Friday, September 23, 2011

Me.

I am many things. I am female, short, overweight and blonde. I am a mother, minister, cook, priestess, lover, counselor and writer. I am also, for lack of a better term, Republican in my political leanings. Now... I can imagine that many of you may be reaching for your tar and feathers. After all, we pagans are supposed to be peace loving hippies who always vote Democrat, right? All pagans are liberals, after all. Well... no, actually, we're not. Just as not all pagans are vegetarians, nudists, pacifists, or anything else. In fact, the only thing I feel comfortable saying about "all" pagans is that we're individuals. Amazing that, isn't it? Each one of us has our own beliefs, our own politics, our own thoughts about how things should be done and by whom. That's one of the joys of being human.

I try very hard not to judge my friends and acquaintances based on a single piece of information. I work every day at not being the kind of person who stammers out, "But some of my BEST FRIENDS are black!" The bottom line is that my friends are human. That means that each one of them can be many things, some of them even contradictory!

I have become more and more frustrated and annoyed with the general atmosphere of politics, over the past few years. I found a lot of the nastiness pointed at Bush to be distasteful and rude, but I support free speech and so I would politely disagree and then fall silent. People have a right to call him whatever they want, after all, even if I happen to think they're being rude. However, now that Obama is in office, I find that suddenly, that isn't quite true. I've seen people who made rude comments about Obama suddenly receiving death threats from mysterious places. I've heard of claims of racism aimed at people simply because they disagreed with Obama's political policies. I have witnessed much less rancor toward Obama, largely because anything said about or in his general direction seems to be accompanied by claims of racism and class warfare.

Now, before you think I'm just "ripping into the Left," let me explain that I'm just as annoyed with the Right. The rhetoric and political balderdash that has been passed around of late is pretty stomach churning. We're back into the political ad season, and once again I'm seeing ads that say nothing about a candidate's political beliefs, other than that they "stand against Mr. X." This is unfortunately equally true of both "sides" of this debate. It's disturbing, because the public seems to just accept it. They don't really expect to get any information out of the ads on television or the radio. They don't expect to get any information, period. They base their votes on whether a pet cause has been funded lately, or whether the politician in question kissed their baby. It's disgusting.

Neither political party is acting in acceptable manners. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are being reasonable in their assertions. There's a lot of name calling going on, and the media not only reports it, but feeds it and stirs it up. Recently, I had the displeasure to come across an article which started out with something along the lines of, "We know all the Right are against public assistance." Several people that I know were lauding the article, talking about how wonderful it was. I wondered how they could get past the first lie, and whether it was easier to take the lies in large chunks. I refused to read further. I have no interest in poisoning my mind with any rhetoric that begins with over-generalizations and misinformation.

If you find this little notice offensive... then you probably don't want to be my friend. I'm not saying you need to shuffle off, but I am what I am. I tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I believe in helping out things like Planned Parenthood, and I also think that Welfare shouldn't be run by the government. I don't want socialized healthcare and despise the "Obamacare" that is being pushed on us. I am disturbed by many of the methods used by Obama, even when I occasionally agree with the things he has done. It is a matter of the end NOT justifying the means. I am me, and that means that I am not "like all Republicans." Nor am I like "all pagans." I am not (and I believe no one is, to be honest) "all" anything. I'm human, with foibles, a temper, failings, and feelings.

There is a chance that you may find yourself no longer on my "friends" list on FaceBook or GooglePlus. This has nothing to do with your character... but likely has to do with your responses to articles like the one I just mentioned. I simply no longer want to read mindless responses to ignorant articles. It bothers me. It doesn't mean I never want to talk to you again; it does mean I'd please like you to keep your politics and your "all or nothing" stance to yourself.

Amen, Ashe, So mote it be.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How to Cook Fresh Beets | My Sister's Kitchen

How to Cook Fresh Beets | My Sister's Kitchen:

'via Blog this'

I was looking up something else and ran across this .... it's too good not to share!

For the Love of Fudge!

I'm not really a Suzy Q Homemaker type of gal most of the time. I'm proud of my garden when I have it, and I bake the occasional loaf of bread, and sure I love to cook dinners. I'm just not a "pearls and apron" kind of lady, though! Every once in a while, I get the urge to Make Something. Often it's bread, because even my mistakes get grand praise and are gobbled up by family. Bread is a whole day affair, which I have to start early in the morning and don't finish until bedtime, and so that wasn't what I felt called to make today.

No, today the calling was for fudge. Oh yeah, fudge, that gooey, rich goodness that rots your teeth and calls the Plaque Monster in to play. That pan of delicious chocolate insanity mixed with more sugar and butter, with no excuses for diets or points or blood sugar levels. Yes, I felt a definite call to make fudge today.

Well, fudge that isn't from a kit isn't very difficult, but even when microwaved (as I did it today, as our double boiler is "in a box somewhere" like everything else we own) it's a bit time consuming. It's not bread, though, and a half hour turns out a lovely batch. So I went over to Mr. G's, our local bump and dent store, to see what they had available. See, they often have huge bags of chocolate chips for 99 cents or thereabouts, and I count that out as a whole pan of fudge for $3 after tax... seems about good to me! As it turns out, though, they had no chocolate chips. I was devastated... until the lady told me that they had peanut butter chocolate chips. This was supposed to make me sad? Oh no... I bought four bags of the things, and ran home giggling maniacally. I was clutching my bag, too. Just for the effect, you know.

Think about it - they know I was recently ordained (they = everyone in the neighborhood). They know I'm living at the parsonage right now. They know I'm ... different. And now I'm clutching a baggie from the store and giggling quietly to myself. What would YOU think?

Okay, fudge is ridiculously easy to make, especially in a microwave. Take three cups of chips (chocolate, white chocolate, Hershey's kisses even, caramel chips... doesn't matter) and put them in a large, microwave safe container. I used the big measuring cup we have here (it holds 8 cups). Drop a quarter of a cup of butter on top. It can be hard or soft, doesn't matter. On top of that, pour one 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk. Stick the whole thing in the microwave for 3 minutes at 50% power (do NOT cook it on full power - you will boil your chocolate and make it grainy and ruined). Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, and return to the microwave for 2 minutes at 50% power. Continue the two minute cycle with a stir in between until the butter is completely melted and it is nice and smooth when you mix it. What you see in my picture here is NOT ready - this is after the first 3 minutes.

When it's nice and smooth, you can choose to mix in nuts, marshmallows, crushed candies, or whatever your li'l old heart desires. Mix well, then pour into well greased baking pans. I picked up 8" x 8" tin foil pans about an inch deep, and they did quite well. One recipe as listed here filled one pan nicely. If you want to have a dusky top or embed some kind of candy in the top, do it after it's been in the fridge five minutes. Take your pan, pop it in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Then eat.

Now... While you're waiting that long, lonely two hours, why don't you lick your spoon or spatula? Then the measuring cup. Then anything else that touched the chocolate. Don't let it go to waste!

I'm making nice roast chicken breast for dinner, with fresh beets, fresh pan fried potatoes, sauteed cabbage, and coined fresh carrots. After all that goodness and healthiness, we'll need some old fashioned pan fudge.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Split Pea and Ham Soup

Everyone in my family loves split pea soup, with or without ham. Each of us has favorite items we like in it, too. For me, it's barley. There has to be barley in it or it just isn't RIGHT. Others like carrots, or potatoes, and Gray just likes it thick enough to stand a spoon in. Regardless, it has to have lots of green and yellow split peas in it, and perhaps a handful of lovely dark orange lentils. It has to simmer all day on the back of the stove, a spicy, dusky scent that greets you every time you open the door to come in. When it's done, it has to be thick, hearty, and hot, with floating bits of carrot and onion. It's best served with a crusty bread, heavily slathered with fresh butter.

SPLIT PEA SOUP WITH HAM

* ham bone or pork broth
* a total of 14 cups of liquid, starting with the pork broth if you have it, and ending with the water
* cut up cooked ham (half inch cubes work best)
* 2 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
* 1 large onion, chopped
* 2 large or 3 medium carrots, coined
* 3 medium potatoes, diced (skin on, preferably)
* 1-2 cups split peas (your choice of color)
* 1/2 cup pearl barley
* 1/2 cup lentils (optional)
* spices to taste (I use salt, pepper, fresh parsley, and oregano

Put your broth on to heat, or put the ham bone into the water (or mixed liquid) and bring to a boil. If you are working from a bone, let it boil for a half hour and then take it out, and continue with the recipe. Add your ingredients to the broth (except the salt - do that at the end) and bring it back to a full boil, then put it down to a low simmer and allow your soup to simmer for at least two hours, but the longer the better. Serve with crusty bread or fresh baked soda bread!

Now, when I make this, I usually tweak it a little. You can add any root vegetable you like - potato, carrot, onion, garlic, jerusalem artichoke, even sweet potatoes, though that makes it too sweet for my personal taste. When hubby isn't eating it, I also add parsnip and cabbage (parsnip goes in with the other veggies, and the cabbage gets put in during the last half hour before serving). You might want to add more potato, or more lentils or split peas, depending on how thick you like your broth. Some people don't put any of the vegetables in until the last half hour, and before they do they puree the broth and meat into a kind of paste. I personally don't like it that smooth, but it's another option.

If you're serving this to friends you want to impress, reserve a sprig of parsley or any other fresh herb to put on top of the bowl, and add a tablespoon of cream over the top of the soup, in a pattern. It will sit on top and look very pretty, indeed! Admittedly, once you've made this a couple of times, they won't be looking at it - they'll be digging into it with great gusto. Trust me on this!

I made this today, for our dinner this evening. I didn't add much pepper because of the kids, and I cut my onions very big (we have one kid who doesn't like onions but is fine if she can pick them out). I didn't add parsnip or turnip because we didn't have any, and I added a bit extra in carrots and potatoes because we did have them and they're from a local organic farm.

The broth I used was the water I'd boiled the ham in two days ago when I made ham for our dinner. It wasn't a bone-in ham (though I have one in the freezer!), so I reserved the liquid for soup. You put it in the fridge for at least a day, and skim off any fat from the top before using it in this recipe. All our left-over ham went into the soup, along with our acquired veggies and a package of "split pea soup mix" of split peas (thank you Manischewitz!! check out the ingredient list on the split pea package that I just used!). I picked these up at the local "bump and dent" store for a dime each, and I use two packages for this recipe made with 14 cups of liquid. It's almost as easy to make with the regular split peas, but this had such a nice mix, and was so convenient and cheap. I couldn't have purchased the split peas for so inexpensive!

One of the wonderful things about this soup is its flexibility. Not only can you mix around the ingredients, if you find you've made too much (this rarely happens around here - my soup pot isn't big enough LOL) it is very simple to put into a plastic container and freeze it. When you want to cook it, dump the frozen chunk into a pot and heat on medium until it's defrosted and hot enough. You might need to loosen it up with a bit of water, as it tends to get thicker when frozen. Regardless, it's really yummy out of the freezer, too! When I have the big stock pot available, I sometimes make gallons of this soup and freeze it in "family size" containers (quart size freezer bags). It's a really quick dinner that everyone likes, and the more you make of it, the cheaper it is (true of almost all soups).

Bon appetite!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Good Vegetables Gone Bad, and other tales...

I've talked before about how some vegetables like to cross over with other ones. Different kinds of squash come to mind, along with cucumbers and melons. You might ask yourself, what happens, exactly, when this cross species breeding happens? Well, what happens is you get Good Vegetables Gone Bad. To the left, you can see what probably started out as a garden variety cucumber, and was cross-pollinated with some kind of spiky veg, perhaps a thistle (there are a lot on the property I took this picture on). Click on the image for a close up look at this bizarre fruit! I pulled one apart (with gloves on - those things are sharp!) and it has innards like a cucumber. The leaves are definitely cucumber or squash inspired. It's a vining plant. I wouldn't want to eat it, though.

Today, I took out all my co-op goodies from last night's raid, and I fondled them. Well... okay, maybe I didn't go that far, but I did size them up and decide what they were going to be used for. The green cherry tomatoes and the dill had a specific use in mind when I picked them, and that's what I'm going to share with you today! You can see a small bunch of the lovely baby dill here, just about to be chopped up and put into the brine for my pickled cherry tomatoes. The smell of it was heavenly (and still is... it clings to the fingertips!), and it was almost a shame to cut it up. However, it gives a much more pungent flavor if you cut it up, and so... it was cut.

Next came the cilantro, again chopped fine. When making brine, I like to smush things up a bit, as it releases the natural oils in the herbs. When I actually do the canning, I usually slip in a sprig or two of the various herbs, both for flavor and for beauty. It should be noted, half of the fun and joy of canning is the beauty of what you're making. If it doesn't look pretty, then it had better taste phenomenal, because it isn't worth the work otherwise! The brine itself was made of vinegar and water and salt (recipe below), and was very simple. These were destined to be "refrigerator pickles" because I don't have proper canning jars, lids, rings, or my canner at the moment. Everything is packed up in boxes and hidden away in the storage unit, hard to find at this point. What I did have on hand was a pack of jelly jars, the kind used for freezer jam. They have snap on lids, suitable for fridge jams and freezer jellies, and for refrigerator pickles (they never get a hot water bath, and are never sealed - they stay in the fridge the whole time).

The brine gets boiled for five minutes or so before being poured over the tomatoes, and it leaves a vinegary smell throughout the house. It's delicious, the scent of summer passing us by. It also has a nice side effect of leaving your pan very clean, because the vinegar is a natural cleanser! It should be noted that you do not want to make brine of any kind in aluminum pots, and you should also avoid cast iron (in my opinion). Our pots are a special steel with copper bottoms (which don't touch the food), and I use either stainless steel utensils, or plastic ones. Aluminum has a tendancy to break down under the acidic vinegar, especially if it's left to sit for a couple of hours. So be careful and use glass or stainless steel.

My four teeny jars are sitting here, one packed and lidded, the other three waiting for their brine. I do prefer to make these in proper canning jars, with a hot water bath to seal them up, because it means I can store them on a shelf without needing to keep them cold. However, we do as we must, and if I was going to get any canning done, it had to be done this way. You can see the salt there, in the background of the picture. That salt is NON IODIZED salt. While not technically necessary for refrigerator pickles, you should not use iodized salt for making regular canned goods that would be pressure treated or hot water bathed. Always use a non-iodized salt, and preferably a kosher sea salt if you can find and afford it. It's safest, and honestly the flavor is so much better that it's unbelievable.

The finished product is so skimpy that I almost wept, but on the other hand, I can now say I did canning this year. I feel better, even if the gesture is wholly symbolic. If you click on the image, you can see the garlic pieces in the bottom, and little sprigs of fresh dill, as well as some slices of green pepper. Now comes the hardest part of canning, though - waiting until they're ready! It will be six weeks before these can be opened and eaten, if I want the flavor to be right. And I do want the flavor to be right! So I will now set my timer so that it alerts me to go pop a lid on October 28th, to accompany whatever dinner we're eating that night. I will be looking forward to 10/28 with glassy eyes and a bit of drool dripping down the corner of my chin.

And now... the recipe!

GREEN TOMATO DILL PICKLES

Green tomatoes
Sweet green peppers
Garlic
2 qts. water
1 qt. vinegar
1 c. salt
Dill
Cilantro

Use small, firm green tomatoes. Pack into sterilized Kerr jars. Add to each jar a halved clove of garlic and several slices of green pepper. Make a brine of the water, vinegar and salt. Add the dill and cilantro and boil for 5 minutes. Pour the hot brine over the tomatoes to within 1/2 inch of top of the jar. Put on cap, screw band firmly tight. Process in boiling water bath 15 minutes. These will be ready for use in 4-6 weeks. This amount of liquid fills 6 quarts.

This recipe is based on the one from Cooks.com, which I totally love. The changes I made were to put them into tiny jam jars with plastic lids, and with the plan to keep them in the fridge you no longer need to process them in a water bath. If you process them, you can open them in 4-6 weeks, but if you make fridge pickles, wait the full six. I halved this recipe because I only had a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes suitable for pickling.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Garden Angst

I read the iconic Victory Garden posters from the World Wars and I cringe, this year. I had no garden, no produce, and nothing to can. I think this is the very first year in ... a decade or more, that I have canned nothing at all. The few tomato plants I had did not do well in their pots. The small tomatoes we did get were enjoyed by the children, but they were definitely not many. I'm used to being sick of green beans by the point in my harvesting, desperate for the frost tonight and tomorrow to finally bring an end to the repetitive bean harvest that's been going on since June. This summer, I've had fresh beans twice. Once was from the local grocery store and I think they were from Mexico, and they didn't taste like the beans I grow.

All this changed tonight, though. Well, okay not the canning and growing part, but the "enjoying the harvest" part changed. A friend of sis's gave us her last pick-up at the co-op farm up the road. Tonight was their very last night before shutting down for the winter, and we were given her credit so that we could go and choose whatever we wanted. We walked into the barn/office area and were met the the smells and sights that I've missed all summer: fresh vegetables from wall to wall!

After finding out how it worked, we went and picked out our "nine items." Each item was figured differently. For instance, "one item" of potatoes was measured as two pounds. One item of beats was a bunch. One item of small squash was two squash. We looked everything over twice, drooling at the fresh, succulent look of it all, and then made our choices. The girl twin was with us, and piped up about what she wanted.

Our take for the night, out of the main harvest room: 2 pounds of fresh carrots, 2 pounds of fresh beets, minus the greens, 2 pounds fresh white potatoes, one (very large) bunch of beautiful leeks, 2 pounds of mixed red and yellow onions, one solid head of savoy cabbage (my favorite!), 5 field cucumbers (per the girl twin), two small pumpkin-style squash, and 2 pounds of huge tomatoes.

As we were preparing to leave, the lady who worked there pointed out that we were welcome to go into the fields and take anything in a row that was headed with a white marker. She especially urged us to go take as many cherry tomatoes as we could handle, and all the flowers we wanted, because of the coming frost. However, we were welcome to as much of anything we wanted to take the time to pick, and could stay as late as we wanted. We stashed our goodies in the trunk of the car, and we three ladies ran out to the fields with huge grins on our faces!

We managed to find delicate and aromatic baby dill, cilantro, and broad leaf parsley. The scent of them still clings to my fingers now, and it's the smell of summer's end. We also got about a pound of green beans which I picked off the bushes. The girl picked out several beautiful flowers to make a bouquet for her room. Then we discovered the field of cherry tomatoes. I wish we hadn't lost the light (we were picking in falling darkness and rain, by the way, in dresses and skirts and short sleeves) because I could have stayed there for HOURS.

The girl was ecstatic when she realized she could EAT those tomatoes and no one would get upset with her. She ate two for every one that made it into her bag, and I don't care one whit. It was wonderful to see her so happy. She's a gardening child, and desperate for getting her fingers dirty in the spring. She's definitely got a wee bit of me in her, biology notwithstanding. I gathered up quite a few firm and beautiful green cherry tomatoes, with the idea that I might attempt to make some pickled green tomatoes tomorrow afternoon. I love them so, and I never get to make them because there's either not enough time, or they get eaten fried up in batter. Since I'm the only one home tomorrow, I might just make two little jars of them.

It felt good to put all those fresh vegetables into the fridge. Tomorrow I'm making ham and split pea soup, because I made ham last night and we have leftovers. It will now also contain some of those fresh potatoes, some of the carrots and onions, and those pretty flowers will grace the table. The night after that, I can already taste the fried cabbage and boiled fresh beets, dripping with butter and a tiny bit of salt...

Now I can go into the autumn without too many qualms. I'm still sad that there aren't an abundance of clean, sparkly jars filled with summer's labor on my shelves, but that's okay. Instead, they'll be filled over the winter with empty jars stored upside down, ready for next summer and autumn's harvests to fill them. I can't wait!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ministerial Blues

About a week before my ordination, I found myself in a deep, dark funk. I was days away from leaving for our big spiritual retreat, I was facing fun and joy in New York City, and all I could think about was how unfit I was for ministry.

The questions flew fast and furious through my brain. Who the heck did I think I was? What in the name of Pete was I doing? Me, a minister? Responsible for other people's problems and souls and hearts? I couldn't even find my way out of my own depression; how in the world was I going to manage to help someone else through their Dark Time?

Of course, the answers are a lot more complex than the questions (and admittedly, they're not exactly simple themselves!). There is a group of people that believe we can only help others if we have gone through the issues ourselves. In other words, my depression and angst was not (IS not) a drawback, but a plus, a positive thing. That said, I still struggle with the idea that my own depression sometimes debilitates me, and that makes it hard for me to be open and available to others. The big question, "Am I fit for ministering to others?" really does repeat in my head. Often.

Tonight, I find myself trying to claw my way out of a depression. I have plenty of reasons (excuses) for being down: our house still hasn't gone through, we're living in emergency housing, we're packed in like sardines until all the paperwork goes through, we have to try and keep two rambunctious five year olds quiet each evening, we're stressed and tired and hurting and short on cash, the days are long and the evenings too short, it's That Time of the Month, and I have a cold on top of all of it. Still, the point is not to let the reasons overwhelm my reason. I don't cease being a minister just because I'm depressed. Instead, I have to take the time to learn from my depression, to gain insights into how and why and where, so that when the time comes for me to help someone else through this, I can look into their eyes and hold their hand and say, "It's okay. We can survive this."

One of my  religious mentors has taught me a lot about depression. She suffers from it too, and there are times when I've seen her doubled over in the back of the church, praying that she'll get through the service. It never stopped her from holding my hand, though, and saying, "It's okay, we can survive this." When the inner pain rises and I have trouble seeing the light, I think of her and if I'm lucky I talk to her, and even though it doesn't make everything "alright" I am left with the knowledge that I will survive. It will get better.

I'm a minister. It's a verb, not a noun, at least the way I use it. That means I DO more than I AM, if that makes sense. When there is nothing else I can do, I put my hands together (or get on my knees or cover my hair, or whatever seems to fit the moment) and I pray. Sometimes when I pray, I pray about how ticked off I am that my gods would dare to inflict this iniquity upon me. As Mother Teresa supposedly said, "I know God won't give me more than I can handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much!" Other times I beg for relief, for the darkness to recede and the light to return. I even wallow in it, sometimes, taking time to sit on the Pity Pot and whine about "Oh Poor Me!" When I'm done... I stand up and thank my gods, and I do my best to get back to work.

So tonight, as I struggle to move past the inner darkness of the past few days, I will clasp my hands together and pray. Tonight is a good night - the storm is approaching outside, and the thunder is rolling over me. It helps that there is tension in the universe, almost as if it's alright for me to let go of mine, letting it disappear into that great morass of clouds and noise.

For all those who suffer from the heavy load of depression, know that we can survive this. It means a bit of time that isn't comfortable or happy, but we can make it through. Hold on, pray to your gods, and try to keep your nose above water. If you need to, talk to a therapist or minister or counselor, and know that we talk to OUR counselors, too. You are not weak; you are strong, even when (especially when) you don't realize it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hungarian Chirke Paprikas

Throughout my pagan years, I have always been a cooking-oriented sort of person. I've always been a kitchen witch, as it were. I make magic and love in my kitchen, and store it up in the pantry for later consumption. My "spell components" consist of good quality sea salt, imported Hungarian paprika (sweet and hot both), black pepper, garlic powder, onion flakes, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. There are others, of course, but those are the main ingredients for making the recipes that my family loves most. To the left you can see a can of excellent Hungarian paprika. Of all the Hungarian recipes I post, I use ONLY this brand of paprika, and it's in every recipe. Szeged makes both hot and sweet (pictured is sweet) and I keep these cans on hand always. I just wish I could find it in larger containers.... that one is only the size of two regular spice jars, and the way I use it, it disappears rapidly.  Also, the pictures are of the cabbage dish, not the chicken recipe, just because I didn't think to take photos until the chicken was in the oven!

Hungarian paprika is not like American paprika. It has flavor, very distinct, somewhat smokey, and the hot is quite hot. It has a very rich color, not red, but more like a burgundy shade. It even smells different from the American stuff, with an aroma that tickles the nose with a slight peppery tease.

Today, I want to share two recipes with you that my grandmother taught me. I don't cook them the way she did (lard is not considered good for us when we're not working as tobacco farmhands!), but the flavor is spot on (just as good as hers, she said). Chirke paprikas (paprika chicken) is a savory chicken dish made with cut up whole chicken, or just about any pieces you have laying around. The cabbage dish doesn't have a name, but goes along well with this or most other Hungarian recipes. It's a favorite here.

For the chicken, you want to get a whole cut up fryer, or whatever pieces you like. I've made it with whole, with just thighs, and even with cut up breasts! It's a very flexible recipe, but if you use all white meat and no bone, be sure to add a bit extra liquid to keep it moist. Rinse the chicken pieces and pat them dry, and set them aside. In the bottom of an oven-safe pot (I use a cast iron dutch oven) with a lid, spritz with Pam or another non-stick spray, and then lay out a layer of cheap bacon. This is NOT the time for your expensive bacon, the wood smoked hickory flavored goodness should be reserved for Saturday mornings with pancakes. You want fatty bacon here, because you want flavor and fat, NOT meat. We use the bargain bin bacon from the local grocer. Put a layer of chicken onto the bacon, and then a layer of diced or sliced onions (your preference). I like to add slices of garlic as well, or if I'm in a rush I'll throw in a couple of tablespoons of the pre-diced jarred garlic. Sprinkle with a touch of salt and pepper, then layer on the paprika until everything is RED. Do not sprinkle the paprika - paint with it. You cannot use too much paprika in this. If you decide you want it a bit spicier, you can add a sprinkle of the HOT Hungarian paprika, but this dish is best made with the mild in my opinion.

Keep layering with bacon, chicken, onions, spices until you run out of chicken. Make sure that the last layer is bacon, and that you put paprika on that, too. Here's where my recipe differs from my grandmother's, by the way. I don't add a half pound of lard right now. I add chicken broth (I use home made, but canned is fine). Fill up your pot until you can just see the liquid. If you have breasts, make sure they're on the bottom, as they'll be submerged and will be more tender. If you have ALL breasts in this, fill the broth up until it touches the top layer, and add extra bacon on top to keep it moist. You'll thank me later. All that said, if you're stuck, you can even make this with water, or water mixed with a bit of soy sauce or wine.

Put the pot'o'goodness into the oven at 350F for about an hour, with a lid on. After that, check frequently (about every 15 minutes) to make sure the water doesn't evaporate. You can take the lid off, too. Poke around in the pot and see how tender your meat is. If you have thighs with backs attached, you'll know it's ready when the meat starts to fall off the bones!

Take the chicken out, and put it on a high-sided platter or serving dish. Drape some of the bacon over it if you like! Now, take a container of sour cream and put it into a large mixing/serving bowl. Start adding a couple of tablespoons of the liquid at a time to the sour cream, and mix with a whisk. Continue doing this until the sauce is the right thickness for you (I like it to be thick enough to still be 'gravy' but thin enough to pour). You may need to add a bit of paprika and salt to this, but it's up to you. Taste it and decide for yourself! Pour a bit of this over the platter of chicken, add a sprig of parsley, and serve piping hot, with the remainder of the gravy in a boat on the side.

Now, on to the cabbage you've been looking at! Again, we're going to replace my grandmother's lard with chicken broth. Into the bottom of a large pot (large enough to hold your cabbage!), pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and add a few bits of raw bacon. Saute until they are mostly cooked, and then add some diced or sliced onion. I usually put in one large onion per head of cabbage (and my cabbage is generally the size of three fists together, though the one pictured is about two-fist size). Add a bit of garlic, some paprika (okay, a LOT of paprika), salt and pepper, and then let the onions cook until they begin to soften and go clear (see second picture).

While the onions cook, take your cabbage and slice it into thin ribbons. You don't have to be particular; it's going to turn mostly to mush anyhow. I usually make them about finger wide, and I don't worry about length (see the fourth picture above). When the onions are ready, pop your cabbage right into the pot, and add some more paprika. When all the cabbage is in (it usually takes me 3 or 4 iterations of chopping/adding to get there), give it a good stir to mix everything together. If it isn't RED you want to add more paprika (yes, as a matter of fact that IS the secret of good Hungarian cooking! lol).

Pour in enough chicken broth to just cover all the contents of your pot. Bring it to a full boil, stir a couple of times, then set it to simmer (no lid) at a low heat. If you want it to be ready in an hour, when your chicken is probably ready, keep it at a medium heat and stick around to stir it frequently. Add liquid as needed, although your end product should have almost no liquid in it at all! Don't let it burn. This can also be put on a very low heat (provided there are still bubbles in the liquid) to simmer for a longer time. The longer the simmer, the richer the flavor.

This dish is ready when the cabbage is soft and falling apart, quite red, and the liquid is almost all gone. The last little while you'll have to stick around and stir to keep it from burning. It's a good time to make your 'gravy' for the chicken! Taste to see if it needs more salt or pepper - sometimes I add a bit, other times I don't.

These two dishes are often served together, along side some corn with butter, a nice, warm crusty bread, and egg noodles or spetzel. We usually pour the gravy over the chicken and noodles, and put fresh sour cream onto the top of the whole thing. It's a very easy dish to make, doesn't require a lot of finicky preparation, and tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen. You WILL be asked to make this again, and again, and again...