Monday, September 28, 2015

Pierogis: In Poland and Pittsburgh

Location Today:  Pittsburgh, PA but mentally, Poland
What I am cooking:  Lobster Risotto and not much else 
Upcoming Recipe on Thursday:  Stuffed Poblano Peppers

     About a year ago, we were in Berlin for a swim meet.  This was our second trip and we thought that it might be interesting to take a short day trip out of the city.  The border with Poland was not far and after some initial research, Dear Husband thought that a visit to Frankfurt am Oder might be worthwhile.   The train would take less than 90 minutes and then from there, we could walk across the bridge into Slubice, Poland.  
     I would love to say that both towns were little hidden gems but I cannot.  Frankfurt am Oder was nondescript.  What was curious; however, was the amount of traffic heading over the bridge into Poland.  Once we reached the other side of the river, the reason seemed apparent.  The town was riddled with tobacco stores.  However, upon closer inspection of the bags people were toting, evidently, this was the place to not only buy tobacco but to do some major food shopping.  But why?
     We stopped at a small pub and ordered two beers.  It was a pleasant fall day and regardless of the somewhat garish town, it was nice to be outside.  As I watched a couple near us get ready to leave, I noticed that they pulled out money that did not look like Euros.  How could I not have remembered?  The Poles still used the Zloty, not the Euro.  We did not have any that currency and I started to panic a bit.  DH didn't see any issue.  We went up to the bartender and asked for the bill.  When we explained that we did not have any Zlotys, she just smiled and told us that our bill was 3 Euros.  What?  Only three euros for two beers and a Fanta?  Wow!  Now we know why people were doing some major shopping.
     We walked around town looking for a place to have lunch.  It was then that we found a little hidden gem.  The restaurant was tiny, holding only 15 people and was decorated to appear as though it was a hut in the woods. It was cozy and comfortable.  The menu was in German and we knew exactly what to order.  Pierogis in Poland, of course.  What arrived was absolutely delicious and absolutely authentic.  Lunch for three including beers cost a mere 12 Euros.  We crossed back over the river into Germany and joined the others boarding the train back to Berlin.  While we did not have bags and bags of purchases, we did have an excellent lunch in Poland and a memory.

     If you have never heard of a pierogi, from the picture above, I am sure that you can wager a guess.  Basically, it is a dumpling.  Originating in Poland, thinly rolled pieces of dough are stuffed with various fillings and then cooked or fried.  Polish immigrants brought them to the United States over 100 years ago and in the U.S., it seems that the most popular pierogi is the one filled with potato, cheese and onion but they can also be filled with sauerkraut, white farmers cheese or even fruit.
     In Pittsburgh, there are websites dedicated to the top pierogi makers.  Church ladies frequently sell handmade pierogis from the church kitchens.  You can head down to the Strip District and visit the Polish deli and take a few home or stay for a pierogi making class.  Going to a Pittsburgh Pirate game?  Well, you have to stay for the Great Pierogi Race that normally takes at the end of the 5th inning.  Sponsored by the ever popular, grocery store frozen brand, Mrs. T's Pierogies, it is a blast to watch Potato Pete, Jalapeño Hanna, Cheese Chester, Sauerkraut Saul, Olivier Onion and Bacon Burt take to the field and run the 280 yard race.  And if they are playing the Washington Nationals, chances are they will be racing against the Presidents.  Now, there is a sight to see!!

     In a city that loves pierogis, it was inevitable that we would eventually have our own Pierogi Festival.  Last weekend was the second annual feast and I can wager that based on the crowds, it will only continue to grow in size.  Pittsburgh has a surprisingly vibrant food scene.  Yet, even realizing this, I was amazed at the line that had formed just to get into the event.  I hate crowds and my first instinct was to turn around and just find a nice, quiet place to have lunch and then go home.  But why?  This is what we came a minimum, we could have lunch.  It was a nice day; we were down by the river...relax, enjoy it.
     Once we entered the gates, we decided to divide and conquer.  Lines were already forming at the various vendors.  I settled for the first vendor I could find and while the line was long, it ended up being a great choice.  Gosia's is a Pittsburgh favorite.  DD and DH strolled around the venue and found options at a much shorter line, S&D Polish Deli which is DD's favorite place to eat when we visit the Strip District.  They were able to procure an ample portion of dumplings, a table and drinks in the amount of time it took me to bring over my six.

     Seated, we examined our choices.  In both cases, we had chosen potato and cheese pierogis.  While S&D lightly sautéed them and served them with butter, Gosia pan fried them and served them with onions and sour cream.  DD and I like them fried.  DH likes them soft.  In either case, they were delicious but filling.  We decided to go for a third round and this time chose a bolder choice.  This vendor served not only a savory pierogi but also a sweet one.  The fried apple pierogi topped with vanilla sauce reminded me of a fried apple pie.  The savory choice was nondescript to the point of my not remembering what was inside.  No matter, we were stuffed anyway.   It was sad but there was no way that we could sample even a fraction of what was available.  However, we had an excellent lunch and a memory...does that sound familiar?

     Pierogis are one of the ultimate comfort foods.  Sautéed in butter or pan fried, they are a huge hit in our family.  Pierogis in Poland or Pierogis in Pittsburgh...hmmm...

This weeks' CSA Plan:
Tomatoes:  Can never have enough
Butternut Squash:  DD's gonna be making Butternut Squash Risotto soon!

Onions:  Can never have enough
Ground Cherries:  Look these up...neat, tart snacks
Poblano Peppers:  For Thursday's recipe
Baby Peppers:  Great for snacking, or try stuffing them with herbed goat cheese and baking for a few minutes...easy peasy appetizer


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Asian Cabbage Rolls

Asian Cabbage Rolls

     With the arrival of Napa cabbage last Friday in my CSA shipment, I was looking for a different sort of recipe.  I knew that I could make stuffed cabbage, but I had a stash of it in the freezer.  I also did not want to go out to the store and find some additional ingredients.  A quick search on the Internet and I found the foundation to an Asian stuffed cabbage.  I was a bit skeptical at first but it turned out exceptionally well.  Even better was the fact that I made this on Sunday and just reheated it on Tuesday night.  Between bites, the family gave it a thumbs up!  It isn't the prettiest of dishes, but it is really easy and really tasty.  Perfect for a weeknight!

They don't look much difference once they are cooked but they sure are tasty!

Asian Cabbage Rolls

10 - 12 large leaves of a Napa Cabbage
1 lb ground pork
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups of diced vegetables (I used carrots, celeriac, red peppers)
1 yellow onion, diced
1T olive oil
1 large egg beaten
1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 T soy sauce
1 T grated ginger
3 cloves minced garlic
salt and pepper

2 T soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
1/3 cup chicken broth
1T toasted sesame oil

To prepare the cabbage, you will need to blanch the leaves in boiling salted water for two minutes.  Then place in ice water to stop the cooking.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a skilled over medium heat and add the onions, garlic and ginger.  Cook until the onions are softened.  Then add the remaining vegetables and cook about 5 minutes longer.  Remove from heat and cool slightly.  In a large bowl, combine the pork, egg and rice.  Add the cooled vegetables and then add the soy sauce and vinegar.

To assemble the cabbage rolls, lay a cabbage leaf down with the stem end facing you. Place 1/3 cup of the meat mixture into the stem end.  Fold in the sides if possible and roll up the leaf.  I could not fold in the sides, so I just rolled the leaf.  Place seam side down in a baking dish.  Continue until you have no more cabbage leaves.  I froze the remaining meat mixture for use another time.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients and pour over the cabbage rolls.  Bake for 35 minutes.  Served with the pan juices.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stuffed Peppers


     I received these perfect red peppers in my CSA shipment last week and knew immediately that I had to make stuffed peppers.  This is a family favorite and is so easy to make.  It seems fancy which makes it perfect to serve for company or just to surprise the family on a school night.


Long Red Peppers - you can also use Cubanelle Peppers
1 pound Italian Sausage or the sausage of your choice
1 slice of bread (hey this is a good time to use some of that leftover bread that you have been storing in the freezer!)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1T milk or cream
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
3/4 bag of baby spinach (good way to get in the veggies)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
More Parmesan to serve

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium low heat and put in the spinach (no oil).  Cook until just wilted.  Take out of pan, cool slightly and coarsely chop.

In a bowl, slightly beat the egg.  Add bread and soak.  Add milk or cream and grated Parmesan.  Then add in the spinach, sausage and pine nuts.  Mix together well with hands.

Cut the peppers lengthwise and take out the seeds.  With you hands, stuff each half.  Heat 1T olive oil in a pan over medium high heat.  Place the peppers, stuffing side down and cook for 5-8 minutes.  You should have a nice crust.  It might be a bit difficult to turn over.  I normally use a spatula and a pair of tongs to help.  If the stuffing comes out a bit - no worries...just stuff it back in.

Cook for another 5 minutes with the pepper side down.  Then add the chicken broth and tomato sauce and simmer for 5-8 minutes.  Peppers should be soft but not mushy and stuffing should be cooked.

The Italian Sausage adds a lot more flavor without having to put in a lot of additional spices.  You can add salt and pepper to taste.  For this batch, I used Benton's housemade pork sausage and it was great!

Place one or two peppers on a plate.  Spoon some sauce over the top and served with grated Parmesan.

Make ahead idea:  I made these on Sunday but was not planning to serve until Wednesday.  On Wednesday evening around 6pm, I placed them in a crockpot along with the sauce.  I couldn't put them down on one layer so I just placed the added ones on top of each other and poured the sauce over the top.  I set the crockpot to cook on low and when we ate at 7:30, they were warm.  It beat having to watch them over the stove.  And while the just made version have a bit of crunch, these were just as tasty.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Eggplant Parmesan


Delicious Eggplant Parmesan - the following day - still delicious!

Today's recipe was going to center on crostini, those small Italian toasts topped with various tasty morsels.  The eggplant in my CSA shipment put an end to that idea.  I would never order an eggplant dish in a restaurant and had never cooked with eggplant so I was initially at a lost as what to do with the medium sized purple thing taking up space in my refrigerator.

I will never worry about eggplant again.  I now have two eggplant go-to dishes:  Sundried Tomato and Eggplant spread (to put on crostini) and Eggplant Parmesan.  Today, I share with you the second. You must make a promise before making this must make all of the components.  You cannot use canned sauce nor Progresso breadcrumbs, not that there is anything wrong with using pre-made items.  For this first time, just take a little extra time and make sauce, make breadcrumbs.  It is so, so easy and it will make such a difference.  Don't worry.  I am going to walk you through the entire process.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Della Terra Culinary Tour and the Best Food Tour in Rome

Location Today:  Pittsburgh, PA but mentally, Rome Italy
What I am cooking:  Eggplant Parmesan, 3-hour Bolognese, Sundried Tomato and Eggplant Spread
Upcoming Recipe on Thursday:  Easy Crostini
The Wishing Well in Rome
      My Italian frame of mind started last Monday when we embarked on a culinary tour of Italy at our favorite local Italian restaurant, Della Terra.  Chef Fiore Moletz has partnered with Barsotti Wines to create a four course tasting menu highlighting the food and wines of Italy's 20 regions and the first stop was Abruzzo.
     We started with a Crespelle, which was a savory crepe stuffed with ricotta and finished with  béchamel.  The wonderful starter was light and a delightful beginning for what was to come.  The wine pairing was perfect; a 2010 Trebbiano that had a beautiful golden color and complimented the savoriness of the dish.
     Chef provided some education just before the second course.  Arrosticini is a grilled Abruzzo classic.  Small chunks of lamb are highly seasoned, skewered and cooked over an open flame.  For our dish, Chef Moletz grilled small pieces of locally sourced pork and served the petite skewers family style alongside grilled bread.  The 2012 Montepulciano, the principal grape of the region, provided a fruity backdrop to the juicy, seasoned pork.
     The pasta course was not only delicious but very inventive and the wine pairing was a total surprise.  The housemate semolina and egg pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and vongole sauce consisting of small clams (from Pennsylvania!), tomatoes, parsley and garlic was light with a wonderful depth of flavor.  Joe Barsotti's choice of an Italian Rose was daring but it worked so well.  We are huge fans of rose wine and I loved that it was getting center stage.
       A slightly chilled Montepulciano which had been aged for 24 months in french oak showed the versatility of this wonderful grape and cut the richness of the fried nutella dessert ravioli.  Between each course, Chef and Mr. Barsotti provided short insights to the food culture of Abruzzo and its wines.   The evening was a lovely introduction to the region and I am looking forward to next month's "trip" to Valle d'Aosta.
     My mother-in-law asked me yesterday where we would be traveling to this holiday weekend.  I hated my response, "No where."  It stung just a bit to say that as this time last year, we were spending a wonderful long weekend in Rome.  We had rented a fantastic garden level apartment in the working class neighborhood of Testaccio.  In our private walled garden, we had ruins peering over at us as we dined alfresco.  Within walking distance of the center city, it was a peaceful alternative to the crushing tourism of the Vatican and other must-see sights.

     The area is rich in history and with no real tourists sites, it is relatively quiet and very authentic.  In Roman times, food for Rome was transported to the neighborhood in clay pots called amphorea.   The food inside such as olive oil or wine would degrade the pots so they could not be reused.  The pots were broken and thrown into a pile which over many, many years became a hill.  Even today, when walking by Monte Testaccio, you can see remnants of clay pots sticking out of the hillside.  The other cool attraction for literary lovers is the non-Catholic cemetery.  In this peaceful almost garden-like cemetery lies the graves of two famous English poets, Keats and Shelley.

     Let's get back to the food, shall we.  We had learned fast that when traveling with a teenager, there are only so many monuments or churches that be toured before the eyes start rolling back and sighs become standard conversation.  "Really, this can this church be any different than the last church?"  If I threw food into the mix, then chances are that Dear Daughter would have a good time and end up learning something...hence the food tour.  With a little bit of advance research, I came across Eating Italy, a tour company that specialized not only in walking food tours of Rome but had a food tour of our neighborhood, Testaccio.

Pizza and Suppli

     The group was small; no more than ten people.  After a quick introduction, we headed to our first location - Dess'Art, which we learned was THE place in Rome to get Cannoli.  Incredible and not too sweet, it was a great start to the afternoon.  Next stop was the incredible gourmet food shop called Volpetti.  Two brothers opened the store over 40 years ago and still work the counters and there is no way that you are going to get out of there without sampling something...and consequently, buying.  I left with prosciutto, cheeses and aged balsamic vinegar - the start of picnic.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Pepper Jelly


     Wait!  You have to try isn't spicy hot.  It is tangy and sweet and just waiting to be served with crackers and brie.  In my case as I could not wait, I lobbed off a piece of mozzarella and wiped it alongside the side of the pan scraping up all the leftover goodness and in the process, took one more step away from my strict three week food plan.  Oh well...
      School is in session, husband is at work, house is clean...all is right with the world (except perhaps that the washer keeps kicking off...can't ask for anything).  I had a quiet breakfast, read the paper from front to back page and made this jelly all within an hour.  I found the original recipe on Saveur's website and did just some minor tweaking.  If you are into canning, by all means, double the recipe and can away.  That is not my thing...yet.  So, I made a much smaller batch that we will consume in two weeks or so and skipped the canning process.
     This would be seriously good with cheese and crackers or just cheese...or just crackers...maybe pork or chicken or spooned right from the jar.  

Pepper Jelly
Adapted from Saveur

1.5 oz liquid pectin
3 cups sugar
1/8 t salt
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
A variety of peppers...I used the following:  3 oz red bell pepper, 2 1/2 jalopenos, 3/4 oz Serrano and 1/5 oz of Poblano.  Yes, I did measure these exactly.

I do not like spicy food so I took out all of the seeds and the ribs from the peppers.  If you want a bit of heat, use a bit.  Also, wear a pair of rubber gloves when cutting the peppers as it will keep the juices and seeds off your skin.

In a blender, pulse the peppers and the vinegar together.  You do not want it completely pureed nor do you want a lot of chunks.

In a large pot, pour in the pepper mixture and add the sugar and salt.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the pectin and boil for one more minute.

Cool slightly, then divide between jars.  Cool, cover and refrigerate.