Pierogi

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I grew up eating pierogis* occasionally- my mom would buy frozen ones and saute them in butter, then serve them with sour cream for a quick weeknight meal. I'm pretty sure she ate hers with cooked onions on the side, but as we've discussed, I didn't touch onions with a barge pole until I was probably 20, so I definitely ate mine without them. As I grew up, I realised that pierogis are not as common in American households as I previously thought- admittedly, it's been four years since I shopped in an American supermarket, but I don't recall ever having even seen pierogis in a grocery store, and prior to this week I think the last time I had them was probably in high school when my mom made them for me.

When I found a recipe in the Box for homemade pierogi, I set it aside thinking it would be a pain, and probably it required a pasta maker, and I didn't think I was up to the task. Fast forward to this month, when outside it's so cold that all I want to do is stay in the kitchen because it's the warmest place in the house and make warm, cosy food, and... suddenly the idea of spending a frozen Saturday locked in the kitchen with only flour, mashed potatoes and a rolling pin to keep me company sounded magical, so that's how I spent last weekend.

If you're not familiar with pierogis, they're Central/Eastern European dumplings (most likely originating in Poland, though it seems every country in the region has claim to their own version), generally made from a simple dough and filled with potatoes, sauerkraut, onions, mushrooms, cheese, fruit or any combination of the above. They're nearly impossible to make in small batches, so this is a dish to make when you want to stock your freezer, have a dinner party and/or stock a friend's freezer while you're at it. Vegetarian and made with budget ingredients, these are perfect for making in January, when everyone's resolutions involve eating less meat and spending less money.

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Now, the logistics: these aren't easy per se, but they're far simpler than I thought they'd be. You need a substantial amount of time to make them on account of making the filling and rolling out the (fairly stiff) dough, but it's actually simple to get the dough as thin as you need it to be, the dough adheres to itself easily so you don't need to worry about the pierogi coming apart as you go, and once you get into a rhythm, it's really not difficult. Also, there's no real 'technique' involved as there is with, say, macarons or soufflés where you don't know until you remove them from the oven whether they have worked or not. With pierogis, you can taste the filling in advance and re-season as needed, I've included specific instructions for the texture and thickness of the dough to take the guesswork out, and when you're finished, you fry them in butter which covers all manner of sins. If you're looking for a way to fill your freezer, get creative in the kitchen and try out a food you probably have never made from scratch before, here's your chance: get yourself an audio book (I listened to like half of Paula Hawkins' newest while making these), a podcast you're really into or a Netflix series that jumps straight from one episode to the next and spend your day in the kitchen rolling and filling these delicious dumplings. You might really enjoy it!

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Some tips:
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  • It helps to make your filling a day ahead, so that on the day you can just focus on dough making, rolling and filling.
  • Fillings can be anything I listed above, or anything else you can think of. I made half of my filling according to the recipe below, and for the other half I made a simple mashed potato mixture with sauteed shallots (I happened to have some shallots on the edge), sage, rosemary and a scoop of cottage cheese. They were amazing.
  • If you make a mashed potato filling, you'll want the mashed potatoes to be substantially drier than you would normally eat them. They should be mashed until there are no potato lumps, but resist the urge to add more milk/butter/cream cheese/whatever you usually use to make yours smooth. When the dumplings are cooked, the steam softens the potato mixture and if you make them too smooth to begin with, they'll be runny by the end.
  • Keep any dough you aren't rolling out covered with a warm, damp dishtowel to keep it from drying out. If it does start to get too dry, you can add a few drops of water and rework it briefly, but be careful not too add too much so that the dough becomes sticky.
  • ROLL ROLL ROLL that dough until it's as thin as possible. 1/16-inch is ideal and though that seems impossible, if you work in small-ish quantities of dough (1/5 or so of total dough at a time), it's totally doable because this dough does not stick to the counter or your rolling pin.
  • Next time I am dying to try a sweet filling- prune is traditional, and I might use the prune purée from this recipe next time to see how it goes.

*For what it's worth, the plural is pierogi, and the singular is pierόg in Polish, but since most English speakers refer to them as pierogi and pierogis, I'm going with that.

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. These are beyond delicious, I had a blast making them, and I'm pretty excited that there are 60 more dumplings in my freezer just waiting to be reheated and eaten when the weather gets too cold for anything but potatoes.

ONE YEAR AGO: TOLL HOUSE MARBLE SQUARES
TWO YEARS AGO: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

the recipe:

Polish Pierogi

the directions:
filling:

Peel, chop coarsely and boil the potatoes in enough water to cover them until tender.
Drain the potatoes, then return to the pot, turn the heat back on low, and begin mashing (this helps rid the potatoes of the steam trapped in the pot).
Mash for 1-2 minutes until steam begins to lessen.
Add cheddar and cottage cheese and continue mashing until smooth (as mentioned above, consistency should be drier than normal mashed potatoes as the pierogi-cooking process will moisten the filling and make it smoother).
Taste and add salt & pepper accordingly, remembering that finished pierogis will have salt in the dough and be sauteed in salted butter, so don't overdo it on the salt- just enough to keep filling from being bland.
Set filling aside (may be refrigerated overnight until ready to use).

Dough:

With a mixer, combine flour, salt, and egg until well mixed.
Drizzle in the water a few spoonfuls at a time, watching for dough to become 'dough-like,' pulling away from the edges of the bowl and forming a ball.
THIS HAPPENS QUICKLY so add water very slowly.
If dough still has not formed after adding the ½ c, add more water by tablespoonful, mixing on low speed all the while.
Dough should be VERY stiff and firm but still able to be rolled, and should not stick to countertops, rolling pin, etc.
Fill a small bowl with water and place it next to your work surface.
In batches (unless you have arms like Michelle Obama), roll dough out to 1/16th-inch thickness, keeping remaining dough covered with a warm damp kitchen towel to keep it from drying out while you work.
Use a 3-inch round biscuit cutter to cut circles from dough, then fill them with a small scoop of filling in the centre.
If your dough is quite stiff, as it should be, it won't want to seal on its own, so dip your finger in the bowl of water and run it around the edge of the circle to help the dough form a seal.
Fold circles in half over the filling and press edges together, making sure to press air out as you go (works best to start sealing in the middle of your half-circle and work your way to the edges).
Set filled pierogis on a baking sheet and keep on going.

Serve & Store:

To boil, drop pierogis into enough boiling water to cover them and boil 3 minutes. Drain and serve as below.

To fry (as I prefer and as illustrated here), melt a few tablespoons of butter in a pan, then drop a few pierogis into the pan (do not crowd the pierogis).
When the first side is browned, flip the pierogis and cook the second side until golden.
Sprinkle with chives, additional butter or sour cream and flaky salt or black pepper.

To freeze, place uncooked pierogis on a baking sheet and place in freezer for fifteen minutes.
Remove from baking sheet, place in a tightly sealed bag and freeze.
Pierogis may be thawed before cooking or cooked from frozen by allowing a few extra minutes of cooking time.

Yields 75 pierogis, plus additional filling in case you manage to fit more filling inside than I did.

the ingredients:
the filling:

3 lb (1.5 kilos) potatoes
2 c (250g) cheddar cheese, grated
1 c (225g) cottage cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the dough:

6 c (720g) flour
1 tbsp salt
1 egg, beaten
½ c water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to serve:

Butter
Chives
Sour cream
Salt
Pepper

Tangy Broccoli Dip & Philly Orange Dip

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When I was a teenager, the first kid I ever babysat was a three-year-old boy with a predilection for stripping his clothes off at a moment's notice and a passion for 'dip.' Only to him, any food that was liquid was dip. Syrup, salsa, ketchup, soup, honey, yoghurt and even some solids like cereal all qualified as dip, and his parents used this fascination to get him to eat anything he didn't otherwise want to eat. (Refuse to eat broccoli? Here's some cheese 'dip' for it and now Ben is loving it!). I adored that kid and recently realised he's now old enough to be out of college, so clearly I am an old lady.

In the spirit of that adorable kid, I present to you two pleasingly retro but still tasty dips: one savoury, perfect for spreading on crackers, toast points or veggies, and one sweet, great for dipping berries or other summer fruits. Also the sweet one is literally the only sweet dip I think I've ever tasted in my life, so chances are you've had it before, at least if you grew up in the US in the 1990s.

I had to go to four different grocery stores to find water chestnuts, but I persevered because they seemed like an integral part of a recipe I otherwise had my suspicions about, and I'm glad I powered through, because the water chestnuts provided a much-needed crunch to contrast the creamy smoothness of the dip.

(As a sidenote, why are water chestnuts so hard to find here in Scotland? Chinese restaurants have them, because they come in takeaways all the time so they're obviously not illegal, but my Tesco, Sainsbury's and ScotMid all don't carry them, so I had to go to Waitrose, the rich people grocery store, where I spent more than probably anyone ever should on the wee-est can of water chestnuts I've ever seen.)

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I made these both for the same party recently, and the veggie dip was the biggest hit by far. The bread bowl was also a good decision- everyone at the party loved it, and by the end of the night the entire bread bowl and its contents was gone. And honestly, a bread bowl might be the most retro food this side of curly parsley, but I challenge you to find a serving vessel that easy that doubles as a snack in itself.

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The fruit dip, while tasty, was definitely the bigger letdown- I guess maybe as a grownup you just realise that fruit is sweet enough on its own and doesn't really need to be dressed up. It was still lovely, but I'd probably bypass it next time (unless I was working with off-season fruit that needed the extra bit of sweetness). Also, probably this is down to the weather, but when I mixed the ingredients as listed in the recipe, the dip was far too thick, so I added some additional orange juice, and by the time I served it, it was too runny to dip, leading to a last minute trip back out for more cream cheese to thicken it back up.

The verdict:
Broccoli Dip:

4 spoons out of five. Although if you were asking our party guests, I think they'd give it 5 spoons.

Orange Dip:

3 spoons out five. It was tasty, but given the issues listed above and the fact that I just feel like fruit doesn't need additional sweetness makes me think this dip was just unnecessary.

Two years ago: Wind Pudding

the recipe:

Tangy Broccoli Dip

the directions:

Cut slice from top of bread loaf, then scoop out bread from inside, leaving a crust at least 1-inch thick.
Cut bread removed from inside into slices or cubes and toast at 175C/350F until golden.
Combine cream cheese, yoghurt, mayonnaise and Tabasco, mixing until well-blended.
Stir in soup mix or spices, water chestnuts and broccoli.
Spoon into bread shell and serve with reserved bread pieces or crackers, and fresh veggies.

the ingredients:

1 round sourdough bread loaf
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 c plain yoghurt
½ c mayonnaise
Dash of Tabasco (or, if you're in the US and have access, hot pepper sauce)
1 pkg vegetable soup mix (or, if you don't have this, then ¼ tsp of each of the following: salt, black pepper, dried garlic, garlic salt, dried parsley, dried chives, onion powder, dried dill)
8 oz water chestnuts, drained and chopped
10 oz frozen broccoli, chopped, thawed and drained
Radishes, cucumbers, carrots and celery for dipping

the recipe:

Philly Orange Dip

the directions:

Stir cream cheese, sugar, orange juice and zest together until well-blended.
Chill at least one hour before serving with fresh fruit.

the ingredients:

8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 tbsp sugar
¼ c orange juice
Zest from one orange, minced
Strawberries, pineapple, and melon for dipping

Smash the Patriarchy Party Mix

It's been a rough 6 days to be an ex-pat. Living in Scotland is amazing, but being the Representative American in every. single. situation. is not always easy, and it's not always fun. I've listened to a lot of dumb jokes, I've accepted (with as much grace as I can muster) a lot of blame and I've tried my best not to make any of the stereotypes flying around any worse than they already are. Whatever your feelings are on things happening in the US right now, it's worth noting that the rest of the world is confused, scared, and angry as all get out at the current state of affairs- after all, as the saying goes, America sneezes and the world gets a cold.

So when the opportunity came around last weekend to put my money where my mouth is and show up at the Edinburgh Women's Rally, I happily went, husband and American friend in tow. It was awesome. We listened to speeches (intersectionality!), ran into friends (so many friends!) and felt like part of what's happening in the US in a way we often don't over here across the ocean. It was great to feel like something bigger than ourselves and great to remember that there are so many women who have come before us and so many, many women ready to fight the good fight now. And while I made this Party Mix with the specific intention of bringing it to the rally for snacks (and to insulate my pockets on what proved to be a sunny but frigid Edinburgh winter morning), I opted to forego it when I realised how early in the morning we had to leave our flat.

So basically, this is the perfect snack to bring when you're on the go- whether that's heading to a Women's March or out for a day of running errands- but it's equally great to put out for a party. Especially if you live in Edinburgh where most shops don't sell pre-made Chex Mix so loads of people have never even tasted it. And if you're one of those people who've never tasted it, then know this: as a kid, I thought it was so weird that my family made this for every party: who wants savoury breakfast cereal? But it turns out tonnes of people make this and everyone loves it- especially if you make it with brown butter instead of plain... and the best part is Eleanor's recipe was written in such a hurry I'm guessing at 60% of the words listed. So if something sounds good to you to add (Brown sugar? Worcestershire sauce? Mustard? Honey? Onion powder? Garlic powder? Pumpkin Seeds?), go for it. Be a nasty woman and get this done.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. Only taking off a spoon because it's so much better warm and I wish I had known that before I took mine to a party and tried to serve it room temperature.

One year ago: ASian Chicken two ways

the recipe:

Party Mix

the directions:

Preheat oven to 120C/250F.
Cut butter into small cubes and set aside.
Pour cheese crackers, cereal, nuts and pretzels into a cookie sheet with sides.
Scatter butter cubes around baking sheet and use your hands to mix together until butter is evenly incorporated.
Sprinkle with salt.
Place in oven and cook for 45 minutes, shaking every 15 minutes.
Serve warm for best results.
Keeps well sealed in an airtight container for 3 days.

the ingredients:

2/3 cup or 140 grams butter
2 c cheese crackers (Mini Cheddars or Cheez-Its)
2 c plain cereal (Shreddies or Chex)
1 ½ c mixed nuts (unsalted)
1 c pretzels
2 tsp salt