Retro Recipes and Traditional Fare

gratindauphinois.jpgPotatoes make some of the best and most comforting side dishes, especially when they're roasted or baked. A gratin of potatoes combines the best of both techniques, a soft creamy interior and a crunchy browned top. Much like scalloped potatoes but without the cheesy top layer, gratin Dauphinois, from the former French province of Dauphiné, is as simple as a homey country dish can get. The texture and the flavors of the potatoes do all the work to make an out-of-this-world potato dish.

Traditional gratin Dauphinois has no bells and whistles. It's simply thinly sliced potatoes and luscious cream baked in a dish rubbed with garlic and butter. The thick cream and starchy potatoes create the perfect texture, consistency, and crust. Therefore no cheese is even necessary. Some like to dust the potato layers with gratings of nutmeg. But I prefer the earthy flavors of fresh thyme. It's a lovely complement to the garlic as well as a favorite herb to use with potatoes. The gratin goes excellently with any roast meat, but in my opinion juicy roast chicken is the best. It's a simple yet special meal to enjoy this fall and for the upcoming holidays.

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chickenpaprikashIt's well known that paprika is the famous spice of Hungary. What I think most people don't realize is that the red powder is made from ripened peppers also called paprika. The word paprika means pepper in Hungarian, and I don't mean peppercorns, but rather the fruit or vegetable, depending on how you look at it. Hungarian sweet peppers are typically pale yellow to pale green in color when they are fresh. They can be eaten raw or cooked into many recipes. But when they ripen to bright red, they are dried and ground into the fine red powder known as paprika or what I like to call Hungarian gold.

Hungarian paprika (pronounced puh-pri-ka) is available in sweet, hot, and everything in between, with eight varieties altogether. Sweet paprika has a deeper red color whereas hot paprika is more rusty in color. The signature dish most famous for using paprika is chicken paprikash, a stew of chicken with an onion sauce richly colored and flavored with paprika. I grew up on paprikás csirke, as it is known in Hungarian. It is my comfort food, and that's exactly what it is for so many Hungarians and Hungarian-Americans. I consider it my favorite home-cooked dish. And, of course, no recipe rivals my mother's.

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veal_chop1.jpgThere is food that sustains us and then there are foods that make us happy, content and "primally" nourished. I don't eat food that has any labels or tags to read. I just eat the raw ingredient that has a little story to tell me quietly about how I should best cook it.

Whether it be vegetable or fish or meat or grain looking at it inspires me to figure out how best to prepare it in this moment. Recipes are only a guideline. It is the cook's choice to have a little fun or a burst of creativity and I guess that depends on the ingredients in front of you and how deeply you react to them.

I have to admit I am a veal chop junkie and I am verbalizing it to the world! I LOVE VEAL CHOPS, HOPELESSLY!!!  Whenever I say that, which is rarely I look around like I was talking about George W. Bush because everyone has a reaction to veal and I am sure that it isn't fifty fifty.

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shepherdspie_indiv.jpgI do love this time of year and cooking in a somewhat cooler climate makes me happy.

Two years ago I started making Shepherd’s Pie and much to my surprise, everyone at my dinner table fell in love with it. It’s a simple dish, made with everyday, fridge and pantry ingredients.  One more feather in this recipes cap – it’s a one pot dish.

Using the white part of the leeks (saving the green part for my homemade stock), and left over mashed potatoes, I am proud to say that I can feed my family of five (with leftovers for lunch the next day) for about ten bucks.

I am working on accomplishing that task most nights. Making wholesome meals, using fresh ingredients for a few dollars makes me happy and giddy. I cannot wait to share more of my “happy meals” with you.

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stewFrom the LA Times

The first time I met chef Paul Prudhomme, he was peering over the stove in his narrow test kitchen, a converted shotgun house just outside the French Quarter in New Orleans. Chef was heating oil in a large cast-iron skillet, and when he saw me, he invited me over to watch him fix gumbo.

When the oil was smoking hot, he quickly whisked in flour to form a roux — "Cajun napalm," he called it — the bubbling mass darkening to a deep chocolate brown in minutes. He stirred a trinity of vegetables into the roux to stop the cooking — onions, celery and bell peppers — then added the roux to a pot of boiling stock. Chopped andouille sausage and garlic went in as he patiently watched the stew, tasting occasionally, over a slow, quiet hour while it gently simmered away. When the rich aroma was almost too much to bear, Chef added chopped chicken, and soon the gumbo was ready.

I can't say which I savored more: the depth of flavor from a seemingly simple dish or the unhurried quiet, almost sacred, time spent preparing it.