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Pick and choose…

Are you a fussy eater? That was the question on everyone’s lips over the Guardian Word of Mouth blog recently as they discussed people’s foibles and finickiness.

I was amazed by how many people both outed themselves as fussy eaters and seemed quite proud of that fact. I consider myself a fairly fussy eater and am quite embarassed by it since I’m a grown woman and the rest of my family are fairly unflappable when it comes to food. I hoped that some of Mister North’s sangfroid would rub off on me when we started this blog…

And I think it might be working. In the past few months, I have tried quite a few things I would usually have skipped in favour of something less challenging to me. Bad childhood experiences with liver have left me wary of offal for years, but I have eaten liver and hearts recently and enjoyed both of them greatly. I have long been suspicious of broad beans as drab little bitter things after eating frozen ones as a side dish in the 80s, but have been converted to their charms when served peeled and fresh.

I also ventured out for an Indian meal recently with Mister North, setting aside my lifelong distaste for garam masala, curry powder and tumeric to at least try something different. I also didn’t baulk when my dining companions ordered cumin chilli chicken at Chilli Cool despite a deep loathing of this retch-inducing spice. I actually quite enjoyed the dish when I tried it, but that was probably because I couldn’t taste the cumin…

However my new found bravery (and fear of looking like the fussy one when eating out) will not get me over my previously mentioned loathing of bell peppers. Unlike my childhood dislike of mushrooms which has more or less faded to an indifference now, my hatred of peppers is for life. That’s a carefully nutured abomination, cultivated over years of sitting at the dinner table until finished as a child, vegetarians dishes that didn’t mention them yet are chockful of them and a late 80s belief that stuffed peppers were the height of swank at the dinner table. It’s a dislike that has come to define me and I’m not letting it go.

While I fully admit to being (rather) judgemental of really fussy eaters who as adults can only force down chicken nuggets, potato shapes and boatloads of ketchup, I think it’s perfectly normal to have at least one thing you really dislike whether that be because of taste or texture. I would also never judge if someone is forced into fussy eating by food intolerances, allergies or illness, but I admit to a few qualms about people who refuse to at least try new things.

I shall be continuing to try something new as often as possible, even attempting to challenge my dislike of fruit in savoury dishes with the very generous gift from loyal blog reader Margo-a-go-go of the beautiful The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit which seeks to encourage the creative cook to try new and unexpected flavour combos. I’m particularly keen to see if I can overcome my antipathy to oranges…

So what say you? What’s your dealbreaker? Or what are you secretly yearning to try despite the fear that it make you spit food into your table napkin?

Feeling Hungary

Mister North’s recent trip to Hungary made me very very envious as a weekend of beer, pork and paprika is definitely something I would revel in. I decided to create a little Magyar magic at home and make goulash with the lovely looking tube of gulyáskrém he brought me…

Paprika in a tube...

Strangely I loathe, despise and abhor peppers, yet I adore paprika. Something about the drying and grinding of peppers to obtain this rich intricate spice seems to remove the taste of a regular bell pepper that I hate so much. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I’m very glad it does, since avoiding the unexpected addition of peppers is the bane of my life when eating away from home. Such is my hatred of these vile fruits that I try to avoid walking past them in shops in case I get a whiff of them. At risk of sounding like the princess and the pepper, I can even tell if you used the same knife for peppers and and didn’t wash it before moving on to something else. It is impossible to cut peppers up small enough that I won’t notice them in a dish…

Yet I add paprika to everything I possibly can. Along with anchovy sauce, black pepper and Maldon salt, it is my essential can’t live without it food flavouring. I tend to fill up the famous La Chinata tins with cheaper tastier paprika bought from my local Portuguese deli and I like to keep all types in the spice cupboard, but favour the sweet paprika most generally.

Keen to try the new spicy paprika cream Mister North had provided, I set about finding an authentic sounding goulash recipe that didn’t involve adding in strips of bell pepper. This was quite difficult to find as many of those that omitted peppers relied on other ingredients like dried ceps to make life more awkward and expensive. I eventually found what I was looking for thanks to the lovely Liz at Gastronomy Domine and set about making a paprika infused, pepper free stew to tantalise the taste buds!

The recipe is very easy to follow. I used goose fat to brown the meat since the Hungarians are the most goose obsessed nation on earth. Everything was easy to come by and apart from an exploding tube of tomato puree, everything was straightfoward. I was making the goulash for about 3-4 people, but used the same amounts of paprika as Liz suggested anyway. I also deglazed the pan with some red wine as that was all I had to hand. This rich heavily scented stew was ready for the oven about 15 minutes after starting. I popped it in for 2 hours and settled down with a glass of red wine as delicious aromas filled the house.

Ready for the oven...

A few hours later, I pulled this stew out of the oven and realised I had turned the oven up too high and carbonised this round the edges! Luckily the meat and sauce were fairly easy to salvage and once I’d added some lemon juice, it all looked deliciously thick and tasty. Rather than make the nokedli mentioned in the recipe, I served this slightly singed stew with some plain pasta.

Ready to eat!

And it was delicious! Rich, deep paprika-y flavours with just the right amount of tang from the tomato puree and the lemon juice and a slight warmth from the gulyáskrém. Surprisingly it was quite light to eat on a warm night despite its reputation for being a heavy dish. The meat was a bit tough from my mistake with the temperature, but tasty enough to do justice to the sauce. I will definitely be making this lovely paprika spiked stew once more…I’ll just double check the heat of the oven first!

I’m a sucker for spicy octopus tentacles…

Spicy Portuguese-style octopus stew

I bought a big bag of frozen octopus for a few quid on a whim before Christmas from an Asian supermarket: every now and then I’ve idly wondered how I’d be best tackling them in the kitchen. I’ve often thought some kind of Iberian treatment would be good – garlic, olive oil, onions and tomatoes would be natural bedfellows – and after my recent visit with Miss South to Estrela, where the polvo was divine, I was tempted by tentacles.

A cursory scout on the web for Portuguese octopus recipes didn’t provide anything definitive, but then I often spend a bit of time online just to get inspiration from flavours and pairings of ingredients. I had a range of directions to follow, a range of references, and a healthily stocked kitchen, so I decided to freestyle it a bit. The aim was to end up with a warming and spicy octopus stew. I think I nailed it…

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