Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cooking Takes Practice!

For avid iPad users i highly recommend an app called "The Photo Cookbook" - quick and easy.

Cooking has never been easier. 80 recipes range from meat, fish, vegetarian dishes and desserts illustrated with over 700 beautifully done pictures. The photos create a montage for each recipe. So you can really follow the process step by step. It even let you click on every ingredient for further info on the product, and where it can be purchased. All together it's pretty cool, and looks like a fun way to cook even for beginners like me.

So i thought and decided to choose the easiest recipe i can find, just to be on the safe side. Of course I couldn't figure out the right temperature my oven needed to be set. The recipe said preheat to 350 degrees and bake for 7-8 minutes until cooked through. I did everything as i was told, and still got a half baked monkfish. Ended up putting it back twice. Needless to say my frustration over the whole thing. I was on the verge of crying, as my perfectly planned dinner presentation was chopped into three pieces, and somehow still raw in the inside. To get the perfect result took 30 minutes on a much higher temperature, and a search for the oven manual (obviously not found).

Ended up giving half the fish to our two dogs, who were patiently waiting by my side. I sensed they secretly hoped things would go wrong, and they get the better end of it. Indeed they did.

Cooking is not easy, even if it's helped by some smart, modern technology cookbook. Some people have special talent for it and some just need practice. I definitely belong the the latter. And i'm eager to try more. Maybe i should start on desserts.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Meat, Meat and more Meat

 Not only for my fellow Hungarians, but for anyone who is hungry for some meat, and adventurous enough to try some tasty goodness from my homeland I recommend The Hungarian Meat Market.  Not only because it's pretty much the only one in whole NY, but because it's really good.

 Surprisingly wide variety of goodies.  Several different types of bacon.  Fresh as well as dry sausages (Gyulai) range from spicy to mild.  Head cheese which is one of my favorite, all though I know it can be a bit scary for the ones not used to pork jelly and fat.  They also carry töpörtyű or also called tepertő, which is basically fried pork (also make it from goose) skin dried with some meat and fat still attached to it.  It's some pretty heavy stuff.  Also found in Mexican cuisine, but it's called chicherones.  Same thing but in bigger cuts then the Hungarian version.  They also sell tepertős pogácsa, which is a kind of bread snack made of the tepertő.  I know it sounds weird, but it actually tastes great freshly baked with bacon bits.

 Diós-mákos beigli is another favorite.  Especially baked for Christmas festivities, but here you can find it year around.  It's basically rolled up pastry filled with mák (poppy seed) or dió (grounded walnut).

 Then there's the famous Hungarian paprika from Szeged (an old city at the SE tip of the country) or from Kalocsa ( 80 miles south of Budapest). I have to mention some of the home made goodness they have refrigerated.  Goulash (which is actually spelled gulyas) and stuffed cabbage, as well as fresh savanyú káposzta, which is basically sauerkraut.  They apparently make some of the stuff in the back, but they also have an outlet in New Jersey.  The family owned joint has been there since the 50's.  Walking in you'll be welcomed by friendly Hungarians, who'll give you a taste of anything before purchase.

 The only thing I really wish they had is túró rudi, which is a very popular sweet snack filled with cottage cheese and covered with chocolate.  The only version they carry is some similar stuff from Russia, obviously doesn't look or taste the same.  Not even close.  I understand the difficulties of importing food goods from a foreign country, and i appreciate the stuff they already have.

 They are located on the upper east side on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 81st.  You won't miss it, there's a huge picture of old grandpa cooking up gulyas on the side of the building.  Everytime I go there, my heart warms up of the colorful sight of such wonderful food that my homeland has created for centuries. So go with an open mind and a hungry stomach.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


 When craving good pizza Lombardi's is definetly the place to go.  It's not only an excellent food adventure but also good to bring family and friends from out of town, to show how real New Yorkers dine. Crowded, loud, long wait for the table, but when the pizza comes out you forget all about it.

 I took my mom (visiting from Hungary) there on a friday night, so expected some wait.  People where lined up outside waiting for their names to be called for the next available table.  We grabbed some wine at the bar. Got into a conversation with a couple from LA.  Which reminds me how easy is to meet people in NY for casual chatting when stuck at a bar waiting to be seated.  Even though we had to wait a good half an hour 45 minutes, i felt like it flew by quickly and pleasantly.

 Apparently the restaurant opened up in 1897 as the FIRST pizzeria in the US, when pizza wasn't even a popular thing at all.  And i'm adding here that last year i did visit Naples and one of the first ever pizzeria in the World called Da Michele (recognized by most women as the Eat, Pray, Love eatery).  They only serve Margherita with cheese, or double cheese.  Of course my boyfriend Jason immediately asks for one with funghi (mushroom).  The horror.

 Anyways, back to the Big Apple.  Once Lombardi's were opened they pretty much went through three generations before shutting down around 1984 due to the neighborhood's turn to the worst.  But reopened it's doors in 1994 by a childhood friend of the original owner's grandson, who relocated it to it's current location on 32 Spring St.  They pretty much started with one small spot, and expended next door as space became available.

 The growing popularity of the place is unquestionable. The original oven still in use from 1905 can be seen as you pass by the kitchen on the way to the backrooms.  It's awesome.  Quick and friendly service. Pictures of famous people with the owner covering the original brick walls.  The crust is not as thin as i'd normally like it,  a bit more bready, but still very tasty.  It's perfect.  Red and white tablecloth, chipped wine glasses, and a wide variety of delicious pizza toppings.  I'm hooked.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Peruvian

 I have never heard of Peruvian cuisine before i went to Peru.  Knew absolutely nothing about it or it's origin.  I decided not to look it up before the trip, so i was truly blindsided.  I have to say i was pleasantly surprised.  Having been to Brazil a couple of months before, i figured it'll be something fairly similar.  Lots of fresh fruits, many different types of meat and even some tasty BBQ.   The experience exceeded my expectation more than i could've imagined.
 I can say that Peruvian food is one of my favorite ever since i visited the land of corn.  Which is how i refer to Peru in my mind.

 Peruvian cuisine is also among the most diverse in the world, with the largest number of dishes (apparently more then 400).  It puts even Hungary to the test.  Their food comes mainly from the combination of Spanish cuisine (not surprised!) with traditional native Peruvian ingredients, with later influences from the cuisines of China, Italy, West Africa and Japan, obviously due to the arrival of immigrants from those locations.

 The three traditional staples of Peruvian cuisine are corn, potatoes and beans.  These ingredients have been combined with many others brought by the Spanish, rice, meat (such as beef, pork and chicken). Some of the traditional food items, such as quinoa, chili peppers and several roots which had previously been tossed aside for European products, have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent decades with a revival of interest in native Peruvian food crops.  Just look at a menu in almost any health conscious restaurant in LA or NY and you find quinoa on the list, as called one of the "super foods".  It's gluten-free, considered a good source of dietary fiber and super high in protein.

 Anyways, corn is my favorite of all the things found in the wonderful land of the Inca.  Strongly recommend a trip to the local market in Cuzco, where you come across of all the different types of corn there is (35).  They come in a variety of vivid colors, and with kernels at least double the size as we have it in the US.  They pretty much include it with any known dishes.  Throwing a handful of steamed kernels around the plate or having a full corn on the side.  They also roast them to crunchy perfections, perfect for snacking.  It seems like one can never run out of options when it comes to corn.

 Talk about corn makes me think of my other well known favorite, ceviche.  Which is mostly covered with giant kernels as well as one or many types of raw fish marinated in the almost acidic aromatic lime juice, with sweet potato on the side topped with raw onion rings.  Needles to say the recognition from Japanese cuisine is immediate.

 Another dish that's even more rich in Japanese influence is called tiradito.  Thinly sliced raw fish marinated in a mix of lime juice and ginger.  The reason i like ceviche better is really the corn and the onions which gives the dish a more subtle taste.

 I have to mention a great restaurant in Cuzco named after a Hungarian porn star called Ciccolina.  I'm not saying the idea makes me feel proud thinking that's how my country is represented in such a far away land.  But I do find it funny, if not only for the fact that locals believe she's a famous Polish actress.  At least I know the truth behind the catchy name, and kudos for the great food, plus the half nude picture of my home grown talent hanging in the ladies bathroom!:)

 Potato is another tasty delight for your taste buds.  It seems to grow in unlimited colors and types. More then 2500 different kinds are registered.   They grill it, bake it, stuff it, cut it, shave it, fry it, steam it and who knows what else.  It's pretty impressive.  Being there for almost a full week i eat potatoes pretty much every day.

 Have to mention the amazing lentils, best lentil soup i've ever had.  Sorry mom.  Also eat carrot soup on the plane!  LAN airlines are fantastic.  At last but not least i have to mention my guinea pig experience, which i know makes a lot of people go ewwwwwwww, but i was there, i had to try it.  So i did, and it was great.  The local restaurant i had it required the order a couple of hours in advance, as they had to go and catch the poor little thing first.  It really is a tiny pig, tastes like one, looks like one, the difference is the amount of meat the guinea pig lacks of compared to it's bigger relative.  I know it looks scary all cooked and stuffed in one piece, but it's just pig meat.  The stuffing though wasn't that yummy, some sort of cheese with green leaves and herbs, was kind of strong to me.

 Peru is not a good place for wine lovers.  It's just not great, i've tried many different types just to see if there was one i liked.  Nope!   Alpaca on the other hand is great, super lean and very tasty with a slight sweet flavor.  Its meat is light and white, with minimal amount of fat.  They are cute animals, and seeing them up close at a reserve i felt bad eating them, but it was really just a try.  Peruvians have been farming alpaca for centuries, not having had pigs, chicken until the spanish came, that's really all they had.  I think they tried Lama meat, but didn't taste good, so just used them for their fur.  They sell alpaca meat in the states too, some people have whole farms making good money on the special treat.

 Thankfully now there's no need to travel to South America just to try Peruvian food (all though highly recommended), as finding a peruvian restaurant in any major US cities is not that hard.  The one place i like in LA called Los Balcones Del Peru is specialized in ceviche, and it's authenticity is flawless. Located in the heart of Hollywood with a very casual atmosphere.  Has great chicken dishes and a friendly owner, who recently changed the menu into a bit more gourmet.  Which to me makes no difference as my order contains ceviche and some more ceviche.  In NY is Panca on 7th Avenue in the West Village.  Again great ceviche mix, and surprisingly tasty veal tounge BBQ-d on a stick.

 Food like Peruvian should be really experienced by people who love to eat and experiment as for some other cultures it might be too exotic.   To try meat that is really unique and unfamiliar sometimes takes courage and an adventurous spirit.   Especially the ones who got used to used to chicken and turkey.  But i can tell you that it's definitely worth it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Food!  Let's discuss the basic importance of food in our everyday lives without getting too philosophical.

If you look up the word food in Wikipedia you'll see the basic definition: the intake of any substance or materials eaten or drunk to provide nutritional support for the body or for PLEASURE.  My interest is clearly in the last part of the sentence.  I didn't accidentally hit the caps lock key on my keyboard before writing down the word pleasure.  I happily admit I am in the group of people that "live to eat" instead of just "eat to live".  I'm not saying that the nutritional value of food is not important, or that we shouldn't all think about what we are putting into our bodies on a daily basis, counting calories and looking up the amount of sugar on the back of every packaged good.  It's all good and useful and I will definitely get into the matter later on, but first and foremost I have to talk about the absolute and pure pleasure of food.  I mean any kind of food from appetizers, salads, veggies, pork fat, sweets and delicious fruits to meat dishes, pickles, fish, pasta al dente, the fantastic and never ever replaceable bread.  We all secretly love bread.  It's one of the few food item that we all share in our culture, let it be pita, nan, pumpernickel or my all time favorite crispy, freshly baked white bread).

Unfortunately I can't recall my first experience with food, which was probably some mashed up carrots or random baby food (which actually is very tasty and I remember really getting into it at a later age when some relative around me had a baby and I took a bite out of curiosity).  In Hungary food is a very interesting, exciting, and often quite frightening experience.  The hardships of war and history is truly embedded in our culinary culture, with 'easy to cook in bulk' items such as potato, bean and of course lots of white bread, with the occasional meat.  Which back then was only eaten on holidays or very special occasions, as food wasn't an option more like a necessity, let alone luxury like it is today in some places.  I'm extremely proud to belong to a nation with such a huge variety of dishes, in fact I'm not afraid to say that my mother can cook a different meal every day for a year and still not run out of options.

Needless to say this is one of the reasons why there is no real need to eat other type of food while living in Hungary, as there is very little chance you'll ever get bored of it.  I - for example - didn't really eat anything else other then Hungarian cuisine until I was about 17 years old.  I occasionally had tried Greek, Italian, and German food while vacationing with my family, but on an everyday basis really just eat my mom's and grandma's home cooking.

I remember I was 18 when I had the fortune of traveling to Japan for the first time.  I was absolutely shocked when walking around the supermarket and not finding a single item I could recognize by it's appearance or ingredients.  Eventually I bought a giant apple (btw they have the biggest apples ever, with the cute individual wrapping on them) and some weird packaged pastry.  I had tried sushi and I hated it.  I could not imagine how raw fish can be appetizing for anybody, it looked and tasted disgusting to me at that point.  Of course little did I know that very soon it would become one of my favorite cuisines.

It always amazes me how taste can change with time.  When I was little I used to hate certain things that now I absolutely love.  It wasn't really that I didn't try it, I just didn't like the way it tasted.  Other times it wasn't my preference that changed, more the fact that the cuisine was way too unfamiliar and alien to me.   Trying it several times I'd discover the new flavor and often would become obsessed with it.

I'm sure we all went through that with many dishes.   This makes me realize that loving some food and not others is sometimes not about taste and the question of 'like it or not', but more about how adventurous one is willing to be when it comes to trying new cuisines.  I can gladly say that I'm definitely the adventurous type, not only willing to try new stuff but even go and travel in search of interesting flavors.  Needless to say that I'm obsessed with Andrew Zimmern and his Bizzare Foods around the World, and would love to see him come to Hungary and check out the weird cuisine we have, cuz I'm telling you, some of the stuff we eat you wouldn't even wanna look at, that's how funky our food is.

I say I will taste anything once, and if I can't keep it down I give up.  At least I can say I tried it, and know how it tastes.  I had the same adventurous thought in mind when I traveled through Tokyo with my boyfriend Jason last December. A type of fish caught his attention at the first class lounge at Narita Airport called marinated cod roe, he immediately urged me to have a bite as he was placing a piece on his plate already.  I took it, I put a whole piece in my mouth and after the first chew I spit it out into my napkin.  Marinated cod roe is basically a piece of sushi made of the eggs from mature female fish, which one might think is not a big deal as we eat caviar, but I'm telling you this was the fishiest most disgusting thing I've eaten so far, which is to me a big deal, as I can take down pretty much anything.  This I couldn't.  The fermented fishy flavor of the cod roe made my eyes tear up, and left an awful taste in my mouth for hours, while Japanese business men - and Jason - were eating it away for BREAKFAST.