Sweet cheese pierogi (without the pierogi)

This weekend is Easter, which means that tomorrow is Good Friday, which means that if you are a member of my family, you will be eating pierogi!  It’s a tradition that I believe was started by my Grandma in an effort to come up with a meatless pre-holiday Lenten meal.  It’s since morphed into kind of a large celebration that’s honestly a little at odds with the somber religious holiday it shares a date with, but a fun and delicious day nonetheless.

Pierogi Day is typically a pretty big endeavor – many balls of dough are made the night before, and fillings are prepared that morning.  In some years, close to 20 people have gathered to roll, assemble, and boil the pierogi.  Someone’s usually on onion duty (and I am one of a few people who won’t be shy about complaining if the onions are undercooked!  Please, brown them a little!).  On one very dark day in the early 2000s, someone introduced a fat free margarine spray instead of butter, which I hope they still feel terrible about (because it was indeed a terrible pierogi injustice!).  From my childhood, I remember three standard fillings: potato-cheese, potato-mint, and sweet cheese.  There were a few experimental years where the kids were allowed to make some with things like marshmallows, jelly, and chocolate chips (I DON’T RECOMMEND ANY OF THESE), and in recent years we’ve had experiments in cabbage and sweet potato… which are fine, but I will stick to the basics, thank you very much.  And in fact, I’m typically going to fill my plate with 75% sweet cheese, the potato just being an extra side dish.  Sweet cheese is where it’s at!

All this being said… I’m not going to share a pierogi recipe today, because it’s probably short notice for you to get together that many people and all your biggest pots and the patience and upper body fortitude to roll all that dough… but I will share with you the absolute most perfect solution if what you just want is that amazing, salty-sweet taste of Grandma’s cheese pierogi.  This option will still require a little counter space and hand-eye coordination, but could easily make it on to your table for dinner, and will let you feel like you’re experiencing a little big of Pierogi Magic this week, even if we didn’t invite you to our holiday.

dumplings2

Cheese Dumplings

(adapted from this recipe, which has some helpful step-by-step pictures)

  • 1-1/2 cups large curd cottage cheese1
  • 1-2 Tablespoons sugar2
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons salted butter3 (melted and slightly cooled)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • melted butter, sour cream, applesauce and/or jam for serving
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, cottage cheese, sugar, and butter.  Mix with a fork or wire whisk.
  3. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold in the flour, just a little bit at a time.  The dough will be sticky but should be stiff enough to work with.  Depending on the moisture level of your cottage cheese, you may need to add more or less flour than what is written here.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide into two or three pieces.  Roll each piece out into a snake that is 1-2 inches wide (you know, how you used to do with Play-dough or clay)
  5. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, slice each snake into 1-inch pieces.
  6. Drop the dumplings, 8-10 at a time, into the boiling water (less if your pan is smaller… you don’t want them to stick together).  They will cook in only a few minutes, and are done when they float to the top.
  7. Remove dumplings (a spider strainer is perfect for this) and place on a plate or in a serving dish, topped with melted butter.
  8. Serve with your favorite topping!  I was really seeking a pierogi-like experience, so I served mine on a bed of sauteed cabbage with sour cream… and then decided to take a walk on the wild side and add a dab of lingonberry jam.  There are endless traditional and not-so-traditional ways to enjoy this dish!

NOTES:

  1. Please make sure to seek out large-curd cottage cheese.  This will be a soft, watery mess if you use the regular kind.
  2. I reduced the sugar significantly from the original recipe, just because the flavor I am used to is very lightly sweetened.  I imagine the large quantity of sugar called for in the recipe I link to above is also delicious, it just wasn’t what I wanted.
  3. Note that this is one of few recipes in the world calling for salted butter.  If you don’t typically keep it on hand, just use the same quantity of unsalted butter and add a little salt (1/4-1/2 teaspoon) to taste – and remember you can always sprinkle more on top later.

 

A Super-Easy Appetizer (easy as… 1-2-3!)

So, the Super Bowl is this weekend, and whether you are a fan of the Falcons, the Patriots, football in general, Lady Gaga, commercials, or none of the above, it is an EXCELLENT day for snacks.  I’d like to share with you an old family favorite that is one of the easiest and tastiest things around.

These little delicacies, known as 1-2-3 Hors D’Oeuvres, were a New Year’s Eve staple in my family.  Growing up, I’d spend every New Year’s at my Grandma’s house as a guest at one of the most glamorous parties around.  My sisters, Cabbage Patch Kids and I would all have new outfits to wear for the occasion.  We’d sample food from an elegant, well-stocked buffet all night, and be treated to any kind of pop we wanted to drink, often encouraged by adults to mix them together in a multi-color concoction called a “suicide.”  We’d wear sparkly headbands or hats, choose our noisemakers from an overflowing box, stay up dancing until well beyond midnight and eventually pass out in our sleeping bags among piles of colorful confetti on Grandma’s living room floor.  It was the height of sophistication for elementary school kids.

Of course, as an adult and in the clear light of day, I know that what we were actually doing was eating a bunch of sausage, sour cream and Cool Whip-filled appetizers piled on the kitchen table, drinking off-brand soda, bobbing around with our Cabbage Patch kids in a sea of mildly-to-moderately (perhaps sometimes “heavily”?) intoxicated adults crammed into my Grandma’s wood-paneled basement, all of us throwing around piles of round paper scraps emptied from someone’s office hole punch, the mess of which probably caused my grandma a minor cardiac event every January 1 and may have sent one or two vacuum cleaners to early graves.

However, when I recently made a batch of these hors d’oeuvres, I was instantly transported the enchanted New Year’s Eve parties of my youth.  I think these would make an excellent addition to anyone’s Super Bowl spread – whether or not you are aching to add some 1980s Basement Party Magic to the occasion.

1-2-3 Hors D’Oeuvres

(originally published in the George Worthington Co. cookbook)

This recipe is pretty flexible.  I’m including the original below, along with some footnotes that you can use as variations.  These are best enjoyed shortly after they are made and I can’t really tell you if they’d freeze or keep well, because I’m not sure we’ve ever had leftovers!

  • 1 lb. Bob Evans sausage
  • 2 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • 3 c. Bisquick

Combine ingredients in a large bowl with your hands.  Roll into little balls, about 3/4-inch in diameter, adding water if the mixture is too dry.  Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.  Serve hot.  Makes approximately 80 balls.

NOTES:

  • I have made this with chicken sausage and vegetarian sausage in place of the Bob Evans pork sausage, and while both versions are tasty, I’d recommend you add some form of fat (a few tablespoons of olive oil, butter, etc.) to the mixture to get the texture right.  The perfect 1-2-3 Hors D’Oeuvres have a crispy exterior with a soft filling.
  • If you, like me, don’t have a box of Bisquick at the ready, there is an easy substitution that I found online.  For every 1 cup of Bisquick (so for this recipe, multiply by 3), use a pastry cutter to combine:
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Careful if you substitute both the sausage and the Bisquick!  The reduced amount of fat could give you dry, less-than-perfect treats that really only taste good the first 10 minutes they are out of the oven (trust me, I speak from experience!).  I recommend subbing only one ingredient at a time.

Bled Cream Slices (Blejska kremma rezina): a delicious disaster

I aimed high for my contribution to this year’s Christmas Eve dinner.  Inspired (and, perhaps, carried away) by the complex dessert recipes in Recipes from a Slovenian Kitchen, I decided to attempt a dessert so legendary in Slovenia that is has been granted special “protected designation of origin status”… meaning, you can only get the official version of this pastry in the Lake Bled region of the country, and there is one particular location known for being the home of the original recipe.  When an entire region of a country is known for one single food, I assume it must be something pretty special!

Legend is that the recipe for Bled Cream Slices (Blejska kremna rezina) was discovered by the son of a Slovenian baker while traveling in Germany and Austria.  More than 8 million slices of this dessert have been served at the Park Hotel in Bled over the past 50 years!   Wouldn’t it be great to bring it to our dinner table in Ohio?

Bled Cream Slices have essentially three components: puff pastry, a custard layer, and a cream layer.  The finished product is supposed to look like a very pretty sandwich, dusted with powdered sugar.  On the face of it, this recipe is not complicated, but somewhere in the setup of the custard layer, things went very wrong for me.  And unfortunately, despite diligent taste-testing, I did not realize this until I’d already started to spread it on the pastry.

What can I say?  My Bled Cream Cake bled all over the plate.

No pretty sandwiches here.

However, despite being a total mess, this dessert was absolutely delicious.  The puff pastry doesn’t contribute much in the way of flavor (and, full disclosure, I did not make it from scratch but used the Pepperidge Farm brand in a box), but the cream and custard layers were wonderful — very light and airy with a slight hint of lemon.  Honestly, to me this dish was a welcone departure from Slovenian food which is often on the heavier side, especially desserts which, though tasty, tend towards being dense and full of nuts.   If the disastrous version above was still tasty, I can only imagine how good it is when done correctly!  I am including the recipe below, and hope to someday have more luck with it.   And if you beat me to it (or if you’ve already had success with this dish!), please tell me what worked for you!

Continue reading “Bled Cream Slices (Blejska kremma rezina): a delicious disaster”