Pierogi

Pierogies - Mushroom and Moroccan Lamb

I’m an Eastern European mutt, descended from grandparents and great grandparents who were born in the tiny, border shifting villages of Romania, Russia, and Poland. At some point, my ancestors may have been Ukranian, or Hungarian, or Bulgarian. We have no records that far back, but considering the politics and the fluid borders of that part of the world, anything’s possible.

Pierogies - Dried porcini

I do know that I’m at least half Polish, by virtue of a grandmother born in Warsaw and great grandparents who emigrated from elsewhere in Poland. But, in spite of all that Polish influence, I don’t remember a single pierogi from my childhood. I somehow associate them with gentile Polish cuisine, even though they are just a whisper away from kreplach, the Jewish dumpling that so keenly resembles the periogi (or, for that matter, Asian dumplings and Italian ravioli). Or is it vice versa?

Pierogies - Wild mushroom filling

No matter. They all amount to a thin skin of dough wrapped around a precious dollop of flavor. Often a small amount of ground meat mixed with spices, but just as commonly a vegetable mixture, or fruit, or sweetened cheese.

Pierogies - Moroccan lamb filling

I chose Poland as January’s destination for My Kitchen, My World because I really wanted to learn how to make (and eat) pierogi. It turns out, as with any of these dumplings, the fun (and the real work) is in the fillings. You can stick to the traditional (potato and cheese are popular), or be more exotic. Blueberries, Indian spices, sauteed tofu, spiced apples, chipotle-cheese and salsa, Thai peanut sauce with chicken are just a few of the ideas I came across when researching recipies. In the end, I chose wild mushroom, Moroccan lamb, and sweet ricotta.

Pierogies - Cutting circles

Pierogies - Filling

Pierogies - Folded

Pierogi making is a multi-step process that you can spread out over a few days, or make all in one intensive session (I picture Polish grandmothers, mothers, and daughters congregated in kitchens for pierogi-making afternoons).

Pierogies - Ready to freeze

Once formed, however, you can defer the cooking and eating part until later by freezing the pierogi until you’re ready for them. The final thawing and cooking makes for an easy week-night dinner accompanied by some kielbasa and roasted brussels sprouts.

Pierogies - Packaged

I loved all of the pierogi I made, but my favorite were the ones filled with sweet ricotta cheese, and drizzled with a caramel-cabernet reduction sauce that a friend sent us for the holidays. I don’t have the recipe for that sauce yet, but maybe I can trade some pierogi for it.

Pierogies - Sweet ricotta filling

Pierogi

Yield: 20-40 pierogi, depending on the size you make

Dough ingredients
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 large egg

Sweet ricotta filling
(enough to fill about 1/4 of the above dough recipe)
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Method

  1. Make the fillings and allow to cool. For our pierogi, I made this wild mushroom filling, this Moroccan lamb tagine recipe (note: I used only a portion of the recipe for the pierogi; the rest we ate with rice for another meal), and a sweet ricotta filling by whipping together the second set of ingredients above.
  2. To make the dough, put the flour and salt in a bowl and whisk to blend. Make a well in the center. In a separate bowl, beat together the water, egg, and oil with a fork, then pour into the well. Stir with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating the flour into the liquids until all the ingredients are combined and you have a soft dough. Knead a few times, round up into a ball, put in a lightly greased bowl, and cover to rest at room temperature for an hour.
  3. When the dough has rested and the fillings are ready, divide the dough into two pieces and, leaving one piece covered in the bowl, roll the other piece out on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1/8 of an inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter or a glass to cut circles of the size you want. I used a small biscuit cutter to make circles about an inch-and-a-half in diameter.
  4. Put a small amount of filling in the center of a dough circle (the amount of fillingdepends on the size of the circle, but you want to leave a nice margin around the edge for crimping), then fold the circle in half and crimp the edges to seal them.
  5. Put the formed pierogi on a parchment lined pan to wait as you form the rest, moving on to the second piece of dough as necessary. Once they are all formed, you can either cook them immediately, or freeze them for storage (see below).
  6. To cook the pierogi, boil a large pot of lightly salted water. Once the water is boiling, slip the pierogies into the pot. They’ll settle to the bottom at first, so give them a little stir to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot or each other. In a few minutes, they’ll begin to float to the top. Once they are floating, boil them a further 5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.
  7. You can eat the pierogi boiled, or you can finish them by pan frying them in bit of butter or oil until they are brown and a bit crispy, a few minutes per side.
  8. To freeze uncooked pierogi for later, put the tray of pierogi in the freezer until they are completely frozen, then transfer them to plastic bags until you’re ready to use them. On the morning of cooking day, spread the frozen pierogi on trays again and leave in the refrigerator to thaw. When they are thawed follow the steps above to boil and pan fry them.

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To see the round up of the group’s Polish recipes, visit the My Kitchen My World (MKMW) site. (You can also see where the group has already traveled.) To join in, just make a dish (or more) for the month’s country, blog about it, and put a link to your post in the comments on the MKMW page.

In February, we travel to the Czech Republic.

Florentines

Florentines

True facts about the Florentine…

~ There’s a bakery down the road from here that makes florentines as big as your open hand. No really. If you’re in the neighborhood, you must go get two; one for now and one for later.

Florentines - Orange peels

~ The genesis of my dream florentine is oranges. Some people make florentines without any candied fruit at all; some people make them with a combination of fruits. But if orange isn’t the predominant flavor, it just doesn’t count as a florentine for me.

Florentines - Toasted almonds

Florentines - Ingredients

~ The florentine name suggests that this cookie is from Italy, specifically Florence. That’s what I thought, anyway. I was wrong. In fact, no one really seems to know where this cookie was invented, though all evidence points to France. If you want to read a little more about the history of the florentine, you should check out this interesting post from Honestcooking.com.

Florentines - Syrup

~ H, in utero, was formed from four major food groups: frozen yogurt, fruit salad, bistro ham sandwiches, and florentines. Alas, today, she has lost her taste for all but the first.

Florentines - Nut, syrup, and peel mixture

Florentines - Baked

~ The recipe for florentines seems long when I write it out, but there are no really finicky steps and it’s easy to break the recipe down into manageable pieces. For instance, when I made them I broke the process into three easy days:

  1. Make the candied orange peels (you can skip this step if you already have the orange peels or are buying them).
  2. Make the syrup, almond, fruit, and flour mixture. Then bake the cookies.
  3. Spread the chocolate.

Making the candied orange peels from scratch is the only step that takes much time, and even that isn’t too bad.

Florentines - Chocolate hardening

~ Florentines stay fresh for a long time; unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they last a long time. It all depends on how well you can hide them. From me.

Florentines

Florentines

From Paris Boulangerie-Pâtisserie, by Linda Dannenberg (Gramercy Books, 1994)
Yield: 24 cookies

Ingredients
2 3/4 cups (200 g) sliced blanched almonds
1/3 cup (125 ml) heavy cream
7 tablespoons (100 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (100 g) sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup, lightly packed (50 g) candied cherries, chopped fine
1/4 cup (50 g) candied orange peel, chopped fine [note: I omitted the cherries and used 100 g total candied orange peel; this is the recipe I’ve used for years.]
1/3 cup (50 g) all-purpose flour
8 ounces (250 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).
  2. Toast the sliced almonds by spreading them on a baking sheet, then putting them in the preheated oven. Stir them once or twice, until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a saucepan, heat the cream, butter, sugar, and honey over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture is melted and comes to a boil. With a candy thermometer in the mixture, boil without stirring for about 3 minutes, until the mixture comes to a temperature of about 230ºF (120ºC), or until it forms a soft ball when a small amount is dropped into a cup of ice water. Remove from heat.
  4. Stir in the toasted almonds and chopped fruit, then stir in the flour until blended.
  5. Pour the mixture into a buttered 9-inch (23-cm) square baking ban and set aside to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least an hour (overnight is fine).
  6. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC).
  7. Butter a 12-well muffin tin (or two tins, if you have them). Scoop up a tablespoon of the mixture and press it into the bottom of a well to spread it evenly and thinly (you may need to use more or less of the mixture to get the thickness of the cookie you want, depending on the size of the wells). Repeat to fill the muffin tins, or until you run out of the mixture. (Tip: If the mixture is lumpy, butter the bottom of a glass or other smooth object that has a slightly smaller diameter than the well, then use it to press down on the mixture to help it spread evenly.)
  8. Bake the cookies until they are golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool in the pan for about 4 minutes (here’s another opportunity to flatten the cookies while the mixture is warm; use the same buttered glass as mentioned above).
  9. While the florentines are still warm, gently coax them out of the pan with a spatula (I used an offset icing spatula) and transfer to a wire rack covered with parchment paper or a silpat. If necessary, gently reshape the cookies into circles while they are still warm.
  10. If you have any unbaked mixture left, repeat the well-filling and cookie-baking process until all the mixture is used.
  11. When the florentines are completely cooled, melt the chocolate over hot water until just smooth but not too hot. With a spatula, spread the smooth bottom of each florentine evenly with chocolate, then place the florentine back on the parchment paper/silpat, chocolate side up, to cool. If you like, use a pastry comb or fork to trace a pattern in the chocolate before it becomes firm.

Stored in an airtight container, florentines will keep for about two weeks.
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To see the round up of the group’s international dessert recipes, visit the My Kitchen My World (MKMW) site. (You can also see where the group has already traveled.) To join in, just make a dish (or more) for the month’s country, blog about it, and put a link to your post in the comments on the MKMW page.

Next month, we travel to Poland, my choice! (We were supposed to go in November, but most of us got a bit busy…)

Tongan coconut quick bread

Tongan Coconut Bread - Out of the oven

Tonga.

It’s a land of complete mystery to me. All I knew before the My Kitchen My World group selected it as our next culinary destination was that it’s Polynesian. An archipelago of tropical islands sprinkled out somewhere in the vicinity of Fiji (about which I know very little as well, though it features in my mid-December fantasies of palm trees, white sands, blue water).

Tongan cuisine? Even more of a mystery to me. But I had this tube of Tongan vanilla beans in my cupboard, so I went searching for a recipe that called for vanilla.

Tongan Coconut Bread - vanilla beans

It surprised me to find that Tongan vanilla recipes are rare. I get the sense that the Tongan people grow vanilla as a cash crop, ship it out, and use the money to buy the foods they really do eat (traditional Tongan cuisine features seafood and pork cooked in earth ovens, and plenty of taro, yams, coconuts, and tropical fruits).

I was also wondering (since I’m me) about Tongan bread recipes. So no one here will be surprised that I finally landed on a recipe for Tongan Coconut Bread. I honestly have no idea if this recipe is something a Tongan mother would make for her family, but I liked the sound of it, and it did feature using whole vanilla beans. And the coconut sounded tropical. I was sold.

Tongan Coconut Bread

This is a quick bread recipe (by which I mean the bread is leavened by baking powder, not yeast; but yes, it’s also a quick-to-make recipe). It goes together in a snap and bakes to a very light golden brown, with a slightly crisp crust.

While it baked, this first of November poured down a gloomy rainstorm, but the house smelled like coconut. Not quite enough to make me believe I was on some Polynesian beach, with the waves whispering shoreward, but enough to distract me from the dismal morning and remind me that, even on rotten November days, there are good, easy things in this world.

I had a taste. It was pretty darn good, especially for the little effort that went into it. It’s not very sweet, and subtly coconuty. It was good on its own, and even better with a schmear of Nutella. How’s that for international cuisine?

Tongan Coconut Bread - crumb

Tongan Coconut Quick Bread

Barely adapted from Jasons.com
Yields: 1 regular loaf, or 3 mini loaves

Ingredients
3 cups all-purpose flour (or you can use half all-purpose and half whole wheat or white whole wheat)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1 egg
1 1/2 cups coconut milk (I used the “lite” variety)
1/4 cup sugar or honey
1 vanilla bean (if you have a Tongan bean, all the better, but any will do)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (the original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of scraped vanilla bean seeds. My bean yielded barely 1/4 teaspoon and I wasn’t about to use four whole beans on this recipe, so I made up the difference with vanilla extract)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. Lightly grease one standard loaf pan or three small loaf pans.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then scrape the cut sides with a knife to extract as many of the seeds as possible (save the scraped beans for another recipe or for making vanilla sugar).
  5. In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg, then add the sugar, vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, and coconut milk and mix well.
  6. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf pans, distributing evenly if you’re using more than one pan. Smooth the batter with a spoon.
  8. For the standard loaf pan, bake for one hour. For smaller pans, bake for 30-40 minutes, until a tester comes out dry.
  9. Cool on a wire rack in the pans.

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To see the round up of the group’s Tongan recipes, visit the My Kitchen My World (MKMW) site. (You can also see where the group has already traveled.) To join in, just make a dish (or more) for the month’s country, blog about it, and put a link to your post in the comments on the MKMW page.

Next month, we travel to Poland, my choice!

A wee bowl of Scotland

Scottish steak pie

A few Octobers ago, we went to Scotland, and I think that trip changed H’s life forever. Before that trip, she had no particular affinity for the country, aside from knowing it was where J. K. Rowling lives and wrote the books that H adored, devoured, memorized, and essentially dwelt in for several years of her younger childhood.

But now. Oh now.

Scotland is her dream country. Edinburgh is her dream city. And don’t be surprised if you get a postcard in the next five years saying the three of us, the dog, cats, and goats have moved to the highlands for a spell.

Which I hope makes it clear why, when the My Kitchen My World group choose Great Britain as September’s destination, H immediately handed me a Scottish cookbook.

Scottish steak pie - pots

After flipping through the book, then giving it some thought, I settled on making steak pie, a tradition for Hogmany, the Scottish New Year celebration. I chose this dish for many reasons, not least of which is a delicious memory of the four of us (including my sister, L), sitting in a pub after a chilly, rainy morning of touring Stirling castle, and being served up huge, steamy steak pies, topped with tall puff pastry lids, and served with not one but two forms of potato.

Stirling - Two potatoes plus pastry at the Portcullis

It’s one of those really good memories I don’t want to ever lose. The four of us together, warm, laughing, on an adventure. And pints of really terrific beer.

I decided to make this dish on the last day of September, in celebration of M’s birthday. A personal Hogmany, you might say.

The filling itself takes little effort, just time and a warm oven. It involves the usual suspects of sauteed onions, and steak chunks dredged in seasoned flour and then browned. Then you add beef stock, a nice mound of freshly ground pepper, and put it all in the oven to slowly cook for three hours, stirring it occasionally and checking the stock level to make sure it hasn’t all evaporated.

That’s really it. The traditional recipe also calls for a tiny bit of beef sausage, but I couldn’t find any on the day I went looking. (Note: To make the filling, I essentially followed this recipe, but replaced the sausage allotment with more steak, and used two cups of beef stock in place of the beef stock cube.)

When the filling came out of the oven, the meat was falling-apart tender and the flour, stock, onions, and pepper had coalesced into a rick, dark, thick gravy.

Scottish steak pie - filling

The topping is a puff pastry. You can use any puff pastry you like, including frozen store-bought, which puffs up gorgeously and is always ready to go. Since I had the time, I decided to try making Gesine’s Quick Puff recipe.

I won’t share all my pictures of making the puff, but let me summarize by showing you two and telling you that it starts out as a big ol’ mess of butter, flour and water and you think it’ll never be anything you can be proud of, and then a few rolls, turns, and folds later, you get something gorgeous.

Quick puff - second fold

Quick puff

You can make the filling a day or two ahead of time, then, when you’re ready to go, just put the filling in an oven-safe dish, top it with the pastry, brush with milk, and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is puffed and golden and the filling is bubbling merrily away.

We served it with sauteed leeks. And roasted brussels sprouts, and Scottish ale. Why I didn’t think to accompany it with a wee dram of whiskey, I’ll never know.

Scottish steak pie - sauteed leeks

Scottish steak pie

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To see the round up of the group’s British recipes, visit the My Kitchen My World (MKMW) site. (You can also see where the group has already traveled.) To join in, just make a dish (or more) for the month’s country, blog about it, and put a link to your post in the comments on the MKMW page.