Chicken Paprikas

Our first challenge of the new year coincides with my dad’s birthday. Our family tradition is for my mom to make chicken paprikas to celebrate the big day. It’s always a special occasion, because she makes it exactly once a year. Why? As delicious as it is, it’s not the healthiest dish in the world. Her recipe calls for a dozen eggs, plus sour cream, and butter…definitely not a low-calorie or low-fat meal.

But absolutely delicious.

Chicken paprikas is a traditional Hungarian stew that usually incorporates chicken, onions, butter, paprika, and sour cream. Many recipes also call for tomatoes and green bell peppers, though my mom has always left these ingredients out. My family has Hungarian roots, and this recipe has been passed down through the generations, so I have no doubt about its authenticity. (Or its flavor: it’s mouth-wateringly good). Chicken paprikas (pronounced, and sometimes spelled, paprikash) is traditionally served with dumplings. We use old-fashioned metal dumpling makers to make ours.

My dumpling maker. This once belonged to my grandmother.

My dumpling maker. This once belonged to my grandmother.

True to its name, the most important ingredient is paprika. And it’s got to be Hungarian paprika – a nice combination of sweet and pungent. I never buy any other type. (Shout out to my ancestors!).

Recipes such as this were meant to be passed down. I like to think my grandkids’ grandkids will be enjoying this same dish 50 years from now. It’s not particularly complicated to make, but it is time-consuming. My lone attempt, about ten years ago, resulted in dumplings that were thinner and not quite as flavorful as my mom’s. So for this food challenge, Tara wanted to see if she could replicate my family’s famous chicken paprikas recipe.

How’d she do? Let’s hear it from her!

Well, according to everyone’s slurping and munching at the dinner table, I did pretty well.

I absolutely adore my mother-in-law and was looking forward to having her teach me this family dish.  I chopped onions while she threw butter into the pots.  I seasoned the chicken thighs and legs while she told me not to use too much pepper.  And then I beat the dozen eggs and too slowly added flour until the dumpling batter reached the right consistency; halfway between pancake batter and a quick bread dough. She poured the batter while I cranked the dumpling maker.  

*insert dirty joke here*

Good job, Mrs. P!

Good job, Mrs. P!

The dumplings (similar to spaetzel) cooked in boiling water and then were later added to the sauce. The sauce came together quickly after removing the stewed chicken and straining the onions.  The reserved cooking juices were combined with equal parts sour cream and water…and another egg.  The dumplings were added to the sauce and brought to a boil.  

Yes, labor intensive, but not as bad as I thought it would be.  Not anymore so than my mom’s Chicken ‘n Noodles or Chicken Chimichangas. The flavor is wonderful and definitely worth all the hard work.  The real test will be when I make it without Carol’s guiding hand.  I ‘m looking forward to getting the recipe down pat, and passing it on to younger generations!

We all agreed, the paprikas turned out fantastic. And trust me, we’re tough critics when it comes to this dish! Job well done, Tara. You singlehandedly – and easily – accomplished the first of this year’s food challenges: recreating a favorite family recipe.

On to the next!

Chicken Paprikas

Chicken Paprikas

Categories: Pasta, Poultry | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

288/365: National Chicken Cacciatore Day

You won’t have to hunt high and low to find a delicious meal today: it’s simmering right there on your stove if you’re celebrating today’s food holiday. October 15 is National Chicken Cacciatore Day!

This classic Italian dish, meaning “to hunt” or “hunter style,” originated during the Renaissance period in central Italy, when only the wealthy could afford to cook with poultry. Cacciatore is traditionally made with braised chicken or rabbit, and usually includes tomatoes, onions, herbs, bell peppers, and wine (red if you’re in southern Italy, white if you hail from the north). Though we’re not the least bit Italian, chicken cacciatore has long been a family favorite. My parents, who are from Trenton, New Jersey (with a large Italian population), served it at their wedding; my mom’s recipe (taken from a now-defunct eatery called the Italian-American Sportsman’s Club) was a little less traditional since it contained no tomatoes but did have plenty of mushrooms (a popular addition when cooked in the autumn months), and was served with rice. It’s what I grew up with, and is delicious. But a few years ago I wanted to try a more authentic version, so I looked up Emeril Lagasse’s recipe, and have been hooked ever since. During my bachelor days, this is the dish I made to impress the ladies. In fact, the first time I cooked for Tara when visiting her in Ely, I made chicken cacciatore and served it by candlelight. There’s something about this meal that is sexy, hearty, and inviting.

I had every intention of making this version tonight, but came down with Tara’s cold and was in no mood to cook. So she gamely stepped up to the plate and asked if she could make dinner tonight, using a new (read: unproven) recipe. I’ll admit I was a little skeptical. After all, Emeril’s recipe is really good. But I was too busy hacking up a lung to argue much, and I let her take the reins. It turned out delicious!

National Chicken Cacciatore Day

Categories: Poultry | 4 Comments

285/365: National Gumbo Day

You might come to roux this day if you miss out on the food du jour. October 12 is National Gumbo Day!

Gumbo is a thick stew that contains a rich stock, meat and/or shellfish, a thickener, rice, and vegetables. It is as synonymous with Louisiana as jazz, the bayou, and Mardi Gras, and is the official cuisine of that state. No wonder: it originated in southern Louisiana in the 18th century, when slaves arrived from West Africa. They brought with them recipes featuring ki ngombo, or okra, many of them stews served with meat and shrimp. By 1764 they were mixing these stews with rice to make a hearty meal. Most gumbos are thickened with a roux, a mixture of flour and oil that is a staple of French cooking. The local Choctaw indians utilized filé powder, made with ground sassafras leaves, as a thickening agent in place of (or in addition to) a roux. Interestingly, the Choctaw word for sassafras is kombo, leading many to speculate that the dish actually originated with Native American tribes in the region. Whether it is Creole, Cajun, Indian, or African in origin is open for debate. Over the years, German immigrants introduced sausage to the recipe; fishermen supplied oysters, shrimp, and crab; and Canary Islanders brought a fondness for strongly seasoned foods to the table, introducing cayenne pepper. Virtually anything could be added to a pot of simmering gumbo: there are even references to owl, squirrel, and muskrat. The first written record of gumbo dates to 1803, where it was served at a gubernatorial reception in New Orleans. The dish’s popularity was limited to the Gulf Coast region until the 1970s, when Louisiana Senator Alan Ellender began cooking gumbo for his colleagues, including 5 separate U.S. presidents. When he passed away in 1972, the Senate added Louisiana Creole Gumbo to its cafeteria menu in honor of Ellender. Popular Louisiana chefs such as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse further popularized gumbo, turning it into a mainstream meal.

To celebrate, I decided to make a gumbo from scratch. This is no small feat, but on a cool and damp Saturday afternoon and with Tara recovering from a cold, it was the perfect opportunity to make a nice slow-cooked meal. I’ve made gumbo a couple of times in my life, but previously, I used a jar of roux a friend in Louisiana had sent my way. Unfortunately that jar was long gone, so I had no choice but to make my own roux. That alone is a 45+ minute process, but I was pleased with the results. I used a recipe from Donald Link’s Real Cajun cookbook, one of many I own from my days as a book reviewer. I deviated from the recipe in places, namely the roux, and the fact that it called for fried chicken but I just wanted to brown mine. Everything else was the same – the vegetables, seasonings, andouille sausage, etc. And I have to say, it turned out delicious! I was very pleased with the results, especially considering the fact that I’ve rarely ventured south of the Mason-Dixon line. 

National Gumbo Day

Categories: Poultry, Seafood | 6 Comments

187/365: National Fried Chicken Day

Some people like breasts. Others prefer legs. I’m a thigh man myself. Before you call me a pervert, relax – I’m talking about today’s food holiday. July 6 is National Fried Chicken Day!

Fried foods have existed since the Middle Ages, when they were known as fritters. Almost anything was breaded and fried back then, including meat, seafood, and fruit (but sadly, Twinkies wouldn’t hit the deep fryer for another 500 years or so). The Scottish traditionally deep fried chicken, whereas their European counterparts were more likely to bake or boil theirs. When Scots immigrated to America and settled in the southern U.S., they brought along their favorite fried chicken recipes. African slaves who worked as cooks took a liking to fried chicken, mainly because plantation owners allowed them to raise chickens, which were cheap and plentiful. They added their own spices and seasonings to “kick it up a notch,” as Emeril is fond of saying, and fried chicken soon became a Southern staple, often served on special occasions. The invention of the cast iron skillet and the growing use of lard as a byproduct of hog rendering plants helped spread the popularity of the dish.

In 1930, a service station owner in Corbin, Kentucky named Harlan Sanders began cooking and serving fried chicken, ham, and steaks for his customers. His dishes became so popular he opened a restaurant in a nearby motel and, over the next several years, perfected his “secret recipe” for frying chicken in a pressure fryer, with a blend of 11 herbs and spices. In 1949 his friend, the Governor of Kentucky, recommissioned him as a “Kentucky Colonel” and soon after he began wearing his distinctive trademark white suit and string tie, and grew a mustache and goatee which he dyed white to match his hair. Quite a fella, the Colonel, but it’s hard to argue with success: in 1952 he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken and became a very rich man. KFC was instrumental in helping to launch fast food fried chicken chains.

In honor of the holiday, I wanted to make my own fried chicken. I have a recipe that’s both tried and true and tastes excellent. But we were on the go all day today, hiking up near Mount St. Helens. We got home late in the afternoon and didn’t feel like going to all the trouble of making from-scratch chicken…not when there was a Popeye’s a few miles away willing to do all the dirty work for us! I guess we should have opted for KFC since I wrote about them here, but I’ve long thought Popeye’s serves better chicken.

National Fried Chicken Day

Categories: Poultry | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

154/365: National Egg Day

June 3rd is everything it’s cracked up to be, and that’s no yolk. It’s National Egg Day!

National Egg Day is one of the oldest food holidays in the world. It was first declared a holiday by Roman emperor Claudius Nero Germanicus during his reign between 41-54 A.D. A poultry plague devastated Europe at the turn of the century, and people were afraid to eat chicken and eggs. Claudius was convinced eggs were safe and challenged nobles in his realm to eat them in order to prove to the peasants they were harmless. Augustus Antonius took the emperor up on his offer, and ate a meal of boiled eggs before a large gathering. He did not keel over and die, and the Roman population once again embraced eggs and poultry. Claudius issued a royal proclamation declaring June 3rd as the Holy Roman Day of Eggs. The holiday was celebrated for 500 years but eventually faded from memory. In 1805 Napoleon captured historical Italian documents of the Roman Empire. Reading through them, he was intrigued by their fondness for eggs, and in turn declared June 3rd to be “Oeuf Journée Nationale,” or National Egg Day. It has remained popular ever since.

Tara suggested we make deviled eggs to celebrate, and I thought that was a great idea. They’re delicious, simple to make, and usually reserved for special occasions. I think both Napoleon and Claudius would be proud. Tara’s got a special recipe, and will take you through it step-by-step now.

I got the inspiration for this post from a previous blog entry written in 2008 that shows step by step instructions.  At the time, I had an online/blogger friend in Australia that had never seen or tried deviled eggs and I was convinced that she had to have some.  Since pictures are always fun, here we go again!

This time I started with a dozen eggs (+1 that was rolling around from our last carton) that I let boil for about 35 minutes.  They were cooled in cold water, peeled, and paper towel dried.  Each egg is cut lengthwise; the whites arranged on a plate, and the yolks mashed with a fork in a bowl.  I then laid out the  mayo, mustard, diced onion*, garlic, pepper, and Lawry’s seasoned salt.

Ingredients for deviled eggs.

Ingredients for deviled eggs.

Unfortunately, I can’t give exact measurements on ingredients.  It really depends on your taste and how many eggs you actually end up with.  I don’t know about you, but I always end up with at least one or two eggs that don’t peel right and end up in the trash.  Rough measurements are… two-three heaping tablespoons of mayo, squirt of mustard, ¼ finely diced small onion, 1-2 cloves minced garlic, and five or six shakes of pepper.


I blend the yolk mixture, taste, and add any of the above ingredients as needed, and then spoon the filling into the egg whites.  Did you catch that the seasoned salt WASN’T added to the filling?  Bonus points if you did!  A trick I learned from the same person I got this recipe from is to use Lawry’s to finish the eggs instead of paprika.  There’s something about the seasoned salt that brings all the flavors together.  Yum!

Spooning is fun.

Spooning is fun.

Cover the eggs and refrigerate for 2-3 hours (overnight is better).  This gives the ingredients time to meld and the flavors to blend.  Enjoy!

*I don’t always use dried minced onion, but when I was digging in the pantry for an onion, there was only one left and it was half rotted.  Minced onion makes a good substitute, just make sure you re-hydrate in warm water before adding to the yolk mixture.

Deviled egg

Categories: Poultry | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

149/365: National Coq Au Vin Day. Again.

May 29 is National Coq au Vin Day! Again.

For some reason, there are a few duplicate food holidays. I don’t get it: with so many great foods left uncelebrated – can you believe there’s no National Ketchup Day, for instance?! – it’s weird that some foods get more than multiple holidays. Especially something so random and specific as National Coq au Vin Day, which is also celebrated on March 22nd. We just encountered this with wine over the weekend, as there is both a National Wine Day and a National Drink Wine Day. It goes without saying that you’re going to drink it, right? What other option do you have, other than inserting an IV tube full of chardonnay into a vein? Which, come to think of it, would save you the trouble of pouring…

Anyway. The only explanation that I can come up with is, one of the Coq au Vin holidays is listed as a “National” day, and the other isn’t. What is especially frustrating is that I busted my ass in March, recreating Julia Childs’ signature dish for the challenge. And equally annoying? March 22nd was also National Water Day, which we chose to skip because, well, how hard is it to pour yourself a glass of water? That was before we realized there was a second National Coq au Vin Day, though.

As delicious as the dish was the first time around – and it was really good, one of our favorite food challenges to date – it was very time-consuming and required a ton of prep work. I just didn’t have it in me to do it again on a weeknight, so I turned to Trader Joe’s for help this time. They’ve got a frozen Coq au Vin that looked decent enough in the picture on the box. And most importantly, required virtually no prep other than preheating the oven and sticking it in there. So, if you want the history of Coq au Vin again, click on my link above.

And the Trader Joe’s version of this classic French dish? It was passable…but barely. After having that delicious homemade Coq au Vin last time, there was no way this could be anything other than a letdown. But, hey…at least it didn’t take a lot of work!

Coq au Vin

Categories: Poultry | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

94/365: National Cordon Bleu Day

You’ll get a blue ribbon if you guess what today’s food holiday is! Give up? April 4th is National Cordon Bleu Day!

If you hadn’t already guessed, “cordon bleu” translates to blue ribbon in French. This scrumptious dish refers to a cutlet of meat – traditionally chicken, veal, or pork – that is pounded thin, stuffed with a slice of ham and a slice of cheese, breaded, and either baked or fried. It’s a relatively recent creation, and not even French, despite the hoity-toity name. A schnitzel with cheese first appeared in Switzerland (naturally) during the 1940s. The earliest mention of “cordon bleu” in America dates to a veal recipe in 1955, while the chicken version appeared in a New York Times article in 1967. A future version – “soylent green cordon bleu” – is expected in 2022. Don’t ask what’s in it. Sometimes prosciutto or bacon is substituted for the ham, and any soft cheese can be used. I’m partial to Swiss myself. I believe that’s the traditional cheese type used, probably in honor of the dish’s place of origin, but that theory could be full of holes.

I’ve made chicken cordon several times in the past, and had actually planned on cooking it for Tara soon anyway, so this food holiday gave me the perfect excuse. It’s easy to make, and the results are always delicious. I use this recipe from allrecipes.com, with a few minor variations (add paprika to the bread crumb mixture and coat the entire breast in it before cooking). Turned out great!

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Categories: Poultry | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

89/365: National Turkey Neck Soup Day

You’ll want to gobble up a bowl of delicious, hot soup today. March 30th is National Turkey Neck Soup Day! Which, let’s face it, is kind of bizarre. Turkey soup I could see. But turkey neck soup?! Sounds like something only Cousin Eddie would appreciate. Save-Neck-For-Me-Navy-Shirt

Few foods are as quintessentially American as turkey. Not only is it synonymous with Thanksgiving, but every signature on the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other important documents dreamed up by the Founding Fathers was inscribed using a turkey feather quill. By the way, ever wonder why turkeys are referred to as Tom? Benjamin Franklin jokingly called them that because Thomas Jefferson chose the bald eagle over the turkey to represent the new nation’s symbol. I guess Jefferson really ruffled Ben’s feathers.

The turkey neck may not be the most popular part of the bird, but the meat it contains is pretty tasty – as long as you cook it for awhile. It is tough at first, but after several hours simmering in broth, it becomes quite tender and flavorful. Making a turkey neck soup was a breeze. We had some wonderful leftover homemade chicken stock which we used as a base, along with the requisite turkey necks (surprisingly easy to find – thanks, mom!), some carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bell peppers, fresh parsley, salt, and pepper. It made for a delicious lunch!

Turkey Neck Soup

Categories: Poultry, Soup | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

86/365: National Spanish Paella Day

Spain is the birthplace of bullfighting, foam parties, and today’s food holiday. It’s National Paella Day!

Paella – Spanish for “pan” – was invented by Spanish peasants, who would gather the cheapest ingredients they could find, throw them together in a big pan, and cook them over an open fire. Traditionally, this included chicken, duck, rabbit, and snails. When the meal was ready, laborers would gather ’round the pan and eat from it directly using long, wooden spoons. After awhile, the Spanish were like, “Wait a minute…why are we eating snails when there’s a bounty of seafood available off the coast? What are we, French?!” The recipe evolved to include rice, beans, spices, tomato, and seafood. Mixed paella – incorporating both meat and seafood, along with fresh vegetables, and flavored with saffron – became the norm, and is considered  Spain’s signature dish. It is a popular custom to cook great, big pans of paella at festivals and other public gatherings in Spain. Chefs use enormous paelleras (specialized paella pans) to cook and feed the masses.

They're going to have leftovers for days!

Paella was one of those dishes that looked intimidating when we skimmed over the food holidays before kicking off this challenge. My only experience with the dish was a quick reference to it in a Seinfeld episode. The exchange was brief but memorable.

GEORGE: Ok, fine. It’s going to be very interesting, very interesting if they don’t show up tonight. You know my mother made all this Paella.

JERRY: What is that anyway?

GEORGE: It’s a Spanish dish. It’s a mélange of fish, and meat with rice. Very tasty.

So, with that basic bit of information to go on, I researched recipes – and discovered you can add just about anything to a paella. There were hundreds of recipes to choose from, but I decided to freestyle-it and adapt my own recipe from one I found. The essential ingredients were the same: rice, saffron, chicken, and seafood. From there I could get creative, and that’s exactly what I did. After work I stopped by the grocery store and bought shrimp and scallops. I couldn’t get clams though, and the reason is bizarre and sad. The seafood monger told me their clam supplier in Alaska suffered a tragedy recently: a boat sank killing every crew member but one, and the lone survivor refused to go out clamming anymore (smart dude) – so Fred Meyer is fresh out of clams.

A moment of silence for the lost clammers, please.

As for the paella? It sure looks good in this picture. There was a lot of work involved, and I think it could have benefited from a few changes – more seasoning, the addition of some chorizo, etc. But all in all, it wasn’t bad. Just a lot of work for a Wednesday evening. And one of our more expensive dishes: the tiny jar of saffron alone cost $10. Plus the seafood, chicken, etc….
Spanish Paella
Categories: Poultry, Seafood | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

81/365: National Coq Au Vin Day*

Today’s food holiday will give you something to crow about! It’s National Coq Au Vin Day, which translates to “rooster in wine.” Cock-a-doodle-do enjoy this tasty French dish!

Coq au vin is a rustic French dish that originated in the Burgundy region and was popular with peasants because the ingredients were plentiful and cheap. Though usually prepared with chicken nowadays – at least in America, where common sense and decency rule and we don’t consider snails a delicacy (oh, those wacky French!) – French commoners did, in fact, use rooster in the recipe because they were dirt poor and couldn’t afford younger, more tender hens.  It was made with red wine because the acids in the alcohol would help tenderize the meat of the rooster (older birds who were all clucked out and could no longer reproduce were put out of their misery this way). Considered a classic, country-style casserole ideally suited to colder winter months – the definition of comfort food – coq au vin was popularized in the U.S. by Julia Child, who featured a recipe in her popular 1961 cookbook Mastering The Art of French Cooking and prepared it often on her television show The French Chef. It became one of her signature dishes, as closely associated with the likable old broad as her husky, distinctive voice. (Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Julia Child. I remember watching her and Justin Wilson, the Cajun chef, often while growing up. And Yan Can Cook. It’s no wonder I’m addicted to modern cooking shows like Top Chef, Chopped, and Master Chef).

Julia told me to set the brandy on fire. So I did.

Julia told me to set the brandy on fire. So I did.

Fresh out of cock – (must. bite. tongue) –  we opted to make our coq au vin using chicken instead. And decided, since the inspiration for this blog was Julie & Julia, to replicate Julie Powell’s idea for one night by preparing Julia Childs’ classic recipe for coq au vin, found here. Sometimes we are chided for “taking the easy way out” and buying the foods we celebrate from the grocery store or restaurants, but I call fowl on that. First off, we do in fact prepare many of these meals from scratch. Secondly, who cares if we don’t? That was never the intention of this challenge. We are busy with work and kids and, you know, planning a wedding. I think we’re doing extremely well under the circumstances! I just had to get that out there. Most of you have been extremely supportive, and Tara and I appreciate that. I should also mention that today is National Water Day. Now, if we had decided to celebrate that, I too would be screaming “cop out!”

As for Julia Childs’ coq au vin? There was a lot of prep work involved, and very precise cooking instructions with multiple steps, as you might imagine. This meant a very late dinner for us – approaching 9 PM. Luckily, it’s a Friday night, so who cares? And it tasted absolutely DELICIOUS. I can’t emphasize that enough. The sauce was rich and hearty and packed with flavor. This was an amazing dinner!

That Julia Child was onto something. This was incredible!

That Julia Child was onto something. This was incredible!

Categories: Poultry | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.