1/14/2017: Pierogies, Ice Cream, and Naan

I’m at my parents’ house for the weekend and decided I would have a cooking day today.  I’m nearly out of holiday leftovers (or sick of the leftovers that I still have) and feel the need to try something new!  So I went to one of my favorite recipe sites, Once a Month Meals, and did my usual perusal.

OAMM is a recipe site that offers membership but also has a wide variety of free recipes.  They have searches for a wide variety of nutritional needs and you can select for meal type and cooking type also.  Perhaps the greatest part of this website is that all of the meals are designed to be put together or cooked (to some extent) in advance and then separated into portions and frozen.  For a singleton like me who doesn’t eat large meals in a sitting, this is a godsend.  Quite a few recipes do not lend themselves to being frozen once cooked, or it’s difficult to tell in a recipe where to stop in order to freeze the food and start up again.  OAMM has fantastic subscription options for its members to put together meals and easily organize shopping lists and prep day tasks to make cooking days easier.

Since I’m a Yankee to my core, I do all these subscription tasks myself.  My typical approach to a cooking day is to copy and paste all of the interesting looking recipes into a Word document.  I then copy and paste the ingredients from all the recipes into their own page, combine similar ingredients, and then organize them into grocery store sections.  I put anything I suspect that is already in my kitchen into it’s own section and double check for amount before heading to the grocery store to pick up what I’m missing.  Often the list is shorter than I expect – I only spent $30 yesterday for nearly 6 recipes worth of ingredients.  It doesn’t always work perfectly, of course, since two of the recipes that call for potatoes yesterday had to be kiboshed when we opened the bag of [admittedly pretty old] potatoes and found they were all green and growing new baby potatoes.

Only one of the recipes I’m going to discuss today actually came from OAMM, the Better-Than-The-Freezer-Aisle Copycat Mrs. T’s Pierogies.  I expect to cook more OAMM meals today – cooking got delayed a bit by playoff game viewings and victory for the Patriots.  This is my first time making pierogies, though I’ve tried similar meals (ravioli, handpies, etc) before.  Both of my parents and I had my Uncle Bo on our minds while making these; Bo was a wonderful, outgoing, brash, stubborn, larger-than-life man who died unexpectedly more than 8 years ago, and our extended family has never been the same since.  I loved his booming voice, his ridiculous sense of humor, and his ability to go with the moment that seemed very endearing to a young girl.  He seemed to be the only loud and crazy guy in a family of rather taciturn Italians.  And he was Polish through and through, made homemade horseradish that would sear your sinuses and French Onion Soup the likes of which I’ve never experienced since.  He never made pierogies for me, but they have a Polish origin, and we definitely thought of Bo all afternoon yesterday.

The pierogie recipe is not difficult, particularly if you remembered to lug our Kitchenaid mixer up to the parents’ house with you.  The dough is not a yeast dough and just contains flour, eggs, butter, and water.  You combine them and let the dough sit and hydrate while you cook, mash, and combine the filling – potatoes, onion, cheese, salt and pepper.  Other options include adding meat to the filling, but as it’s my first time with these, I wanted to stick to the recipe in hand.

Once the filling is done, you roll out the dough and cut it into rounds.  I used a small drinking glass as my cutter.  Plop a mound of filling into the middle of the round and fold the circle of dough around it so that it forms a half-moon shape. Classically you then take a fork and press divots into the edges of the half-moon.  This is to ensure that the two edges of the dough have sealed together to keep the insides from coming out during cooking, but has the added benefit of making the pierogies look pretty.  You can get around this step if you want to by applying a little water to the edges of the dough before pressing them together to make sure they are “glued” shut.

At this step, you can freeze the pierogies or cook them by boiling them for a short time until they float.  The average person who buys Mrs. T’s pierogies from the local mega-mart stops at this step, but restaurants know that the best way to serve pierogie is pan-fried in butter with a sprinkling of Parmesan.  The sample set of pierogies that we cooked were delicious and just a few fill you up fast.  I’m looking forward to eating them over the next month or so!

I also decided to make ice cream yesterday.  Seeing as it’s 20 degrees or less outside with a layer of snow, I recognize this is a weird choice, but since I saw this recipe from Sweet Paul Magazine for Lemon and Buttermilk Ice Cream I’ve been dying to make it.  Creamy and tangy with just a hint of sweet, this ice cream will be perfect for hot summer days.  Remarkably enough, it was just as good for a frozen winter day sitting in front of the fire.

Sweet Paul is nice enough to post a video of how to make this recipe along with the written instructions, and provided you have an ice cream machine it’s rather straightforward.  My ice cream machine has been withering in the bottom of my parents’ pantry for years while I’ve been moving from place to place, and I’m looking forward to taking it back home and making use of it on a regular basis now.  Recipes like this show you that not all ice cream has to be sickly sweet and overly creamy in order to be absolutely delicious.  The crisp tang of the lemon against the creamy tang of the buttermilk is mouth-puckeringly fantastic.  The only hitch I ran up against is that I had forgotten to put the ice cream bowl into the freezer for long enough before I attempted to churn it; the only thing I succeeded in doing was to mix up my ice cream liquid for a while.
The final recipe was slightly less successful in the scheme of things.  I first discovered ethnic food when I went to college and was introduced to restaurants other than American and Italian, which is pretty much the culinary extent of the small town I grew up in.  I promptly fell in love with Indian and Thai food and still enjoy it on the occasional basis, though I rarely set out to cook anything besides perhaps curry myself.  But naan – the thin, crunchy exterior, soft buttery interior, made especially for dipping in thick sauces and eating with your meal – has always appealed to me.  Perhaps the Italian part of me that learned to dip soft Italian bread into homemade tomato sauce while at my grandmother’s knee recognizes a kindred spirit in this flatbread.  My worry was that it would be difficult to replicate this bread at home without the use of a tandoor, an Indian kiln/oven that gives the naan its special texture and crust.  My worry in this was somewhat borne out by the results.

This recipe for Homemade Naan from Food and Wine magazine is a yeast dough that contains yogurt.  You combine the basic dough ingredients and let it rise for a couple of hours before rolling it thing and cooking it in a cast iron skillet (presumably the American homeowner’s equivalent of a tandoor).  Once cooked, the naan can be frozen and then reheated quickly for a fast and convenient side dish, or the component of a main dish.  The dough came together easily in my KitchenAid and rose as expected, and rolled out easily also.  The problem showed when I attempted to pan fry the naan in butter. Neither parents nor I have a cast iron pan, so I had to make do with a heavy skillet over moderate heat.  They toasted nicely but puffed up quickly (also a characteristic of naan), and because I hadn’t rolled them thin enough the naan ended up being thick and chewy rather than crispy and soft.  Subsequent attempts gave a more pleasing texture and color but then did the classic burn-in-the-puffy-spots/raw-in-the-rest cooking technique.  This is the type of recipe that I could probably get good at if I were really invested in it (which I’m not) or if I had the proper equipment (and no, I’m not going to go out and buy a tandoor).


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