Sunday, January 10, 2016

Getting Back to our Roots

Happy New Year!
The holiday season has kept me very busy in the kitchen.  Many, many cookies were baked for our Organic Cookie and Cider week.  I also baked many loaves of sweet bread for gifts and hosted Christmas dinners, so there was not much time for blogging.  I did however, take many pictures and jotted down plenty of notes about the food I made, that I think will interest you. I will share that, as the year progresses.

I would like to start the year with a focus on getting back to our roots.  So much emphasis is made about diets and things we shouldn't eat. I want to get back to making real food, using real ingredients. The foods we should eat.  For years, families gathered around kitchen tables, enjoying food made from scratch, by family members, from recipes that had been passed down for generations.  Sure, today you can look up a recipe online, but there is something different about the food made with a pinch of this and a pinch of that; and mixed until it looks like "this".  One would only know what "this" was, until someone showed you.

Just before Christmas, I had the pleasure of learning how to make pierogies from our receptionist Zofia's mother-in-law.  Teresa is here visiting from Poland.
Many nationalities have traditional holiday foods that they prepare.  For the Polish, pierogies are made in abundance, at Christmas time. So, I was honored to be able to learn from someone who is an expert.
The Pierogie expert: Teresa
Traditionally, these pillowy dumplings are stuffed with a mixture of potato and farmers cheese. This variety is also called a Ruskie (Russian). Other varieties include mushroom/ sauerkraut (my personal favorite) and sweet varieties like fresh strawberry or wild blueberry.  The sweet pierogies, are usually made in the summer, when the fruit is in season. Teresa taught both Zofia and I, how to make both the mushroom/sauerkraut and the cheese and potato.

To begin we made the filling. We used a specific type of Polish farmers cheese for the cheese/potato variety.

This was mixed with mashed potatoes that were previously, peeled and boiled in salted water. 
 A half of onion is minced and added to the cheese and potatoes.  Then all the ingredients are mashed together with some melted butter. Enough butter is added to make all the ingredients blend well. My guess is about 1 stick. The filing was then ready for use.

Zofia's husband Ralf helped with the mashing.  Pierogie making is a family affair.
For the mushroom/sauerkraut filling, the mushrooms we used were a specific, dried mushroom from Poland. They are called Borowik and they looked like portabellos.  The mushrooms were re-hydrated overnight in a pot of water.  The water was then drained and then the pot was re-filled with water and half of a sliced onion for flavor.  The mushrooms were then boiled until softened.

 The water again was drained and the mushrooms and boiled onion were then minced finely. I brought my emulsion blender, which our Polish pierogie maker had never used.  She did approve of the texture of the mushrooms that the blender achieved for the filling. It was a bit of an old world, meets new world experience. 
Drained mushroom and onions.
Meanwhile the sauerkraut was drained, not rinsed and placed in a skillet with some butter.
German Sauerkraut did the trick.
The finely minced mushrooms were added to the sauerkraut and the mixture was reduced down until it was no longer wet.  Once the filing cooled, it was ready to be used.
Drained sauerkraut
Mushroom and Sauerkraut filing
 Now for the dough. The secret is in the ratio.  
1 part liquid: 3 parts flour and a pinch of salt. 

For the liquid we used 1/2 cup of boiling water and 1/2 cup of milk mixed together with a tablespoon of butter.  ( yes, butter is used a lot in the making of pierogies!) Stir until the butter melts.  Make a well in the center of the flour and add one egg. Then, gently pour the liquid over your mound of flour and egg. Our Polish pierogie expert used a butter knife to cut in the liquid. Mix it in, as you pour.  Stop the addition of the liquid once you have a run-off.  Mix and continue.  Once the flour mixture resembles a loose dough ball, begin to kneed with your hands.

Make a well in the center of the flour.

Adding the warm liquid.

Cutting in the liquid to the flour.

   Knead until dough has a spring back texture to it and all ingredients are combined.  Cut off a section of the dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface.

  The dough should be thick enough to hold the filing but not too thick or the pierogie will be too heavy.  No recipe can teach you this, you have to learn from experience.  If I was to guess, the dough should be rolled out to about 1/8" in thickness. - Get out your rulers. :)
Once the dough was rolled out, we used the "correct sized glass" as our cookie cutter to press out circles for the pierogies.

When ready to fill, pick up your dough circle and place the filling of your choice in the middle. Fold circle over to match the edges up and crimp dough together to seal it shut.Careful not to get any of the filling in the seam, or it will open when boiled.

The pierogie makers.
As you work through all your dough. Leave the finished pierogies on a covered tray to prevent then from drying out. You can place a clean tea towel over the pierogies until they are ready to boil.
When ready to cook them, place the pierogies in a pot of boiling water and cook until the pierogies float to the top. Do not add too many at once or they will stick to each other.  Once floating, remove with a slotted spoon.

Perfectly cooked pierogies.
Minced onions cooking in butter.
Just add onions cooked in butter and eat!
 From here you can eat as is.  Top with onions sauteed in butter and/or a dollop of sour-cream.  Some people also like to fry them, to crisp the pierogies on the outside.  The choice is yours.

Being taught to make pierogies, a traditional polish dish, by a polish grandmother, whom had learned to make pierogies from her mother, whom had learned from her mother before her, made me revisit a few things.

1.  You don't need fancy gadgets and cook wear to make good food.   We used a drinking glass for our measuring device and that same glass was our cookie cutter. Sure there are certain kitchen tools that make things faster and easier but at times they also complicate things.
2.  Making food is an experience.  Yes making real food takes some time and effort and it will mess up your kitchen.  But it is not hard.  Aside from the health differences between homemade food compared to take-out, preparing a meal, especially one for a holiday, is an act of love.  You do it because you want to share that love with others. 
3.  Food is the glue that bonds.  Whether it be Christmas, a birthday or some other holiday, food allows you to share an experience with friends and family.  Food is at the core of every celebration.  You can choose to break bread by opening a package, however the experience is much more profound when that bread is made with love, from those you love.
After many years apart, they make pierogies together!

This year, I encourage you to get back to your roots.  What special dishes did your grandmother make?   What foods became a part of your family traditions?   In this fast paced world, why not slow it down a little.  Let's get back to enjoying Sunday dinner together again.


  1. Truer words were never spoken. This cooking experience is a priceless happy memory for everyone.


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