Goulash

When I was a child, I thought I hated goulash.  Part of the reason was that goulashes made me think of galoshes so how tasty could they be?  The other reason was that I had never tasted an authentic goulash.  You see in America, more often than not, goulash consists of ground beef, elbow macaroni, a box of lasagne flavored Hamburger Helper, and is then topped with the blandest of bright orange cheese.  From sea to shining sea, it is a dish that screams church potluck.

These days I know the truth about goulash.  1) It is insanely delicious.  2) It is not even vaguely Italian.  3) Paprika makes the dish, both the sweet and the spicy smoked stuff.  4) Its origins trace back to the 9th century stews of Hungarian herdsmen.

After several trips to the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, my favorite of all the defunct empires, I have have learned to cook a pretty mean goulash.  And after a quick jaunt to Budapest last September, I am now stocked up to the hilt with hot paprika (and little wooly toys like Teddy Goulash that my daughter begged for at the Great Market Hall).

Whenever I use my paprika, I can’t help but think of that scene in “Love in the Afternoon” where Gary Cooper has a Romany orchestra play “Hot Paprika” over and over while he tries to extinguish the flames of jealousy.  Below is my goulash recipe.  I hope it’s one you enjoy over and over, especially when it’s galoshes weather (but also when it’s not).

Mom's Danube sunset Teddy Goulash

Ingredients:

1 kg stewing steak, generously seasoned with salt and pepper

4 bell peppers, cut into pieces the same size as your beef (I like to use a combination of colors, but do what you like. Traditional goulash doesn’t call for them at all.  They’re only a modern addition.)

4 medium sized onions, peeled and quartered

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tbsp sweet paprika

1 tbsp spicy smoked paprika

1 400g can of diced tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato paste

500ml beef stock + 1 cup of water

3 bay leaves

vegetable oil, salt, pepper

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas3/170°C/325°F.

In a large ovenproof pot, heat a tablespoon or two of oil.  Add the stewing steak and cook on high until brown all over but not cooked through.

Add the onions and cook until soft.

Stir in the garlic.

Add both paprikas, the stock, the water, the tomatoes, the tomato paste, and the bay leaves.  Bring to a simmer.

Cover the pot with a lid and transfer it to the oven.  Let it cook undisturbed for an hour and a half.

Remove the pot from the oven and stir in the bell peppers.  Place the pot back in the oven for another hour and a half.  After this time, it will be ready to eat.

While the goulash is delicious by itself, I like to serve it with spaetzle or egg noodles.  I also like to add sour cream and parsley.

sweet paprika spicy smoked paprika

plate of goulash

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A Case for Thanksgiving

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Last November Waitrose said their turkey sales were up 95% as compared with five years ago.  It wasn’t just Waitrose though.  Turkeys were being sold everywhere, from specialist butchers in the East End to Ocado and beyond.  Census data says approximately 200,000 Americans live in Britain, but that’s only .003 percent of the population.  Why then do an estimated 1 in 6 Britons now celebrate Thanksgiving?  Because it’s one of the best holidays that’s why.  

Though I moved from Los Angeles to London six years ago, I still can’t get used to the British Christmas that drags on until January.  In America, a twelve day long Christmas does not exist.  Boxing Day is not observed.  And no one watches “It’s a Wonderful Life” after the 25th, not because they don’t like it but because the window has closed.  In The U.K. all that’s standard practice.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Christmas but it is entirely possible to stay too long at the fair.  Thanksgiving, however, is just a day and one that always leaves me wanting more.

Where Christmas is an occasion for family, Thanksgiving is one for friends and strangers.  Tables are not complete without the addition of extra last minute seats.  When The World Trade Center was attacked I was in college in New York.  That Thanksgiving many parents (mine included) didn’t want their children flying home for fear of another terrorist related tragedy.  But instead of having to eat instant noodles in our dormitories alone, we were welcomed at the tables of people we tenuously knew or didn’t know at all–friends of our parents’ friends, professors from school, the families of those we interned with in Manhattan.  Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday for taking in displaced strays.

Best of all you don’t have to buy presents for anyone.  I am always filled with a slight dread when it comes to Christmas gift-giving.  I never want to leave anybody out.  My nightmare scenario is receiving a present from someone for whom I’ve not purchased or made a thing.  I know Britons hate the idea of Black Friday which has sadly become inextricably linked with Thanksgiving, but so do many Americans.  With my hand over my heart I can honestly say I have never been out shopping the day after Thanksgiving.  Lots of other people who also celebrate Thanksgiving can tell you the same.  Capitalism is not the heart of this holiday.    

The feast is the focus of Thanksgiving, primarily the sharing of it.  You might think this would make it more stressful than Christmas in terms of preparation, but in fact it is calmer.  Tradition dictates that the person hosting makes the turkey and a few sides, but most guests also bring a dish or two.  The other wonderful thing about Thanksgiving dinner is that it gets turkey out of the way so if you do celebrate Christmas you can indulge in something tastier like a crown of pork or roast beef.    

Lots of Britons assume Thanksgiving means having to eat things they think sound absolutely disgusting to them like yams with marshmallows.  It does not.  You serve what you like, though most people do have pumpkin pie on the table.  My mother always made panna cotta with a cranberry and fig port sauce.  

Because Thanksgiving is a federal holiday (proclaimed by Lincoln in 1863) and has no real religious affiliation, it creates a feeling of inclusivity that Christmas lacks.  People of all creeds are welcome to participate.  It doesn’t matter what you eat or if you pray.  The point is to share what you have and be thankful.        

When I was growing up one of my friends was Hindu.  Each Thanksgiving the women in her family would prepare a full vegetarian feast.  Despite their upbringing, my friend and her brother loved meat and ate it on the sly.  Knowing that their dinner would never include roast turkey, it became a tradition that they would sneak out of the house for In N Out hamburgers before relatives would arrive in the afternoon.  The wonderful thing about Thanksgiving is that your traditions can be whatever you want.

Throughout the years the meaning of Thanksgiving has evolved.  These days I’d say it has nothing to do with celebrating the Pilgrim Fathers.  Nor should it, as their friendship with the indigenous tribes was spurious.  Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and most importantly, sharing what you have.  It is a day to invite not just loved ones and friends, but also strangers into your home.  It is a day to volunteer and feed the poor.  It is a day for generosity.  Of course these are tenets that should be part of our daily lives, but Thanksgiving highlights them and reminds us of the kindness and generosity of spirit we should embrace the whole year through.  

So with a thankful heart I wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving.      

 

British Reserve

How does an American make friends in England?

No, seriously.  I’m asking.  Because I’m still figuring it out.  When you’re Kardashian loud and an oversharer who doesn’t really drink, making friends in the U.K. can be tough.

Which is why I have written a piece about it for The Pool.  One of the biggest challenges for me has been British reserve–i.e. people keeping to themselves and not saying what they mean (unless drunk).  That said, I’ve persisted and made some really lovely friends.  You can read about it here.

What to Watch on Your Sofa . .

FUNNY-FACE-American-Poster.jpeg.pagespeed.ce.zRojtLRAK0

Sofa.com has a culture section on its website called Inspiration Corner.  As you would guess, all the essays are sofa or furniture related.  I have recently written one about what to watch on your sofa with your princess obsessed childparticularly when Frozen has left you cold.  For me, the answer was Funny Face.

Please have a read and let me know what you think.  I would also love to know what you like to read, watch, or listen to on your sofa.

   

Auntie Marianne

Last Thursday, Auntie Marianne died.  Technically she was was my husband’s aunt, but I felt like she was mine.  The moment I married into the family she welcomed me with open arms.  At the end of every letter she sent or phone call we had, she told me she loved me and I could feel it.  It was genuine.  While her affection didn’t make me forget about my loved ones 5,000 miles away, it did make me feel like they’d be happy knowing I had her looking after me.  She made my life in London less lonely.

I once described her as having the diction of a Mitford and better posture than the Queen.  It’s true.  She absolutely did.  She was extremely grand.  That said, she loved champagne and potato chips on the sofa at home as much as she did high tea and caviar at The Wolseley.

Auntie Marianne was a stickler for manners.  The fact that my three year-old said please and thank you and knew the difference between can and may made her very happy.  The fact that she also knew how to cut her food with a knife and fork made her beam.

Lessons I already knew but were very important to Auntie: 1) Always write thank you letters.  2) Never show up to anyone’s home empty-handed.  3) If you’re going to get pre-packaged croissants, M&S is better than Waitrose.  4) Always take all the small buds off freesias and spray carnations to get better blooms.

Things I’ll miss about Auntie:  1) The way she’d greet us with an enthusiastic “Hello, my darlings!” whenever we reached her flat at the top of the stairs.  2) The smell of her Bvlgari perfume when she’d give me a hug.  3) Sharing a pot of coffee with her in the Spy Room at Durrants Hotel before lunch and shopping on Marylebone High Street.  4) The way she’d get excited about warm flat bread from the Turkish shop. (Also the way she’d get excited when her horse won the races!)   5) Basking in the sun with her on her roof terrace whilst summer breezes carried the scent of her roses down the street.  6) The way she knitted clothes for my daughter and her toys.  7) The smell of her house when she was making chutney.  8) The way she always listened to jazz.  9) The way she listened to me.  10) The way she never considered me anything less than family.

The last time I saw Auntie Marianne, she was in the hospital but I made her laugh really hard.  I am so glad because that’s exactly how I want to remember her.  Happy and laughing.  Always.

Rest in peace, Auntie, and tell Uncle Peter we miss him.  I promise to keep your best recipes alive.  I love you.

Baby Auntie in Scotland.

Baby Auntie in Scotland.

white rose red rose pink rose white flowers

Auntie smiling down at baby Helenaauntie holding marianne  auntie smiling at helena

Auntie's recipe for pickled onions.

Auntie’s recipe for pickled onions.

Auntie's recipe for Armenian lamb stew.

Auntie’s recipe for Armenian lamb stew.

nora mouse and LB button and LB rabbit, otter, and LB

Auntie Marianne and Uncle Peter.

Auntie Marianne and Uncle Peter.

Gypsy Punk Peppers

Yes, I’m talking about stuffed peppers, but if I called them that would you read this post?  Probably not.  I certainly wouldn’t.

Stuffed peppers have a bad rap.  They smack of 1970s dinner party.  Especially when served on brown Denby plates like the ones we’ve got.  And they’re exactly what you imagine a chiffon clad, Singapore Sling swilling, Margo Leadbetter from The Good Life would have insisted her caterers serve after reading about them in The Lady.  Stuffed peppers are démodé.  Perhaps that’s why I love them.

The other day someone I know posted a photo on Facebook and wrote, “You know you have a good Armenian wife when you come home to dolmas.”  Though I’d never heard of dolmas, I knew I wanted a taste.  I immediately started researching and was a bit taken aback when I realized the peppers I was drooling over were indeed very similar in construction to the nasty, season-less, stuffed peppers I refused to eat as a child.

Dolma.  Dolmeh.  Sarma.  Kidonato.  Whatever you want to call it, people have been stuffing fruits and vegetables for ages.  From the Greeks who lived in Constantinople to present day grandmothers in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Levant, and Russia.

Below is my recipe for peppers filled with seasoned rice, lamb, and beef.  I serve it with a yogurt sauce.  Would I say it’s Armenian, Persian, Turkish?  I don’t know but it sure is delicious and when I eat it it makes me want to whirl around the Wallachian hillside to the sounds of an accordion and a furious violin in between sips of amber Georgian wine.

Ingredients:    

8 medium sized sweet peppers

1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup mixed rice and bulgur wheat (the rice I use is Camargue red)

800g mixed lamb and beef mince

1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped + some extra for garnish

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more depending on how much heat you like)

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

the juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup crushed tomatoes

roughly 500ml beef stock

olive oil

Yogurt sauce = 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 small garlic clove grated

Method:

First things first.  Wash, dry, and hollow out your peppers.  Then place them in a large pot that has a bit of olive oil on the bottom.

hollowed out peppers

Sauté the chopped green pepper, onion, garlic, and cherry tomatoes.

sauteed vegetables

When they have softened, put them in a large bowl.  Add the rice and wheat, the parsley, cayenne, salt, pepper, dried oregano, lemon zest and juice, and the meat.  Mix well with your hands.

rice and filling vegetables filling

Stuff the mixture into the peppers.  Fill them about 3/4 of the way before placing the tops back on the vegetables.

Pour the stock and crushed tomatoes around the peppers.  You want the liquid to come halfway up the vegetables, no higher.

pre-steam peppers

Fit a lid on your pot, bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.

When your peppers are cooked, remove them from the pot and place them in a large dish.  Set them under the broiler/grill for a few minutes.  This roasts the top of the peppers and brings out their flavor.  While the peppers are roasting, bring the liquid in the pan to a boil and reduce.

To serve, place the stuffed peppers on a plate, spoon over the reduced sauce, some garlicky yogurt sauce, and garnish with parsley.  Most of all, enjoy.

plated peppers

Ginger Peach Jam

Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring,

and because it has fresh peaches in it. 

~Alice Walker 

Ripe peaches are among my top reasons for living.  Soft, sweet, lightly floral, and full of juice.  They are a testament to the fact that perfection can be found in the simplest things.  First cultivated in ancient China, peaches were believed to have magical properties like immortality.  Emperors loved them.  Thousands of years later, so did western royalty.  Plantagenet King John is said to have perished after consuming a surfeit of peaches.  In T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, the main character asks himself, “Do I dare to eat a peach?”  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for taking a bite out of life.  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for having the woman he desires.  No matter the interpretation, Prufrock’s peach definitely represents what my husband refers to as the English danger of having too much fun.  For Roald Dahl, a peach was the vehicle that whisked James away from his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge.

No matter how you cut it, a ripe peach is magical.  Though perfect on its own, I like to try to capture its fragrance and keep its magic a little longer than just the summer season.  That’s why I have been making buckets of ginger peach jam.  As peaches can be so sweet, I find the ginger adds a bit of fire and also refinement.  It provides structure for what could otherwise be a cloying mess.  Also, I like the idea of adding Chinese ginger to my peaches, even if my fruit happens to come from Kent or Spain.  Below is my recipe.

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Ingredients:

peaches (I use about 2 kg)

caster sugar

preserving sugar (as peaches have a really low pectin content)

the juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Method:

Peel and slice the peaches. Weigh them.  Set aside in a large jam pan.

Add 60% of the peaches’ weight in sugar.  I use a mix of caster and preserving sugar–only about 200g of the latter.  Be sure to taste your mixture.  You don’t want it too sweet but it won’t set if it doesn’t have at least 60% sugar.

Next stir in the lemon juice and ginger.

Mash everything lightly. Warm over a low heat.  Once the sugars have dissolved, turn up the heat and stir constantly.

Never let the temperature pass 104F which is the setting point for jam.  Test for a set with the cold plate method.  When the jam has achieved your desired set, stir in the butter (it’ll help keep your jam from looking scummy), and let cool for a few minute before putting in sterilized jars.

Serve on toast, pancakes or over vanilla ice cream for a real treat.  I must say if you want this as an ice cream topping, it’s best to not have a really thick set.  Runnier is better in this case.  Also, this jam is delicious if used in the middle of shortbread thumb print cookies.

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