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Hungarian Cowboy Stew

IMG_6324In Prague, I ate a spectacular venison goulash with Carlsbad dumplings at a cozy inn by the river. Goulash is everywhere in Prague–the Czech equivalent of a burger.IMG_6318

Goulash and chili have a lot in common. The Hungarian word gulyás means cowboy. The dish is named after the cowboys who prepared it while they herded cattle on the Great Hungarian Plain or Puszta in the 19th century. Paprika peppers were introduced to Hungary by the Ottoman Turks in the 1520s.

There are more than a dozen varieties of paprika in European supermarkets. In Germany, I cooked a fiery beef goulash with Hungarian hot “rosen” paprika, This goulash tasted nearly identical to New Mexican Red Chile with Beef. The main difference in technique is that goulash is thickened almost entirely by caramelized onions.

Here’s a recipe:

Spicy Hungarian Goulash

Sweet Hungarian paprika is widely available in the United States. It is also increasingly common to find Hungarian hot paprika. You can substitute 2 tablespoons sweet and 2 tablespoons hot paprika for the “half-sharf” in this recipe. (Sharf means sharp, or hot and spicy, in German.)

Serves 4

1 lb. beef stew meat
Salt and pepper to taste
4 medium onions
2 Roma tomatoes
1 red pepper (Hungarian type preferred)
4 tablespoons Hungarian “half sharf” paprika
3 tablespoons tallow, lard or vegetable oil

Cut the beef into half-inch dice removing any obvious ligament and season with salt and pepper. Peel and chop onions from end to end into half moon-shaped slices. Chop the tomatoes and red peppers, keeping each separate.

Heat half the fat or oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat and fry the onions stirring occasionally until soft and golden in color, 15 to 20 minutes. At the same time to a skillet over medium-high heat, add the other half of the fat and brown the meat in small batches. Reserve each batch of cooked beef on a plate.

When the onions are soft and golden, add the paprika, stirring well to combine. Add the meat, the chopped tomatoes and peppers and stir together. Deglaze the skillet in which the meat was cooked with a cup of water, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom and add the water and remaining fat to the onion mixture.

Simmer covered, checking often to make sure the stew doesn’t stick to the pan. Add water was as necessary. Continue simmering until the meat is ‘fall off the bone’ tender and the vegetables begin to dissolve into a thick sauce. Serve over noodles.

Goulash tastes better reheated the next day and also freezes well for up to two months.

Suet Dumplings for Goulash

Ask the butcher at the supermarket to save you some suet next time he cuts beef.

4 ounces self-raising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 ounces shredded suet
Salt and fresh black pepper

Mix the flour and shredded suet in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and add enough cold water (6-8 tablespoonfuls) to make a smooth elastic dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured board and divide it into 12 dumplings. Gently drop them in the goulash, do not hold them under, just let them float. Put the lid back on the goulash and simmer for another 25 minutes or until the dumplings have risen. Put a couple of dumplngs in each bowl as you serve the goulash.

Gose Beer: Germany’s Michelada

A Gose beer in Leipzig

A Gose beer in Leipzig

Sour, salty, cloudy and refreshing, the radical wheat beer of East Germany called Gose has a flavor reminds some Texans of the Mexican beer cocktail called a michelada, only without the hot sauce.

In German, Gose has two syllables, it’s pronounced GOES-uh. The best version on earth is brewed at the Bayerische Bahnhof, a brewpub and beer garden located next to (and named after) the oldest restored train station in Germany, the Bayerische Bahnhof station in Leipzig.

The original Bayerische Bahnhof station.

The original Bayerische Bahnhof station.

I sat in the beer garden there one afternoon, drinking Gose and eating sliced ham and salami. I even got to watch the brewers wrestle large sacks of grain while getting a batch ready to brew.

All the while, I was thinking that I had made a monumental beer discovery. I couldn’t wait to tell my beer nerd friends about this wonderfully wacky wheat beer.

Back home, I came to find out that Gose has long been beloved in much of the country including Atlanta and Portland. And that not one, but two, Texas brewers are currently making Gose including the heavy hitters at Real Ale. Okay, so it looks like I’m a little late to this party.

IMG_6406 American beer writers are falling all over themselves over this and a few other old obscure wheat beer styles from East Germany and Poland.

I have to admit, it was a nice break after drinking a helluva lot of Pils in Prague and Eastern Germany. And in the middle of the summer, the flavor was perfect.

But the funny thing is, the beer tastes the way it does because of the saltiness of the local water. Halle, a scenic town just outside of Leipzig, is famous for the salt produced by evaporating water drawn from its ancient saline wells.

No wonder nobody in this part of the world drinks tap water. I am guessing that modern brewers add some salt to simulate how bad the East German water used to taste.

Firing Up the Goulash Canon

The Goulash Canon in action.

The Goulash Canon in action.

This website has been quiet over the summer–my family took a vacation in rural Holland, Prague, and mostly Leipzig, Germany. (We swapped houses for a month with a Leipzig family.) One day, while driving through Leipzig’s industrial district, I noticed a food stand called Gulaschcanone Leipzig. The menu, which was painted on the outside wall so you could read it while stopped at the traffic light, featured “chili con carne.” I pulled our rented Renault over and checked it out.
In a parking lot, there were some picnic tables outside of a large tent that held the food stall. Parked halfway in and halfway out of the tent was an unusual-looking Army surplus trailer with a wood-fired stove that heated three huge covered kettles. The olive drab-painted trailer had large wheels so it could be pulled behind a military truck just like a mobile artillery piece. German soldiers nicknamed this kind of mobile kitchen a Gulaschcanone, or “goulash canon,” hence the name of the food stall.
Chili con Carne trailer

Chili con Carne trailer

Gulaschcanone Leipzig was owned by a young entrepreneur named Ken Weber, it had been in operation since 2006. This week’s menu included Erbseneintopf mit Kassler (pea soup with ham), Soljanka (Eastern European sour and spicy soup)–next week Chili Con Carne was the special. I asked if there was any chili I could taste, but Weber apologized that he didn’t have any. “Come back next week,” he said. But alas, I was on my way home by then.

His chili recipe was pretty simple, he told me. Ground beef cooked with garlic, then tomatoes and tomato paste, red kidney beans and white kidney beans, and for the heat a healthy dose of the bottled Indonesian pepper paste called sambal olek. Surprisingly, the one thing Ken Weber never cooked in his goulash canon was goulash. Everybody and their grandma cooks goulash in Germany–chili con carne sounds much more exotic.

On the flight back to Houston, my wife asked me what new insights I was taking home. I told her I wanted to get one of those goulash canons. I want to tow a BBQ trailer and a Goulash Canon one behind the other from the back of the new dually pick-up truck I have been meaning to buy.

Prague Kolaches

At an open air market near Prague’s Old Town, I happened on a booth where they were selling “kolacé.”IMG_6263 These big round pastries looked like fruit pizzas. The cherry version was amazing. I guess these are the Old Country version of Texas kolaches.

SFA Podcast: On the Origins of Texas BBQ

Taco Truck Art: 2014

Taco Keto's Hungry Pig

Taco Keto’s Hungry Pig


Tex-Mex Nachos

Tex-Mex Nachos


There are two "U"s in hamburguesa

There are two “U”s in hamburguesa

Is that lettuce and tomato sticking out the end? Why aren't they folded burrito-style?
Is that lettuce and tomato sticking out the end? 

Do you see faces of a mother and child?

Do you see faces of a mother and child?

Tiny pepper? Or giant burrito?

Tiny pepper? Or giant burrito?


A Food Lover’s Guide to Food Lover’s Guides

While we were working on the Food Lover’s Guide to Houston at Houstonia Magazine, I fondly recalled my first purchases of Patricia Wells’ Food Lover’s Guide to Paris (1984), and Food Lover’s Guide to France (1987). Those two wildly successful guidebooks created a genre that inspired dozens of “Food Lover’s Guides” to various places in books and magazines.


I was a newbie food writer in 1993 when I called up Patricia Wells at her apartment in Paris and asked her to autograph my copy of the Food Lover’s Guide to France. She was very gracious, in fact, she invited me to come upstairs and have a glass of champagne and some olives she had cured herself at her summer home in Provence. I remember that it was February and her dining room was bedecked with forced tulips.

I got the book down off the shelf the other day, the binding is falling apart now, and I don’t think I will take it with me while traveling in France anymore. But I was somewhat astonished to see the inscriptions inside. I have never been much of an autograph seeker. For some reason, while I was traveling in France, I got the impulse to ask chefs to sign their names in the book.



It was a shock to see the autograph of Bernard Loiseau, the chef at Cote d’Or Restaurant in Burgundy who inspired the movie Ratatouille and tragically took his life when he lost one of his Michelin stars. One of the best chefs in the world, Loiseau was the mentor of Houston chef Olivier Ciesielski of L’Olivier restaurant on Westheimer.


A book review of La Mere Brazier in the Daily Beast got me thinking about a “type of kitchen peculiar to Lyon—that of the Grandes Mères and their cousins, Les Tantes.” In the late 1980s,  I had a chance to eat dinner at Chez Tante Paulette, and persuaded Paulette Authely, to sign my book. I still follow her recipe for Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic that appears in the book on the page opposite her photo.  “Places such as Chez Tante Paulette — where Paulette Authely reigned supreme with her chicken and garlic until five years ago — are no more,” wrote Patricia Wells of  Tante Paulette in 1994.

IMG_5432Maurice Bernachon took over the small chocolate shop he renamed Bernachon on Rue Franklin Roosevelt in Lyon in 1953. He reigned as France’s King of Chocolate until his death in 1999. Bernachon allowed me to hang around while he roasted a bag of cacao beans and ground them to silky smoothness. He signed his name with brown ink. The shop is still in business, its run by his children and grandchildren–the two most famous names in the gastronomy of Lyons, the Bernachon and Bocuse families, are intermarried and running a culinary dynasty.

There are many other autographs in the book. Chef Georges Blanc drew a little chicken beside his name after his speciality, poulet de Bresse; Robert Husser at Hostellerie du Cerf in Marlenheim wrote a long note after serving me the greatest platter of choucrote I have ever eaten; and Marc Haeberlin wished me “Best Regards” in the 28th of June 1996 after whipping up a wild game dinner at Auberge de L’ill in Alsace. There are also receipts for cave tours in Reims, currency exchange chits, and other memorabilia folded into the pages of this old tome.

Twenty or thirty years ago, these autographs were a silly tourist impulse, a lame attempt by my younger self to prove that I had really been to those places. That the chefs might pass away or the restaurants disappear never occurred to me.

Today, as a sentimental alter kocker, I touch the pages and treasure the memories.

FTX Symposium

FTX Symposium

Teasip Chronicles: George Orwell


Given the amount of iced tea Texans drink, I suspect our per capita consumption is up there with residents of the British Isles. Students and alumni of the University of Texas are known as “teasips” by our rivals at Texas A&M, but the truth is most Aggies are tea guzzlers too. People can get weird about tea. Over the years, I have collected some stories about obsessive tea behavior–here’s one of them.

During World War II, tea was rationed in Britain. There was something of a national debate about how to stretch a few ounces of loose leaves. In “A Nice Cup of Tea” British author George Orwell laid down the law about making tea. The article, which appeared in a book of Orwell’s essays, was reprinted in the Evening Standard on January 12, 1946.

A Nice Cup of Tea

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:


  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

(taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)