Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Super quick salad for busy DIY evenings

I'm not a DYI person. I just decided that. The last three nights have been spent washing walls. Yes, me and a sponge and walls. Two bedrooms and a living room in three nights. I am counting my blessings that New Home didn't need any improvement at all. We just moved our stuff in and got on with business. But the bachelor pad is another story. Once we got most of the stuff out of there, it was clear it needed a bit of sprucing. Well, more like major sprucing. So we have spent every evening this week after work cleaning and preparing for painting. I know it's only going to be for a few days, probably this and next week. But it's a lot of work. When I get back home I pretty much fall into bed. But hopefully the apartment will be finished soon enough and normal life can resume.

As a result of spending all my nights in DIY hell, I have learned some surprising things. Such as the fact that you can actually freeze tomatoes whole. Our wonderful little greenhouse is pumping out tomatoes at light speed, and I had great plans of cooking my own tomato purée, crushed tomatoes and basil and tomato passata, but after getting home all dirty and sweaty after a night of DIY cooking is the last thing on my mind. So I perused the Interwebs and learned that in fact you can freeze tomatoes whole. Obviously you don't want to eat them raw afterwards but they still retain their lovely summery flavour when you use them for cooking. So I have harvested each day's crop of tomatoes and shoved them in the freezer. Along with some gooseberries I picked today as we got home a tad earlier than usual. Apparently they too can be frozen whole and then used for a crumble.  Perfect, as I love a good crumble.

Today's recipe is a result of what we happened to have hanging around. It doesn't look like much, but it turned out so incredibly good that I had to share it here. Sometimes the combination of pretty ordinary ingredients just work out perfectly. I didn't particularly measure any ingredients, just went with it, and you can adjust everything to taste.

Weekday dinner pasta salad (serves 4-5):
4 cups cooked pasta
2/3 cucumber
300 g cherry tomatoes
1 yellow sweet pepper
1/2 red sweet pepper
2/3 cups olives
2 tins of tuna (in oil of course...)
3-4 heaped teaspoons of chilli pesto (or more if you like a bit of kick in your salad)

The howto:
This isn't all too complicated. Chop up your cucumber and peppers, mix everything together. Dinner is served!

The verdict:
My photos just keep getting worse and worse. In my defence, I'm not entirely sure where my camera is right now, and I only snapped a pic of this salad after having a few mouthfuls (right out of the bowl I'm embarrassed to admit) and it was just too good to not include here. However, I was also ravenously hungry and there was no way I was going in search of my camera, not to mention trying to take a good picture. After all, it's pasta salad. How photogenic can that be? So the long and short of it is... it's quick and easy to make, you can whip it up in minutes (if you have pre-boiled pasta, if not, in a few minutes plus however long it takes to cook the pasta) and it's so delicious you will be looking forward to lunch the next day just so that you can have some more. I'm sure it's the fiery pesto that is the secret ingredient, it goes perfectly with the tuna. Go figure, but I swear it's the truth! 

Monday, 29 July 2013

Finnish baked cabbage casserole

I am finally online again! A whole week without any access to the Internet. You know you are out in the sticks when there is no 3G... But now New Home is finally online and I can get back to blogging. Although I can't say I had much time to miss the Interwebs, every evening has been so full of unpacking, organising, re-organising and all the other stuff that is needed to get settled in the new place. And admittedly I do spend quite a bit of time just floating around, walking from room to room and around the garden, talking to the trees (as instructed by the previous owners) and marvelling at the garden. I'm still convinced that any day now someone will show up at the door and tell me that I have no right to live here, that it has all been a mistake, the money we paid wasn't good or the bank has withdrawn the mortgage. Every time we pull up to the driveway and I see the house I still cannot believe I actually live here. For good. No-one can make me leave. Me and the Culinary Consultant tell each other every day that we are the luckiest people in the world. But there is so much to do. We have no curtains, hardly any furniture, the Batchelor pad still has several car-loads of stuff in it, not to even mention all the painting and cleaning that needs to be done before it can be let. But we are trying to do a little bit every day, it's just that I would much rather be at home trying to come up with new and exciting ways of using up all the tomatoes from the greenhouse instead of scrubbing walls. But there is a season for everything.
We were supposed to have our first BBQ on Friday. I have said from the start that the first thing I want us to buy for the garden is a BBQ, everything else can wait (although we do have a few pieces of garden furniture as well). So the Culinary Consultant set to putting together the thousand pieces that were supposed to become a BBQ. Which it in fact did. However, after I had already prepared some potato salad and cole slaw, with our chicken, burgers and sausages waiting in the fridge, we realised the firelighters were nowhere to be found, and probably still back at the old place. So we had to admit defeat and pop the burgers and sausages in the oven instead. When we finally had food in front of us I can't say we particularly cared about the fact that it wasn't proper BBQ, we were so hungry. However, this back story about the cole slaw explains why I have loads of cabbage in the fridge, which needed to be used up. So I made kaalilaatikko, a Finnish oven baked cabbage casserole. The recipe is from Pirkka, a very popular website in Finland for recipes. 

Cabbage casserole (kaalilaatikko, serves 5-6):
1 kg (approximately) cabbage (usually white, I used a mix of about 3/4 white and 1/4 red because that was what I happened to have)
2 onions
500 ml (2 cups) water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
500 g organic mince
2 tsp marjoram
black pepper to taste
3 tbsp syrup (Finnish syrup is dark, and I substitute by 2 tbsp golden syrup and 1 tbsp treacle)
50 ml (about 1/4 cup) risotto rice
2-3 tbsp butter
Before going into the oven
The howto:
Chop the cabbage and onions. Bring water to a boil, add cabbage, onion and salt. Let cook for half an hour. Meanwhile cook the mince in a frying pan in the olive oil. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (392 F). When cabbage has cooked for half an hour, take it off the heat (don't drain), add spices, syrup and meat and mix. Butter an oven proof dish (I didn't and had no problem getting the food out anyways) and pour rice on the bottom. Spread cabbage and meat mixture (along with the liquid in the pan) on the rice in an even layer, and add a few knobs of butter on top. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for about 50 minutes. Serve with lingonberry jam.
The verdict:
This is a really cheap and relatively quick and easy meal to make. I pre-pack it into single servings to take with me as lunch to work, or freeze as single servings. I like how the cabbage turns sweet when baked in the oven, obviously aided by the syrup. I am used to a kaalilaatikko having a bit more rice than this recipe, but I guess in times of cutting carbs it is sensible choice. It tasted pretty much just as I remembered. I didn't use to like cabbage foods when I was a kid (although not sure any children do) but now I really like it. Be it cole slaw or casserole, it is really tasty.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Herb roasted mushrooms

The day has finally arrived. We completed today!! After work we drove off to New Home, just to hang out for a while and have a look around in preparation for the big move tomorrow. We are going to move everything ourselves, and a large part of things are not packed. Well, to be more exact, a large part of *his* things are not packed, mine haven't been unpacked since the last move. I can't wait for tomorrow morning, I should probably go to bed immediately to make tomorrow arrive faster. Given the heat wave we are currently experiencing here in the Island Kingdom, it is bound to be a hot and sweaty day.

So this is a bit of a forced connection to link in the recipe, but soon I can make these mushrooms using herbs from my garden. I can't believe I will have my own garden. Based on how it currently looks, the previous owners must have been expert gardeners. There are all sorts of herbs, raspberries, strawberries, apples, pears, plums, cherries, rhubarb and so many other things. Oh, and asparagus, I am so excited about the asparagus. And then there is the greenhouse. Tomatoes, courgette and grapes. Yes, really. Grapes! How incredible is that! For now I'm just enjoying the thought of endless mojitos using the abundantly growing mint in my garden, and ignoring the thought of how much work it will be to keep a garden looking as immaculate as it is right now. Hopefully it will be mostly fun, and hopefully I will be able to keep most of it alive. I just can't believe how much tomatoes there are in the greenhouse, I think there will be an abundance of tomato recipes on the blog very soon. Before getting to the recipe, please excuse the following photos, but I'm so incredibly excited there is no way of stopping me.

Does anyone have any good pear recipes?
I had no idea one tomato plant will make so many tomatoes!
Who knew you could grow your own grapes? I mean obviously I
realised someone can grow them somehow, but just having them
around in your greenhouse. Who knew. And I think it's rather obvious
 I'm not a very experienced gardener.
Hoping the birds will leave a few cherries for us.
My own raspberries! At least something I shouldn't
be able to kill off.
Baby apples, hopefully they will grow big and strong really soon.
Getting to know the neighbours.
This recipe is from a blog called Italian food forever. I think I originally found them it Pinterest. They looked really tasty and I also like the fact that they were good both warm and cold, so I could use the leftovers from the weekend in my lunch salads during the week.

Herb roasted mushrooms (serves about 4 as a side):
400 g mushrooms (I used a mix or Forestiere, shitake and button mushrooms)
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
2 cloves of garlic (I used my beloved smoked garlic)
herbs (the original recipe suggests 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tsp chopped fresh sage and 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley. I used a handful of flatleaf parsley and a handful of lemon thyme, as that was what I had at hand)
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F/gas mark 6. Wipe the mushrooms with a cloth or wash them. I like to peel off the skin for larger mushrooms or if they feel a bit sweaty after being wrapped up in plastic containers. Chop to bite sized pieces. Mix olive oil, finely chopped garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. On an oven tray, mix the mushrooms with the oil and herb mix, making sure to coat the mushrooms well. Cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until cooked, depending on the size you chopped the mushrooms. When mushrooms are done, drizzle with balsamic.

The verdict:
This is a nice way of cooking mushrooms, usually I just pan fry them, but this was much easier. And you can adapt it using any of your favourite herbs. I did take some of them with me for lunch the following day, and they were nice both warm and cold. And I bet they will taste even better with herbs from my own garden. Soon, very soon!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Quick and easy one bowl rhubarb pie

Wow it has been a hot day today. Just sitting still in the office made me sweat. So you can only imagine the puddle of sweat I left behind when biking home from work in this very nontraditional tropical climate we are experiencing. By the time I had dried myself off after the shower I was sweaty again. Isn't this a lovely and appetising start for a food blog! Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, it's finally summer! I hope this weather is here to stay to make up for the lousy start of the summer. Luckily the bachelor pad is actually not too bad, and it hasn't been nearly as hot as my little shoebox of an apartment used to be during hot days. I can remember the few hot days we had last summer, I was actually sleeping under a wet towel, it was the only way to cool off enough to be able to go to sleep.

Today I had dinner at a colleagues house. I wanted to make something for dessert, but with this heatwave going on, I couldn't imagine doing anything too complicated. Then I remembered this recipe from many years ago. I used to have a Winnie the Pooh folder with my favourite recipes before I moved abroad. That folder was stored at my Mum's house for years, until last Christmas I got rid of almost all of my possessions, with the rationale that if I haven't missed them during the three years I have been away, I won't need them anymore. This folder was among the things to go. But not before I had typed down some of my favourite recipes, and this definitely is one of my most used recipes, although I haven't made it in years. First of all, it's really delicious. And second of all, it's so easy to make, you only need one bowl and something to mix with. It's super quick, you will only need a few minutes to get it in the oven. Chopping the rhubarb is the most time consuming part of the entire process. 

I guess re-discovering this recipe is a good reminder that going after that next new thing isn't always the best solution, sometimes there are valuable things to hold on to in our past. Everyday things which seem so ordinary you don't alway pay attention to them. Now that this recipe is back in my mind, I will certainly use it more often. 

I'm sorry that the quantities are in volume and not in weight. I have added weights using approximate conversions, but I have always used the volumetric measures when preparing this recipe. And I am probably getting so much stick for what I'm about to say, but I don't think it's really that strict, I have made this many times without measuring, just tossing in the ingredients, and it turns out good every time.

One bowl rhubarb pie:
200 ml sugar (170 g, approx 3/4 cups plus two tablespoons)
400 ml flour (260 g, approx 1 3/4 cups)
150 g butter
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla sugar
2 tsp baking powder
250 ml (1 cup) milk
3 stems of rhubarb

The howto:
Preheat oven to 225 degrees C (425 degrees F, gas mark 7). Chop the rhubarb. Using your fingers, mix butter, flour and sugar until resembling the consistency of coarse sand. Remove about 100 ml (a heaped 1/3 cup) of the mixture to another bowl (this will be the crumble on top). Add the rest of the ingredients to the remaining butter-sugar-flour mixture and mix quickly. The batter will be very runny and doesn't have to be completely smooth. Pour into a pie tin (not one with a loose bottom though, as the batter is runny. No, don't look at me like that, of course I don't know this from experience...), add the rhubarb on top and sprinkle with the crumble. Bake for about 25 minutes.
The verdict:
Quick, easy, almost no washing up, and utterly delicious. Eat as is, or add custard, whipped cream or ice cream. Mix it up and replace rhubarb with pretty much anything, such as blueberries, strawberries or fruit. What more is there to say.

Card of the day:
I had such a blast making these cards!  I love bags and I love shoes. And obviously crafting. So it was great to be able to combine all three. Also,  I got to use my Tim Holtz distress markers for colouring. I like to stamp and then heat emboss with clear ultra fine embossing powder before colouring. The background stamp is Hero Arts and the shoes, bags and sentiments are from a set I bought off ebay and doesn't have any indication of what make it is. The papers are all from Dovecraft Back to Basics III set, and the cards are Kraft cardstock.

Monday, 15 July 2013

A small salad and big frustration

I try really hard to focus on all the good things in life. Right now I have so much to be happy about. The sun is shining, I will soon (soon is a relative concept) be in my own home, have my own kitchen, my own garden and my own craft room. Ok, so the home, kitchen and garden obviously are only half mine, but what I mean is that they are ours, but it's so annoying when people speak 'we' talk all the time. Anyhows. Today I just have to vent. I am so frustrated I seriously don't know whether to laugh or cry. I know from time to time you get bad customer service, and even the most recommended companies will have some dissatisfied customers. So usually when I get bad service I just try to get over it. But this just broke the camel's back. So the story goes like this...

We were supposed to pay our deposit (10%) of the house on Friday. I tried, but my online bank will only allow me to transfer a certain amount of money per day, which is a bit less than the deposit. So I transferred that on Friday, thinking I will transfer the remaining small sum on Saturday and be done with it. Now, on Monday evening, I still can't use my online bank as it claims I'm going over my daily allowed limit. I have made at least 5 phone calls to Natwest, and today I have been chatting to their advisor for over an hour. The result of all of this? I was told there is nothing they can do, and hopefully it would all clear for tomorrow. Which was the same I was told on Sunday, and it hadn't cleared this morning, so I'm not all too hopeful. But the worst thing? When I suggested to the online "customer service" person (more like customer non-service) that it's a bit frustrating that my online bank won't actually allow me to do any banking she hung up on me. Or whatever the chat equivalent to hanging up on someone is. Good thing we have an appointment with another bank later in the week, we were going over there to chat about opening a joint account, but seems like right now not only will there be a joint account, I will also move my business over there from CrapWest. I'm just so incredibly frustrated as this again sets back all the business with the house. The moral of the story? Never ever sign up with Natwest, they are useless.

But then onto nicer things. The sun is shining, and that is great (as long as you aren't in a train for many hours without air conditioning). We have finally got our little sliver of summer over here on the godforgotten island. I just hope this is how August will be, so that I get maximum benefit of my new garden. Assuming we have been able to pay the rest of the deposit and actually been able to move. Whoops, let my mind get all negative again, bad bad mind! I have certainly noticed that the hot weather has affected my appetite, I crave crisps and ice cold coke (as in coca-cola, just making a point...) and can't even think about eating proper hot food. Did you check out my recent tzatziki and potato salad hybrid? Well, this is another ridiculously simple salad which you could prepare as a side for a barbecue, which is exactly what I did. 

Broccoli and tomato side salad (serves 3-4):
1/2 head of broccoli
2 large tomatoes
1/2 small red onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp black pepper

The howto:
Steam the broccoli until slightly softened but still al dente (really, don't let it go soft, you want it to be nice and crisp and not soggy at all). Chop to desired consistency. Also chop the tomatoes, and finely chop the onion. Mix olive oil, balsamic and pepper, and toss with the salad. I'm pretty sure adding a herb like parsley or coriander would be really good, too!

The verdict:
Obviously, this is not the most original recipe out there. But it was a really nice side with all of the other things we had going. BBQd chicken, sweet corn and sweet potato. The salad was crunchy and refreshing. I made it a few hours ahead to give it some time to marinate, I think the onion is nicer that way when it has a bit of time to absorb the oil and vinegar. I also warmly recommend trying the mango-mayo salsa type sauce with you BBQ, it's really nice with chicken, and would probably go great with pork as well.

Card of the day:
This is yet another one from the archives as I'm still in crafting exile. I expect I will start dreaming about crafting any night now. I'm also worried because the only outlet to my crafting needs is buying more crafting stuff on ebay. Which I really can't afford... And I'm afraid soon I'll go crazy with the new Stampin' Up catalogue as well. But until then, maybe looking at this picture will sooth my soul a bit. Or not. 

These are four cards I made using Tim Holtz distress inks and the Kanban butterflies stamp. I stamped using different coloured inks and markers: the top left stamped using Walnut stain and embossed using clear embossing powder, the top right one Vintage Photo for the text and markers Barn Door, Victorian Velvet and Spiced Marmelade for the butterflies, bottom left text using Antique Linen for the text and Broken China, Bundled Sage and Victorian Velvet markers for the butterflies, bottom right was stamped using Tim Holtz clear embossing ink and clear embossing powder. For the backgrounds, I used different distress inks and applied with blending foam and an applicator tool for the backgrounds as follows: top left: Worn Lipstick, Spiced Marmelade, Peeled Paint and Vintage Photo around the edges, top right Worn Lipstick and bottom right is the same as the top left with some Broken China thrown in there for good measure. The matting was done using papers from the Dovecraft Back To Basics III pack, some which I stamped on using the Hero Arts Flourish stamp. The brown paper on the bottom right one is from my stash. The sentiments are from my trusty Hobbycraft General Sentiments set, apart from the Big Day! which is from another set which I can't identify at the moment. I finished by adding some gems and ended up with quite a summery set of cards.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

When tzatziki met potato salad

I was ecstatic earlier in the week when I thought we would possibly be moving in a couple of weeks. Well, I was wrong as usual and seems like the move will happen either the last weekend of July or first weekend of August. I simply cannot understand how everything can take so long, and I don't have the patience for all these delays. I need to get into a proper home, this bachelor pad is driving me mad. And I do realise these are first world problems, I should be happy to have a job and a roof over my head. But I can't really bake anything properly here as most of my kitchen stuff is packed in boxes and there is no room to unpack the boxes. And I'm going crazy as there is no space for crafting. I swear, once I get my craft room up and running I will be spending every spare moment in there. I have so many new stamp sets to try out, not to mention my Tim Holtz Distress paints which I ordered in late May as a birthday present to myself, and still haven't been able to try out. 

Another thing I will be happy to get rid of is the grocery store around the corner. Admittedly, it's super handy to be able to pop by whenever you need something, but at the same time, it is way too easy to stop by and get something when you get a craving. Last week, we had the fridge full of proper food but it was too hot to eat warm food, so instead I just popped by the grocery store every evening to get some bread and then ate way too much bread for supper. Not good! Moving out to the middle of nowhere should at least stop me from doing that! Today it's really warm again, not that I'm complaining (too much), but I couldn't bear the thought of warm food so I whipped up this refreshing and really easy summery salad. It's the love child of a one night stand between tzatziki and a potato salad.

Tzatziki potato salad (serves 2):
4 potatoes
1/2 cucumber
1/3 small onion (or a few scallions)
3-4 tbsp greek yoghurt
a handful of mint leaves
a pinch of salt

The howto:
Peel potatoes and chop into bite size cubes. Boil until soft but still firm. Let cool. Cut cucumber into thin strips (I slice first and then cut the slices into strips) and finely chop onion or scallions and garlic if you are using it. Also finely chop the mint. Mix all ingredients. Serve with a thick slice of garlic bread, I also added tinned tuna and a hard boiled egg to make a meal out of it. 

The verdict:
This salad was pretty much created because I felt eating tzatziki for lunch all on it's own was somehow wrong. Adding potatoes not only made it feel more like an acceptable meal, it also made it a bit more man-friendly and the culinary consultant seemed happy with the meal. I loved the salad, the yoghurt and mint make it so fresh and summery. Apart from the time it took to boil the potatoes, throwing this salad together took no more than a few minutes. I didn't add any garlic to the salad, as I was serving the meal with a slice of roasted garlic bread, which in itself is really garlic-y. But if you are serving the salad with regular bread, a clove of finely chopped garlic is a great addition.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Hungary inspired soup/stew

Returning back from my holiday I am again in the process of trying to empty out the bachelor pad kitchen to the best of my abilities. It seems like moving day is finally approaching, as we should have all papers needed for exchange completed by now, so keeping my fingers crossed for being able to complete in July. To be honest, I'm still hoping for mid July rather than late July, but I have been told I shouldn't be holding my breath. 

Today's recipe is Hungarian inspired. We brought back about a ton of paprika powder. Apparently, the new in thing is smoked paprika. It used to be all about "where do you buy your wine?", then there was the question of "where do you buy your olive oil?" and now paprika powder is all the range. Obviously, I couldn't imagine buying my paprika anywhere else than Hungary. The culinary consultant absolutely loved the goulash (beef) soup served over there, but I have a freezer full of chicken and turkey so I made my own adaptation with white meat instead. And I pretty much just tossed in what veggies I happened to have around, although I have to admit I did buy the carrots. Everything else I had in house. Of course, the sausage, paprika and goulash spice mix have only been in house since late last night when we landed, but I say it still counts! 

Hungarian inspired slow chicken stew (serves 5-6):
500 g turkey fillet stir fry strips
3-4 carrots cut into slices
3-4 potatoes cut into cubes
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (or so) Hungarian salami cut into cubes
1 tbsp sweet paprika powder
1 tbsp Goulash spice mix (this is the mix I used, I have no idea what's in it as the ingredients are all in hungarian, although the ingredient list for another goulash spice mix seems to contain paprika, sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, marjoram, caraway, garlic, thyme, pimento, cloves)
2 cups frozen veggies (I used a mix of peas, cauliflower and carrots)

The howto:
Add all ingredients except the frozen veggies in the slow cooker along with 2-4 cups of water (depending if you want more of a stew or soup). Cook on low for 5 hours or high for about an hour and then low for three hours. If you don't have a slow cooker, I'm sure cooking on a regular stove would work just fine as well. Add the frozen veggies and let cook for another half hour or so. Serve with a slice of bread.

The verdict:
This was extremely quick and easy to make and although it didn't taste exactly like the goulash soup, it was still rather tasty. I would have added some tomato puree had I had any, a few tablespoons would do nicely. I served it with thick slices of roast garlic bread I found in the Co-op. After whining for so long that there is no decent bread to be found on this island, I'm surprised I have now bought two loaves of bread from the Co-op, both really delicious. 

Card of the day:
I miss crafting so much, and suspect that once I get into my new craft room, I will spend so much time there. I have a huge load of crafting supplies that I have ordered but not got to play with yet. And I recently received the new Stampin' Up catalogue and I keep browsing through it every night in bed. 

This card is the last in my three wedding card collection. It was made for my friends who got married last weekend. They live on a boat, and the theme of the wedding was boats. In fact the bride and groom (and most of the guests) arrived to the wedding in a flotilla of canal boat. The card is very simply embossed with the Cuttlebug swirls folder on glossy silver paper. The cardstock is dark blue very heavy cardstock which I got from a friend and have no idea what make it is. I used a Hobbycraft border punch to create the border, and made a simple bow from a silver lined white ribbon. Last, I added a few silver gemstones. Inside, I made a sleeve of white paper and stamped the sentiments Congratulations and May All Your Dreams Come True in Tim Holtz Chipped Sapphire distress ink along with three small hearts.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Hungarian delicacies

Street food on the day after the wedding... Sausage,
chicken and onion skewers and potatoes cooked in bacon fat.
Feel your arteries clog from the fat and salt.
I recently had the privilege to get aquainted with Hungary during a week long trip to attend a good friend's wedding. I was obviously intrigued about the local food and made sure to sample as many local delicacies as possible. To start with the usual disclaimer, I'm not being compensated by anyone to write this, all opinions are my own.

Our trip started with a few days in Budapest, filled with sightseeing and eating. Then we headed to Pécs in southern Hungary for the wedding, and from there part of the wedding party continued on to the wine region of Villány close to the Croatian border.

How to describe Hungarian food? Well, as my Hungarian friend put it, it's lots of meat with lots of fat and lots of salt. And I fully agree, it's definitely no diet food. I am having trouble doing the top button of my jeans after just a week, so any longer stay would probably have disastrous consequences. Also, being a vegetarian might not be as hard as it has been, but finding good vegetarian dishes is not very easy. I usually don't use any salt in my food, so I was also struggling a bit with the high salt content, be particularly aware of sausages and bacon, they will make you thirsty for a week. 
I'm traditionally not a big fan of cherries (apart from the
fresh ones), but the sour cherry and chocolate ice cream
was pretty awesome.
Hungarian main dishes are often slow cooked meats in the form of stews. There is pörkölt, which is what non-Hungarians would call goulash. A meat stew cooked with veggies and flavoured with paprika. The dish called paprikás is chicken cooked in a similar flavourful sauce, with sour cream added. Both of these can be found in pretty much any Hungarian restaurant and are simple but flavourful. The food at the wedding was a huge platter of cooked meats piled on veggies and rice, with deep fried potato dumplings and deep fried cheese to go with it. Again, very tasty, but you can feel the fat clogging your arteries. The culinary consultant had a huge grin on his face the whole evening.
The meat platter served at the wedding.
The amazingly delicious wedding cake,
raspberry and white chocolate.
One thing the Hungarians certainly do well is bread. Bread is served with pretty much every meal and its both crusty, soft and fresh. For a carboholic, it is pure bliss. I must have eaten loaves and loaves worth of that soft chewy bread, and its perfect to dip into sauces and stews.
Garlic soup with deep fried (yes, you read that right) bread.
Then the really good stuff. Lots and lots of bakeries. Just look for the sign saying Pékség (one of the very few words of Hungarian I managed to pick up during our trip), or follow the heavenly scent. Lots of baked pies and bun type of things with fruit and berries, apples and cherries being the most common I happened upon. Also, there are lots of cakes with walnuts or poppy seeds. I'm not quite sure what I think of the poppy seed fillings, it has quite a distinctive flavour. Mixed with fruit I liked it, but on it's own it wasn't quite sweet enough for me. The one thing most pastries and cakes have in common is that they are not overly sweet which makes the flavours of the fruit stand out much more. 

One of the most common cakes is rétes (strudel). Ooh, the strudel. Served warm with poppy  seed ice cream in a restaurant or still warm, eaten right on the spot from the bakery. In addition to the berry and fruit filled strudel there is one filled with a creamy soft cheese and raisins. So good!
I also tried out flódni, a famous multi-tiered Hungarian-Jewish cake with layers of walnuts, poppy seeds, apple and jam. I got mine from a coffee shop called Noé Cukrászda (Wesselényi utca 13). It was quite interesting, but with a bit too much poppy seed and walnut for my taste. But definitely worth a try, and it was very pretty.
One of my absolute favourite baked goods was chimney cake (kürtőskalács), which you can buy from touristy street vendors all over town for a few pounds. It's basically a sweet white dough rolled thinly, cut into strips and cooked wrapped around a hot metal cylinder and the outside dipped in cinnamon sugar, vanilla sugar, walnuts, almond shavings or chocolate shavings. It's basically a bun in a funny shape and its really good with a soft inside and nice crispy outside with the cinnamon sugar. The one I liked best was from a small coffee shop called Molnár's (Váci Utca 31, right next to the Elisabeth Bridge).
Chimney cake by the Elisabeth Bridge.
We ended up eating in rather touristy places in Budapest as we walked around town to see all the sights and pretty much stopped for fuel when we ran out of steam (or to get away from the rain). However, a few places did make an impression. A small butcher shop called Belvárosi Disznótoros (V Károlyi Mihály Utca 17) is definitely worth seeing and experiencing. The displays are brimming with meats and sausages, served with salads or fried potatoes on the side. A must for any carnivore.

The carboholic must place is the classic, and very fancy, cafe Gerbeaud (V Vörösmarty tér 7-8). Just pop in to admire the cakes, chocolates and macaroons or, even better, sit down for a cake selection and a huge glass of dark hot chocolate with whipped cream. Yes, it will cost you more than your dinner, but it's worth it.
The cake selection at Gerbeaud. Combined with
hot dark chocolate, it was pure chocolate bliss.
Last but certainly not least is the food market Nagycsarnok (IX Vámház körút 1-3). My love of food markets is no secret, and I loved walking around this one. Butchers, vegetable and fruit sellers and bakers. And quite a lot of touristy things as well, but who wouldn't love bags  of paprika powder with teeny tiny wooden spoons. We bought ridiculously cheap and delicious cherries for less than a quarter of the price we would pay back home, and berries seemed to be very cheap this time of the year as well. We also bought home a ridiculous amount of paprika powder and some goose liver. 
Selection of things to take home: paprika powder,
goose liver and Unicum, the most vile drink known to man.
The omnipresent paprikas.
Wishing cherries were this price in the UK
(less than a pound and a half for a kg)!
You can't talk about Hungary without mentioning the wine. We spent a day in the Villany wine region and got to see the wine cellars of the Bock winery as well as a tour of the actual vineyards of the Gere family winery

We also enjoyed a six course wine tasting meal at the Gere winery restaurant which was very memorable and enjoyable. Six delicious courses combined with very good wines. For a light drinker like me, it was rather tough to get through all those wines. Of course we couldn't resist getting a few bottles of wine to take home, we bought a rather expensive (for us) bottle of wine, and now we need some really special occasion to drink it. I really enjoyed staying in the Gere Crocus hotel, it has a lovely wellness spa, very friendly staff and the breakfast buffet was amazing, so a warm recommendation from me.

Pike sushi with cucumber gel, lime, cucumbers and
cucumber mousse from the wine tasting menu.
Another course from the wine tasting menu, grilled duck
liver and duck liver patee with rhubarb.
All in all, I had a great time in Hungary. It was weird travelling in a country where you don't understand a single word of the language, it was definitely a first for me. Even though I don't speak German, Italian or French, I can make out enough to identify words here and there as well as say a few simple sentences. But Hungarian is completely alien. Ironically Hungarian is one of the few languages related to Finnish, but I couldn't detect any similarities whatsoever. But it was quite funny going into a restaurant or shop, and have no idea what you are buying, just point and then taste to see what you got. And to be honest, most people did speak at least a bit of English, and most people working in more touristy places spoke very good English. And I'm not saying I'm expecting everyone to speak English, pretty much everyone I met spoke much better English than I speak Hungarian, so I have nothing to complain about. I'm just saying it's really weird to understand absolutely nothing. But it also leads to fun surprises. Like buying chocolate pralines from the amazing little chocolate shop called Cadeau and just pointing and then eating to find out what it was you bought. And before I finish, there is one non-food related place I just have to rave about, a teeny tiny paper shop called Bomo art (Régiposta Utca, some products are also sold in other paper and book stores in Budapest, and they have a web shop). They make the most amazing leather bound notebooks, calendars, photo albums and other bound books with papers they design themselves. You can also buy the papers and other paper products like post cards. I would have liked to buy everything in the entire store, the products are absolutely beautiful. But with very limited space left in the luggage after wine shopping in Villány earlier, I had to settle for one thing. So we got a beautiful leather bound guest book for the new place. I can't wait to invite guests so that we can start using it (well, after we have moved in of course...).