Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pierogis From Scratch

I went yesterday evening to visit our grandmother, a vibrant 83 year old lovingly called 'Bubba.'.  She is constantly cooking and baking - nut rolls, poppy seed rolls, cakes, cookies, kolachi, stuffed cabbage, and most importantly, pierogis!  I had asked her if she could show me how to make pierogis myself. With the holidays coming I purposely chose a day when she would have a lot to make.

I arrived at around 5:30.  She heated up a stuffed cabbage for me while her brother (Uncle Tim) and his wife (Aunt Linda) chopped up a big bag of onions.  Our eyes watered as the news played in the background on a12" color television.  A good portion of the onions were added to 2 sticks of margarine on the stove to brown (5 more sticks of margarine were added once they browned up.)  Once I finished eating it was on to work!

Grandma put a pad down on the table, sort of like a tight fibered towel.  She then put a flexible mat on top of it that my sister Sharon had bought for her.  Sharon, she says she uses it all the time when she is making pierogis, she likes it because she can just rinse it off instead of having to launder it like she does the cloth pads.

She let me make all the dough, instructing me through the first batch and then leaving me to make the rest on my own.  To 2 cups all-purpose flour add 3 eggs and a big cup of water (somewhere between 16 and 24 ounces I'd guess).  mix with a large fork and add flour until it is substantial enough to be kneaded.  Put flour on top of the bowl of dough and flip onto the pad.  Split the dough in half, covering half and working the other half until it has flour enough to be dry but still remains soft.  Roll out to about 1/4" thickness.  You should note that we didn't measure anything, save for the fact that some items come in a standard package and we'd use all of it.  Anyone who has made dough of any kind already understands that you add as much flour as you need to get a desired consistency, and this pretty much carries over into all of the rest of cooking.

Grandma told me the best investment she ever made was in this 6-tiered pizza cutter.  You can adjust the width of the blades to whatever you need.  This is also her favorite rolling pin.  It is marble and the weight makes it very easy to roll out dough.  We cut the dough in approximate 1-3/4" squares.  All the small scraps and corner pieces get thrown under the bowl with the unworked half of the dough ball.  She doesn't use a teacup to cut the dough because you have too much scrap dough when you do this and you end up working the dough a lot more, making it tougher to work and pinch together.

The fillings were made the night before, though I asked plenty of questions on their content.  For the potato and cheese pierogis, boil and mash 10lbs of potatoes, adding 2lbs of cheese.  The potatoes should be mashed by hand and not done in a mixer as they become too creamy.  Don't add any milk to the potatoes either.  For sauerkraut, put a stick of margarine and onions in the bottom of a pan, put the sauerkraut on top, and bake in the oven until brown.  When you pull it out of the oven, add mashed potato flakes.  This makes the sauerkraut filling easy to roll up into balls.

Once the dough is rolled out, wash and dry your hands.  The wheat on your hands will get sticky when you ball up the filling.  Portion the filling out into the size of a super ball and place one on each of the dough squares.  once all the dough squares have a filling ball, wash and dry your hands.  The moisture from the filling will make the dough sticky and really hard to work with.  Aunt Linda pinched some of them closed while grandma and I portioned out the filling, then once we finished portioning the filling we washed our hands and joined in the fray.

With the potato and cheese and sauerkraut pierogis the method for pinching them is pretty similar.  You use your thumbs and gently push the filling into the dough, stretching the dough and flattening the filling ball.  It worked best to stretch the dough north and south and then fold it over, if you stretch it east west or equally in all directions you end up with a very long dumpling.  Work the dough minimally until you can fold it over and pinch it closed.  Grandma says you have to 'love the dough' - each batch works in your hands a little differently and you have to get a feel for it.  Do not stack the uncooked pierogis as they will stick together.

Once the pierogis have all been pinched closed, put them in a pot of boiling water.  Or at least very hot water, the pot is so big I don't think it was actually boiling most of the time.  We added them a dozen at a time, holding them close over the water and then dropping them in.  Once they are all in the water stir the pot with a wooden spoon so they don't stick to the bottom.  They will float when they are done.  Grandma has a nice strainer that fits in her stock pot, though you can scoop them out with a mesh strainer.  Submerge them in cold water once they are done.  Until they are done, get back to work on the other half of that dough ball.

Once you get it, you get it. We quickly fell into a routine.  I'd roll out and cut the dough, we'd put filling on a few in front of Aunt Linda so she can start pinching, then we'd finish them and pinch the rest closed.  Once they're cooked you pull the strainer and dump them in a bowl of cold water in the sink.  Once they were cooled Grandma pulled them out of the water, and smothered them with onions and margarine.  She portions them 6 to a microwavable paper plate and puts them in gallon freezer bags.  While she was plating them I was making the next batch of dough, once that was ready, rinse and repeat.  Game shows played in the background and we chatted the time away.  I won't go into the subject matter, though I will tell you that some of it was quite hilarious.

From our 12lbs of potatoes and cheese I think we netted 12-1/2 dozen.  We made 4-1/2 dozen sauerkraut.  We also made 3 dozen 'dry cheese'.  I had never even heard of these before! They are a really different taste.  It took about 3 hours to make 20 dozen, and we used somewhere between 13 and 15 pounds of flour.  Grandma said it usually takes 4 hours for 20 dozen, so our volunteer labor really helped her out.  She had been up every 2 hours the previous night, monitoring the oven and 2 roasting pans going at the same time to make 200 stuffed cabbage for a holiday party at the steel mill.

Here is how the dry cheese filling is made; To a pound of cottage cheese add half a teaspoon of vanilla, a quarter cup of sugar, and a little flour.  Large curd dry cottage cheese is preferred, but they didn't have any at the store so we used regular wet small curd cottage cheese.  The filling is more difficult to work with as it is so wet.  You have to stretch the dough underneath it and get a spot to pinch closed, then pinch along the edge and continually stuff the cheese mixture back in.  I don't like cottage cheese at all but I found these to be quite enjoyable.  The filling does firm up when it cooks, and the taste is slightly sweet and reminiscent of cheesecake.  uncle Tim took a taste and looked like he was going to spit it out.  'Its sweet!' he exclaimed.

'Why margarine and not butter,' I asked at one point.  Margarine doesn't go rancid, it doesn't burn like butter, and it is cheaper.  Several times when I asked about which ingredients to buy, the response was, 'whatever is on sale.'  What kind of sauerkraut?  Bag or can?  Whatever is on sale.  What brand of margarine? Whatever is on sale.   This is an important point with our next food challenge - the economy of pierogis.

I did some calculations based on what it would cost to build your own batch of based on regular market prices.  The cheddar cheese is definitely the most expensive ingredient, but even at $3.49 for a pound the material cost for 6-7 dozen pierogis is about $7.50, which breaks down to 9-10 cents each.  I can definitely see pierogi making in my future.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Another Marathon Cooking Day

Today was another challenge marathon cooking day.  It started with blanching and freezing sweet corn . . .
I had some over-ripe bananas and I found some bran from the last challenge.  So, I made three loaves of banana bran bread. . .
I roasted two large pans of tomatoes, carrots and celery for roasted vegetable soup . . .
When they vegies were roasted, I roasted two large pans of beets . . .
Then I made a simple leek and turnip soup. . .
I also made some sage/mint tea (not pictured).   I ended the day with 17 twelve ounce packages of beets, 4 containers of turnip/leek soup, 7 containers of roasted vegetable soup, 4 bags of sweet corn, three loves of banana bread and a large pitcher of sage/mint tea.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Harvest Time

I worked in the garden for about 5 1/2 hours today.  Displayed below are some of the items that were harvested.  The first is lots and lots and lots of lamb's quarter seeds.  Right now I have them on a sheet but I plan on suspending them above the table (if I can find some extra time).
I also harvested some of the turnips.  I used turnips, celery, kale, leeks, garlic and carrots to make a yummy vegetable soup.
I picked a basket of tomatillos, tomatoes  and a few hot peppers.
There are still plenty more tomatillos in the garden.  Sage and mint make a great tea.  I made a huge stock pot of tea.  I am freezing it in ziploc baggies for the challenge.
I chopped lots of chives and rolled them in plastic wrap (like a tootsie roll).  When I want to use some in cooking during the winter, I just untie the string from one end, break off the amount I need, and then tie the string back on.

There were a few strawberries left in the strawberry patch.  They were very sweet.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


I planted lots of different kinds of squash.  Unfortunately, none of the acorn or butternut squash plants produced any fruit.  However, I did get a few zucchini and eight nice spaghetti squash.

Saving the Sunflowers

Well, the squirrels were having a feast on the sunflowers.  I found the carnage all over the yard.  Here are the rescued sunflowers.  The sunflower in the front looks like a purple heart.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Beans & Rice

I'm moving in a month or so and I decided that I would use up most of the food that I have in my kitchen. I've also received gifts of free produce from my mom which I am able to use in my recipes. I make a couple recipes over the weekend and freeze the rest in individual portions to have later. These are not for the challenge but I just wanted to demonstrate how versatile beans and rice can be.

This is what I have made using plain old beans and/or rice:

Spanish rice
Jamaican split peas and rice
Green peppers stuffed with lentils and wild rice
Unstuffed cabbage (rice)
Jamaican split pea soup (2 different kinds - one flavored with thyme and allspice, the other has coconut milk, pumpkin and scotch bonnet pepper sauce)
Chili (kidney beans)
Chipotle black bean soup
Quinoa chickpea patties

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Last night I was up wayyyyy too late making Sweet Potato Pancakes.  My friend, Michelle found the recipe on the web.  No sugar, no flour and oil is optional.  I changed it a little.  I just used 4 eggs and omitted the 1 egg white.  I also added walnuts (pecans would be nice), and because the mixture was a little thick, I added almond milk to make it thinner.  The recipe is at  I got a little creative because it was late and I was punchy.  So, I made the last few pancakes into Teddy Bears.  I used banana slices and black grapes for the eyes and nose of the bigger bear.  I used raisins for the eyes on the smaller bears.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Challenge Marathon

This past Sunday, I decided to cook and preserve food.  I washed and sliced and cooked and washed dishes and washed and sliced and cooked and sealed and froze and washed dishes from 10:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m.  Here is what I prepared for the challenge:
Roasted Vegetable Soup
Zucchini Soup (It tastes better than it looks).
Herb Stuffed Zucchini
Zucchini Bread
Green Beans with Garlic and Tomatoes

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fun with canning

Mom (Therese) and I canned 7 more quarts of whole peeled tomatoes and made and canned 8- 1/2 pint jars of cinnamon pear jam from some free pears grandma gave us.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

More pics from the garden

The sunflowers are starting to bloom.  They are beautiful.
The turnips that turned up are getting big . . .
The pears are ready to pick . . .
Guess what this is . . .

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

peppers too

Pickling these-dehydrated a few as well. :)

today's tomato haul

Canning tonight! Now they're just tomatoes that I used to grow. :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hot & Humid Harvest

It's really been Hot & Humid the last few days.  However, I managed to get outside at 6:00 this morning and harvest some beans from the garden.
I was going to blanch and freeze them tonight.  However, a very long phone call with a old friend delayed my project.
The broccoli is also looking like it's ready for harvest:
There are lots of blossoms on the squash plants.  However, there are so many huge leaves that it's hard to tell what's under there.
The pears are getting bigger.  They look great.  The squirrels are even leaving some for us.
Yummmmm!  I can't wait to harvest them.  The first tomatoes are also starting to get red.
They are cherry tomatoes but there should be some red ones in a couple of days.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The plants are loving all of this rain

The plants (and the weeds as well) are loving all of the rain we have been having.  Here are a few more pictures from the garden.  Against my neighbor's fence, I planted two rows of sunflowers.  Between the sunflowers and the peas are several squash plants.
The leek that I left in last year has a huge flower head.
The garlic is growing great . . .
I planted basil from last year's saved seeds . . . 
The squash flowers are huge.  I ate the first small zucchini in my lunch salad today.

New Neighbors in the Garden

This year, I planted a couple of new vegetables that I never tried before.  The first picture is parcel.  It's a combination of parsley and celery.  The second plant is named cardoon.  It is also called artichoke thistle, cardone or cardoni.. The plant is supposed to grow to between 3 and 6 feet tall.  The stalk is steamed and roasted.  The flower is said to look like a thistle flower.  The third picture is the lasagna method of gardening potatoes.  You put down newspaper (I used cardboard). Then, place pieces of sprouted potatoes on the paper.  Cover with layers of soil, compost, dry leaves and grass clippings.  As the sprouted potato plants begin to appear, you just keep covering it with more layers.  I'm anxious to see the results.  The fourth picture isn't really a new neighbor.  However, this is the first year that the pear tree is bearing fruit.  However, I don't know if we'll have any pears.  The crazy squirrels are already helping themselves.