Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Nook Cooks: Hungarian Chicken and Spaetzle

Hello all! Welcome to the first edition of The Nook Cooks, in which the Nook... well, Cooks. Hence the name. But you got that.

If I'm going to be all Professional Mommy Blogger here, I figure I'd better jump on the whole look-at-me-I-can-write-AND-cook-yay-for-awesome bandwagon. Jump with me!

Today we are making Hungarian Chicken and Spaetzle. It's actually two separate dishes - the Hungarian Chicken is a saucy kind of paprika chicken deal [insert here the image of a paprika-colored chicken standing saucily that just popped into my mind] and then the spaetzle are the noodle/dumpling bits of pure comfort over which you serve it.

I think paprika is the like the banjo: underrated. It's good for way more than just sprinkling on eggs, people. (The paprika, that is. Not the banjo. 
...Not that I'm saying that banjos are also good for sprinkling on eggs. I mean, maybe they are, but probably not. Sprinkling banjos on anything sounds, well, cumbersome. And possibly twangy. And no one likes twangy eggs. So there you have your lesson for the day: Keep Eggs Twangless. And use paprika. Lots of it.)

So yeah. If your chicken is going to be all saucy and Hungarian (seriously, can someone draw me a cartoon of that!?), you need to break out the paprika. I will recommend, though, that you check the date on your plastic bottle in ye olde spice cupboard - if you only use your paprika for occasionally sprinkling on banjos, then it might be time to invest in a new container of the ground fruits of the capsicum anuum. (Thank you, Wikipedia.) You want your spice to be fresh and delicious so that your chicken can be fresh and delicious. (C'mon, we've got the makings of an entire comic strip, here! Nothing says comedic gold like a fresh, saucy Hungarian chicken. Wearing a jaunty hat.)

I happened to be lucky enough to have received a big packet of smoked Spanish paprika in an unlabeled baggie from one of my loyal customers at Starbucks, who got it from his elderly Sicilian mother in Texas, of all places. And this stuff is the business. By all means, if you have access to Smoked Spanish Sicilian Texan Grandma Paprika, use it use it use all of it in everything all the time and never look at the bottled stuff ever ever again.

That being said, fear not if your trusty back-of-the-cupboard bottle of McCormick is all you have. This is basically chicken and dumplings, for crying out loud - you cannot go wrong. It's like homemade bread that way. Homemade bread, no matter how much of an epic disaster, is always going to be better than storebought bread.

Banjos away.


By the way, spaetzle is German and has nothing to do with Hungarian chickens whatsoever. But it is way delectable and also is a veritable ambassador for World Peace. I bet spaetzle and Taco Chicken would be absolutely rockin'. Or spaetzle and Chicken Kiev. Or spaetzle and Poulet a la Mode. Or spaetzle and... erm... Eskimo Chicken. (Which, if my Cultural Anthropology class taught me anything besides how to watch movies with lots of wrinkly old naked people in them and not giggle, would probably be raw seal.) (We didn't giggle but we did draw a lot of really hilarious cartoons in our notebooks, though, if I remember right.) (And if anything is going to make raw seal taste good, it's spaetzle!)


You will need:

- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1.25 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- milk

C'est tout!

1. First, throw some flour and salt in your trusty big bowl. (Hint: if you make 1/4 of it whole wheat flour, it automatically becomes Healthy and will cancel out all of the calories you eat at dinner. Fact.)
(Second hint: whole wheat flour sucks. Use entirely white flour if at all possible. Relish.)
(Like 'enjoy', not like 'pickles'. Pickles in spaetzle would be gross. Even World Peace Ambassadors have to draw the line somewhere.)

2. Next, crack in the ol' eggs. If you are Super Amazing and Talented and Full of Flair, like me, you will do it with one hand while taking a photo on your phone with the other. 
...Then you will spend eight minutes trying to pick all of the shell bits out.
Mix the egg into the flour with a fork until it is too stiff.

3. Pour in some milk - just enough to form the whole thing into a shaggy mass of dough. You don't want it to be too sticky because you want to be able to roll it out onto a board, so go easy on the liquid and add more only as you need to. I had to flour my board pretty heavily and roll it around a bunch to get it to the proper consistency.

4. Roll it out! Don't panic if it's too sticky, though, or if you don't have the time, space, or inclination to mess around with fiddly rolling pins and the like. Just tear off blobs and throw them into your water. Oops, sorry if I spoiled the ending of this recipe for you with that last part. Didn't you kind of see it coming, though?
But anyway. If you don't mind the fiddly rolling pin part, then roll out your dough like so:

5. Grab a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter and make diagonal cuts down your dough.

6. Now, flip around and do the same thing, but going the opposite direction:

7. Almost done! Now separate your little dough pieces out (they may stick together; if you need to, grab some scissors and cut off the bits and put them on a floured plate or board. You could even skip the fancy cutting part and just use the scissors right out, I bet). Then, throw your dough pieces into a pot of rapidly boiling water.

8. The pieces will sink to the bottom at first. Hang out and don't panic. This is just flour and water, yo. As simple as it gets. Pretty soon you little doughy gems will pop back up to the surface and wave hello.
At this point, set your timer for two minutes (or one minute if they are very small or particularly thin) and chill. Maybe even pop open an appetizer beer. No one is judging. We're all friends here.

9. Ding! Remove your spaetzle with a slotted spoon (I just love the sound of that phrase... 'slotted spoon'... for some reason it sounds all dainty and quaintly alliterative to me. So does 'clotted cream.' Or... 'blotted... beans?' Never mind.) and set them tenderly in a waiting bowl or colander to await their upcoming Paprika Sauce Drenching.


This time, you're looking at:

- 2.5 - 3 lbs skinless chicken pieces of any kind. Bones are fine. Or not. Whatever. Breast falls into the same category as whole wheat flour, apparently, in that it is Healthy and Not As Good As Thighs. (Because whole wheat flour is obviously not as good as thighs.)
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 garlic clove, minced (or just smash it in one big piece if you don't want to mess with mincing garlic since it is kind of a pain. We're going for flavor here, so one smashed piece is fine. Or, even better, use This, and tell 'em Sarah sent ya!)
- 1 small onion, chopped (you do have to chop the onion. Sorry. One big giant slimy smashed onion in your saucy chicken will taste great and look horrendous.)
- 1/4 cup paprika, preferably Smoked Spanish, or good-quality Hungarian Sweet if you're going for authenticity, or the ol' McCormick's if that's what you'e got. And yes, you will be thinking "Holy living snarzgards 1/4 cup is a freaking TON of spice out of this little spice jar" and you will be correct because it really is and then you will double check the recipe and think "this can't possibly be right" and you will be incorrect because I'm the boss and you have to do what I say. Bam. It really is this much paprika. Which is why we're going for the good stuff!
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste. No comment, sorry. It's tomato paste. (I will throw in a parenthetical statement for you, though, since after all this is me we're talking about.)
- 1.5 cups chicken broth (one and a half, not fifteen. :-) (<--- how are you supposed to follow a smiley with a parenthesis, by the way? Like this? :-)) (Because that just looks weird. But you can't leave your parenthetical statement open. That would be a grammatical travesty.
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 cup sour cream (please dont use Lite sour cream because it is full of weird chemicals and also just gross. Always go full fat on the dairy products. Besides, as long as you throw in a tablespoonful of whole wheat flour and a chicken breast, the whole thing becomes calorie-free, anyway.)

This should feed about 4 people with some leftovers. Or just me and Todd after a hike with a very very small amount of leftovers. Or just me when I'm pregnant with no leftovers whatsoever.

Ready? Go!

1. Assemble ingredients. Admire.

2. Secure infant in relatively safe position outside of the general spatter zone. Ignore look of concern.

3. Toss a big pot or deep skillet onto the stove and start melting your butter. It has to be real butter and not margarine because butter is yummy and margarine is not. And because I said so.

4. While your butter is melting, de-skin your chicken pieces and cut off any hanging fat (some leftover fat is good for flavor so don't get rid of all of it, just the flappy grody parts), then sprinkle both sides liberally with salt and pepper. 

And FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, WATCH YOUR BUTTER. I am serious about this. Nothing - NOTHING - burns more quickly than butter by itself on the stove. Even crap under a broiler at 500 is less at risk. And the burned butter gets all stuck on to your pan and never ever comes off. You have to mind your butter CONSTANTLY because the SECOND you forget about it, it will turn into a black smoky mass and laugh at you evilly and you will feel like a miserable failure and go order takeout, which is expensive and not usually as good as homemade food anyway. Burned butter is the most frustrating thing EVER and it seems to happen all the time. I'm pretty sure the butter is all conspiratorial about it, though I'm not yet sure why. Some very, very sneaky butter reason, I'd wager. Someday I'll find out.

Actually, you know what? Forget those last two steps. We're just going to start over. Just in case. Because butter, even though it is delicious, is not to be trusted.

HUNGARIAN CHICKEN: 1. Assemble ingredients. Glare suspiciously at chunk of butter.

Butter may glare back. Ignore.

2. Prepare and season chicken.

3. NOW melt your butter. And don't do ANYTHING else but sit there and stare at it until it just starts to melt.

4. Add chicken and laugh in butter's now-nonexistent face.

I did my chicken in batches, because what we're doing here is getting a nice brown on it for flavor, not cooking it all the way. If you toss 'em all in at once, they will probably be a bit overcrowded and steam instead of brown. Which isn't the end of the world, because this is chicken and dumplings and you can't go wrong. It's just a wee bit tastier to brown your chicken first, if you can, that's all.

5. Add garlic while chicken is browning. Sprinkle it on the top of the chicken more than directly into the pan so that it has less time to burn. It's in cahoots with the butter in that department. If you forewent the mincing and just have one smashed piece of garlic, just tuck it in amongst the chicken so the butter picks up some of the garlic flavor.

6. Ta da! Lightly browned, but not cooked all the way through.

7. Observe baby fussing. Note fussiness escalating rapidly. Move fussy baby into yet another giant battery-operated expensive baby contraption in hopes that she will settle down long enough for you to finish cooking. Cross fingers.

Ignore baby glare. If you can ignore the butter glare, you can ignore the baby glare.

8. Drain fat out of the pan if you can. Not because we're worried about fat - after all, this is a calorie-free meal thanks to the chicken breast and whole wheat flour, remember - but because too much fat can leave the sauce a little greasy and we want to avoid that if possible. You can also skim grease off the top of the sauce later if it's a problem.

[I didn't take a picture of that because pouring hot grease out of an equally hot large metal pot with one hand while taking a photo with the other probably isn't a smart thing to do.]

9. Add onion, paprika, tomato paste, and chicken broth. Cover and cook over low-ish heat for 25-30 minutes. Chicken should be tender and cooked through by that point.

Mmmm! Steamy. Lookin' good.

10. Note continued baby fussiness. Sigh. Bring in frog binky. Hope for the best.

11. Take the lid off and check your chicken, then tip in the green pepper and give it a stir. Leave uncovered and simmer another 10 minutes.

12. Skim off any remaining grease with a spoon, if necessary. You can also just stir it into the sauce later. It will be tasty either way.

13. Grab a fork or something and spear your chicken out onto a plate for a sec. This is just so we can add the sour cream and stir it easily into the sauce. Once you do that you can put the chicken back in the pot. Or you can pour the sauce over the chicken on the plate and serve it that way, with spaetzle on the side.

OR - best idea of all - mix the sauce and the chicken AND the spaetzle all together in the pot and have everyone help themselves.

YUM!!! Comfort food heaven!

Pat yourself on the back, make your husband do the dishes, and go drink a beer! You have successfully Cooked with the Nook!

We'll see you back in the kitchen soon!

(By the way, in case anyone is wondering, that missing parenthesis up above is STILL driving me bonkers. I'll probably lose sleep over it. I'm already losing sleep over the smiley face parenthesis question. Sigh.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Keeping Busy

Hey guys! I'm still alive!

Sorry I haven't blogged much for the past couple of weeks... as you can imagine, it's been pretty hectic here, trying to get settled in and all. This is has been exacerbated by the fact that Todd went to work the day after we got to Maine and both of his parents work, so I'm home alone with the kids a lot, and juggling two kids is chaotic enough  as it is without also trying to unpack, organize, clean out old closets, move furniture, walk, and cook dinners. Oh yeah, and blog. Sometimes I have to sleep! Believe it or not!

When I'm not doing all of the above, I'm out and about here in Central Maine. There is so much to do, which is awesome. Having "so much to do" is one of the reasons we moved to New England, anyway. For example, our town just had its yearly Octoberfest, dubbed the "Swine & Stein", which is basically a street festival involving - shocker - lots of pork and beer. Which is, obviously, AWESOME.

Me and my father-in-law/drinking companion :-). Oh, and Catherine is in there too

BBQ, baby! One of many. Nice to stand by on a frigid day!


I am trying my absolute darnedest to turn Max into a farmboy, but to no avail... here he is apprehensively maintaining a safe distance from the terrifying danger that is the pigs and goats in the petting zoo. I'm pretty sure he nearly fainted when I fed the pig some grain. I spent my childhood practically and happily swimming in livestock - where did this child come from?? He rode his first horse at six weeks' old, for goodness' sake!

A local brewing supplies shop/brewery on the main drag in Gardiner. Free Octoberfest samples!! Yeah!
Also, feel privileged that you get to witness a rare glimpse of my toe thumb, which I normally keep hidden from the world, unless of course I've had a few beer samplers on an empty stomach. Never speak of it again.


A few days after that, the Gardiner fire department hosted an open house and barbecue. It was technically to promote fire prevention and safety, but Max was far more interested in the fire trucks than the pamphlets. Luckily, there were plenty of the former, including visiting trucks and firemen from the surrounding towns.

This isn't a mirror, it's the inside of a fire truck door! So shiny!
Baby C enjoyed the fire trucks as well
Climbing something like this is preeeetty much my worse nightmare.

Of course, when there aren't any interesting festivities or village gatherings afoot, there are plenty of walks to be taken! I am SO enjoying exploring the area around our home and our little township. I have been so busy at home (and so stranded without a car while everyone else is at work, most days) that I haven't had a ton of opportunities to do much of this yet, but I have loved what I have been able to do so far. I just got a wonderful BOB Revolution double stroller and adoooore it. It has made walk-taking an absolute joy!

I love New England - it's so picturesque! The building in the front here is the library, where Todd's mom is a librarian.

Ivy on a building

Lots of steeples poking through lots of trees in these parts!

Old buildings and stone walls abound

A new park for Max to play in! This is a small section of the Gardiner town common.

Church across the street from the common

Todd's grandma's house in Farmingdale, Maine

Now that we've gotten most of our stuff unpacked and gotten some semblance of order established in our lives, I should be able to find time for more posts. Stick with me, friends!