There are posts I should be writing, other posts, different posts but today has begun in such an amazing way that I want to reach out and hug all my online friends – and that includes the new ones I’ve met for the first time today.
As usual I leapt from bed this morning with a groan, cracked my neck a few times, said hello to Golly and Mogi [cat and dog respectively] and then made a beeline for the kettle. I looked through my kitchen window at the miserable grey day outside and resigned myself to having a miserable grey day inside as well.
Wrong, so very wrong.
Coffee in hand I fired up the trusty pc and logged in to wordpress to be met with not an orange number but a new orange notification icon. Ok, I thought, wordpress is tweaking again. I clicked on the new icon and my jaw just dropped. I had so many comments! Where had they all come from? As I began reading the comments my smile just got bigger and bigger [yes Bluey I’m looking at you]. Suddenly being inside, warm and loved was the very best place on earth to be.
So what does a small, middle-aged, Hungarian-Australian woman do when she’s happy? Does she start writing The Book with a vengeance? No. Does she dance around like an idiot? Well yes… but mostly she cooks because food means love to a Hungarian. So I’m inviting you all over for dinner. I’m making a shitload [excuse the Hungarian] of veal schnitzel, parsley potatoes and cucumber salad. It’s a big meal so please don’t ruin your appetites with snacks – sideways glance at Daud. The wine is byo though, sorry.
Ok, now before I begin cooking I must point out that everything on the menu comes from my Mum. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I reveal some of her little tricks, especially when it comes to the schnitzel. Here we go.
VEAL SCHNITZEL a la Mum.
Moist, tender veal schnitzel begins with pale, young veal, not yearling. If you can get it cross cut then fantastic. If not just ask the butcher NOT to tenderise it. You want it thick so it doesn’t dry out into a nasty piece of crumbed leather.
Ok, so I have about 10 slices of lovely veal. I cut them into smaller pieces [about the size of my palm]. I lay them on a plate in layers and very lightly salt each layer. Now I’m setting them aside for about 1/2 an hour. That little bit of salt will give the veal as much tenderising as it needs.
Next I prepare three bowls, 2 small, one large. Plain flour goes into the first small bowl. I crack four free-range eggs into the second small bowl and pour a lot of breadcrumbs into the large bowl. They can wait as well.
[I’m always in a hurry so I never prepare everything in advance. Instead I’ve turned into a time and motion expert, fitting different preparation steps into vacant time slots. Trust me, it works].
While the veal is tenderising in the salt I throw four large potatoes [skin and all] into a big pot of cold water, add salt and put the pot on to boil.
Now I have time to prepare the cucumbers. I peel three medium sized cucumbers [or two of the long continental burpless variety] and slice them very, very fine. The cucumbers go into a bowl and I sprinkle them with salt to draw out as much of the moisture as possible. The cucumbers get set aside as well.
What’s left? Oh the parsley. I have parsley growing wild in my garden and I quickly gather a bunch about the size of a standard bunch from the supermarket. After a quick wash the parsley is ready to be chopped. Out comes the wooden chopping board and my trust Big Knife. It’s sharp and rather heavy but that’s just what I need. The tip of the Big Knife goes onto the chopping board and then crunch, crunch, crunch. There’s something so satisfying about chopping parsley. I keep venting all my hidden aggression until the parsley is nice and fine. That gets set aside too.
[Those of you with a mathematical bent may have noticed that I’ve used a rather frightening number of bowls and bench space. Don’t be afraid, it’s all in a good cause.]
Okay! Almost all of the preparation is now done. The potatoes are boiling, the cucumbers are swimming in their own juices and the veal is ready to be crumbed. I have a production line system where I dip a piece of veal into the flour, pat off the excess, drown it in beaten egg and then bury it in the breadcrumbs. I know some people prefer to do all the flouring first but really, that part is not important. The only important part is how well you press the breadcrumbs into the veal. I don’t want it to just stick, I want it to drill down into the meat so I get physical with the crumbing, pressing down hard until I have a nice, thick crust.
By the time half of the veal is crumbed the potatoes are done. I drain them into a big colander and let them cool off a bit. I have pulled the skins off while they’re piping hot but it’s not pleasant.
Once the veal is all crumbed and the potatoes are cooling I turn my attention to the cucumbers. This next bit gets a little messy. I drain most of the liquid off and then grab handfuls of limp cucumber and squeeze. [Not a single, solitary word gentlemen or you’ll be eating McDonalds!]. Squeezing gets rid of all the excess salt and moisture leaving a pale green mess that doesn’t look all that appetizing in the bottom of the bowl. Soldier on!
Now I’m going to scrape two plump, peeled cloves of garlic until they’re both mashed to death and add them to the limp cucumber, mixing the lot together with my fingers. I pour about 2 tablespoons of white vinegar on top, give it a quick stir then pat it down with the back of the spoon. Now the cucumbers can sulk on their own for a while.
A quick check of the clock sends me into over-drive! Grabbing another trusty knife from the knife block I cut the cooked potatoes into halves and peel off the skins. Then each half gets cut into bite-sized chunks. Done.
Time to start cooking the schnitzels. I turn on the gas, plonk a big, heavy cast iron frypan on the hobb and pour just enough peanut oil into the bottom to cover it to about 1/8th of an inch. You do not have to deep fry schnitzel! While the oil heats I start to tidy up the huge mess I’ve made in the kitchen.
The oil is hot, time to test it. Taking a crumb from the schnitzels I drop it into the pan and rub my hands in glee as it starts to sizzle. It’s ready. I place pieces of crumbed veal in the pan, taking care to leave enough room around each piece so they all cook evenly. Then I turn the heat down as low as it will go and put a big lid over the top. This is perhaps the most important part of the whole cooking process. The lid keeps the meat cooking at just the right temperature so it becomes tender but not dry and chewy.
When I hear activity from beneath the lid I lift it to have a look. Yes! The first side is golden brown. I flip each piece over and fry them for a few minutes more, without the lid, to make the bottoms crisp and crunchy. Perfect! Time to take them out, drain them a little and place them on the serving plate. I could drain them on paper or even slices of bread but I don’t mind a little bit of oily goodness so I just lick my chops and put more schnitzel on to cook. Again the lid goes on until the first side is cooked through.
While the next batch is cooking I whip out another frying pan and put a heart-stopping amount of beautiful butter in the bottom. As the butter melts I add the chopped parsley and let it sweat for a few minutes on low heat until the butter is a golden, greeny colour. Then I add the chopped, cooked potato to the parsley mix and swirl it around until everything is coated in green, buttery goodness. On goes the lid and down goes the heat. I only need the potatoes to simmer gently and reheat now.
More crisp, golden schnitzel comes out of the heavy frying pan and another lot goes in. Masterchef eat your heart out! By the time the doorbell rings I have a huge platter of schnitzel, a big bowl of parsley potatoes and a smaller bowl of pale green cucumber salad on the table next to a loaf of crusty white bread.
“Come in, come in!” Hugs and kisses all round. “Go sit down and eat while its hot!”
“What’s that you say Daud? I’m covered in flour, breadcrumbs and parsley? Oops, I knew there was something I’d forgotten to do.”
As all my wonderful friends settle around the table and begin helping themselves I race off to get changed knowing they’ll still be eating when I get back all sparkly and clean.
I love big family meals where no-one stands on ceremony and good food and good conversation are the order of the day. And I love all of you. Thank you for making today so wonderful.