As the subject of my latest cooking lesson we made pie. Strawberries are coming into season and I found a good deal at the market. The hard part was finding enough rhubarb. It's not a well-known ingredient in Hungary, but is slowly becoming more popular. Here's hoping rhubarb finds it's rightful place in spring cooking.
Since we were planning a quiet little Christmas dinner, we wanted to do something special yet simple. I've had gratin on my mind for the last few weeks so I took a peek in Mastering the Art of French Cooking for ideas. I found two. One was the master gratin recipe and the second was a recipe for ham and leek gratin. Sections of leek are parboiled in salt water and boil, wrapped in ham, then covered in sauce then baked until beautiful. We didn't have any ham, but we had freshly made bacon. So we went ahead with the idea that we would make the bacon leek gratin and put it on top of potatoes.
After years of wanting to, I finally cured my own bacon at home. I realize that this is almost passé back home where all things bacon became so popular that it's now uncool, but here in Hungary serving and curing food is something that many families embrace as a way of life, certainly not a passing trend.
I conceived the idea that since we were hosting Christmas this year that I would cure my own bacon for our Christmas breakfast. I was very easily able to purchase a beautiful slab of pork belly at the market, about 4 kilos worth, with the ribs still attached.
I then removed the ribs and used them in a Japanese curry, which was amazing. I added the salt, sugar, and curing salt to the belly. I put it all in a bag and kept it in the refrigerator. I turned it every day for a week until it was firm. Then I roasted on low until it reached 150° F.
I sliced off the skin and let it cool, then I carefully wrapped it up and put it in the refrigerator to firm up for slicing. A week later, I took the belly to my Italian meat and cheese purveyor at the market and had him slice it on his deli slicer.
Busójárás is the Mohacs event that signals (or creates?) the end of winter to make way for the coming of spring. It is marked by parades of Busó, large masked creatures, sometimes even wielding weapons who scare off winter.
Parading winter's coffin
He's looking to scare away winter
More parading Busó
And yet more...
Night at the Roxbury anyone?
Franny and the Beast
The Beast and the Beast
This Busó took a little inspiration from Guy Fawkes
Warning for those who have aversions to bugs and critters: There are two pictures of spiders in this post. Beware. :-)
Given the opportunity to go mushrooming with two good friends from Kecskemét I was ecstatic. I've done a bit of hunting in the surrounding area for different mushrooms including different varieties of morels and other locally distinctive mushrooms, but being fall after a lot of rain and then some really good sun it was prime parasol mushroom season! So we headed due east for about 15 km outside of town and arrived to some nice patches of grassy forests.
A patch of parasol mushrooms
Our catch after 5 minutes!
These guys were everywhere and they were doing good business!
Hunting for these mushrooms was a breeze as they were everywhere and almost all in very good condition. We just tried to avoid all of the spider webs which turned our walk through the trees into a maze. Our timing couldn't have been more perfect as we saw only a few over-the-hill mushrooms; most were in their prime!
Known as the "deer leg mushroom" in Hungarian (őzlábgombá) I had no idea why until I actually saw them. Here's a photo composite of the stages of life of this mushroom:
Getting taller and the cap is developing
This cap is starting to open up
Here's a fully grown parasol. The stem looks like a deer's leg.
This one has dropped it's spores and is over-the-hill
The stem could no longer support the weight of the giant aging cap
A patch in many different stages
The beautiful habitat of the mushrooms, spiders, and deer we saw that day
A rare wasp spider
Here's Peter and Laura enjoying some freshly baked zucchini muffins
A big thank you to Peter and Laura for the invitation to hunt for mushrooms and the wonderful dinner of mushroom soup that followed. Delicious!