St. John’s Magic: Greenwalnut Liqueur

greenwalnut liqueur

Sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still): the two Latin words solstice derives from. Celebrating the summer solstice, or Midsummer, is originally a pagan feast; June 24th was designated later as the holiday of Christian martyr St. John the Baptist.

Some pagan rituals continue to live on in Europe – during the eve preceding St. John’s Nativity bonfires are lit to protect against evil spirits, for witches and demons are said to roam freely during the shortest night of the year. It’s also believed that treasures are waiting for the lucky finder, and I believe green walnuts are among the prizes.

In Roman times walnuts were worshipped as Jupiter’s plant, even the gods dining on them. This time of year they are in their unripe stage, still green and immature, kernels just starting to harden. Perfect for making a traditional aperitif popular throughout the Mediterranean: greenwalnut liqueur.

I’ve first encountered this aromatic drink at the Croatian seaside where it’s called orahovac. It is available commercially, but everyone has a cousin, an uncle or neighbour making it by the gallon, and Dalmatians being hospitable as they are, you simply can’t go home from a holiday without a plastic bottle filled with the murky liquid as farewell gift/souvenir.

Nocino in Italy, nocello when in Spain, liqueur de noix vertes in France are the names to look for. These are basically the same drink, although the spices added vary from region to region, from family to family.

Folklore has it that for the best greenwalnut liqueur, barefoot virgins are to gather an uneven number of dew-laden green walnuts, which should then be left to dry by the bonfires of St. John’s Eve. Riiight… I decided to go with the uneven figure thing from these criteria and hope for the best.

Actually, making rich and intense greenwalnut liqueur is not difficult at all, but does require some patience. When I say some, what I mean is you’re supposed to wait 40 days first, and even after that you shouldn’t drink your elixir before November as it needs to mature.

If you somehow managed to hide it forget about it until late autumn though, besides the spicy and warming taste, perks allegedly also include fending off evil spirits of the night, remedy for eczema and curing sore throat. Different strokes for different folks, right?

If all this magic, tradition and benefits are not reason enough for you to give greenwalnut liqueur a go, fine, but know that the aforementioned evil spirits will hunt you down. Just sayin’. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and set about doing it! Not just figuratively, as the walnuts stain everything they touch. It’s highly recommended to wear rubber gloves and an apron.

Greenwalnut Liqueur

  • Time: looong
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Warm and spicy, ink-black liqueur infused with green walnuts from the Mediterranean.

Ingredients

25 green, soft, unripe walnuts

750 ml vodka (or other 40% alc/vol or 80-proof, neutral tasting alcoholic beverage)

1 ½ cups sugar

optional: cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, vanilla pod, citrus peel, coffee beans

Directions

  1. Cut walnuts in half or quarters (wear an apron and gloves to avoid stains)
  2. Place sugar, walnuts and spices (if using) in a jar twice the capacity of the volume of the liquid, pour alcohol over ingredients.
  3. Close jar tightly, place on a sunny windowsill for 40 days. Gently shake every now and then to mix. Liquid will eventually turn from transparent to brownish, getting darker and darker over time.
  4. After 40 days, strain liqueur, bottle up and let mature until fall.

Salute! Salut! ¡Salud! Živjeli!

Love,

Fruzsi

Pogácsa, the Savory Hungarian Scone

hungarian pumpkin seed pogacsa

Okay, so we need to talk about the concept of borkorcsolya (pron. boar-core-chow-yaah) first. Author’s note: Like, I’m sorry for frying your brains with illegible Hungarian words from time to time, but it’s kind of necessary when you talk about local stuff. Literally, it means wine-slider or wine-skid which explains it right away, but let’s just call it wine snack.

What is a wine snack? When you’re in Italy, most likely bruscetta. A cheese plate in France, and up North they have their salted herrings. Here in Hungary, we’re not that specific – every food you’d find on a charchuterie plate falls into this category, anything at all you’d enjoy along wine can serve as wine snack, really.

But, there’s always a first among equals: most admired of all the bite-sized amuse-bouches is pogácsa (pron. pou-gah-cha), official BFF of Wine. And beer. It’s the most appreciated snack at every party, ceremony, soiree, backyard barbecue, game night or any such social gathering. Pogácsa FTW!

hungarian pumpkin seed pogacsa with wine

What’s in a name? Linguistic evidence suggests this pastry used to be a type of unleavened flat bread: focus is latin for fire. The Italian flat bread is called focaccia, and the Southern Slavic version of that name was adopted by us. I will still call this scone-like thing a Hungarian specialty, as the recipe evolved and became distinct of this region.

There are two basic types of pogácsa: the fluffier leavened, and the crumblier unleavened. Neither require special skill to make, and both taste awesome – if you use quality ingredients, that is. Butter, or rather lard instead of vegetable shortening, good cheese, creamy quark, organic seeds.

The dough is rolled out, the top is usually cut in a diamond pattern. Pogácsa is then formed using round cookie cutters, the smaller the diameter the better. Egg wash gives the desired color during baking, favorite toppings include grated cheese and various seeds. Needless to say, it’s best eaten warm.

Also, my granny’s is better than yours. 🙂

Today I brought to you the easier unleavened variety, but a leavened, laminated pogácsa will also make its way to the blog soon. This recipe is from the April issue of Magyar Konyha magazine, and it turned out so good I did not alter it in any way.

hungarian pumpkin seed pogacsa

hungarian pumpkin seed pogacsa

Pumpkin seed flour and tangy quark cheese gives this one a nice twist. I used Gouda cheese on top. If you don’t have pumpkin seed flour at home, don’t worry, neither do I! Just pulse pumpkin seeds in the food processor until you reach the desired consistency. I like to keep it a little coarser. Here we go:

Pumpkin Seed Pogácsa

  • Time: 30 min prep + 45 min baking
  • Difficulty: easy
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A savory, scone-like Hungarian pastry enriched with pumpkin seeds and tangy quark cheese. Makes cca. 65 4 cm pieces.

Ingredients

250 g AP flour

250 g quark

250 g butter

100 g pumpkin seed flour

2 tsp salt

1 egg + 1 for the eggwash

grated cheese for topping

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients except one egg and topping cheese until incorporated in a large bowl with your hands.
  2. Wrap dough in cling foil and refrigerate for an hour, or as long as overnight.
  3. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
  4. Roll out dough around 1” thick, cut out rounds.
  5. Place scones on baking sheet, wash with egg, top with grated cheese.
  6. Bake until golden, about 45 min.

Love,

Fruzsi

Elderflower Cordial, the Season’s Must

elderflower

Weather has turned from Red Wine Please to Rosé S’il Vous Plait. In other words – if you happen to be the designated driver – it’s lemonade season! Today I’m here to help you step up your refresher game with elderflower-infused syrup, a drink very popular here in Central Europe.

Fragrant and refreshing, elderflower cordial is great mixed with seltzer water, makes sensational spritzers with white wine, or add a dash to a gin or vodka and tonic to start an early summer party in style. Also available commercially year-round, but I think you need no convincing that home-made is the real deal.

Elder plants are very common, frequenting woodland fringes and hedgerows. They are not really tall enough to count as trees, but rather too big for a shrub as well. Elderflower season runs from late May to early July.

Culinary uses of the flowers and berries are varied and many, from tea to relishes to flavoring in several food products. Note that leaves, twigs, roots and uncooked berries of the elder plant are toxic and should not be consumed!

The flat-topped sprays of white flowers have a distinctly sweet, heady fragrance. The best cordial is made from freshly picked elderflowers; choose the morning hours of a dry day to harvest. Collecting the flowers is a good excuse to get your SO on a walk by the way. 🙂 Oh, and do yourself a favor not to pick from roadsides, you don’t want petrol fumes infusing your drinks.

I’ve read somewhere that half-opened clusters have the most flavor in them. Trim as much stem off as you can, than place carefully in a bag or basket so pollen, the source of flavor will not be lost. Do not wash them back home, try brushing off insects and any other dirt instead before you start.

The rest is easy, cordial is based on simple syrup. All you need besides the pretty blossoms are sugar, water, lemons, citric acid and a little patience. High concentration of sugar and sterilized containers give the cordial decent shelf life.

Elderflower Cordial

  • Time: 30 min + 24 h
  • Difficulty: easy
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Fragrant and refreshing cordial made from the cream flowers of the elder plant.

Ingredients

30 elderflower clusters

1,5 kg / 3.3 lbs sugar

1,5 l / 6 cups water

2-3 lemons

50 g / 3 ½ tbsp citric acid

Directions

  1. Make simple syrup: pour water and sugar in a large pot, heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Bring to a simmer, turn off heat.
  2. Wash and slice lemons, put slices in the syrup.
  3. Place elderflowers in the syrup, stems up. Cover pot with lid.
  4. Let infuse for 24 hours.
  5. Drain liquid through a fine sieve or a piece of muslin fabric.
  6. Add citric acid and bring to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes, than fill into sterilized bottles with the help of a funnel.
  7. Store refrigerated after opening.

How easy is that? Bring a bottle of cordial to the next garden party you’re attending! The 0,5 l (17 oz) reusable Ikea KORKEN bottle makes a perfect vessel for just $1.99, or you could finally put those beer bottles with stoppers you kept to good use. (Why did I use second person when those were my beer bottles?)

If, for some incomprehensible reason you’re not into the aroma of elderflower, you can always refer to my post on lavender syrup to give your rose spritzers or plain old lemonade a twist. Mint syrup, an essential to every well-represented home bar is also made similarly.

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

Healthy (Kinda) Fig Shortbread Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

You know the ‘How to have a bikini body’ meme right? I’m positive we shouldn’t stress so much about our appearances (at least lot less than the media would suggest anyway), but I also don’t want to be a hypocrite.

I do watch what I eat and work out regularly, not so much as to fit any mould but to respect my body by treating it right. At the same time I also allow myself the occasional indulgence which I think is necessary for balance in life, and those treats are the things I like to post about.

Today’s recipe is an in-between in a sense that it’s most definitely a dessert, but it’s way less bad for you and that beach bod of yours than the average sweet. That’s what I call a win-win! Read on for my healthier take on classic jam shortbread bars.

Shortbread is one part white sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. Here I have:

  • substituted 2/3 of the flour with oats, nuts and protein powder
  • swapped the butter for margarine and used just 40% of the initial amount
  • used brown sugar instead of white and reduced it with more than 50%
  • the jam was a naturally sweet, no-sugar-added fig spread

And believe it or not after all this messing around, it turned out amazing! Let’s see why altering the original recipe is good for you:

White flour is heavily processed, the most nutritional aspects of the grain like fiber, vitamins and minerals are stripped away. The downsides to it are an overall lack of nutrients, highly refined carbs and also the gluten if you have sensitivities.

Oats on the other hand are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. They are packed with important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are high in fiber and protein compared to other grains. Nearly all of the carbs in oats come from complex starches, which you digest slowly. Also, they are naturally gluten-free.

Nuts were walnuts in my case, but the recipe would work with almonds, pecans, hazelnuts or pistachios as well, so knock yourself out! They are nutritional powerhouses: complete packages of protein, heart-healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

I’ve been drinking protein shakes post-workout and just lately started replacing some of the flour with protein powder in baked goods. My favorite whey protein is gluten, lactose and also sugar-free, plus the vanilla flavor complements my sweets well. Work with 1:3 conversion, that is 1/3 cup of protein powder for every 1 cup of flour.

Figs are a great source of fibre and they are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well. They contain prebiotics, which help support the good bacteria in your gut. Moreover, their potassium content helps regulate the amount of sugar which is absorbed into your body. The natural sugar content of figs also allows you to cut down on the amount of processed sugar used in recipes.

On to the old debate: butter or margarine, as fats and calories in them are about the same. The cold hard truth is, the healthiest option would be to skip both. The problem with butter lies in saturated fat and cholesterol, while the main concern with margarine is trans fats, the result of hydrogenation. Experts suggest consuming monounsaturated fats whenever possible (olive oil uncooked or vegetable oil for cooking). When baking, use a hard stick of trans-fat-free margarine in place of butter but whichever you select, limit your overall consumption.

What I also love about this healthier take is the texture; how crunchy it is thanks to the oats and nuts. Frankly, there’s still sugar and a fair amount of fat in these bars too, but they are incomparable to simple shortbread squares in nutritional value when being every bit as delicious as the guilty cousin.

But you know what? It’s perfectly fine to go a little harder on the dreaded sugar-butter-flour triumviri ocassionally. Just remember: portion size is key!

Shortbread Fig Jam Bars

  • Time: 15 + 50 min
  • Difficulty: easy
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Healthier, crunchy-crumbly squares filled with a yummy fig spread.

Ingredients

1 cup rolled oats, fine

½ cup walnuts

1 cup AP flour

½ cup vanilla protein powder

1/3 cup brown sugar

170 g (12 tbsp) margarine, cut to cubes

¼ tsp salt

1 tbsp baking powder

1 ½ cup diabetic fig preserves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F), line a 22 by 22 cm (9×9”) baking dish with aluminium foil, covering the sides as well.
  2. In a food processor, pulse nuts until chopped but not too fine.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, mix oats, nuts, flour, protein powder, sugar, salt and baking powder for a few seconds.
  4. Add margarine cubes one by one and mix until a coarse crumb is formed and margarine is evenly distributed.
  5. With the back of a spoon, push 2/3 of the crumb mixture in bottom of tray. Bake until golden, about 20 min.
  6. Remove from the oven, spread preserves evenly on crust. Crumble remaining streusel on top.
  7. Transfer back to oven and bake until topping is golden, about 30 min.
  8. Remove from oven, let cool before slicing. Enjoy!

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Healthier Shortbread Fig Jam Crumble Bars

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship, commissions or gifts.*

Crème de la Crème: Mom’s Liptauer

hungarian liptauer

Quick and easy to prepare, körözött is a tangy cheese spread very popular in Hungary. Such a word must be close to impossible for most of you to pronounce, but good news: it’s also known as Liptauer (pron. lip-tower).

The name derives from Liptau, German for the Northern Slovakian region Liptov that is also called Liptó, for it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Why yes, it was quite busy around here in the last 1100+ years 🙂

I’m sure after this brief lesson in history it will come as no surprise that Liptauer appears in cuisines of all our surrounding countries. And if you guessed it’s made a little different everywhere, you were right. Let me tell you how much so!

Not every nation, not every region, not even every family, but each household has a very own recipe. Liptauer is a highly personal matter, regardless of the fact that all are variations on the same theme. Now good luck determining the „original”!

One thing that’s sure: the recipe was based on Bryndza, a type of sheep milk cheese but nowadays it’s usually prepared with quark (the same cottage cheese-like dairy product that makes my country’s favorite dumplings).

Liptauer is traditionally eaten on an open sandwich or toast, but is equally delicious as a dip with crackers or raw vegetables. An essential to every picnic basket and a great side to your leftover Easter ham as well.

hungarian liptauer on bread

The recipe below comes from my mother. I was spooning it straight out the bowl not once – that is how deep my love for it goes, but don’t tell her that. She is from Veszprém county so we could consider it Liptauer à la Balaton-Highlands, but other family members from the same region would surely disagree. So why do I still think it appropriate to raise this one a little above others?

Because we have been asked to share the recipe on multiple occasions and some friends specifically ask us to bring this to potlucks. It must be hard for the uninitiated to understand the full complexity of this high art, but in a country where everyone’s fully convinced of the superiority of their own recipes, this is quite a big deal.

hungarian liptauer

So, Liptauer: seasoned quark with onion, sour cream and butter. Did you just say margarine? I’d heard rumors to that effect but as your informal representative in this matter, I would strongly advise against that. Oh and no cumin in this one either. #sorrynotsorry

Hungarian Liptauer Spread

  • Time: 10 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A tangy cheese spread popular in Central-Eastern Europe.

Ingredients

250 g quark

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black peppecorns, ground

2 tsp paprika powder

1 small onion, or half of a medium one

2-3 tbsp sour cream

1 1/2 tbsp butter, cold

Directions

  1. Peel and very finely chop onion.
  2. Put quark in a medium bowl. Season, add paprika, onion and thin slices of the cold butter. Give it a good stir with a fork.
  3. Add sour cream 1 tbsp at a time, and mix until you reach desired consistency (quark can be creamier or more crumbly depending on the producer and fat content).
  4. Let rest for 1 hour before serving.
  5. Keep refrigerated, but it won’t spoil if you take it on a picnic).

What is your favorite schmear?

Love,

Fruzsi

Easter Ham With a Shortcut

easter ham platter

Gadget of the Day: the pressure cooker. I was planning on raving about this device for some time and what an opportunity presented itself: the crown jewel of the Easter table, no less!

Definitely not in my top 5 when it comes to frequency of use and not the cheapest cookware either, a pressure cooker is an item well worth investing in nonetheless. But what the heck does it actually do?

Glad you asked! If you’re into science to some degree, you’ll find this interesting. If not, feel free to skip the next paragraph or, you could read on and tick the ‘Today I Learned’ box.

Invented in 1679 by French physicist Denis Papin, the pressure cooker is a vessel with a lid that seals airtight, fitted with a regulator valve for the slow and safe release of steam. The method is quite simple: during the cooking process, pressure builds up inside the pot increasing the boiling point of the cooking liquid.

Why is this any good? Because the cooking time shortens – you get the same result as if the food has been braised long and slow, but much quicker and with less energy used.

As I mentioned my pressure cooker isn’t out very often, but there are a few dishes I haven’t made in any other pan since I bought it. And Easter Ham is one of them.

cooked easter ham

BTW, have you ever wondered why we eat ham on Easter when under Jewish dietary laws pork is strictly forbidden? The answer is actually quite profane: it’s in season. Just like fruits and vegetables, meats also have seasons even if this fact is mostly shielded from us by modern storage techniques and efficient food supply chains.

So the tradition of eating pork instead of lamb to celebrate Christ’s resurrection started for practical reasons. Salted, smoked and cured hams of pigs slaughtered in the winter are ready to eat in the spring. And what a reward to think about during a long period of Lent!

easter ham slices

In Hungary, we cook our ham for Easter. Traditionally I mean as I, for one, love to prepare the roasted and glazed variety too. For this dish I buy boneless, cured, smoked and netted shoulder cuts with the skin on. These are smaller pieces around 1,5 kg / 3.3 lbs, but would still feed an army (remember to leave room for all the other holiday delicacies!).

Naturally, you can make this in an average pot, but this way the cooking won’t take up half a day. Just put all ingredients in the pressure cooker, set the stove on high to reach boiling, than reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Steam and pressure will do the rest in less than an hour. Top tip: the remaining broth worth its weight in gold and it’s freezable!

I like to do the cooking the night before. After the meat has cooled slightly in the stock, I transfer it to a tray and carefully remove the netting. After a night’s resting, we eat it thinly sliced on Easter morning with hard-boiled eggs, radishes, spring onions, tangy horseradish sauce and fresh braided challah.

When I am to roast ham, I cook it the same way first. What if this year you stopped at that stage too?

Hungarian Easter Ham

  • Time: 1 h 15 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Cooked, not roasted: the Hungarian Easter classic.

Ingredients

smoked, netted ham around 1,5 kg

2 bay leaves

1 medium onion

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp whole black or mixed peppercorns

cold water

Directions

  1. Put ham, peeled onions and spices in the pressure cooker, fill up pot with cold water to cover ham.
  2. Close lid. Cook on high until boiling, reduce heat to low.
  3. Counting from reducing the heat, simmer for 40 min.
  4. Switch stove off. Let cool for at least 30 min, open pressure cooker.
  5. Transfer ham to a tray, remove netting.
  6. Strain cooking liquid through a sieve and keep for later use.
  7. Let ham cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

easter ham with egg

easter ham with egg

Do you also eat ham come Easter? How do you do it in your country? What do you eat it with?

Happy Easter!

Love,

Fruzsi

Opening Grill Season With Langalló, the Hungarian Pizza

hungarian langallo flatbread

Grill season is here and I couldn’t be happier! I’ve a smile on my face just thinking of all the F&Bs we’re going to consume this year on the patio. Our back yard is not huge by any measure, but that’s not stopping us from doing cookouts. Let the good times roll!

It’s true the weather can be quite unpredictable in April around here (it’s sunny and then a minute later there’s a shower) so to open garden season, I thought we’d play it safe. In the time Husband mowed the lawn and I tended to my awakening herb garden, a batch of langalló dough has risen nicely.

Langalló (pron. laan-gaallow), also called kenyérlángos (pron. ken-yeer-laan-gosh) is a type of flat bread baked with various toppings. Traditional Hungarian fast-food, or our take on pizza if you please. Let’s start with a brief lesson in history. I promise to keep it short!

hungarian langallo flatbread

Still with me? Great! So according to the Hungarian Baker Association, we eat langalló since the 14th century. Round and somewhat thicker than the Italian cousin, it was the typical meal of bread baking days: prepared from the leftover dough after loaves were shaped, eaten fresh out the furnace.

Today, we don’t have to bake bread to eat langalló, it’s available at bakeries and is a favorite of fairs, markets and festivals. The shape changed to rectangular over time to fit commercial baking trays, but it’s still best eaten fresh and warm.

Baked in a hot oven until golden, langalló smells and tastes like fresh bread. Crust should be crunchy outside and soft inside. Classic toppings include cottage cheese with dill, sour cream with garlic, smoked sausage slices, bacon or pancetta, red onions, grated cheese and – although not as often as I would like – bone marrow or duck cracklings.

A very filling meal high in simple carbs and fats of not exactly the best kind. Precisely what was needed in the times people worked on the fields from dawn till dusk, but not exactly what we call healthy these days.

But it’s OK to indulge sometimes when you’re on an otherwise balanced diet, and making langalló is doing it good while you’re at it. Just wait until you smell the baking bread and roasting garlic!

hungarian langallo flatbread

Sadly, I don’t have a wood-burning furnace and while that would be peak hygge for me, the oven is an acceptable compromise. Surely, smoke adds more flavor to any food but it adds more clothes to the laundry as well, so let’s just count our blessings on this one shall we. 🙂

Back to the dough: it’s not at all complicated, basically just flour, water, salt and yeast. Additionally, almost every recipe calls for boiled potatoes and I use them too to soften the dough (remember reserving the cooking water to add extra starch).

Whichever topping you decide on, be it traditional or something entirely let’s-see-what-we-have-in-the-fridge kind of spontaneous, I’m warning you: beer and wine spritzers go equally well with langalló. Are you drooling yet?

Hungarian Langalló

  • Time: 2 h 30 min total
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

A type of flat bread baked with seriously sinful toppings.

Ingredients

For the dough:

500 g (4 cups) bread flour

1,5 tsp salt

1 medium potato

300 ml (10 fl oz) of the boiling water reserved

3 tbsp vegetable oil

20 g (0.7 oz) fresh yeast

Toppings:

250 ml (1 cup) sour cream

2 garlic cloves

50 g (½ cup) grated cheddar

2 medium red onions

200 g (7 oz) bacon or smoked sausage

Directions

  1. Peel, cube and boil potato. Reserve 300 ml of the cooking water, set aside. Mash potato with a fork and let cool.
  2. Sift flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer attached with the dough hook, add mashed potato, oil and lukewarm boiling water, crumble yeast on top.
  3. Start kneading on low until dough comes together, then increase speed to medium. Knead until dough is shiny and not sticking to the side of the bowl.
  4. Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 45 min.
  5. While dough is rising, prepare toppings: season sour cream with salt and pepper to taste, add crushed garlic. Grate cheese, peel and thinly slice red onions, cut bacon or sausages. Set aside.
  6. Cover a baking tray with parchment paper.
  7. Turn dough on a lightly floured surface, roll out and fit into baking tray.
  8. Top dough: cover with sour cream, pile on cheese, onions and bacon or sausage.
  9. Preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F, let dough rise until oven is heating up.
  10. Bake until crust is golden, about 30 min. Serve warm. Enjoy!

What are some of your favorite foods to prepare outdoors during warmer months? By the way, grill or BBQ? Store bought spice mixes (which brand?) or secret family concoctions? I’d love to hear it all!

Love,

Fruzsi

Say Bye to the Cereal Box with Homemade Granola

homemade banana granola

They say in America everything is bigger and better. Surely not everything, but this certainly holds when it comes to the world’s most popular breakfast foods: I’m talking about the granola vs muesli debate. Both are simple, filling, and (more or less) full of good stuff, but there are differences.

Granola, invented in Dansville, NY by Dr. James Caleb Jackson is a sweetened, baked cereal consisting of oats, nuts, seeds, often including mix-ins such as dried fruit or chocolate. Some kind of fat is also added to achieve the crumbly texture.

Muesli on the other hand, introduced by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner, is neither baked nor sweetened, and not that crunchy either.

As a European I feel inclined to say how I enjoy the pure flavor of muesli, how much I appreciate the distinctness and the way oats, nuts and seeds complement one another, but I’ll cut the bullshit right there. Let’s face it: granola is just more delicious. That’s it, I’m sorry Max!

The perked-up version is more popular state-side and humble muesli on this side of the pond. We therefore don’t have such an impressive selection of baked cereals in our supermarkets here. And what we do have is quite expensive for what it is.

My old favorite comes in a big cardboard box with a small plastic bag inside containing just a handful of the simply too sweet stuff bind together with a not specified type of vegetable oil (how reassuring). A 100 g serving contains about 60 g carbohydrates and over 12 g fat. Wow. I still eye that fucker on the store shelf sometimes, but my body just deserves better.

Luckily, making the crunchy clusters at home couldn’t be easier! Replacing the processed, packaged kind is great not only because from now on it’s in your control what goes into your brekkie bowl (I loathe thee, raisin!). It doesn’t have to have a shitload of sugar and fat either!

(I was about to add reducing your ecological footprint too, but had to revise my opinion as the ingredients you’re about to use also come packaged. Bummer.)

homemade banana granola

Checked out many recipes and made a few batches until I found what works best for us. Granola is not an exact science, you have to tweak the ingredients to suit your taste, but that’s the beauty of it: having your own, special edition.

I wanted mine to be free of processed sugar, so I use bananas and a little honey instead to sweaten. Also decided to cut down on fat and substitute it with a healthier alternative: extra virgin olive oil, one of the richest in polyunsaturated fatty acids (a.k.a the good guys).

I use the same seed mix in my granola that I bake into my breads: equal parts sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, lint seeds and pumpkin seeds. As for the nuts, almonds and walnuts are our favorite, but hazelnuts and pecans are also a great choice. For mix-ins, I prefer spices. OK, sometimes I give in and add dark chocolate chips too. 🙂

This amount, kept in a glass jar, lasts for about a week in our house. I like to eat it with low-fat natural yogurt and berries that are a bit sour (just.love.blackcurrant.) while Husband is not that hard-core as he likes to put it, and prefers milk and banana slices drizzled with pure maple syrup.

homemade banana granola

See how a healthier, homemade granola is such a no-brainer:

Banana Granola

  • Time: 15 min prep + 30 min baking
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A healthy take on store-bought cereals

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats (half fine, half coarse)

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

½ cup almonds, whole or sliced

¼ cup seed mix (sesame, lint, sunflower, pumpkin)

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp allspice

a handful of dark chocolate chips (optional)

2 ripe bananas, mashed

2 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F, line baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. In two separate bowls, mix wet and dry ingredients except chocolate (if using).
  3. Combine wet & dry ingredients well to coat evenly.
  4. Spread mixture on baking tray in a thin layer.
  5. Bake for 30 min or until dark golden.
  6. Allow to cool, than crumble.
  7. Mix in chocolate chips, transfer granola to a glass jar or other airtight container.

How do you do breakfast cereal? I’d love to see some ideas so I can switch things up a bit from time to time.

Love,

Fruzsi

An Unorthodox Tiramisu

tiramisu

a.k.a Operation Salvage

I couldn’t master the strength for a full-blown spring cleaning yet but I did review my pantry last weekend, checking for close to or a little over their best before date items. I found (among a few other things) a package of lady fingers. Hm.

The following boozy and indulgent treat was our farewell to cold season. Be prepared for a tear in the fabric of averageness though! This tiramisu turned out to be the best* I’ve ever made, (*not my words, before you think I’m trying to paint myself in glowing colors) so good actually that I crossed out all the other tiramisus from my recipe collection. I won’t be needing them.

Before we even begin: if you are a true-born Italian and/or a die-hard dogmatic, you’ll probably find the recipe featured in this post not strictly… appropriate. Don’t get me wrong, tradition is important to me but this time I tried to strike a balance between principle and pragmatism.

I’ll tell you in advance that compared to the classic, this version is lacking – horribile dictu! – both eggs and marsala.

One thing to know about my relationship to eggs: I couldn’t care less about the expiry date written on them. OK, I can feel that’s a bit strong so let me explain.

Eggs don’t automatically go bad after a certain time. Understand that the freshness of an egg does not singularly determine its edibility. I’m looking at you, water testers! While there is science behind the method (egg shells are porous – over time air makes its way in causing older eggs to be buoyant), but it’s just that: establishing that they are not that fresh any more. Please don’t toss them just yet, they are not necessarily bad!

If you’re not sure whether your eggs are ok to use – even when they’re not yet beyond the date indicated on the carton – you have to crack them open, preferably one by one in a separate bowl. Believe me when I say you’ll notice if an egg is spoiled due to funny colors and an even funnier smell. Nothing suspicious? Great, you may carry on.

That’s my rule of thumb when eggs are going to be properly cooked. To support my theory, here’s what my grandmother told me: Back in the day come fall, surplus eggs were put away in the granary for the winter when hens were laying less to none. Stored this way, they lasted as long as Easter, still fit for consuming (for making delicate sponge cakes even!).

Raw eggs are a completely different matter however as food poisoning is no joke. Not even a tiramisu is worth the gamble with  Salmonella and E. coli. Just imagine being responsible for the dessert that sent your guests down a road paved with diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, fever and abdominal cramps, even ending up hospitalized due to dehydration in more severe cases. I’d say that would be a textbook example of transferring yourself from likeable to loathsome.

tiramisu

Taking the above into consideration, I always use whipped cream as substitute for eggs when making tiramisu.

That said, the case with marsala is much less complex: I just don’t keep it at home. I have orahovac though, a dark, sweet, nutty-flavored liqueur made with green walnuts, popular throughout the Balkans. It’s the secret ingredient in some of  the most well-received desserts I make and goes with coffee like a dream. If you travel to this region, try to get your hands on it (or look for nocino in Italy, it’s basically the same thing).

What else goes with coffee so well? Irish cream (Happy Belated St. Patrick’s Day!). I also had an open bottle with just a few sips left, so in the mixture it went too. Not at all dominant, but adds yet more complexity to the flavor.

I have experienced a big revelation too. I was sure I’d messed up when I absent-mindedly poured the cream into the bowl already containing the mascarpone, without whipping it first. Well, as it turns out you can whip the two together beautifully so I’ll never bother with careful folding (and washing an extra bowl) again.

There you have a story of working with what I have.

Unorthodox Tiramisu

  • Time: 45 min + 3 h chilling
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A safer and savvy take on the classic Italian dessert. Serves 8.

Ingredients

200 g lady fingers

150 ml fresh coffee espresso

2 tbsp orahovac (or other liqueur of your choosing)

250 g mascarpone

600 ml whipping cream

50 ml Irish cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp sugar

unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Directions

  1. Brew coffee, let cool to room temperature and mix with the liqueur in a shallow bowl.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whip irish cream, mascarpone, sugar and cold cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, set aside.
  3. Dip half the biscuits in the liquid for a few seconds each side (until soaked but not collapsing), arrange in a single layer to the bottom of a 20 cm / 8″ serving dish.
  4. Spread half the cream evenly over lady fingers.
  5. Dip remaining biscuits, arrange over layer of cream.
  6. Transfer remaining cream to a piping bag with a wide nozzle, decorate top layer of the dessert.
  7. Chill overnight, or at least 3 hours. Dust with cocoa powder before serving. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Do you have a system for tracking the expiry dates of products in your pantry? Also, are you taking the dates indicated seriously, or you open and check if they are still good before getting rid of them? Let me know!

Dutch Baby, the New Star of Our Weekends

dutch baby in skillet

I might be a little late to the bandwagon with this one as one Manca’s Cafe of Seattle already owned the trademark for the Dutch Baby in 1942 and it is said to actually derive from German pancakes, so you probably won’t find anything revolutionary below.

Still, this hybrid of a beauty (hello, crepes, pancakes and popovers!) is new to our breakfast routine. First, because when we say pancakes in Hungary what we mean is the thin, French crêpe filled with apricot jam or sweet cottage cheese. And also because pancakes are considered dessert or eaten as second course after a hearty soup.

I took my chances despite all the rules – going against tradition and making dessert for breakfast. I’m telling you, Dutch Babies are on demand ever since! And as my country is becoming more acquainted with brunching, I’m sure we will soon see them popping up (literally!) everywhere.

I don’t think pancakes need much explaining to anyone. All versions of this pastry are prepared from eggs, milk, flour, sugar and salt, leavened or unleavened. And while I like and regularly make most of the variations, dutch babies are particularly awesome because it’s not necessary to prepare several pieces from the batter: one skillet, one pouring, and you’re set.

BTW, skillets. I bought a cast iron skillet and not used it for years. Nowadays, it’s out constantly. I found the idea of seasoning too much of a hassle first, but once I got the hang of it, this lasting piece become one of the trustiest items in my kitchen (read this short how-to if you need some clarifying on the subject).

dutch baby slice

Anyway. Here’s a few Dutch Baby tricks I’ve learnt:

Don’t start with preheating your oven. Make the batter, and then switch the heat on. In the cca. 15 minutes the temperature reaches ‘hot’, the flour will have time to start absorbing the liquid. The result is a softer, tender texture and crunchy edges.

To help your pancake puff up nice and high, use a smaller skillet (like a 9″ or 10″). Although any oven-safe pan (even a pie dish!) will do, cast iron is best without a doubt. Using a hot pan also helps increase the puff, so warm the skillet along with the oven.

This one is from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings: using your blender to make the batter. A few pulses and the ingredients are mixed smoothly with no lumps, much better than me and my whisk would ever be able to. The washing-up is the same, so you decide!

Dutch Babies can be pretty versatile too. Enrich the batter with caramelised fruits like apples or pears (when adding fruits, remember to arrange them over the bottom of the pan first, pouring the batter over top: this way the add-ons won’t weigh your Baby down). Cocoa powder and spices also work wonders. Think cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.

I’ll add the recipe, just in case you lived under a rock like I did don’t happen to have one. This batch serves the two of you. If you have more mouths to feed, offer slices along with other breakfast favorites. Recipe can be scaled up.

Dutch Baby Pancake

  • Time: 5 min prep + 20 min baking
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A spectacular skillet pancake guaranteed to wow.

Ingredients

4 eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole milk

pinch of salt

1 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp butter

Directions

  1. Measure ingredients except butter into your blender and pulse to mix well, about 2×10 sec.
  2. While batter is resting, preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F, along with the skillet.
  3. Carefully take skillet out and toss in butter, swirl to cover sides as well (watch out for sputters)
  4. Pour batter in skillet, transfer to hot oven immediately.
  5. Bake until puffed up and golden, about 15-20 min. Serve hot.

Do you make Dutch Babies often? What do you prefer eating them with? Melted butter? Drizzled with honey? Maple syrup? Jam? Fresh fruits? Or simply dusted with powdered sugar?

I just love squatting in front of the oven to watch as it puffs.

Love,

Fruzsi