Pierogi Day

This year we’re having a family dinner Christmas Day at our place, and family from both sides are going to break bread with us. Since I’m off work this week and have a little time, I’m going to make some of the foods my mom used to make when I was growing up. While I’m sure family would be happy with a turkey dinner (a much simpler approach), I like to cook from time to time, and I think it will be fun to make some of the traditional foods.

I’m going to start today by making pierogi. One of the good things about pierogi is that you can make them and freeze them (usually in bags of a dozen or so), and then cook them up whenever you want some.

We make potato and cheese pierogi – there are all kinds of other possibilities with

potato, white cheddar and Polish pressed cottage cheese get mixed together to make the pierogi filling.
potato, white cheddar and Polish pressed cottage cheese get mixed together to make the pierogi filling.

filling from mushrooms to braised cabbage or sourkraut to fruit fillings. We always do it with potato and cheese. I use a mix of pressed Polish cottage cheese and white cheddar.

Once the pierogi are made, there are a couple different ways to prepare them. One is boiled with “burnt” butter. While the pierogi are boiling, we cook a little butter until there are many brown spots in the butter. We call that burnt. When the boiling pierogi float in the water, we strain them, put them on a plate, and drip the burnt butter over them. Add a generous dollop of sour cream and you’re good to go. This is the way my mom and all our family made them.

Perhaps more common today is to boil the pierogi, then fry them up with bacon and onions or mushrooms. Also delicious.

I remember when I was a kid, my mom would get together with my Auntie Stella and the two of them would go into pierogi production. I remember that Stella was the fastest pierogi assembler I had ever seen. Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but it seems to me she could do two at a time, one with each hand.

My plan is to make pierogi today – an old friend is coming by to help me – we plan to make a lot. Tomorrow, I’m going to make patychky – we called them meat sticks when I was a kid. This is basically pork on a stick. It’s marinated, skewered, dipped in egg, rolled in spiced breadcrumbs, fried and baked. I only make these

Special guest pierogi-maker KR on the assembly line
Special guest pierogi-maker KR on the assembly line

at Christmas time, and I like to think mine are very very good. I taught my sister-in-law Viv how to make them several years ago and hers are also excellent. Finally, Wednesday I’m going to make a roaster of cabbage rolls.

Cabbage rolls made the way mom used to make them had a very distinctive and intoxicating smell. This is because the meat is browned using salt pork. This may not be the healthiest food choice, but it is rare I make them and while you can use a healthier substitute, they just are not the same. I’m sure my brother and my sister will set me straight if I don’t get it just right.

This morning I headed out to Starsky’s to get what I need for this cooking extravaganza. Having had experience at Starsky’s at Christmastime, I left the house early to arrive there just after they opened at 8:00 AM. Good thing I did. By the time I left the store at 8:40, it was already getting busy. By this afternoon it will be silly-busy. The crowds around the sausage counter alone will be over the top.

 

Charcoals of the World

In my travels this weekend I stopped in at Ontario Gas BBQ. My friends might think this is odd behaviour for me since I don’t own a gas or propane grilling unit, but in fact this place also sells an amazing selection of equipment and fuel for the charcoal bbq fanatic as well.

In fact they have an entire room dedicated to charcoals of the world. You might say charcoal is charcoal, right? There is even a website dedicated to charcoal reviews. I’ve tried a few different ones over the years, and I’ll say some charcoals might be better for slow bbq and others might be better for when you need very hot heat – there are definite differences in density of various charcoals available for the bbq freak. As well, some charcoals tend to arrive at the store in bigger chunks while others come all smashed up. I find bigger chunks give me the kind of air flow I want for hot grilling. Overall though, I’m not too fussy. I usually buy Maple Leaf charcoal, a quality Canadian brand, and it serves me very well.

I should say that I have nothing against cooking with gas grills. I know lots of people like them a lot, especially those swanky units with the side burners and bun warmers and who knows what else, and they’re very satisfied with the results they get. If it works for you, great. Go for it. If I’m going to cook outside though, I want the results I can get with real charcoal (and I’m not talking about those weird pre-fabricated briquets. What’s in those things?).

Do you cook outdoors?

 

 

 

The Comfort Food Diner

When is a poblano not a poblano?

In our area, I rarely see poblano chiles in our grocery stores, so when I saw them at Starsky’s the other day, I bought a bunch of them. Some went into last night’s soup and the rest I popped into the dehydrator. Dried, poblanos are called anchos, and they’re great in just about anything. I sampled a few of the dried ones and they’re tasty as snacks. I was surprised at how variable the heat is from one chile to another. Some are totally mild, others have a bit of heat, and a few of them offer up more heat than you’d expect.

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Cooking lobster mushrooms

I’ve noticed, looking at the stats for this blog, that quite a few people have been searching for ways to prepare lobster mushrooms. Here’s one way – the way I prepared them for dinner tonight in fact.

Lobster mushroom and sausage omelet

You need:

  • lobster mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • two or three eggs
  • some tasty sausage (I used Goralska Polish sausage)
  • grated awesome cheese

In a cast iron pan, sautee the mushrooms with a little vegetable oil on medium heat. Lobsters are very firm mushrooms that hold their texture. As well, they don’t shed water in the cooking process the way some other mushrooms do. After a few minutes in the pan, add some chopped up sausage and let it cook together. You want the sausage to start to crisp up and the mushrooms to start turning a nice golden colour. When this is ready, transfer to a non-stick pan. I know you’re going to say, aw c’mon, do I have to use two pans? The answer is yes. I like the way the mushrooms and the sausage cook up in a cast iron pan, but in the end you’re making an omelet and non-stick pans are great for omelets. So, you transfer the sausage and mushrooms to a non-stick pan. With the transfer, they’ll bring along enough oil for the omelet. Heat up the pan to the high side of medium. While that’s happening, beat up your eggs with a fork. Some people add a little splash of milk. You can do that if you want. I usually don’t. When the pan is hot, pour the mixture over the mushrooms and sausage and move the pan around to spread around the eggs. When the eggs are just about done, toss some of your awesome grated cheese on top (tonight I used an old gruyere). Let it melt on there for a moment, fold two sides of the omelet to the middle and serve it up, maybe with a spoon of good salsa and some fresh ground pepper and just a wee bit of salt. There are a million variations. If you have some fresh herbs, chop them into the egg mixture before pouring it onto the pan.

Or….

If you want something even simpler and still super-delicious, sautee the lobster mushrooms in your cast iron pan until they get nice and golden. Add salt and fresh ground pepper and maybe a wee bit of some ground hot chiles and spoon loads of the mushrooms onto toast. Just that simple.

Autumn in the Air

You can tell it’s getting into fall when roasting veggies becomes a regular activity here on 27th Street.

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Summer Soup

Summer Soup
Summer Soup

I made this up as I went along today….

First, I grilled half a dozen cobs of corn on the bbq (yes, a charcoal one) along with some red shepherd’s peppers and a chunk of kielbasa (I used a 6 inch chunk of Goralska from Starsky’s sliced in half lengthwise). I let the corn brown some. I allow the skin of the peppers to blacken some and then I peel off most of the blackened bits later.

Then in the kitchen…

I started some onions cooking up in a Dutch oven with a little oil on the bottom and a pinch of salt and a good pinch of dried scotch bonnets. I chopped up two carrots and tossed them in the pot and I added in a couple cloves of garlic from the garden. Then I stripped the corn cobs and tossed in the kernels, and chopped up the peppers and tossed those in as well. I chopped up the kielbasa, except for one bite-sized piece which I sampled (strictly in the interest of science). I added two chopped up baking potatoes (I think the starchy potatoes rock in this soup), and chopped up and added a few plum tomatoes. I then added in lots of stock, a couple bay leafs, and chopped and tossed in loads of fresh basil from the garden.

I let the whole business simmer away for around an hour. An amazing soup!

(oh, almost forgot….I tempered some milk and added a little to each bowl before serving)

She likes kielbasa better than fish…

Somebody entered “she likes kielbassa better than fish” into a search engine and came up with this blog. You asked for it buddy, you got it. It’s polka time on 27th St.

Here are Buffalo’s own Scrubby and Trojak

But while we’re on a Polish foodfest post, let’s not stop there. Here are Stanky and his Pennsylvania Coal Miners Polka Band performing Who Likes Pierogi

How about the Original Ampol Aires performing Polska Kielbasa. I love the dancing in this video…

OK OK, here’s Papa Crow performing Walt Solek’s masterpiece, Who Stole the Kishka

And finally, an old Czech commercial celebrating the virtues of kapusta.

Snacktime

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The food at Merlefest is provided by the various local service and community clubs, from Kiwanas to the Boy Scouts. Overall I’d it was quite good for this kind of event at prices that were fairly reasonable. I really appreciated the fact that the community was involved.