Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hungary, Dec 18th, 2010

Despite the fact that I had already planned to have Hungarian night on December 18th a few months ago, I was about to cancel it last week when Eric suggested we went to a new Chinese restaurant's opening.  But as fate would want it, he waited too long to RSVP and the place was full.  So, I decided to go ahead with my original plans and hosted a Hungarian Christmas dinner.  In reality, I really don't know if this was a traditional Hungarian Christmas meal but it certainly was filling and stuffed with calories as a proper Christmas meal should be. 

On a side note, I am getting a little over the whole commercial side of Christmas.  I do like giving presents but I spent today doing Christmas shopping and I did not enjoy it at all.  Well, the part where I finally found a Starbucks without a 20 people line was nice as I was able to get a much needed skinny latte but the going to stores and struggling to find the things on my list was not the most pleasurable side of the day.  What on earth is "cozy fashion"?  One of my sister said she wanted a cozy sweater (apparently some DKNY concept - I Googled it, it exists) but I just couldn't find the DKNY one anywhere!  So I bought something that resembled that at Ann Taylor and hopefully it'll work.  Hopefully she won't read this blog until after I've given it to her....  My idea of a great Christmas is: do nothing.  I love the Christmas tree and I love the parties but it's the stress of getting everything done that I don't like.  Instead of doing nothing, I am going to Italy to see the family.  Hence the Christmas shopping. 

Back to Hungary.  Interesting food.  Tons of butter and potatoes and eggs.  Not one green vegetable on my menu.  I realized that too late - I had already decided what I was going to cook and was at the Farmer's market shopping for ingredients when I realized there was a definite lack of color green in my cart.  But as I said, being Christmas, one should not be too worried about overdoing it.  So, instead, I skipped the eggnog (I like the eggnog! I think I only had it once or twice in my life - possibly twice in the same evening - but that thing is yummy...)

I had a good head start on Friday night.  Made the soup, 2 batches of cookies to put in the goodie bags and started on the preparations for the bread (really I should have made the complete recipe on Friday night but it was 11pm by the time I've got the dough shaped and it still needed to raise and then cook so I decided that the cooking part would have had to wait until the morning and went to bed).  Eric, who had gone to a car service place to get power locks installed on my new car (read= Christmas present) and ended up spending the day at the Big Chicken (for the non-natives: Kentucky Fried Chicken in an Atlanta's suburb, also a popular Georgian landmark...) wasn't feeling too well so I couldn't rely on his help but my planning this time seemed to be quite right.  It's a great thing when a lot of the dishes require minimum preparation and a lot of cooking time.  You've got to love stews.

I looked but couldn't find kohlrabi anywhere: this is a root vegetable that looks like a turnip and apparently can grow in frosty conditions and therefore is pretty popular in cold Hungary.  Google recommended substituting with turnips (boring) or rutabaga (aahh... now there's an idea). 

I had finished in the kitchen well ahead of dinner hour and even had time to get dressed up, made up and was already sipping a glass of wine when Tony, Joanne, Kako and Robert showed up at 7.30pm ready to savour Hungarian dishes.  And after warming up and catching up on each other lives, we headed for the table hungry and in good spirits. 

My first course was the soup.  This was so easy to make that I was afraid it would have been really bland but maybe the combination of butter, rutabaga, onion and milk was a winning one, as despite commenting on perhaps being a bit short on salt and pepper, everyone really liked it. I served it with the home made bread and got quite a few oooh and aaah when I first presented it on a cutting board.  It looked really nice.  The house smelled heavenly on Saturday morning while I was baking it.  I love the smell of freshly baked bread.  And the bread was perfect for that soup.  Perhaps I misinterpreted the bread recipe a little and ended up with a much longer and thinner loaf but because of this, it was not as soft as it should have been and therefore it was perfect to mop up the soup. 

Kako commented the soup needed a little something in way of decoration (parsley?) and to be fair the recipe did suggest that I used the leaves of the kohlrabi if it came with them but the rutabaga didn't have any leaves and I didn't think of using something else. 

The second appetizer I served was delicious but probably should be listed as a health hazard: layer potatoes, butter, boiled eggs, sausages, sour cream and breadcrumbs and you get a really tasty Hungarian casserole.  Some of my guests realized too late that it was not the main dish (and were eating their second serving) and so I promised to give them a doggy bag at the end of the night since I still had plenty leftover.  All that Robert could say about it was OMG.  Tony said it was the perfect breakfast food (why not?), Eric loved the sausages.  Eric was actually supposed to make the sausages but the work on the car mentioned above took much longer than anticipated so I improvised by getting some locally made (at the Dekalb Farmers Market) smoked kielbasa sausage.  OK, so not Hungarian, but at least Eastern European.  Even got some extra to give to my guests in the goody bag. 

The main course was beef goulash.  The recipe called for 1/3 cup, 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of paprika and so the dish was really red and I think it looked very tasty.  The paprika was Hungarian but it was the sweet variety and in hindsight it would have been better to mix some smoked or hot paprika to give the dish more flavors.  It was a bit bland.  I was really worried that it wouldn't be ready on time.  The recipe called for a long cooking time but the potatoes took forever to cook!  I think I cooked it for an extra 3 hours from the time I added the potatoes instead of the prescribed 45 mins to 1 hour.  Either I picked the wrong potatoes (Yukon gold) or I didn't cube them small enough.  Tony loved this dish and he thought the bread went well with it too (lots of juice to mop up and there was still quite a lot of bread left).  The rest liked it but thought it a bit bland... Very little use of garlic in Hungary...  a bigger chunk than the 1.5 cloves would have been good. 

The dessert was a work of art: given that presentation isn't my strongest suit, I think this was a great effort on my part.  It was rakott palacsinta which is stacked pancakes with filling of cream cheese and walnuts, cherry and apricot preserve and whipped cream.  Well, the whipping cream part was an error... The recipe did call for whipping cream but to serve with the cake not as a filling but I think the result was actually better.  I am new at making crepes and it's not an easy thing to do.  The recipe was supposed to yield 16 crepes that I was supposed to stack but I only ended up with 10 or 11 (damn hard to make them that thin - I need to go to Paris more often to get better accustomed at this skill).  I presented it covered with icing sugar, chocolate shavings and black grapes and it was beautiful to look at and tasted great.  So, pat on the back for me. 
Jeff showed up for dessert and he thought it was lovely (so got him to score it in place of Eric who once again passed on dessert). 

While my friends were drinking coffee, I distributed the goody bags which as I mentioned included 2 varieties of cookies (Hungarian poppy seed cookies and Butter Horn cookies), kielbasa sausages, a jar of paprika and a bottle of my special homemade limoncello.  OK, this last one is not at all Hungarian but it's Christmas and I wanted to put in a little special extra! 

Everyone appreciated the gifts, liked the dinner and had a good time.  I could see the first drooping eye,  it was getting late and it was time to call it a night.  So I shared the leftovers and bid my friends goodnight.  It'll probably be 2011 before I see them again :)

Here is the full menu with the scores:

Kohlrabi Soup (with rutabaga):  8.8
Braided White Bread:  7.5
Rakott Burgonya (Sausage & Potatoes Casserole):  8.9
Marha Gulyas (Beef Goulash):  6.8
Rakott Palascinta (Stacked Pancakes):  9

Overall Dinner:  8

Next dinner will be on tour... I'll be spending New Year's Eve at my sister's house in Tuscany and we're having an Indonesian meal... that'll be fun.  My parents are going to be there and they don't really eat much aside from Italian food so I'll have to be really creative to make them believe that is exactly what they're eating! I wonder… will I find all the ingredients? We’ll see. I will tell you all about it when I return.

Stay tuned!


dan le said...

This is too funny to be a dinner party! We should have consulted my Hungarian neighbor, Miss Katie who lives in a "castle" across the street, for advice on recipes... but then again she was the one who encourages her grandson to play with the electrical sockets! She has a hairdo like ZaZa and makes a mean potato salad...

Anonymous said...

It was interesting to know about Hungarian dishes. I always think your blog is kind of educational. I learnt many cuisines through it.

Well, good luck on your first alphabetical dinner away from Atlanta (I assume). And of course, have happy holidays with your family!!!

Kiyomi from Tokyo (I'm also spending time with my family and friends in home country now. :) )

Peter Wallace said...

Another fabulous report! Thanks for sharing this Rossana. Have a great holiday in Italy and hope the dinner goes well! Mwah

Eric said...

Better than any meal I've ever eaten in Budapest.

Indonesia sounds fun, but I'm looking forward to Jordan. Lamb on a stick and falafal. Yumm!

Anonymous said...

This sounds fab...and heavy, just right for Christmas! Please make the dessert at another shindig...(Maybe they eat it in Bulgaria, too.) -Laurel