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


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