Pick-A-Filling Pierogi

>> Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Pick-A-Filling Pierogi
Pierogi, also called vareniki, perogi, perogy, piroghi, pirogi, piroshki, pirozhki, pyrohy, pielmieni, pierogies, pierogie, piroggen, and pelmeni. Whew!


Why would Joe and I try to cook pierogi when we can get them frozen in the store any day? Well, we had a couple reasons. First, we knew that  the Polish celebrate Christmas and Easter with special types of dumplings, and we wanted to get into the spirit of Easter by celebrating some other country's customs.

Second, Joe has been experimenting with different kinds of pasta dough, as you may have seen in our recipes like gnudi with wild mushrooms, gyoza dumplings, ricotta and chard gnocchi, and bacon-filled ravioli. Pierogi was a logical step.

Third, we all know that everything tastes better when you make it fresh, and when you customize it to your own tastes. That's why we've included some rather traditional pierogi recipes, along with our own variations. The wonderful thing about dumpling filling is you can throw in whatever you have or whatever you like - just make sure it's well chilled or stuffing will be difficult.

Our fillings for pierogies (below the photos):


Potato-Mushroom

Berries and Cottage Cheese

Potato-Cheese-Onion
(Pittsburgh or Ruskie style)

Apricot Compote

Beef and Vegetable

Sweet Prune (Lekvar)

Mushroom-Sauerkraut (Uzska)

Peanut Butter and Banana
(not traditional!)

Bacon-Swiss-Caramelized Onion

Kielbasa and Cabbage (Haluski-style pierogi)


Traditionally, Polish Catholics forsake meat products on holy days, especially in the 40 days of Lent before Easter, so potato, cheese, mushroom, sauerkraut, and fruit are often the favorite stuffing.

vareniki, perogi, perogy, piroghi, pirogi, piroshki, pirozhki, pyrohy, pielmieni, pierogies, pierogie, piroggen, pelmeni


I also read that people (perhaps in smaller villages) would bring their foodstuffs to the church before Easter and have the priest bless them. Then they would share their dishes with each other. I love the idea of a community getting together to share their foods and celebrate together. It reminds me of the community breakfast my church serves on Easter Sunday.

Polish Priest blessing Easter food baskets (Swiecone)
Priest blessing food baskets (Swiecone) the day before Easter
(thanks to http://www.polamjournal.com for the beautiful photo!)

While Joe and I did quite a bit of experimenting while making these, we got some initial help from the time-tested pierogi recipes of Tasting Poland. The writer shares her family pierogi recipes, along with all sorts of tips and tricks.

Ingredients - Pierogi Dough

3 cups white flour
1 tsp.salt
1 cup warm water
1 egg
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp. vegetable oil

Instructions - Pierogi Dough

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Pour in the water while mixing vigorously.
Whisk together the egg, sour cream, and oil. Make a well in the middle of the flour, then pour in the egg mixture. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, blend the liquid into the flour mixture.

Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic - about 5 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add a little flour; if it is too dry, sprinkle it with a bit of water.

Now sprinkle some more flour on your work surface and roll out the dough until it is about 1/8" thick. Try not to overwork the dough, or it will be tough after it's cooked. Cut out circles with a cookie cutter or cup.

Meat and potato-cheese pierogi ready for boiling.
Step 1: Roll out your dough and fill the dough circles. These are potato-cheese and meat-veggie pierogi.


Place a heaping tablespoon of filling onto one half of the circle, then wet the edge with a little water so the dough will stick together. Fold over the other half of the dough and pinch the edges shut.


Cooking Pierogi
Step 2: Boil the pierogi 5-8 minutes


Heat a large pot of boiling water, drop in 1/3 of the dumplings, and give them a gentle stir. Boil 5-8 minutes - the pierogi should pop up to the top about halfway through the cooking time. If you're watching the pot, you can time the second half of the cooking by the time they bob to the surface.

While they're cooking, if you'd like to toast them before eating, heat up a little oil in a pan on medium heat. Drop in the pierogi after you've strained them out of the water, and cook 2 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned.

Browned pierogi
Step 3: Brown the pierogi in some oil or butter. These are Haluski-style pierogi, with kielbasa and cabbage.

Whether you want to fry the pierogi after cooking or not, we really like serving these with a dollop of sour cream, regardless of the filling. Some people pour melted butter over them, and top with fried onions. Delicious.

 Makes about 30 stuffed pierogi.

Pierogi Filling Recipes

Potato and Mushroom

2 cups diced potatoes
1/2 cup milk
2 cups chopped mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 tbsp butter or oil
1 tsp powdered garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste

Boil or steam the potatoes until tender, then mash with the milk until smooth. In a skillet, saute the vegetables until tender, then stir in the garlic, salt and pepper, and potatoes. Chill until cold, then stuff into pierogi.

Potato-Cheese-Onion (Pittsburgh or Ruskie pierogi)

2 cups diced potatoes
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese, cubed, or fresh Farmer's cheese (more traditional)
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 tbsp butter or oil
1 tsp powdered garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste

Boil or steam the potatoes until tender, then mash with the milk until smooth. Stir in the cheese cubes, cover with a lid, and let sit for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. In a skillet, saute the onion until tender, then stir in the garlic, salt and pepper, and potatoes. Chill until cold, then stuff into pierogi.


Mushroom and Sauerkraut

2 oz. dried mushrooms, rehydrated, or 2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms (porcini, morels, or chanterelles are very good here)
1 onion
1/2 tsp dill
2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed and well-drained
1 tbsp butter

Chop the onion and mushroom well, then saute in the butter until tender. Chop the sauerkraut and dill and stir into the mixture. Chill until cold, then stuff into pierogi.

Beef and Vegetable

1/2 lb ground beef
2 carrots
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1 leek
1 celery stalk
1 onion
butter or oil for frying
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup water or broth
Salt and Pepper to taste

Brown the ground beef in a large skillet. Set aside. Finely chop the vegetables, then saute in the oil until soft. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, then transfer to a blender or food processor. Process until the mixture has a uniform texture similar to large crumbs. Chill until cold, then stuff into pierogies and cook away!

Bacon-Swiss-Caramelized Onion

1/2 lb bacon
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup Swiss cheese
1/4 cup melted butter
1/3 cup bread crumbs
Salt and Pepper to taste

Fry the bacon until crisp, then drain on paper towels. Cook the onions in the bacon grease, then drain and place in a bowl. Chop up the bacon and add it to the onions. Shred the cheese, then add the cheese, butter, bread crumbs, salt and pepper to the mixture. Chill until very cold, then stuff the pierogi.

Kielbasa (Haluski-style Pierogi)

1/2 pound Polish Kielbasa sausage
1 tsp oil
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/3 cup chopped celery
2 cups shredded green cabbage

Dice the kielbasa. Heat the oil in a large skillet, then add the kielbasa and cook until warm and slightly browned. Remove to a mixing bowl, then melt the butter in the skillet. Add the rest of the ingredients, and cook over low heat until tender. Add to the kielbasa and stir well. Chill until cold, then stuff into pierogi.

Berries and Cottage Cheese

4 cups raspberries, blueberries, sliced strawberries, bilberries, or other fruit
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Put the cottage cheese in a colander and press out the liquid. Stir together all ingredients, then chill until very cold. Stuff into pierogi.

Apricot Compote

12 oz. dried apricots
1 cup water
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp melted butter

Place the apricots, water, and lemon zest in a small pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then simmer until soft - about 20 minutes. Drain the water, then transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the rest of the ingredient, then process into a thick chunky jam. Chill well before stuffing into pierogi.

Sweet Prune (Lekvar)

2 cups dried, pitted prunes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Put the prunes in a pan and cover with hot water. Let them soak 1/2 hour, then drain them. Add the lemon juice and sugar and simmer, stirring occasionally,  until it forms a chunky paste. Chill until cold, then stuff the pierogi.

Peanut Butter and Banana

2 ripe bananas
1 cup peanut butter
2 tbsp cocoa powder (optional)

Slice the bananas into disks, then place one or two disks onto each dough round. Top with a few teaspoons of peanut butter. After boiling, fry these in butter and then sprinkle with the cocoa powder.


Make lots of pierogi - and then freeze them for later!

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Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Pea Crust

>> Friday, March 27, 2015



Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Pea Crust


My first sushi experience was around 1990, and I really had to choke it down while distracting my mind screaming, "Oh gah, I'm eating raw meat! Raw meat! My mom told me not to do this!"

The saner half of my mind was saying, "Shhh, come on now, people eat this all the time and they like it - don't think about it, don't think about it, you're eating unicorn bubbles and sun rays and it's GOOD!"

Yeah, it's like that in my mind a lot, and I hope you're not clicking away right now before I tell you how amazing this ahi tuna recipe is.

Obviously I conquered my squeamishness over sushi and seafood in general (I ate way too much Lake Michigan trout and salmon off my dad's boat when I was a kid). Now tuna has a very special place in my taste buds. Once I appreciated that velvety mouthfeel and gorgeous watermelon-colored flesh, and the buttery white slices of yellowfin tuna you get in a good sashimi bento box, I didn't care for cooked tuna at all. Cooked tuna can be dry, because ahi is fairly lean, and the fishy taste is intensified.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Pea Crust


The week before Valentine's Day, I started developing a menu that would surprise Joe, stretch my cooking repertoire, be as healthy as possible, and use up a lot of items in our pantry and freezer as part of our yearly spring cleaning. I made seven courses in the classic French tradition, where the salad is served after the main course. The fish course featured these seared tuna steaks with a crunchy wasabi-pea crust.

We have made this several times since then. Ahi is a low -fat, high-protein meat, and flash-frozen fish fillets tasted just as good in this recipe as high-priced fresh ahi tuna. This is also extremely quick to make, so be sure everything's ready to go before you start cooking.

P.S. We used this delicious Ginger-Wasabi Sauce from Pampered Chef,  a gift from Joe's sister. However, Pampered Chef has just discontinued the sauce, so if you don't have a jar lying around, try our easy version!

Ingredients

For the tuna
3 3-4 oz. ahi tuna steaks
2/3 cup wasabi peas - you can often find these in the snack section of an Asian aisle
1 tbsp canola oil

For wasabi-ginger sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger (about 1 inch)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
1 1/2 tsp wasabi paste (or wasabi powder mixed with 1/4 tsp water)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light molasses (or light brown sugar mixed with 1 tsp water)

Instructions

Let tuna fillets dry on paper towels - the more moisture you absorb, the easier it will be to sear them without moisture seeping out and poaching them instead. This will also ensure they don't soak up much oil.

Put all the sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Crush the wasabi peas in a blender, or coffee grinder. You can also put them in a plastic bag and crush them by rolling a rolling pin over them. When you're done, they should be the texture of coarse crumbs. Spread the peas onto a plate.

Heat a wide skillet on medium-high, then add the oil. Press the tuna fillets into the wasabi peas until coated on both sides. When the oil shimmers, place the fish in the pan and make sure they aren't touching each other.

Cook until there's a good sear on one side, then flip over and sear the other side for a minute or so.  You want the sear to be about a millimeter deep, and the center rare at room temperature

That's it! We like to serve them by slicing them across the grain, sort of like a slice of sashimi at a fancy restaurant. This shows the gorgeous contrast between that pretty ruby flesh and the bright green pea crust. 

Serves 4.

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Marinated Pepper and Onion Salad

>> Friday, March 20, 2015


Marinated Pepper and Onion Salad


Joe and I love shopping the discount produce at our local ethnic grocery store, and finding deeply reduced foods that absolutely have to be used today. This challenges us to whip up something special without having anything planned in advance, and play with what we have available. Sometimes we rise to the challenge, other times we flop.




We found a pack of mixed bell peppers the other day for about 10 cents a pepper, which is a great deal for Chicago at the end of March. The same store had red pearl onions for $1 a pint, another good bargain! We roasted the peppers and onions, then Joe whisked together a tasty pomegranate vinaigrette to marinate them. After I composed the salad, I had a taste and realized the flavors weren't balanced. Too sweet. It needed something piquant to make it pop. Some leftover Kalamata olives and capers were the perfect finish.

Speaking of finish, we finished all this salad for dinner. No leftovers, unfortunately.

Ingredients

For the marinade

1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pomegranate balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp fresh marjoram, snipped
1/2 tsp tarragon, snipped
1/2 tsp powdered garlic
1 tsp ground black pepper

For the salad

3 red bell peppers
3 orange bell peppers
1/2 pint pearl onions, peeled, or 1 large red onion, peeled and thickly sliced
6-8 cups mixed salad greens
2 tbsp pickled green capers
1/4 cup sliced Kalamata olives
4 oz. Romano cheese, shaved

Directions 

Whisk together the marinade ingredients and let it sit at room temperature.

Heat the broiler or grill. Place the peppers and onions on a broiler pan or cookie sheet, or place them directly on the grill. Broil or grill close to the heat until the exposed side is blotchy, black, and peeling. Turn over the peppers and onions and roast until both sides are blistered and the skin is blackened.

Roasting red peppers


Place the vegetables in a paper bag and allow to steam for 30 minutes. This will help you peel the blackened parts off. When finished steaming, cut off the stem and scrape the charred skin and seeds off with a knife. Cut the peppers into thin strips and let drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

Put the peppers and onions in a bowl and cover with the marinade. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. You can do this part up to several days ahead of time and refrigerate it if you want, but be sure to serve the marinated vegetables at room temperature for the best flavor.

Divide the salad greens and arrange them on six separate plates. Top each plate with 1/6 of the pepper/onion mixture, and divide the marinade between all the plates. Sprinkle with the capers, olives, and cheese before serving.

Serves 6 as side dishes.

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Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

>> Friday, March 13, 2015



Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

I remember exactly when I first ordered this heavenly soup - it was on my first "unofficial" date with Joe.

"Unofficial" date? Joe and I had a complicated courtship. We went to two different churches that did a lot of things together, and people from the two churches had decided to start up a group for single adults in their 30s and 40s. It was a wonderful, hilarious, rowdy, supportive group. Joe and I were interested in each other from the very first meeting.

Problem was, we were both wary from bad relationships, so neither one wanted to make a move. Instead, we did silly things like maneuver into the same car on trips or try to sit next to each other at the theater.

Then Joe went on an evangelistic trip to Argentina and asked me to pray for him. When he came home, we met for pizza so I could hear about his adventures. Then he asked me if I was interested in checking out the new Thai place that had opened by my church. We had a date!

The awkward part was leaving from the singles' group bible study the following week. Everybody was asking if we wanted to go get a bite to eat, and we were lingering by our cars waiting for everyone to leave so we could secretly have our date. It was February and well below freezing, so we were relieved when we got to Lovely Thai and our group hadn't picked the place for dinner. Tom kha gai soup sounded delicious. Creamy, savory, tart, salty, and slightly spicy, it warmed me all the way through.

Recently I read that tom kha gai (say it DOM-kah-guy) is actually a super food for boosting your immunity. The lemongrass, lime leaves or zest, ginger, garlic, hot peppers, and coconut milk are immune system enhancers. Not only does it warm you up and loosen your respiratory system, it helps your digestion too. So when I was sick with strep throat last week, I made up a big bowl for lunch and dosed myself with soup health. I'd like another pot in front of me right now.

This time, I added water chestnuts and rice noodles because I wanted some bulk to my soup - fighting germs is always hungry work for me. There are a few substitutions here, since some of the ingredients may be out of season or hard to find.

Ingredients

4 cups chicken broth
1 2-inch piece lemongrass stalk
1 tbsp galangal or ginger, peeled and slivered
4 kaffir lime leaves, or the zest of 1 lime and 1 bay leaf
2 chopped red birds-eye chilies, or 2 tbsp chili-garlic paste
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 14-oz can straw mushrooms, drained and sliced, or 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 14-oz cans coconut milk
6 oz medium rice noodles (optional)
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
3 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Directions

Pour the chicken broth into a stock pot and add the lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, and chilies. Cut the chicken into 1" cubes and add to the pot, along with the mushrooms. Simmer for 20 minutes. Reduce heat and stir in the coconut milk, noodles (if using) fish sauce, and lime juice. Simmer for 5-8 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Do not let the soup come to a heavy boil or the coconut milk might curdle.

Remove the lemongrass, bay leaf, and kaffir leaves before serving. Serve topped with green onions and cilantro leaves.

Serves 4.

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One Pan Chicken Alfredo

>> Monday, March 9, 2015


One Pan Chicken Alfredo

When our second daughter was younger, pasta alfredo was one of her favorite dishes - that and chicken fingers. Her first visit to Rome was when she was thirteen, and she asked the waiter for spaghetti with alfredo sauce. The waiter had never heard of it.


In rough Italian, Joe described to the waiter the kind of sauce Jenn would like on her pasta. What came out of the kitchen wasn't exactly what we'd call an alfredo sauce, but it satisfied Jenn.


Jessie and Jenn at the Coliseum, Rome 2004

This one-pot recipe satisfies her, too. A 30-minute dinner, with only one pan to wash - we all love it! Add other items if you like: sliced mushrooms, fresh peas, sun-dried tomatoes, or whatever else sounds good to you. This is also a great meal to use up leftover chicken or turkey, which makes the recipe even quicker because you don't have to brown the meat first.

Ingredients

2 tbsp of olive oil
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cup of milk
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
1 lb penne or other thick pasta, uncooked
1 1/2 cups Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the chicken and lightly brown it on all sides. Add the garlic and saute until tender. Add chicken broth, milk, cream cheese, and uncooked pasta to pan and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally. 

The pasta will be tender in 10-18 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pasta. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese before serving.

Serves 6.

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Cajun Spice Mix

>> Monday, March 2, 2015

Joe uses this spice mix in stews, gumbos, side dishes, and as a rub for meat, poultry, or seafood.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons dried garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon powdered cumin seeds

Mix together spices, herbs, and sugar and place in an airtight container.

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