Kulhay Christmas Foods

After Christmas dinner at Grandma’s house this year, I had my Grandma and Aunt Margie explain some of the traditional Christmas foods that come from their side of the family, the Kulhays. Like many of the early 20th century immigrants in the Cleveland area, the Kulhays are from Hungary.

I picked four Christmas staples: Székelygulyás, Sauerkraut Balls, Töltöttkáposzta, and Christmas Jello. After the videos, Grandma and Aunt Margie graciously opened their cookbooks and shared their recipes. Grandma’s cookbook is a treasure:

Székelygulyás

A gulyás is a stew. This one contains sauerkraut and pork. Grandma said that this is traditionally a New Year’s dish, but she makes it at Christmas since that is when we are all home. Grandma eats it by itself, but most of us grandkids prefer eating it over dumplings.

 

Here is the recipe:

 

Sauerkraut Balls

Aunt Margie said that this recipe originally came from McGarvey’s restaurant in Vermilion, OH, where one of her aunts worked. The recipe sounds like a clever chef devised it as a way to use up the weekend’s leftovers. It stuck throughout the years because it is delicious. Here is a McGarvey’s logo from the late 60s:

 

Here is the recipe:

 

Töltöttkáposzta

Töltött means stuffed and káposzta means cabbage. My family makes these in batches of 50 or 100 during the holidays and for big parties like graduations. I have lots of early memories of 4 people at a time standing at the counter rolling meat in cabbage leaves. I even rolled a few myself!

Here are the recipes for 100 and 25:

 

Christmas Jello

Every year, the first dessert we eat after dinner is Grandma’s Christmas Jello. It is an 8-layer jello cake that takes Grandma all day to make. The colorful layers are the normal jello flavors and the white layers are made out of scalded milk and sour cream set with gelatin. You have to let each layer set before pouring on the next layer.

Next year we’ll go over the baked goods!

Delicata Squash Frittata

This weekend I had seven delicata squash in my fridge. I love roasting them and topping them with brown butter and sage, but we can only eat that so much. I needed another option, so I started brainstorming: How can I use this for breakfast?

When I started thinking about the other things we have in the fridge, it hit me: Make a frittata! We have bacon, eggs, greens (a mixture of two kinds of kale and rainbow chard), and peppers. If I roast the squash first, it will be nice and soft instead of crunchy.

Delicata is a pain to peel because of the ridges and the skin is completely edible, so I decided to slice it into rings, cut out the seeds, and roast them with olive oil for 20 minutes at 400F before putting them on top of the frittata just after I pour the eggs in the pan. Finish off with some pecorino at the very end and you are good to go.

Making Pulled Pork in an Apartment (Sous Vide Pork Shoulder)

One of the things I dislike about living in an apartment is not being able to use my smoker. Thankfully I can still make some decent BBQ indoors, even if it takes a full 24 hours. It is worth the wait. The key is using a sous vide, liquid smoke, and sodium nitrate.

J Kenji Lopez-Alt over at The Food Lab did the heavy lifting on figuring this out. His method is what I use, so go over and check it out.

Tips:

  • If you want it for dinner, start it just before dinner the day before. Then pull it out of the sous vide after 23 hours and finish it in the oven around dinner time the next day.
  • Double bag the pork shoulder, and if your vacuum sealer has a Moist mode, use it. Nothing is worse than the seal on your bag breaking overnight.
  • I use triple the amount of liquid smoke because I couldn’t really taste it with the amount The Food Lab recommends. I also use smoked salt and smoked paprika in the rub.
  • The sodium nitrate really does the trick for making a faux smoke ring. Be careful with this stuff, though. Measure it by weight and don’t overdo it. Never eat it directly. It IS NOT regular salt. It is dangerous stuff in large amounts.
  • This saves for at least a week in the fridge. If you want to eat it after that, freeze it. If you freeze it in a vacuum sealed bag, you can just drop it right in the sous vide for 30 minutes at 165F and it will be ready to serve!
  • We love eating this with coleslaw and Martin’s Potato Buns (unless we are avoiding carbs, then we just eat a platter of it.)


For my dry rub, I use a blend of thyme, black pepper, smoked salt, onion powder, cumin, chili powder, turmeric, garlic powder, smoked paprika, rosemary, mustard powder, and cayenne pepper.

For my sauce, I prefer a take on an Eastern Carolina vinegar-based sauce. I mix up a small batch in a squeeze bottle:

  • 1 TBSP ground black pepper
  • 1 TBSP crushed red pepper
  • 1 TSP roasted garlic powder
  • 2 TBSP Frank’s Red Hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup pepper vinegar (white vinegar that hot peppers have been aging in for 9 months)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Fast Breakfast Option: Fried Eggs with Pancetta, Kale, and Pecorino

I’ve been skipping breakfast recently, but I got up unusually early a few days ago and wanted to eat something before I started working. I wanted something fast, tasty, and low carb, so I started scouring my fridge.

This is a delicious breakfast option that I usually have the ingredients in the fridge to make. It took me under 10 minutes from pulling out a skillet to sitting down to eat.

Fried Eggs with pancetta, kale, and pecorino

  • 1/3 pack of pancetta
  • 3 dinosaur kale leaves
  • 2 eggs
  • Butter
  • Pecorino
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Rip up the kale into small pieces. I use my hands for this. I quickly strip the leaves from the stem with my hand and then tear up the leaves directly into the pan.
  2. Crisp up the pancetta with the kale in the pan over medium high heat. Remove the pancetta and kale from the pan when the pancetta is crisp.
  3. Drop some butter in the pan, let it get hot and start to bubble, and then crack the two eggs in the pan and fry them for about a minute on each side (I like my eggs runny.)
  4. Dump the pancetta and kale back in the pan for a moment, and then plate everything, season it with salt and pepper, and grate some pecorino on top.

I know this isn’t a groundbreaking new dish. It is pretty simple and the flavors are a well-known combination: salty pork, a hearty green, savory eggs, and a nutty cheese. I write about these things to get ideas flowing. My hope is that even if you don’t have these specific items in your fridge, it sparks an idea of a quick, tasty breakfast that you can make with what you do have. Or, if you haven’t considered this combination of flavors before, “if you don’t know, now you know.

This breakfast is just a specific instance of something I do all the time: Throwing together quick meals from things I have in my pantry or fridge. These meals won’t win any awards or show up in cookbooks, but they are generally tasty, save time, and are practical.

One of the best things you can do for your cooking is break out of the rigid recipe mindset. Start thinking about recipes as flexible templates of interchangeable options. This lets you use what is on sale, what you have on hand, and what you like instead of following a recipe to a T.

That is what Cook Like Chuck is all about: What can I make with what I have?

Rethinking Cheese on Tacos

Cheese on tacos is usually boring and bland, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Cheese has some pretty cool properties: It can be melted and crisped.

I regularly tweak my taco meat recipe, so last week I was searching for inspiration while I probably should have been working. I stumbled across an article from Serious Eats where Josh Bousel argues that we are going about cheese on our tacos all wrong. Instead of  just sprinkling cheese on our tacos like n00bs, we ought to melt our cheese directly to the tortilla. You should read his article.

I tried it and I don’t think I can ever go back.?????

Breifly, you melt the cheese in a non-stick pan and then throw down a tortilla (corn works best) over half of it. Once the cheese starts to crisp and the tortilla is warm, remove the pan from heat and carefully slide a spatula under the tortilla and cheese to remove your new creation.

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It works on breakfast tacos and regular tacos alike, as well as with a variety of cheeses. The cheese is crispy and crunchy around the edges, still a little gooey on the tortilla, and has a deep, rich flavor.

Read Josh’s recipe on Serious Eats, then run to the nearest kitchen and give it a try!


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Making Great Pizza at Home

Chuck’s note: This is a guest post from my friend Robert Ramsey. I regularly turn to him for advice because he seeks out the best version of what he is interested in. I learned a few things from this write-up and I’m going to alter my pizza-making method accordingly. 

Homemade pizza can be a bit intimidating. I’m sure you’ve heard that your small home oven cannot produce the heat necessary to make good pie, and the recipes for homemade pizza are often disgusting, with tough, thick crust and pounds of toppings to compensate.

The truth is, you can make good pizza at home. It takes a little work, but with some patience and a hacker attitude you can easily crank out quality slices.

Pizza making, like most things involving good bread, is as much art as it is science. Therefore, your opinion matters quite a bit, and deciding what you believe “good” pizza to be is up to you. I prefer a Neapolitan style both at home and in the restaurant, but I have seen many New York style pies successfully done at home as well. Note: a Neapolitan style dough is actually the easiest of all the non-pan pizza doughs to create. It requires no kneading, can be done in one step, and tends to be less of a mess.

What you will need:

Dough

  • 30 oz Italian 00 flour (I’ve found the best place to get this is Amazon)
  • .6 oz fine sea salt
  • .5 oz instant yeast
  • 19 oz of room-temp water (or so, it depends on the humidity)
  • Semolina flour. This is for sliding the dough into the oven.

Sauce

  • 28 oz can of whole San Marzano tomatoes (or other Italian brands. Check the pasta aisle in your grocery store. You’d be surprised what you can find there).
  • 10 basil leaves
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • two-finger pinch of salt

Toppings

I prefer basil and wet mozzarella, but you can do things like sweet peppers, sausage, etc. Keep things light! You want there to be far more empty sauce than toppings. Good pizza is about accenting a crust, not being a delivery vehicle for toppings.

Equipment

  • Food processor (you can use a blender in a pinch)
  • Pizza peel or sideless cookie sheet
  • Kitchen scale
  • Pizza steel. This is very important. You CANNOT use a stone. I purchased a Dough Joe online, and I love it. Another good option is the Baking Steel. If you know someone who has a scrap yard, have them cut you a 15×15 piece of steel plate. It works just as well. Chuck’s note: This is critical. You need something that can rapidly and efficiently transfer heat to make a nice crust. Regular pizza stones and pans will result in an underdone crust.

Making the Dough

Combine the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl and stir well. Add a little bit of the water at a time and stir with your hands until everything in the bowl is wet. Be patient with this and make sure to stir well with every bit of water, as adding too much results in a sticky mess.

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter overnight or for 10 hours.

Pull the dough from the bowl onto a well-floured surface. Divide it into four equal portions. Put each of these into a Ziploc bag and press the air out. Put the bags into your fridge.

Let the dough cold-ferment for at least 48 hours. I prefer 72 hours. This is going to create elasticity and bubbles within the dough, which is key to delicious dough.

Making the Sauce

Making the pizza sauce

Add the can of tomatoes with half of their liquid to the food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients. Process until “saucy.”

Pizza sauce!

At this point I usually like to throw the sauce in a sauce pan on the stove to simmer for a bit and bring the flavors out.

Making the Pizza

Grab your dough bags from the fridge and let them sit out for an hour or so beforehand

Put your pizza steel in the oven on a rack as close to the broiler as you can comfortably get. I usually go with the rack second-from-the-top, but if you feel like you can easily shovel a pizza in without touching the broiler, go right on ahead.

Heating up your Pizza Steel

Preheat your oven to 550F at least 45 mins ahead of making pizza. You’ll need this to get the steel to maximum heat.

Pizza dough

Liberally flour your counter or pastry sheet. Grab a ball of dough, then, form your hands into a “karate chop” and use the tips of your fingers to poke the ball into a 6-8” disk, occasionally flipping it over to maintain the circular shape. As it flattens out, you should find air bubbles in the dough. That’s gold. Try to avoid popping them.

Pizza dough

Grab your pizza peel or baking sheet and dust it with semolina flour. You don’t want the semolina to be too thick, but don’t skimp either.

Take your pizza dough disk and drape it over your two fists, using them to slowly rotate it around. This is very difficult to do correctly, but you’ll slowly stretch the dough into a larger circle. Don’t get discouraged. If your pizza is shaped like a big pecan, it still tastes good.

When your dough is thoroughly stretched, drape it onto your peel. DO NOT TOUCH IT after it goes down. Touching the dough even slightly will cause it to stick, which is disastrous later on.

Grab a ladle full of sauce and spread it on your pizza. You want the pizza to be well covered in sauce, but make sure that the sauce hasn’t pooled anywhere, as it will slosh when the pizza is put in the oven.

Putting sauce on your pizza dough

Add your toppings. Again, go light.

Toppings

It’s time to add the pizza to the oven. This is fairly dangerous, so make sure you are wearing some high quality oven mitts and that nothing flammable is close to the oven. Grab your peel and give it a quick shake to make sure your pizza slides easily. Open your oven with one hand, and with the other slide the peel at a 45 degree angle as far back onto the pizza steel as you can. Jiggle the pizza onto the steel and close the door.

How long you keep the pizza in varies from oven to oven, so start out with my times and then experiment a bit if you aren’t happy. I let the pizza bake for 7 minutes, shut the oven off, and then turn the broiler on high for 1:40 seconds. This gives you the char on top.

When the second timer goes off, put those oven mitts back on, pop open the oven, and slide it back on the pizza peel. It can be a little tricky, so sometimes I just reach in and grab the pizza.

Pizza!

Let the pizza sit for at least 5 more mins while it finishes cooking (residual heat!), then dig in.

Prep Your Corned Beef Now for St. Patrick’s Day

I’m not Irish or that into parades, so I don’t go crazy about St. Patrick’s Day. To me it is a chance to overindulge in quality cured meat. Some people get excited about green beer, others get excited about corned beef.

Just Say No to that grocery store corned beef. With a small amount of effort, you can do much better. Have you ever brined a chicken? Curing your own corned beef isn’t much different. I’ve made it twice and I’m always surprised at how easy it is.

Curing your own corned beef at home

I use Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for the pickling spice and his method for curing the corned beef. If you don’t have all of the spices needed for the pickling spice and need to go buy some anyway, Penzeys’ is a good alternative. Don’t go for that stuff in the grocery store. Head over to his site and follow his curing instructions. Then check back here for cooking instructions.

The process takes about five days, so you’ll need to plan ahead a little bit, get your ingredients now, and make some room in your fridge, but the result is more than worth the effort. I’m going to start curing mine about a week before St. Patrick’s Day, but if you need to make yours earlier, it should keep in the fridge. You’ll still want to remove it from the brine after five days, though.

Cooking the corned beef

How to cook the corned beef is where I depart from Ruhlman. Simmering it for a few hours produces okay results, but cooking it at a lower temperature for a longer period of time keeps it tender and succulent instead of dry and flaky.

The best way of doing this is vacuum sealing it in a bag and cooking it in a sous vide water bath for 10 hours at 180F.

If you don’t have a sous vide circulator, the second best way of achieving this is with a slow cooker/crock pot. If yours doesn’t have a temperature setting, the “Keep Warm” setting will get you close to where you want to be, but you’ll also need to monitor it throughout the day with a thermometer and adjust the heat as necessary. You still want to aim for a cooking time of 10 hours.

Sides

You’ll notice above that I don’t cook potatoes, carrots, and cabbage with the corned beef. While boiling them all in one pot is simple, the trade-off is that each individual item isn’t as good as it could be. Since you are probably still craving potatoes, carrots, and cabbage for your St. Patrick’s Day meal, here is how I recommend cooking them:

Leftovers?

If you have leftovers, make my Corned Beef Hash for breakfast on Saturday!

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