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.

Some of my favorite cookbooks…

Happy New Year!   The fresh start of a new year is always a great time to get your home in order — and if you think I’m the only one with that idea, just check out the sale prices on home organization products in your local stores — everyone is doing it!  It’s a nice time to go through old holiday decorations, your closets, and cupboards.  And while I can regularly produce big garbage bags full of old clothes and housewares from my home to donate, I have a very, very hard time parting with books… but I don’t have any problem with that!  Books don’t take up a lot of space (well, one at a time they don’t take up a lot of space) and they are amazing time capsules.  Since I have been going through my cookbooks this week, I thought I’d share with you some of the favorites that I’ve used for inspiration on this website, and included links to the two that you can actually buy online (#2 and #6).

  1. The George Worthington Company is no more, but this book from 1990 is a personal favorite.  Thus far I’ve only posted “How to Boil Water” on this site, but all of the other recipes in the book are for real food and I look forward to sharing more of them.  My mom had several contributions published (yes, she was a good cook but… full disclosure: she also had a slight advantage since my father was president of the company).
  2. The Better Homes and Gardens Complete Step-by-Step Cookbook was THE cookbook when I was growing up.  Published in 1978, my mom’s copy was already pretty old and worn when I started to be interested in cooking, and today it’s a stained, dog-eared mess.  It still has little pieces of paper stuck between pages, marking things I wanted to make when I was old enough to read a recipe but young enough to do little more than make a total mess of a kitchen.  However, the techniques still hold up!  It’s a great resource for basics, like how to make pancakes or how to brew coffee.  It’s also full of delightful late-70s photography (seen in my post about Minted Lime Soda).  I was super excited to find a second copy of this very book at a Goodwill store recently, thinking it was a really rare find… only to learn that you can buy it on Amazon starting at $1 (click on the title above).  I highly recommend this addition to your library.
  3. This book has seen better days, but it’s where I found the recipe for Pistachio Delight, so I’m glad I kept it around.  It’s from my aunt’s office in 1992 at Progressive Insurance. Her department used the exact same publisher as The George Worthington Company.  The early 1990s must have been really profitable for Cookbook Publishers, Inc.  (who are still in business today!) and Cool Whip, which features very prominently in this compilation.
  4. This cookbook was gifted to my cousin when she was very young and that label, in her childhood handwriting, is so no one stole it from her!  Woman’s Glory was the very first cookbook published by the Slovenian Women’s Union (SWU), and this is a later edition, printed in 1977.  It’s the source for the post on JFK and Potica, the Mother’s Day Marshmallow Roll, and Graduation Party Special!, among others.
  5. I don’t own Pots and Pans, but that was the predecessor to this one, More Pots and Pans.  This was a 1998 publication of SWU and I have a copy autographed by my grandma!  It’s where I found the recipe for Farina Dumplings.
  6. Sadly for you, most of the books I’ve listed here are hard to get your hands on.  However, you can actually buy this one!  In 2015, the Slovenian Women’s Union became the more inclusive Slovenian Union of America and they published a new cookbook in a new, photo-filled format that is arranged by seasons and holidays.  It’s available for purchase on the SUA website (linked above).  So far I’ve used it for Slovenian Coleslaw and Medenjaki. I look forward to sharing more seasonal recipes.

Please use the comments section below to share any of your favorites that I should know about! (especially if they are still in print and I can add them to my collection!)