Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Reconstructed Classic Summer Meal

The August 2010 Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n' Bites and Anula of Anula's Kitchen.  They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.

What meals do you think of when its 80+ degrees outside and summer has finally popped out?  Hamburgers?  Barbequed chicken?  Hot dogs?  Pierogi?

Wait - pierogi?  These dumplings which are the found in Eastern Europe and Russia, among other places, are generally filled with hearty ingredients - potatoes, sauerkraut, sometimes cottage cheese.  Lots of variations and lots of local variations in both the dumpling dough and the fillings.  This is not what comes to mind when I'm thinking of a simple summer meal filled with tradition; however, my roots are more German and Scandinavian than Eastern European, so maybe that explains it.

A friend I used to work with has a holiday party every year, just after Christmas.  While the timing has never worked out for me to go, I know she makes 1000 pierogis for this event.  Patty has very strong ties to her Polish heritage, unlike many of us who may remember the traditional foods of our childhood but no longer regularly turn out krumkake or rullepolse or lutefisk(!).  Now that I have tackled pierogi on my own, I have nothing but admiration for anyone who can do 1000.  I managed a couple dozen before I was too tired to roll dough.  I had lots of filling left over, despite cutting the recipes down considerably and I could have made more and frozen them, but I didn't.  I'm no Patty Wagner!

I decided to skip the local option, which would probably have been salmon in combination with something, since I've done salmon variations on other Daring Cook themes.  Instead, I re-imagined hot dogs and potato salad and made bratwurst/sauerkraut pierogi and potato pierogi.  The bratwurst was cooked in advance, sauteed onions added, along with sauerkraut and all was cooked a little longer in a small amount of chicken broth and then cooled.  The potatoes were also cooked and then riced and mixed with sauteed onions, butter (lots of butter) and milk.  Really, they were more mashed potatoes than potato salad, but the pairing was there.

The pierogi are assembled and then boiled in salted water until done - about 8-10 minutes.  When served with a traditional hot dog topping of mustard and a traditional potato topping of sour cream, they were a great alternative to a dog in a bun and potato salad.

This was a fun challenge, although I think we would have really loved eating the little dumplings on a cold rainy day in the winter.  So hearty and warming!  The potato pierogi were especially good - buttery and rich, like decadent mashed potatoes in a little slipcover - I'd do these again, maybe as a side dish with a roast - in the winter!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cooking and Reviewing - I'm Published!

When Ivonne from the Daring Kitchen asked me if I wanted to do a cookbook review, I jumped on it.  What could be better than cooking and then writing about it?  My two favorite things to do - cook and write - well, okay, maybe eating figures in there, too.

The review is here:

The cookbook Ivonne sent me was a Thai cookbook written by the owner of a Thai restaurant in Richland, Washington, Thai Cooking in a Sufi's Kitchen.  Richland is on the eastern side of Washington, the hot/cold side, not the rainy side, which is where I live.  Apparently this restaurant has a solid following because there are many references in the cookbook to customers and their favorite dishes.

It's an interesting process to use a cookbook for more than just the preparation of a dish.  I was very conscious of ingredients, instructions for preparing the dish as well as the final outcome.  Usually the first time I try a recipe, I follow it pretty closely, but if I like it well enough to try again, I make some modifications.  I might change ingredients or spices or increase the heat level (we like hot!).  I might note any modifications to cooking instructions (how long to cook and at what temp).  When doing these recipes, I admit I made some changes during the first iteration, but I noted them in my review. 

Writing a cookbook and developing recipes is an art and a science.  Certainly the recipe should sound appealing and the ingredients should be flavors that work well together or present a variation which is intriguing; however, the technical details are also important:  measurements, order of assembly, cooking times, serving ideas.  Some of the recipes in this cookbook had instructions which I found puzzling, along the lines of "cook until the chicken is done and then add these additional seasonings or ingredients and cook some more."  Well, if the chicken is done, why would you want to cook it longer?  So I made modifications at times, something anyone who read through the recipe first and had any experience cooking would probably also have done.

I hope to do more testing and more reviewing.  It is a good way to test your ability to analyze what works and what doesn't in a recipe, a skill than can be used in all your cooking.