Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Czech Republic

Prague (Day 2)
Photo courtesy of --Tico-- on Flick
History: After much expanding and collapsing, underwent the "velvet divorce" in 1993, splitting into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Location: Central Europe
Area: Almost 80,000 sq km; 116th largest in the world.  Slightly smaller than South Carolina
BordersAustria, Germany, Poland, Slovakia
Geography: Landlocked
Nationality: Czech
Population: Over 10 million; 84th largest in the world
Capital: Prague
Source: CIA Factbook

And you thought CY would end the C countries.

The Czech Republic is exciting in that the country as it exists today was formed in my lifetime.  Also, because I have heard some interesting stories from Prague.  For the sake of those involved, I won't go into them here.  Just learn from their lesson: don't go onstage in a foreign country.

I found a recipe that I was pretty excited about, because it was "the dish" to make almost everywhere I read about Czech food.  Mmm, Czech Roast Pork with Dumplings and Sauerkraut.  Except the sauerkraut part.  That I would skip.  I bought all of the ingredients.  And then I waited for a good day.  And waited.  And waited.  After about three weeks I realized I was not going to get a day where I could devote 5-6 hours to cooking anytime soon.  Just not happening.  I had to come up with a new plan.

Enter this Goulash recipe (about halfway down the page).  Typically, I think of goulash as a Hungarian food, but I was assured it could be Czech as well.  I remembered really liking the goulash they served us in my grade school cafeteria.  Yeah, I was a little weird for a 2nd grader.  But this was a recipe I could make on a weeknight!

Step one: chop everything except the tomatoes and pepper.  I halved the recipe, because I am tired of wasting food when the recipe doesn't quite turn out correctly.
When I can, I keep pre-chopped onions in my freezer.  Awesome, especially if you remember to defrost them first...
I did add the optional caraway seeds, because seasoning and spices are always good, right?  Plus, this was very similar to the start of the delicious Austrian potato recipe.

Notice the "optional" beer in the recipe.  Is beer ever optional?  Kevin's homebrewing hobby has expanded recently, so we now have this:
That, if you can't tell from the not-so-great picture, is a kegerator.  Two taps!  At this time we had one commercial keg (Longboard Lager from the Kona Brewing Company) and a hoppy Red that Kevin made.  I went with the Red for the recipe because it would allow it to be more flavorful.
See what you are missing by not visiting us?
Stir this all together with some tomato paste and you end up with a kinda soupy mix that simmers for about 45 minutes.
Kevin took this time to read about installing the car seats.  This was good, because it meant we could take the extra base off of counter, because Tesla had tried to take up permanent residence there despite not being allowed.

After his perch was taken away, Tesla went to watch Mythbusters with Kevin.
I decided to be proactive and get everything else ready for the recipe.  I even measured out the flour and had it all ready to go.  Maybe I am actually learning a thing or two.
We didn't have a green pepper, so I went with red.
Done simmering...let's add everything else in!  I thought it was a little odd that the pepper and tomato didn't get cooked at all, but went with it.

The flour thickened up the mixture much more than I had expected.  It became more like a paste than a soup.
Growing up, the goulash I remembered was served with noodles, but I don't know how authentic that was.  When I have had it at restaurants since then, it is much more soupy.  I'm not sure if these are regional differences, or just different ways to interpret the same dish.
I promise our place isn't always this messy.
Personally, I think this dish was a moderate success.  Not bad, but not my favorite.  To my taste, though, one easy change would have been to cook the tomatoes for even five minutes.  I have never been a fan of raw tomatoes, but I love them in almost every other form (sauce, ketchup, soup, etc).  Just that little change would have taken this to the next level.

Kevin said that he liked it, and that the leftovers were even better.  He did say, though, that this may have been because reheating it cooked the veggies just enough to make a difference.  So take this as you will.  It may not be authentic, but I would recommend leaving it on the heat just a bit longer if you are going to try this one on your own.

And with this, we come to the end of the C's.  Most excitingly, there are fewer D countries than any of the other letters we have done so far, so maybe I'll get through them in a reasonable time.  Maybe.

Next time: Denmark

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