Sunday, February 24, 2013

Polish Pierogi--with Potato and Porcini Stuffing

Whenever foreign friends ask me what they should try while in Poland, I always recommend pierogi, and I do it without a second of hesitation. There is a huge variety of savory and sweet pierogi, with many different fillings, meat and vegetarian so anyone can discover one's favorite version.

My most favorite are vegetarian and savory pierogi, but if you want to try them, I would have to invite you over to my house, as I am not sure if they are available anywhere else. So I decided to popularize my favorite pierogi recipe on this blog.

The recipe for these particular pierogi was invented by my mother. It is based on a very popular version, the so-called "Russian", pierogi stuffed with potatoes and farmers' cheese. However, somehow these pierogi have never been very popular in my family. So my mother came up with an idea of making them with potatoes and dried porcini, instead of cheese. And we absolutely loved them in that version.

Pierogi are a wonderful dish but unfortunately they are quite labor-intensive. Over the years, I managed to find only two shortcuts in the whole rather complicated process. I make the dough in my Kitchen Aid Mixer and sometimes I use a pierogi maker form to cut and close them. But recently, I returned to the old method of rolling the dough on a larger surface with a rolling pin, cutting each piece with a cookie cutter, and gluing them with hands. I usually make a big batch of pierogi and freeze part of them for future uses.

There are also different dough recipes. My grandmother always made it with egg yolks but I have been using a recipe calling only for flour and water, or milk. The dough is not yellow (like in Italian ravioli) but it is also softer.

These pierogi can be served like some other versions with fried bacon on top but we have always made them in a vegetarian version with fried onion and freshly ground pepper.

Please try my favorite Polish dish.

Potato and Porcini Pierogi
(Makes about 60 mid-size pierogi)


For the dough:
4 cups of all purpose flour,
1 and 1/2 cup hot milk,
1 tbsp salt,
extra flour for dusting the surface.

For the filling:
3 large potatoes,
1 cup dried porcini,
2 onion, chopped,
3 tbsp olive oil,
salt and freshly ground pepper.
1/4 tsp nutmeg,
1/2 tsp ground coriander,
1/2 tsp red paprika,
1/2 tsp ground caraway.


1. Soak dried porcini for about an hour in 2 cups of cold water. Cook them in the same water for about 10 minutes. Cool, drain, and chop finely. Save the remaining water--it can be added to any sauces and soups to enhance the taste.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry chopped onion until transparent. Let it cool.

3. Peel off potatoes and cook until soft. Drain them and cool down. Purée them using a potato musher. Transfer the potato purée into a large bowl, add the chopped porcini, half of the fried onion (the rest will be used for garnish), and all the spices.

4. Mix the filling well with a fork and set aside while preparing the dough.

1. Place flour and salt in a bowl of a stand up mixer. Mix with a spatula.
2. Heat milk until almost to the point of boiling and add to the flour. With a hook attachment run a mixer on a slowest speed. When the flour is incorporated, run a mixer on a fast speed for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and shiny.

3. The dough also can be made manually. Put a flour mixed with salt on a working surface. Make a well in the middle and pour the milk in it. Working with hands incorporate the milk into the flour, then knead the dough for about 5 minutes until smooth.
4. Put a dough on a wooden cutting board dusted with flour and cover with a bowl.
5. Sift a little bit of flour on a working surface. I use my special wooden board or do that directly on the granite counter top.
6. Cut half of the dough and roll out with a rolling pin until very thin. Using a cookie cutter or a glass cup cut circles as closed to each other as possible. Remove the rest of the dough so only the cut out circles stay on the board. (The remaining dough can be cut into smaller pieces and cooked at the end as pasta.)

7. Meanwhile, boil about a gallon of water in a large pot with a tbsp salt.
8. On each of the dough circle place about a tbsp of filling. Wet the edges of the circle with water, fold in half, and close with fingers pressing down both sides of the half circle

9. Toss the pierogi into the boiling water. When they appear on the surface of the pot turn down the heat to medium and cook them for about 3-5 minutes. Drain on a colander.
10. Make the same way a second batch of pierogi with the remaining other half of the dough.
11. Serve pierogi with fried onion and red or white sour cabbage salads.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tarragon Chicken Soup--with a Potato Surprise

Maybe because it is again so cold, this winter soup came to my mind today. I ate it more than twenty years ago in London.

When I was working in London in an interior designer studio, sometimes my boss Alexandra prepared this soup for lunch. At that time it was not my most favorite meal from all she made, as I am not particularly a soup person. But today, thinking how much good style and how many useful rules I have learned from her at that time, this soup stays in my memory as a souvenir of the good and exciting times.

She cooked it during winter months. She usually put a whole chicken in a huge pot and as many whole potatoes as the people the soup would be served for. I do not remember any other vegetables being added to it, which seems a bit odd. If any, they must have been only leeks and celery, as the soup was dark green in color. But I certainly remember that there was plenty of dried tarragon which made the whole taste of that chicken soup. She cooked it very slowly for a long time until the chicken and potatoes became soft. The soup looked a bit like a bouillon and was served with whole potatoes and pieces of the chicken meat on the plate. And it was surprisingly very tasty. A kind of eintopf.

These days I do not even ever buy a whole chicken, so I made a version of it with a very lean breast meat. I also added leeks and celery. When the soup was ready it tasted nice and delicate but it was very aromatic thanks to the tarragon, almost exactly as the soup I had in Alexandra's Chiswick studio many years ago.

Tarragon Chicken Soup
(Serves four)

4 chicken breasts (or any other parts you like), preferably organic,
4 large potatoes, peeled,
1 medium leek, washed well and sliced,
4 celery sticks, sliced,
2 tbsp dried tarragon leaves,
1 bay leaf,
3 all spice grains,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. In a large pot put a gallon of water with a half a tbsp of salt, bay leaf, and all spice. Bring it to boil and add whole potatoes and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.
2. Add to the pot sliced chicken meat (or whole other pieces) leek, celery and tarragon. Bring to boil and cook for about 30-40 minutes, until potatoes are soft and vegetables turn dark green color.
3. Season with pepper and serve in bowls with a whole potato in the middle.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Crepes with Nutella--Five Thousand Crepes of Love.

There are many ways of saying "I love you". For the past seven years I have been saying mine with crepes.

Ever since my older son Max, who has developmental problems, tried crepes at my friend's house, he fell in love with them. At that time he still had some oral motor problems and various food aversions, so I could not be happier that there was a new kind of food that he accepted and enjoyed.

He loves crepes so much that no evening passes by without a crepe and Nutella snack.

Every single day for the past seven years I have been making him crepes for supper. I fry them once a week in a big batch and freeze for the rest of the week. He usually has two or three of them, smothered with Nutella and rolled up, accompanied by a glass of milk. I counted today that for seven years, 365 days each year and a minimum of two crepes a day, I made, at least five thousand crepes.

It is just a tiny gesture of love to reward someone who has the sweetest and most gentle soul, but constantly faces everyday challenges and struggles so hard to reach his potential.

I believe that this culinary experience makes me a true crepe specialist at par with those French magicians who sell crepes on the streets of Paris. But my crepes are a bit different. This recipe is unusual. Its secret is in the beer that makes the crepes very thin and soft. They roll up easily and have a delicate, neither sweet nor savory, taste. Therefore you can stuff them with anything. The sweet versions are the most popular in my home. For Max it has to be the Nutella filling, for Philip Philadelphia Cheese and honey. Seasonal fruits and whipped cream are another delicious option. But also any savory stuffing can work with them, but this is for a separate post.

And tonight, like every night, it is a night of crepes with Nutella.

Beer Crepes
(Makes about sixteen crepes)

1 bottle light beer,
2 cups milk,
2 and 1/2 cup flour,
2 eggs,
1 tbsp sugar,
1 tsp salt,
2 tbsp vegetable oil for frying.

1. Pour milk and beer into a large bowl. Add two eggs and beat with whisker.
2. Add flour. Beat until it makes smooth batter without any lumps. The batter should have consistency of heavy whipping cream. At the end, season with salt and sugar and let the batter rest for half an hour.
3. Preheat a 9-inch frying pan. Using a cooking brush coat the pan with oil. When the pan is hot pour in about 1/3 cup of the crepe batter.

4. Move the pan until batters spreads and covers the whole pan. Fry until the edges of the crepes are brownish. Flip over with a large silicon spatula and fry again on the other side.

5. Once the first crepe is ready, turn the heat to medium high and fry the rest of them, coating the pan with oil before each crepe.
6. Let the crepes cool.
You can smother them with jam, cheese and honey, or anything you want.

But there is really nothing better than to serve them with Nutella.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Potato Goulash with Hungarian Paprika

This dish, which is Hungarian in origin, came to my mind recently when, tired of preparing all kinds of noodles, I was thinking about some new dishes that would incorporate more vegetables to my kids' diet. This potato dish, a vegetarian variety of the traditional goulash, was often prepared in my home years ago when not many vegetables were available during long Polish winters. In better times some kind of sausage or even bacon was added to enhance the taste. But I always liked the most simple, vegetarian version of it, served with delicate green lettuce.

A Hungarian friend I met In Switzerland told me that in her house this goulash was served with sour cream. Ever since I tried it I also add a spoon of sour cream on top. It complements nicely the strong, almost smokey, as my son noticed, "barbecued" taste of the potatoes coming from the paprika and tomato paste. Also, simple Boston lettuce salad, served plain, without any dressing just with a drop of lemon, makes a nice finish to this easy and aromatic winter dish.

Potato Goulash
(Serves four)

2 lb of white potatoes (about 6-8 medium potatoes), peeled off and cut into small cubes,
1 large onion, chopped,
2 tbsp tomato paste,
2 cups vegetable broth (or water),
1-2 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika,
1 tsp caraway seeds,
1 tsp salt,
freshly ground pepper,
6 tbsp sour cream,
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley,
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil.

1. In a medium heavy-duty pot heat oil until hot. Add onion and fry on medium heat until transparent, about 3-5 minutes.
2. Add potato cubes to the onion, mix and cook, stirring frequently for about 3 minutes.
3. Fold in tomato paste, paprika, caraway seeds, salt, black pepper, and mix until potatoes are well coated.

4. Pour in the vegetable broth or water, enough to cover the dish. Let it simmer for about 30-40 minutes, depending on the type of potatoes. You may add extra liquid if potatoes are still hard. At the end. most of the liquid should evaporate and turn into a thick sauce. Potatoes should be soft but not mushy.
5. Divide the goulash between plates and serve with a tbsp of sour cream and chopped parsley on top.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mac and Cheese--with a French Twist

Years ago, when my younger son was still a preschooler, he came home from a play date and said that for lunch he ate the best macaroni cheese in his life. I felt terrible that my son had the best macaroni and cheese (since I do not make it ) at someone else's home so I decided to obtain that special recipe and replicate it at home. The next day when I approached those kids' nanny about that subject, she said "Oh, we buy macaroni and cheese, the one from Kraft". I could not believe that my son's best in the world macaroni came from a 99 cents Kraft box.

Since that incident I have managed to introduce Philip to many of my home made dishes which now he likes very much and often asks for. But once in a while he gets nostalgic about that special macaroni he had at his friend's house. So I had no other choice than finally to make it myself.

I checked and compared several recipes. They often called for many other ingredients than the obvious pasta and cheese. Depending on chef's personality and origin, eggs, powdered milk, evaporated milk, and the use of different types of cheese accounted for the differences between one recipe and another.

But, instead of experimenting with any of them, I decided to go with my instinct and used simple but high quality fresh ingredients, recommended in one of the French magazines I once read.

Just after a bit more than half an hour I put a plate of my first macaroni and cheese in front of my son. He could not believe his luck. When the plate was empty in no time he admitted that this was the best mac and cheese he had in his still very short life.

Macaroni and cheese
(Serves four)

1/2 lb elbow pasta,
2/3 cup shredded Gruyère cheese and 2/3 cup shredded good quality Cheddar cheese,
1 cup crème fraîche (if you don't have it, you could use Mexican crema fresca or ordinary sour cream),
2 tbsp butter,
2 tbsp breadcrumbs,
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta in a medium pot until al dente, soft but still firm.
2. Preheat oven to 370F.
3. Grease a medium oven proof dish with a tbsp of butter,
4. Mix both cheese and cream, salt and pepper.
5. Drain cooked pasta and fold in the cheese-cream mixture. Transfer to a baking dish.

6. Top with remaining butter and breadcrumbs.
7. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top of pasta is dark gold.
Serve with cucumber or green salads