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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Making my own food is so satisfying.  I can control the quality of the basic ingredients that form a dish.  These pierogies were made with organic unbleached flour, real cheddar cheese (not that processed crap), red onions, organic potatoes, and chives from the front garden.  Back in junior high when I first learned the ways of the pierogi, we lived on a farm and grew a large portion of our own food.  If I could get the cement-like dirt in my yard to loosen up I could grow the potatoes and onions needed for this recipe.  All that I would need is a cheese purveyor and charcuterie for bacon.

I’ve noticed everyone makes their batch of tamales for the year (or few months) during the winter holiday season.  In Canada, it’s cold at least 80% of the year, so there is some leeway in the definition of “winter season”, nonetheless it’s a good time to gather and make homemade food to last through to spring.  My tamale is the pierogi.  If only I had a bigger freezer!

Traditional pierogies, at least in my family, were filled with potato and cheese.  There are all sorts of variations from blueberry, to cottage cheese, to mushroom.  Not a huge fan of the sweet blueberry version.  A perogie in my mind is savoury.  And bacon.  Lots of bacon involved.

Here is how I made my pierogies.

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1. Gather your ingredients and equipment:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 6 tablespoons oil
  • leftover mashed potato
  • sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • cooked bacon and onion, fine dice
  • fresh chives
  • round cookie cutter
  • pierogi press (kitchen toy, not essential but it makes pretty pierogies)
  • rolling-pin
  • tray covered in parchment or wax paper that fits in the freezer horizontally (check to be sure you have space!)
  • pastry mat or floured work surface
  • small dish of water

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2.  Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Mix the water, eggs, oil in another bowl.

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3.  Pour the egg mixture in the flour.

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4. Stir until almost all the flour is absorbed, add more water a teaspoon at a time to reach a uniform dough.  Little hands can help, too!

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5.  Knead the dough for a couple of minutes.

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6.  Let the dough rest covered by the bowl or plastic wrap on the counter for at least 20 minutes.  Meanwhile mix the filling.  I prefer to have the “goodies” in one bowl (bacon, onion, half the cheese, and chives) and the potato in the other with half the cheese.  Make sure the potatoes are cold otherwise the cheese will melt and that doesn’t make for good pierogies.

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7.  Take a baseball-sized portion of the dough and roll out on the floured mat/countertop until it’s very thin.

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8.  Cut rounds of dough.

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9.  Place the dough on the pierogi press, stretch the edges if needed.

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10.  Fill the center with a bit of the bacon mixture and top off with potato.  There should be about a rounded teaspoon of filling total.  Watch out for pokey bacon pieces that pierce the belly of the pierogi!

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11.  Dip a finger in the water.

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12.  Rub the water around half the perimeter of the dough.

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13.  Squish…

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14.  There’s your pierogi!

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15.  Place the pierogies on the sheet pan and freeze.  Once frozen (20 minutes) transfer to freezer bags.  Use within 3 months for best results.  Repeat until you run out of filling or dough or patience.

Alright, that’s the hard part.  The easy part is cooking and enjoying all your hard work.  Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Drop your frozen pierogies in the water (not too many, don’t crowd the hot tub) and boil until they float to the top.  I give them an extra 30-45 seconds then remove with a slotted spoon.  If you want the full experience of the Canadian Perogie, fry those suckers in butter and top with bacon and caramelized onions, with a spoonful of sour cream.  Yeah baby. Effin heart attack on a plate!  I suggest serving 2 or 3 pierogies per person the first time you make this.  Let them develop the thirst for butter-coated potato cheddar pierogies before telling them how many are in the freezer.  More for you in the meantime, eh?

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Chile Rellenos, or stuffed peppers, originated in Central Mexico.  The common peppers found in the Federal district of Puebla were named after the capitol city, Puebla (akin to New York, NY), as Poblano chiles.  These peppers are used to make chile rellenos.  Two types of filling can be used: minced meat with spices and vegetables, or cheese.  During Lent, the meat is omitted.  Grandma likes to stuff her Poblano peppers with ground beef, carrot, potato, onion, tomato, garlic, and cumin.  We forgot the onion in this batch, but it didn’t seem to matter in the end.

Earlier in the morning, Grandpa prepared the chiles by rubbing them with oil and warming them in a covered pan.  The point is to remove the skins and leave the chiles whole, stem and all. The seeds should be removed as they can be bitter and spicy.

I helped grate the Chihuahua cheese.  This cheese is similar to a white Cheddar or a Monterrey Jack.  When the stuffed chile is cooked it slowly melts and stays inside the pepper.  I feared it would run out into the pan and we would have empty shells.  The best way to describe it is thick.

Eggs are beaten in stages.  First the whites with some cream of tartar and salt.  Beat until stiff then add the yolks and beat until stiff again.  Use 1 egg per chile plus 1 or 2 more to be sure you have enough batter to cover every chile.

The mise en place is ready.  A plate of seasoned flour.  The egg batter. The stuffed chiles.  We are warming a pan with canola oil, about a 1/4 cup, to fry the stuffed and battered chiles.  Half the peppers are meat & veggie, the other half are Chihuahua cheese.

Here we go!  Dust a stuffed pepper with the seasoned flour.  Dunk this in the egg batter and gently scoop the foamy eggs over the pepper, be careful to keep the “seam” side up, this will reduce the chance of the filling ending up in the eggs or the oil in the pan.

A flat, straight-sided pan is not the ideal shape for this process.  Grandma was looking for a concave pan, like a small wok, to make the flipping and turning part easier.  We had to work with the pans I had in the kitchen.  It doesn’t take long to fry each facet of the chile relleno.  Transfer the finished chile to paper to drain.  Repeat with the remaining peppers.

I tried my own chile relleno, sans batter and frying.

I roasted two pobalno peppers in the oven (350ºF for about 20 minutes, turning half way), then peeled off the skins.  The filling was ground beef, onion, garlic, carrot, potato, cumin, and tomato sauce.  Monterrey Jack cheese was used with the meat filling, then returned to the oven to melt the cheese.

A combination of both flavours Grandma made.  Dare I say the merger was even tastier than the original separate stuffings?  Yes.  Yes, it was.

Peppers are good vessels for all sorts of stuffings.  Use leftover rice, beans, breadcrumbs, or other vegetables like zucchini and tomatoes.  The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and taste buds.

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For a long time, I’ve missed my Grandma.  I’ve replayed the last moments we shared together over and over when her birthday approaches.  Shortly after I moved away to begin a new career, she celebrated her 90th birthday.  I returned to attend the family gathering in a tiny Bahá’í hall in Edmonton and was carrying my first child.  Those pregnancy hormones filled me with tears, uncontrollable tears.  They just overflowed while we watched a slide show of old photographs portraying Grandma’s life.  She had reached Great Grandma status even before that day, as some of my cousins had small children and mine was next.

I have fond memories of her two-story house in Mayfield.  Her old cats and Shih tzu who kept her company.  The old candies stowed away in a wood side board table with sliding doors on the front.  Her tea and ginger snap cookies and dark heavy bread.  That was not her first home though.  She lived on the calm quiet shores of Sylvan Lake in a cabin like structure.  Her husband, my Grandfather, was a carpenter and inventor.  I’m sure he built the last standing building I saw at the lake many years ago with grandma.  I could tell she missed him, his handiwork.  Grandma didn’t speak of him much, I cannot recall a conversation that included him.  He is a mystery to me.  We spent many cool summers at the lake with Grandma.

In the city, Grandma never drove a car.  She would have her children and grandchildren taxi her to fetch groceries or reach appointments, or to go to the Pacific Coast.  Of course buses and real taxis served her well while she was mobile enough to use them.  While I lived with her, in the second house which was a bungalow, I offered her rides to Safeway.  Or I would go pick up what she needed.  We went shopping together before I moved away, she insisted on buying me a pair of sandals.  “It’s gonna be pretty warm down there in Texas, you need something comfortable.”  I still have those white leather sandals, they remind me of her each time I wear them.

Besides the shoes, I have her bread recipe.  It’s been hiding.  Or rather, I’ve kept it tucked away in my recipe binder since her passing.  I still get upset every now and then but I know she only wished for my happiness and catch myself before darkness sets in.  My solemn mood requires a quiet reprieve from busy business, time to reflect and honour those who brought us here.

The recipe has several different types of flours and grains.  It calls for seeds and raisins but I left them out for this batch.  I added my twist with quinoa flakes to use up the bulk bin purchase from earlier in the week.  Who knows if the “cup” used was a proper measuring cup or a tea cup, or there could have been no cup at all.  This was her bread, after a while why would a recipe be necessary?  All I figured out was the large quantity of flour that was left out of what was transcribed, about 10 cups.  I will consult with my aunt on the accuracy of the recipe, maybe there’s another version.

Luckily, I had a full bag of bread flour so the unexpected 10 cups were easily accommodated.

I left out the third addition of water because I had a very soupy mixture in my bowl to contend with.  I split the resulting slurry between two large bowls and started adding flour.  And adding more.  Suddenly it came together and I had something to knead.  Five minutes for each ball of dough from each large bowl.  They proofed beautifully, aromatic and sweet from the molasses.  Still looked like a blond version of Grandma’s bread, at least it smelled and felt like bread now.

The two bowls became four loaves.  None of my bread pans are the same size or material so this was an interesting way to find out which ones will work best for dark breads.  My rye breads are rounds on sheet pans, so I haven’t seen the loaf pans in action for this sort of bread.  I topped two loaves with a dusting of flour, the other with honey and poppy seeds.

Pidä huolta itsestäsi, Isoäiti.

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This post was featured on Freshly Pressed in Jan 2011!

If you have ever travelled near the Texas-Mexico border and stopped at a repurposed snow-cone shack for a cup of shrimp cocktail and wondered what the heck was in it, keep reading.  Even if your travels have never brought you this way, read on.

Apparently, there is a difference between what Canadians consider to be a shrimp cocktail, and what my southern family thinks this should be.  An argument that could start a year-long debate was averted by accepting that a rose by any name would still smell as sweet,  and a shrimp would taste as scrumptious. 

The Canadian version, as I will refer to it, consists of big cooked shrimp and a tomato-based horseradish sauce.

To my family here in the south, shrimp cocktail looks more like ceviche.

Either way you want to prepare a spicy and fresh shrimp appetizer suits me just fine, what matters is enjoying the time spent with those sharing the food.

Here’s how to prepare the two variations of shrimp cocktail seen above.

The Canadian Version

You will need big shell-on shrimp (10-15 per pound size, ask your fish guy), depending on how much your crowd loves them, buy 3-5 per person or what you can afford.

Simply clean the shrimp by removing the shell, keeping the tails on so you have a handle for dipping.  I find the easiest way is to gently fold at the seam of the tail section, the connective shell structure will pop so that the body portion can be removed without ripping the tail apart.  I always remove the digestion tract (I won’t eat shrimp with it left in – ew).  Toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and transfer to a baking sheet in a 400ºF oven for 10 minutes.  You can flip them over after about 7 minutes but they will cook just fine on their own.

The dipping sauce for this cocktail consists of the following:

  • horseradish (from a jar, creamed is fine)
  • chili sauce (also jarred, I found it next to the Dijon mustards at my local grocery)
  • Ketchup
  • fresh lemon juice
  • Worcestershire sauce

Mix equal parts of the chili sauce and ketchup in a small bowl.  Add about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, or a light squeeze of half a lemon.  Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and stir to incorporate.  If you like a fiery shrimp dip add a good amount of the horseradish, if you are not partial to the heat you can leave it out entirely and still enjoy yourself.  I added 3 teaspoons of horseradish and everyone loved it, however we tend to like heaps of wasabi on our sushi as well.   

The Mexican Version

Under the direction of mom, I was tasked with the appetizer to our family gathering.  She called it shrimp cocktail and then went on listing the ingredients I would need to prepare the dish.  My hubby and I looked at her quizzically – do you mean ceviche?  No, it’s shrimp cocktail.  It was like trying to explain that a crepe and a pancake are in fact two different things, however they do share some of the same ingredients and look pretty similar.  Just let it go, I thought.  All I wanted to do was eat, and helping in prep means we eat all that much sooner.

This version has a few more ingredients than the road-side original.  In no particular order, you will need:

  • 4 cups of cooked baby shrimp, the frozen ones work great
  • 6 – 8 Roma tomatoes, finely diced
  • 2 large avocado, cubed
  • 1 white onion, finely diced
  • 1 – 2 roasted Poblano peppers, diced
  • 6 Serrano or jalapeño peppers, diced
  • 1 bunch cilantro (about 1/2 cup when chopped)
  • 1/2 Orange pop bottle
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • big pinch of salt

Toss everything in a large bowl.  You can make this ahead of the party but leave out the cilantro and avocado until serving time. 

Spoon into glasses and provide tortilla chips and crackers for munching.

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