Saturday, October 3, 2015

It is Fall: Hungarian Mushroom Soup and Apple Pies

It is October; that Autumnal smell is in the air. 

Here in the Wasatch mountains, the changing of the seasons is particularly beautiful with the Rocky Mountain shrubs and oaks turning all manner of bright, warm colors, the mums blooming fervently, and the Utah gardens and orchards bountiful with the many fruits of Fall.  The apples are particularly delicious and abundant right now, and when we went to buy our pumpkins last week after school we couldn't resist buying a basket of Golden Delicious (literally and figuratively).  I promised Roman we'd bake his Daddy an apple pie, one of his favorite desserts, and maybe an apple turnover if there was leftover crust.  Roman agreed he'd help peel the apples.

Every year I look forward to Fall.  Halloween is tied for my favorite holiday with Christmas and at our house it is a rite of sorts to bring out the Halloween decorations and reminisce about them as we put them up.  We have the little mummy and skeleton bodies our jack-o-lanterns sit on, my witchy-witch hat (worn to hand out candy every year), Matt's extremely frightening Meatloafesque-skull mask (used to frighten neighborhood teenagers every year), Roman's "spirit" which hangs from a tree, bats, ghosts and all other manner of spooky things.  This year we bought a blow-up witch to add to the mix as well as a cackling witch figurine to replace a favorite cackling bobble head somehow lost in the mix.  I'm fairly certain our neighbors think we're pagans, but I somewhat delight in the outrage.

But Autumn isn't all ghouls and candy handouts.  In October we also look forward to buying our pumpkins and picking or buying local apples.  I was happily surprised to find that the area surrounding Salt Lake City is full of small farms and orchards.  In fact, in Ogden, our small city, most houses have at least one fruit tree and often a large home garden for the summer.  When we moved into our house I spotted a peach tree (sadly it is diseased) and we had about 6 rows of corn growing in our small allotment (more than enough for the entire summer for us and our neighbors), planted for us by the previous owners.  While the corn is gone now, everyone around us is still reaping the harvests of stone-fruit trees, squashes, and apples.  I can't say I mind this at all.

I've been told that this Utah practice of "grow your own" has something to do with the prevalent Mormon culture of (somewhat extreme) preparedness.  One of the first times Matt came to our new house to collect mail before we moved in, he found a small flier from a man in the neighborhood requesting all our personal information, that of our children as well as an itemized list of all the survival gear and food / water stores we had in our home.  Sooo, that went straight into the trash because, well, you know, identity theft.  But when we mentioned it to our neighbors months later they explained one person is assigned to each area by the city (and church) to keep tabs on every person and their survival stores.  You know, "just in case the mountain ever comes down on us," as my neighbor put it.  Way to make me feel like a paranoid jerk. :)  I assume everyone preserves and pickles the bounties of their gardens and while I'm  not sure we'll start hoarding canned goods and heat blankets, I think maybe I'll partake in the summer garden madness next year to a level I've never done before.  I've always wanted to grow eggplant.

So today I made the apple pie, and there was extra crust so I went ahead and made what came to be a lovely little apple turnover too.  The air was particularly crisp and so I thought a nice Hungarian Mushroom soup and some crusty bread would pair well.  I had this soup for the first time a week ago at a local deli called Berlin's.  Their sandwiches are so-so, but this soup, one I'd never heard of, was excellent and is very easy to replicate at home.  I added kielbasa to it to make it slightly heartier and for the meat-beast my husband tends to be.  I'll include the recipe for the soup below but as far as the apple pie, all I've got are tantalizing pictures of the butteriest, flakiest crust I've ever made.  We've yet to determine whether the dessert is improved by adding pecans.  As a Texas girl at heart, I can't see how it wouldn't be.  And how the heck did that not occur to me sooner?!

Happy Fall everyone!  To many delicious treats coming our way, no doubt.

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Hungarian Mushroom Soup 
Serves 4-6

This soup's list of ingredients feels unorthodox to me.  How did Hungarian soup end up using soy sauce?  Don't question a good thing, my friends.  The addition of kielbasa was mine.  While tasty, it was totally unnecessary.  If you chop your mushrooms thickly they are just as good as meat - one of the many reasons I am a complete mushroom fiend.  This was delicious with white mushrooms, but I can only imagine that it would be elevated to superb with a mix of wild mushrooms.  Give it a try with some nice crusty bread.  
A perfect autumnal delight.

*  *  *

1 lb white mushrooms, sliced thickly (about 3-4 slices per mushroom)

1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 lb kielbasa, diced (OPTIONAL)
1/4 cup flour
2-3 tbsps butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 - 2 tbsps Paprika
2 tsp dried dill (if using fresh, double the amount)
1 tbsp soy sauce (yes, weird!)
 4-5 cups chicken stock or water (if you use water either add a lot more salt or chicken bouillon)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream (OPTIONAL)
1/2 lemon, juiced
fresh dill to garnish (optional)


1. Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat until butter is melted.  

2. Add the onions, mushrooms and kielbasa (if using) and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat until the sausage is somewhat caramelized and the mushrooms have begun to brown and released their juices.  This will take about 10 minutes or so.

3. To the pot, add the flour and paprika and let it cook for 1-2 minutes, creating a roux.  Do not let it burn or get too dark - turn the heat down if necessary.

4. Add the broth, dill and soy sauce and bring the mixture to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, allowing the soup to thicken and reduce.  This will concentrate the flavors.

5. Season generously with salt and pepper and mix in the milk, sour cream and lemon juice.

6. Remove from heat.  Garnish with more dill and serve with crusty bread or garlic crostini. YUM.

Another spooky acquisition this year.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Remembering the Old and Appreciating the New: Berenjena (Eggplant) en Escabeche

Cooked eggplant
This summer almost killed me.  Yes, more in a figurative way than anything, but it almost killed me nonetheless.  Nearly ten years of life-changing occurrences happening over and over again, almost always in groups of two or more finally culminated this summer in the unholy trifecta of having a baby / selling our house / and moving to a new state in a two-month period.  It sucked.  I won't rant at length on the shock to the system - even for a relatively organized person - that suddenly having three children is, two of them under 2 years of age.  I've finally gotten over leaving our dear Casa Liberace in Denver, the first house we ever owned and the place that our family grew to be what it is today (we closed on Liberace the same day we finalized Alexander's adoption, Roman started kindergarten there, Linus was born into it, our unexpected, miracle baby).  Nothing against Utah, but it may literally be the last place I ever thought I'd live (because things like moving to Alabama or Mississippi are simply too unspeakable to even entertain in the realm of possible "last places you'd ever end up").  And yet, here I am! In a beautiful mountainside town which quite literally lives up to its name of Pleasant View, right smack dab in the (northern) middle of Utah, wrestling with settling into a new house, new town, new society (sometimes it feels like another planet, if I'm being honest) and relearning how to be a mother because this whole three-kid thing is freaking crazy.  So much adjustment. So much newness.

So yeah, this summer almost killed me.

I'll tell you what saved me, though - and it wasn't really any one thing so much as lots of little things: mostly it was remembering the past.  But also appreciating the present.  It helped remembering random things from my childhood - things my parents did for us, things they cooked, and then contextualizing them into the life I have now and the things I do and cook for my own kids.  Those memories and thoughts are infinitely comforting when you're in a new and unfamiliar place and feeling like you pretty desperately need your best friend or mom or sister to come over and listen to you complain, or have a glass of wine, or just hang out and try that new recipe with you.  They somehow shed a new light on the present newness and make it more exciting, because this is, in the end, my family's adventure - the memories my children will one day draw from when they are lonely or homesick too.

In a moment of nostalgia, and to relax in my favorite way (cooking), I decided to make something I knew my family and friends would appreciate if they were around.  Something I'd serve if I could have them over for dinner on a random weeknight, something that was interesting and different enough that it would delight me to immerse myself in it for just a little while, take my mind off all the newness, but familiar enough that it would take me to a place of comfort and company, as all the best food does.

the finished dish
Luckily, just before we left Colorado, Matt's friend and colleague and his wife had us over for dinner. He is French and she is Argentinian and so, needless to say, their food is always delicious.  Apart from the perfectly grilled buffalo meat and watermelon salad and homemade chimichurri, she served a delicious pickled eggplant dish - in Spanish,"Berenjenas en Escabeche." It immediately piqued my interest for two reasons: 1. I remember my family marinating / pickling vegetables in Mexico in a similar way (mostly jalapeños and carrots and cauliflower if I recall correctly) and 2. I don't really love eggplant, but I could not stop eating this one.

It was the most deliciously incredible eggplant I'd ever had. An oily mix of salty and sour and Oregano-y goodness laced with spicy memories of childhood. I had to replicate it as soon as I had a spare minute in my new Utah kitchen.  And so I did.  I'm glad to have a new food I genuinely like.  A metaphor for Utah?  I hope so.

Here's the recipe I settled on. It's a bit of old and a bit of new - just the right kind of comfort food.

*  *  *

Berenjenas en Escabeche
Serves 4-6; two jars worth

"Escabeche" is a marinade of European origin - especially common in Spain and France - that eventually made its way to the new world.  It was and is used to marinate or pickle many things but especially fish and vegetables.  The item is left in the fridge overnight or longer and then served directly from the fridge or at room temperature.  This version obviously uses eggplant but you can substitute other veggies - just make sure that when you cook them, they don't get too mushy.  I'm going to try this treatment on some chicken soon as I found an interesting looking recipe for that recently as well. 

The recipes I drew from were largely Argentinian - much like the friend who introduced me to this dish - so I'm guessing it's common there which is unsurprising given the strong Spanish and Italian influences in Argentina.


1 large eggplant, sliced into short strips about 1/2 inch thick
10-15 bay leaves (whole)
3-4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed (not minced)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1 tbsp dried oregano (Italian not Greek)
1 tbsp crushed red pepper (or the Argentine aji molido if you can find it)
1-2 tsp whole pepper corns (or about 20-40)
coarse salt
2 1-liter jars with lids


1. In a bowl, layer the eggplant, putting a generous amount of coarse salt in between each layer.  Allow it to sit for at least one hour, maybe more.  This draws out the bitterness and extra liquid from the eggplant.  Drain any liquid accumulated at the bottom of the bowl and lightly rinse or shake excess salt off the eggplant.

2. In a pot, bring water, bay leaves and vinegar to a boil.  Add the eggplant and cook, simmering, for 10 minutes or so - until the eggplant is soft and somewhat translucent but not falling apart.

3. While the egpplant is cooking, mix the remaining ingredients as well as salt to taste in another bowl, creating the marinade.  A lot of this depends on your taste - adjust the pepper, red pepper, bay and dried herbs to taste.  That said, I like the quantities listed above :)

4. When the eggplant is cooked, drain about half the vinegar and water, add the marinade and mix well.  Separate into jars, making sure you get bay, garlic and peppercorns into each jar equally and then cover with the marinade.  Refrigerate for at least several hours or, better yet, overnight.  Serve by bringing to room temperature an hour or two ahead of time. 

Serve with: grilled meats or sausages; delicious in a hot pasta dish; use the marinade and chop it up into a cold pasta salad with nice tuna fish; the possibilities are endless!

Please note: This recipe keeps well in the fridge for about one to two weeks but not much longer than that, so use it up!  We did not seal these jars or can this to preserve it so don't keep it on a shelf or try to use it for next summer.  Ain't nobody got time for botulism. :)

The Escabeche

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Friday, June 5, 2015

His name is Linus.

Born June 1st at 12:11 - 8lbs 9oz, 20 inches;
we saved the best for last. ;)

And they lived happily ever after. :)

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Friday, May 22, 2015

On The Unexpected Contentment of Parenthood. And Living the Good Life.

Roman and Alex: chocolate-chippity-apple-pancake-style
I have one week to rearrange my daily life's paradigm.  One week to accept that my life right now is probably the easiest it will ever be.  In one week, a new person enters the world and enters our family and we embark on yet another, unique adventure in parenthood.  10 months ago I could not have told you this would be happening, but I can't remember ever feeling more sure that something was meant to be.  With this baby, this miraculous little person who nobody thought could be, cosmic divinity and fate has intervened in my perfectly planned life in a way that could not be more unexpected or more welcome.  And such is the pleasant but precariously balanced reality of parenthood, a delicate dance between serendipity, hope and determination.  I have rarely in my life experienced such contentment in the moment and such excitement for the future.

Everyone's entrance into the world is different, every pregnancy or adoption its own bubble of a world.  Roman's birth was unique in that it was our first, and he larger than life in both character and size.  Alexander's birth and entrance into our lives through adoption was in many ways the opposite of Roman's - we had two weeks' notice, total, for example - but no less filled with excitement and love.  Peace is a word that defines both his character and the feeling I had when I met him for the first time.  And now this third baby - the one true surprise I've ever had in my entire life (not kidding) - has brought a depth of appreciation for how blessed (and you know I never use that somewhat cliched word) we are beyond anything I could have guessed.  At this point in my pregnancy with Roman I was swollen, miserable and impatient.  I think by the time I was told I'd be having an emergency c-section I was almost relieved.  When we were matched with Alexander's birth mother I pretty much refused to believe it would work out until he was in my arms.  But with this baby I feel content, warm, fulfilled - and kind of in awe of how smoothly everything is going despite the fact that we've had a very stressful past two months.

The one thing all three of these welcomings into the world have in common is the unexpected.  They were all different, in the end, than we thought they would be.  And, actually, all of them were all the better for it. 

It's probably obvious and inevitable that I have been reflecting on motherhood and parenthood in general a lot lately - especially to anyone whose had a chance to talk to me.  In this last week, there's such a large element of wondering just how having a third child will change our family dynamic: wondering whether the brothers will all get along, what new level of madness the third dimension will unleash in the house, and what new depth of love and awe he will surely inspire.  There's no more concern for me about "how can I love him as much as the others" because I know now that there's limitless space to love your children in your heart as a parent, whether you have one or twenty.  In fact, the incredible reality that your heart simply grows with your family, and that you just can't help that, is perhaps the first real "unexpected" of parenthood.

There are other unexpected realities.  One such is the way that you are happy and willing to throw life into utter upheaval for the sake of a creature who screams when he's hungry and shows little appreciation for the world revolving around him.  You gleefully rearrange all the routine, predictability and calmness you've worked so hard to establish with your current children in order to welcome this little angel of a tyrant and never look back.

But I think the most unexpected thing is the level of contentment I feel right now at the hectic, crazy, wonderful and all-engulfing role as a mother.  I yell, I get cranky, I curse the gods, but at the end of the day - I feel damn good about choosing to be a mom, and about doing it with Matt.  I've never experienced anything even close to as rewarding or challenging.  And sometimes that gets lost in the quotidian complaints or the funny articles about the mind-numbing daily chores involved in raising miniature human beings who don't always "get it."  But it's never lost completely.  And it resurfaces relentlessly in all the unforgettable small things - like Alexander learning to twirl with his arms out in the kitchen with his brother and dad, like Roman laying in bed with us asking questions about our colleges and what it's like to live away from home, like watching the two go down the slide together and then smile at each other conspiratorially (not unlike Matt and I probably do on a daily basis).

The greatest happiness is living the life of your dreams.  Maybe 10 years ago people could not have guessed this life would be it for me - as wrapped up as I was in my jobs, my education, my self.  But looking back right now I can see no other road more worth the trip.  And I am so thankful for that.

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