Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hungarian Rhapsody

Last night, Bizarre Foods Foods visited Hungary.  I was looking forward to Andrew Zimmern discussing the finer points of chicken paprikas, szekely gulyas, and galuska, but instead he spent all but the last 5 minutes of the show scarfing down blood, guts, and reproductive organs.  His last stop was to the Jewish quarter in Budapest, and that was very nice.  Almost worth sitting through the first 55 minutes of his rhapsodizing about pig intestines and bull penis. For me, the episode improved immeasurably when became all misty-eyed about gefilte fish, explaining how after his grandma died it became his responsibility to prepare the gefilte fish for family holiday meals.

I love gefilte fish, but I realized a long time ago that it is an acquired taste.  My mother never made her own gefilte fish, and like blintzes, it is a traditional Jewish dish that I simply never learned to make.  My mother-in- law makes her own blintzes and they are the best I've ever eaten, but to date I have never attempted them myself.  All but the youngest of my nieces have, at one time or another, assisted their grandmother in making those divine blintzes.  I may have to request a cooking lesson sometime in the future.

This year the Jewish holiday of Passover runs from April 18 to April 26, which means the first night of Passover is on Sunday, April 17.  And that means I should be able to manage preparing food for a first night seder.  I have ideas that involve gefilte fish, chopped liver, and brisket.  Perhaps some Cornish hens.  I am a staunch traditionalist when it comes to holiday food.  The best example of this was Thanksgiving of 2000, which we spent at the Buccaneer resort in St. Croix with friends and their children.  All the other adults, and my son Cory, who was thirteen at the time, enjoyed the warm water spiny lobsters.  I ate the turkey dinner, which was pretty darn good.  The thought of not having some turkey on Thanksgiving was mind-blowing to me.  Besides, I ordered the lobster the next night.  So did Cory.  Come to think of it, he ate lobster every night we were there.

Thanksgiving 2000.  The first in a series of spiny lobster-thons.

That was a crazy trip.  We had to fly in a plane, from Puerto Rico to St. Croix, that was so small, I dubbed it a Ford Expedition with wings.  The worst moment of the trip was when the airline employees had to ask us our weight, so as not to overload the Flying Ford.  This inquiry was made in public, and back in those days I never told anyone what I weighed, including my husband.  I was so embarrassed I shaved off a few pounds, and then spent the entire flight terrified that we were going to crash because of my silly vanity.

Of all the Jewish holidays, none is more tradition-bound than Passover.  The entire holiday is about the food.  Everything we eat is deeply symbolic.  So while I do not keep a kosher home, nor do I clear my home of chametz (leavened food) prior to Passover, what I put out on my table is de rigueur.  In addition to gefilte fish and chicken soup with knaidlach and charoses for the matzoh, there has to be a poultry dish as one of the entrees.  Passover is a good time for Cornish hens, since I love them but can't eat them at Thanksgiving.  Gotta have turkey.

Congregation Shalom Aleichem Passover Seder, 1994

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Today I went into Publix for Pupperoni and animal crackers, and came out with a bone-in pork loin, a head of cauliflower, and three baby eggplants.  The pork loins are almost always well priced, and if I don't want to roast the whole piece, I can cut it into four or five nice chops for a lot less than if I bought the chops already cut.  I decided to marinate the loin in a mixture of thick teriyaki glaze, orange juice, orange peel, the orange supremes (here is a really good explanation of how to supreme an orange), garlic (fresh and granulated) and a few other things.  It is in the refrigerator now, and I'm going to let it sit overnight and roast it tomorrow.  Assuming it works out okay, I'll take pictures and share the recipe. (It worked out great, and here's the link for the recipe,)

I love pork loin, both bone-in and boneless.  (I told you I didn't keep kosher.) Not so much the tenderloin, which is a much narrower piece of meat which dries out much too easily, but the wider, meatier loin.  Pork can take on almost any seasoning that works well with chicken, which makes it a lot more versatile than beef or lamb.  Pork works well with fruit, with curry, with Asian flavors, with sauerkraut, with Mediterranean herbs - I love the versatility, and the ease of preparation.  Stuffing a deboned pork loin is deceptively simple.  My favorite version uses dried plums (prunes to us old folk) and dried apricots, soaked in brandy or fruity liquor.  Rob's dad is crazy about that one.  When I see a beautiful cryovac pork loin at one of the warehouses, I'm likely to buy it, halve it, and get two glorious big family meals out of it.

Just not for Passover.

There was also a BOGO on Pepperidge Farm swirl breads, so I picked up two of the raisin swirls and decided to make a bread pudding.  I have a couple of excellent recipes I've made before, but I want to work with some different ingredients, inspired by a noodle kugel recipe which uses fruit cocktail, and a technique my Aunt Ceil used for making a delicious quiche.  Maybe tomorrow evening, maybe this weekend.  I have a couple of big trials coming up, and I'm going to have to plan my cooking around my trial preparation.  And then plan my knitting around my cooking.  That Kink scarf is so close to completion, just in time to put it away for the warm weather.

One other thing I would really like to do this weekend is head over to the AAA office and work on planning Rob's birthday cruise.  No way I could keep it a surprise, so I told him about my plan, and I do believe he was quite pleased.  This is one of those "special" birthdays that deserves celebration.  It is the least I can do for the very best husband in the world.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.

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