensed Golden Mushroom Soup as my base, and as my comfort in the kitchen grew, I traded in the soup base for fresh made roux to achieve the creamy base.

When Kyle and I were first living together, I remember mentioning having a craving for the soup one fall, and his eyes instantly lit up. Having lived in Hungary briefly years ago, Kyle has always been a big fan of the country’s flavors. It is a warm, comforting and creamy soup that will chase out the chill from any October evening. The ingredient list is relatively simple, and as such it’s great for feeding a large group without spending an exorbitant amount on the makings. If you’ve got it on hand, smoked paprika adds a wonderful depth of flavor, and a little Hot Hungarian paprika sprinkled on top before serving brings another element to the finished product. If you making the soup for a meatless crowd, a dark vegetable stock will work just as well as beef stock, just be sure to omit the Worcestershire

Paired with a loaf of crusty rustic bread, a spicy arugula salad and full bodied red and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect fall night in with friends. This recipe could easily serve 6 for a main course, and freezes well once cooled.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

- 16 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 1 Medium Vidalia onion, quartered & sliced thinly
- 2 Garlic cloves, minced
- 40 oz. Good quality beef or dark vegetable stock (homemade is best)
- 1 Tbspn. olive oil
- 1 Stick salted butter
- ½ish Cup all purpose flour
- 8oz. Sour cream
- 8oz. Milk
- 4 Tbspn. dried dill
- 2 Tbspn. smoked paprika
- 1 Tbspn. regular paprika (if you don’t have smoked paprika, just substitute regular for both)
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper
- 1-2 Tbspns. Worcestershire sauce
- Chopped flat leaf parsely (optional)
- Hungarian hot paprika (optional)

In a small sauce pan, melt ¾ stick of butter over medium heat. Add in flour a little at a time and whisk to combine until a stiff roux consistency is reached. Continue cooking 5-10 minutes or until roux turns golden and flour is cooked down. Take off heat & set aside. Heat remaining butter and olive oil in the bottom of a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add in mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until mushrooms begin to release moisture, about 5-7 minutes. Add in sliced onions & cook an additional 5-7 minutes until onions become translucent. Add in minced garlic & cook 2-3 minutes until garlic is fragrant, but not browned. Season with salt & pepper to taste before adding dill and paprika, stirring well to incorporate and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes or until spices are well blended into vegetables. Once the mixture is well integrated, add in beef/vegetable stock and leave pot to come up to a low rolling boil. Once soup has reached a boil, mix roux into broth (see my note on a helpful technique at the bottom of this recipe), and continue mixing until a gravy- like texture is reached (you may not have to use all of the roux. Once all roux has diluted into the stock & the consistency is smooth, turn stove to low, add in milk & Worcestershire and mix well. Slowly add in sour cream until fully dissolved and texture is that of heavy cream-if too thick, add in a little more milk- and adjust salt & pepper seasoning as needed. Serve garnished with a little extra Hungarian hot paprika, chopped parsley or a dollop of sour cream.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Curry Roasted Cauliflower with Crispy Chickpeas

I started messing around with different cauliflower recipes a couple of years ago, but the two I continue to go back two are either mashed (a favorite in Kyle’s family) or roasted. Roasted cauliflower is so simple and is ready quickly, which makes it perfect for any weeknight or a quick snack. Normally I just break apart a head a cauliflower, toss with a little salt, pepper and olive oil and roast off in the oven for half an hour or so. I love the way it gets crispy, but retains most of its shape, and is great for dipping. I’ve been on a curry kick for the past year or so, and I’ll usually make a quick curry dipping sauce (as in spicy curry powder and mayo or sour cream) to go alongside.

While tooling around on Epicurious I stumbled over a recipe for Spice-Roasted Chickpeas that really spoke to me. I am a huge fan of chickpeas in almost any application. My one grievance is on occasion they tend to get really soggy if out on a salad bar. I love the creamy texture of hummus, and the crunch of roasted wasabi peas, and spice roasted garbanzos sounded like the perfect middleman.

I started thinking about ways to roast the chickpeas and cauliflower together, and the end result was a mutant dish with so much flavor, I had to restrain myself from not eating it all in one sitting. Mixing the curry powder in with the oil gave the dish a lovely bright color, and helped spread the seasoning evenly over all components. The pine nuts were a last minute gamble, and I loved the secondary crunch they brought in addition to the chickpeas.

I ended up serving this alongside some outstanding striped bass Ky provided for dinner with a friend, and the combination was a knockout. Kyle had originally told me we had might have a last minute addition to dinner, and concerned that we wouldn’t have enough of the side, I par boiled off a couple of red potatoes and tossed in with the cauliflower-chickpea mixture (I had roasted it off the night before with plans to heat before dinner), and it was a great addition and budget friendly way to stretch the dish. I will for sure be making this on a pretty regular basis- no lie, I have the fixins in the apartment now, and plan on whipping it up over the weekend. My only point of caution would be to make sure that your chickpeas are as dry as humanly possible- drained in a colander after rinsing and pressed between two kitchen towels seemed to do the trick. Just make sure you have a good size batch made up, as it will develop legs quickly!

Curry Roasted Cauliflower with Crispy Chickpeas (morphed from here and here on Epicurious)

- 2 lbs. Cauliflower, stemmed & broken into florets
- 15oz. can Chickpeas, rinsed, drained & well dried
- ¼ - ½ Cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tspn. Cayenne pepper
- 2 Cloves garlic, well minced
- 4 tbspn. Pine nuts
- 3(ish) tbspns. Spicy curry powder
- 2 tspn. Hungarian hot paprika (optional)
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper to taste
- Handful fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, mix olive oil, pine nuts, garlic & all spices until well combined. Toss cauliflower & chickpeas with oil to coat and season with salt & pepper to taste. Spread evenly onto high lipped sheet pan in one layer. Roast off in oven for 35-25 minutes, until cauliflower is well browned & chickpeas are crispy. Stir occasionally throughout roasting time. Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes & transfer to a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve warm or at room temperature. Great as a side, over greens or as a snack.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Portuguese Kale Soup

In line with my recent ode to fall over on The Humble Home, I was really looking forward to making soup last Sunday. Due to circumstances unforeseen (ahem, having way too much fun hanging out with friends in Boston drinking margaritas & watching stand-up), it was pushed back to Monday, which worked out well since my beloved Patriots were on MNF, and I had plenty of time to prep my soup so I could enjoy it while watching the lads “Squish the Fish”- which they did a hell of a job with in the second half!

Soup is an all time favorite food, a tradition that started with my childhood and continues through today. Kyle and I are big soup fans, and it is a great way to stretch ingredients to get more bang for your buck. Traditionally, most of the soups that I make have pretty humble roots- fish chowders, Hungarian mushroom, beef barley, and the likes all started as ways to feed a crowd on the cheap with whatever was on hand. I’ve always enjoyed sampling the local foods when living in different parts of the country, and the local soups are usually a pretty good example of the flavors and culture of a region. Most of the recipes I’ve picked up along the way come from working in kitchens and restaurants- while working as a lunch chef in the Virgin Islands, I picked up a great recipe for Caribbean Black Bean soup, my chowder recipe stems from my days in the kitchen at The Chowder House, Maryland Cream of Crab came from friends on the Eastern Shore, and while serving at a sushi bar in Colorado, I picked up a fantastic recipe for Mexican Tortilla soup from the immigrant workers in the kitchen.

Living in Rhode Island, I’ve started to pick up on the flavors that dominate the area around here, primarily influenced by the Portuguese culture. While I concede to not having a lot of knowledge about Portugal and the culture, I am really digging their food! Fried calamari is served with banana pepper rings, seafood chowders gain a little spice and a lovely pink tone from chorizo and fresh meats are slow simmered in wine and spices. One item I keep seeing pop up on local menus is Portuguese Kale Soup. I’ve tried it at a couple of places, and the flavors are wonderful and comforting- stewed kale, soft potatoes and onions and a little kick from the spicy sausage- all the makings for an ideal fall soup.

I started my quest for an authentic kale soup recipe online and found a lot of variations, each with their appeals. Most of the reviews offered up variations, as with many cultural foods, everyone’s mother or grandmother has their own spin on the ingredients. Building off of one recipe that seemed to have the basics down, I asked a couple of the Portuguese guys I worked with for their take. Much like the online comments, each had their own spin. With recommendations and a basic recipe in hand, I stopped by the store, picked up the components and a loaf of take & bake bread and headed home to get to work.

The end result was a wonderfully satisfying soup that wasn’t overly heavy, but can keep you full all evening or afternoon. Up until recently, kale has been a relatively underutilized green, and I am happy to see it making a resurgence in the food blogging and restaurant communities. It holds up well to the slightly spicy nature of the sausage, and doesn’t fall apart even after a couple of days in the stock. I made a huge batch, but have halved it so as to be a little more manageable. This soup will most certainly be in heavy rotation on my list, and is a welcome departure for the standard chicken noodle as a quick go-to one pot dinner.


- 1lb. Fresh kale, well washed, stems removed, torn into pieces
-1 Large Vidalia onion, Frenched or julienned
-4 Large red skinned potatoes, diced large
-1 lb. Linguica loose or diced if in links (Chorizo works well)
-6-8 Cups chicken or pork broth (more or less, depending on how “soupy” you want the finished product to be)
- 4 tblspns. Olive oil
-3 large garlic cloves, minced
-1 Can Cannelloni beans, rinsed & drained
-1-2 Bay leaves
-1 hot pepper, seeded (I used a good sized Fresno)
-1 tspn. Smoked paprika
-Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper

In a large soup or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in onions and linguica and cook, stirring occasional for 10 minutes or until onions turn translucent and sausage begins to breakdown. Add minced onion & continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add in potatoes, hot pepper, bay leaves, paprika, a little salt & pepper, stir well to combine, continue cooking for another 10 or so minutes until potatoes soften slightly (see note). Add in broth and turn heat to medium-high, and continue cooking until at a low boil. Add in torn kale a handful at a time, stirring in to wilt. Once all kale has been incorporated, simmer additional 10 minutes. Add in Cannelloni beans, season with salt & pepper to taste, and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve hot with crusty bread.

Note: A great trick I picked up from making industrial batches of chowder while working at The Chowder House- when building your soup base, allow potatoes, onions and other components to hang out together for a couple of minutes before introducing liquids. Doing this will coat your potatoes and onions with the spices being used (as well as the delicious flavored fat from the sausage), which in the long run will infuse the veggies with more flavor, and make for a more cohesive finished soup.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

German Potato Salad

(yep, camera still out of comission- thanks again Crackberry)

Some days, you just need a little bacon grease.

On the whole, I pride myself on doing my best to eat well and keep my desire to indulge in check. I actually enjoy a good workout, run or long walk with Kyle. But some days you just have to tell the health nut on your shoulder to take a hike.

Due to the offshore effects of one of the recent tropical storms, Ky’s ship ended up back at the docks for a few days last week while they waited for a better weather window. I was happy to have a couple of extra days with him, as we are on the cusp of deciding where to request for his next assignment. It is a big deal not only for his career, but the future of mine as well (more to come on that later). It’s a pretty big topic to take on, deciding where you want to spend the next three years of your life, and such big choices need big, comforting flavors. Our go-to on a cold night has always been German food. Very early on in my kitchen adventures, I used to make a casserole similar to this dish, and the potato salad recipe has been evolving over the past 20 years or so as a result.

Growing up, Kyle spent many hours helping out at a close family friend’s restaurant in downtown Brunswick, Richard’s. Richard himself is from Germany, and his dishes are beyond comforting. While helping out, the boys were always given a bite to eat, which commonly came in the form of stewed red cabbage, since there were at least a couple of them underfoot, and cabbage was inexpensive. From this, Ky has a wonderful stewed red cabbage recipe that I absolutely love, and am still working on convincing him to write down so I can post it. It’s such a perfect cold night dish, and it only gets better if left to come together overnight.

When we lived in Annapolis, there was a wonderful German restaurant we would sneak away to down in Edgewater called The Old Stein Inn. The beers were cold, the food thoughtfully made, and if you caught it on a warm summer night, there would be a live accordion player strolling through the beer garden out back (and you would gladly shell out $10 for her CD after a couple of pints!). Through all of these various experiences with some of our favorite German haunts, we’ve thrown together our own little routine for our German night- both of us standing over our respective bubbling pots, sautéing onions, having a beer or two while we talk and cook, the whole apartment smelling like apple cider vinegar and bacon- pure heaven.

It goes without saying that this is probably not a menu that you would want to eat everyday while trying to be health-conscious. But that’s what makes it all the more special- a compilation of dishes that are not only delicious, but spark memories of past dining experiences, and bring a little comfort at exactly the time when you need it.

(Footnote: the discussion was awesome, we are a united front on our hopeful next destination, and updates soon to follow when we get confirmation!)

Hot German Potato Salad

-6-8 Large red skinned potatoes (I used Irish Reds), cleaned, halved and sliced into even ½ circles
- 4-5 Slices thick cut bacon, diced
- ¼ Sweet Vidalia onion, diced
- ¼ +/- Cup all purpose flour
- ¼ +/- Cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ (ish) Cup water
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper
-Handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

In a large Dutch oven, heat salted water & cook potatoes until just fork tender, about 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness of slices. Drain in colander & set aside. Wipe out Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Once to temp, add in diced bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon & drain on paper towels. Turn heat down to medium-low and add onions to bacon grease, cooking until translucent, about 10 minutes. Season onions lightly with salt & pepper. Add in enough flour to make a moderately thick roux (about the consistency of heavy cake batter), and continue cooking another 5-7 minutes, until flour has cooked out, turned golden brown and thickened a bit more. Add in cider vinegar a little at a time to loosen the roux, use a little more or less than called for, depending on consistency, and use water to thin to consistency of hollandaise sauce (overuse of vinegar can overpower the salad). Stir in potatoes, parsley & reserved bacon until potatoes are well coated. Serve while still warm. Salad can be made up to an hour or two in advance and be kept covered in a low set oven. Stir well before serving, and add bacon just before serving to keep crisp. This salad is best friends with a couple of good quality brauts, a little whole grain mustard, a pile of kraut and a pile of buttered spaetzle, and good friends should never be separated...

Review: Johnson & Wales Pro Series French Cuisine Class

(photo from Johnson & Wales University website)
Last weekend, I started my weekend Chef’s Choice classes at Johnson & Wales University up in Providence. Initially I had signed up for three courses, with the first course being their Pro Series French Cuisine. The class advertized itself as being geared towards home chefs who had already tightened up their basic skills, and were looking for a challenge and an opportunity to learn some new technique. The regular Chef’s Choice courses run for approximately 3 hours, but since we were working with some slightly more advanced techniques, our course ran for 4 hours.

Upon getting on to the Johnson & Wales campus, I was immediately impressed with the facilities and how pristine the area felt. It took us a while to find the building where the class was being held (no signage on the grounds near where parking was suggested, but finally made a call to the helpline and they were able to direct us), but we were wowed by the brand new facility once we found it. Weekend classes are held in the Center for Culinary Excellence building, a striking new glassed in structure with outstanding professional-grade kitchens. We found our classroom (Kyle was originally signed up to be in the Pro Series Baking & Rolls course, but enrollment was too low, so he switched over to the French course) and were greeted by their friendly student volunteers and our instructor. While waiting for the rest of the class, we read over the handouts, which went through the menu we would be preparing for the day (more on that later!).

Class started with a warm welcome from our instructor, who began a dialogue with us about the general concept and flavor profile of French cooking. He discussed how traditional French cooking is often times considered difficult and time consuming, when in reality it is really more about taking the time to insure that all ingredients are handled properly so as to bring out their best flavors. Although he conceded that it was commonly time consuming, the trick was to have all of your components prepared before you begin to make the process efficient, and form of setup known in the professional culinary world as mise-en-place (I was relieved when he called on me to define what mise-en-place, and I was correct). After our initial introduction, he divided the class in half and we selected one of two menus. The other team’s menu included Beef Consume, Lobster Thermador served with Haricot Verts Almondine, Duchess Potatoes and a trio of Crème Brules. Our menu featured Oyster Rockefeller, Beef Wellington (!!!), Pommes Anna, Stuffed Provencial Tomatoes and Chocolate Soufflé.

Each group was provided with speed trays packed with beautiful, fresh ingredients broken down by recipe to help with prep. We divvied out the prep work within our groups and set to work. Since the class size was small, we each were able to work with a student volunteer or assistant instructor in a one on one setting to gain new skills and suggestions for better prep. The students were very new (classes started a month prior) and enthusiastic, willing to offer up help at any time. At various points throughout the class, the lead instructor would invite us to gather around one of the prep station while he instructed one of the participants on a certain form of knife work or prep, allowing us to practice hands on. I really appreciated his teaching style, where he would show you once and encourage you to perfect the skill with the rest of the prep work. Throughout the afternoon, he would call out the time, giving us recommendations about how far along we should be in our work, what dishes should be ready to fire, and how close we were to service. It was a great way to keep yourself in check, and much like what I remember from my days in restaurant kitchens, although the pace was much more relaxed, with more room for error.

In general, Kyle and I got pretty high marks for our kitchen skills, and our instructor seemed happy to pretty much turn us loose on our menu. He seemed pleased with our ability to crank out two dozen shucked oysters (see previous post on our love of oysters!), and general ability to make our way around the kitchen. Like any heads chef, he was continually moving around the kitchen, tasting our dishes, recommending adjustments and commending good execution. We began to button up our prep work and started moving towards assembling our soufflé, and I did all I could to avoid the speed tray containing the ingredients. I’m pretty sure that our instructor saw this, and sensing my fear, pointed me directly towards my greatest fear. Well, alright then. Kyle and the other student in our group busied themselves assembling the Wellingtons, and I set to work organizing my mise-en-place for the much feared Chocolate Soufflé. Some time back in the Regan Administration, my mother had showed me the proper technique for separating egg yolks and whites (separated yolks in one container, whites in another, and separating over a third container so as to not contaminate the pure egg whites- there’s nothing worse than being on your last egg and watching a sneak yolk jump the shell and ruin ten perfectly good whites!), so while I worked through my eggs, the instructor called the other students over to observed, and explained why this technique is crucial in making a proper soufflé, as the fat from the yolks are the mortal enemy of a successful meringue. Ok, so I’m off on the right start at least!

Through his confident guidance and relative hands off approach, I worked my way through the well paced instructions, tempering my chocolate & yolk mixture, dusting my soufflé cups, whipping the whites to stiff peaks and gently folding the two components together. The tray hit the hot oven, the door sealed shut, and I crossed my fingers. When the time was right, the soufflés were removed and- Sweet Mother Mercy- they rose! They actually looked like soufflés, with little caps and everything! Wow. We all clamored for spoons and grabbed up the little cups, dipping into their tops. Although the flavor was spot on, they had been in the oven just a few minutes too long, and had lost their creamy interior (a fault that the instructor took upon himself for mis-timing, although I think I definitely had fault in as well!), but the concept was still on.

Once our dishes were plated, we all sat down as a class to sample our hours of hard work, and in all honesty- there wasn’t one dish that disappointed! The Lobster Thermador was luxurious and creamy and paired beautifully with the haricot verts and potatoes, which were baked into lovely piped circles. The Wellington was perfectly seared (good job honey!) and wrapped in indulgent duxelles with buttery pastry. The rice stuffed tomatoes had a rich and meaty flavor from their demi-glace topping, and the Oysters Rockefeller certainly didn’t go to waste- I think Ky had 6 or 8 alone! The other groups Lemon Crème Brule was a smashing success- the perfect carmelized sugar top, with a richly smooth custard, and the lemon was a perfect addition. Everything was so well done, it was incredible to think a group of foodies who had never met could put together such a great meal, and we didn’t even have to eat for the rest of the day!

Overall, I give our first experience with the Chef’s Choice courses at Johnson & Wales very high marks. Our instructor was very knowledgeable, the teaching kitchen was wonderful to work in, and our student volunteers were enthusiastic and happy to help. Not only did we receive excellent hands on training for executing an elegant and classic French menu, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor, and were able to take our booklet of notes & recipes home to use again. As they say, the proof is in the pudding! I am already looking forward to my next two Saturday classes, and can’t wait to pick up new skills, and share them with friends & family!

Class schedule & available dates for Johnson & Wales Chef’s Choice Classes can be found on their website.