Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dark Days Finale: Pierogi

I went back and forth this last week about whether or not I should make this, the 19th week of the Dark Days Challenge, the final meal, or go on one more week to make it a round 20. Going by the calendar, I think this is the official "end", yet I find myself thinking about one more week.

Here's my problem: Yesterday, I left for eight days in California for work.

That kind of puts a damper on getting a 20th DDC meal made and written about by next Wednesday.

So, for now, I'm thinking this will be it. We'll see how things go when I get back - we could well have some interesting local things growing right in my refrigerator by that time!  Really, I'm joking - I'm sure things will be much clearer and cleaner around here when I return than they are right now. My husband is a much better housekeeper than I am, and he has the added benefit of not having the uncontrollable need to have a full pantry and refrigerator at all times in order to feel secure!

But I wander from my point, which was pierogis.

For the last several years at Thanksgiving, my cousin's wife contributes huge plates full of steaming, tender pockets of dough, stuffed with various savory fillings. The funny thing is, I don't think she is of Polish heritage. She is however, interested and generous enough to provide this (half) Polish family with some traditional food each year!

You would think that I'd have memories of them from when I was a child, and I'm guessing that my Busha also made pierogis during the many times we were at her house. But, typical perhaps of stubborn youngsters, I probably thought I didn't like them and never tasted their goodness. Clearly, my loss.

I had hoped that my grand finale of Dark Days Challenge meals would be more... grand... but as it ended up being a little rushed, it was actually quite simple.

Maybe that too is part of the "Dark Days" lessons for me. Cooking with foods in season doesn't mean fancy. It doesn't mean big. It does mean realistic, honest meals with lots of flavor that are eaten with people you love. It means appreciating what you have when you have it, no matter how simple.

And sometimes, simple is best.

Maybe even most times.

Here's how I made my pierogis:

I started with my fillings. I tried two different flavors: potato and sauerkraut. The potato was fashioned after this recipe for Ruskie Pierogi, but I used my own home made ricotta in it and left out the extra herbs. I also mixed the sauerkraut with the cheese and added one egg, salt and pepper to it.

I drained my ricotta extra long this time to make it
a more dense, creamy style cheese.
Boiled and mashed about two pounds of peeled potatoes.
My very last onion from last year's garden.
It held up remarkably well, don't you think?
Potato, cheese and carmalized onion.
An out-of-focus shot of the very last
of my sauerkraut experiment.
The Bug loved the rolling pin! His attention span is pretty
short still, but he's been loving being in the kitchen with
me lately!
Unbeknownst to me, peirogi dough is basically the same as the Italian pasta dough I've been making, just with less egg and no oil. I used about three cups of bread flour, one egg and a heaping teaspoon of salt in this version. I (with help) rolled half the dough at a time out as thin as I could, then used a 3 1/2' biscuit cutter to make the rounds. After topping them with a scoop of filling, I wet the edges with water and sealed them with the tines of a fork.
The filling process.
After shaping each batch, I kept them in the freezer until I was ready to cook them. For that, I first boiled them in salted water until they floated (about three minutes), then fried them in butter and another onion until slightly browned.

Along side the pierogis, we ate a salad of fresh greens from the market, local carrots, and our favorite (Tillamook) blue cheese dressing. Even the beer was (relatively) local - an IPA from Saranac Brewing!

How local was I? / What did I learn?
  • Once again I kept the majority of the foods within my 50-mile radius: the potatoes were from the farmer's market (Sobel Farms), the milk and cream for the cheese and butter from Moravia, the onions from my and my father's gardens, the sauerkraut home-made, the egg from the back yard, and the salad fixins from the farmer's market.
  • Non-local foods used included: the flour (may or may not have been from NY grains), the salt and pepper, and the rennet and citric acid in the cheese.
  • I think if I did it again I'd use a bigger sized circle to form the pockets. No matter how big the diameter, you still lose the same amount on the edge to make the seal, so a bigger circle would allow for a higher filling:dough ratio. I have no idea how "traditional" that is, but I like that idea!
  • All in all they were not as much work as I expected; my cousin's wife says they freeze well, so I think if I did it again I'd make a double batch and store more for future consumption. I did freeze a few just to share with my parents when I return from California!

Our final Dark Days Meal, eaten in the
bright light of a spring evening!

So that's it for now for the my winter of cooking and eating locally one day per week. It was a great motivator to learn about seasonal foods, to learn to cook new foods, to take the time to find what's in the food I eat and where it comes from and most importantly to share all those things with the people I love.

I think it will be an easy shift to the summer to keep eating local - I'm not sure how many complete meals will be SOLE as we proceed into these next months, but I know my thinking and attitudes have changed about what we eat, and that will be carried over to ALL the meals each week, not just one. 

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