Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

Growing up in NY, I was introduced to smoked whitefish, herring, and lox at an amazing deli just down the road from my parents’ house. My wife’s family from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, meanwhile, caught the whitefish, herring and salmon and smoked it themselves.

Smoked whitefish may be a bit hard to find, and it could get expensive if you buy it from your local deli. But sometimes big membership stores like BJ’s will sell whole smoked whitefish. (They also sell already-made whitefish salad, but don’t buy that…it’s all mayonnaise and fish leftovers.)

My in-law’s recipe calls for dill pickle relish, but I went with capers instead. Both work well.

 

Remove every bit of meat. Double-check for bones!

Remove every bit of meat. Double-check for bones!

 

1/2 whole smoked whitefish, meat removed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
Pinch of sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)

 

 

Remove the meat from the smoked whitefish carefully, making sure all the small bones have been removed. Double-check to make sure you’ve done this really well. It pays to be really meticulous with this job so that you (or your guests) don’t gag on a fish bone later!

 

Place all the whitefish meat in a bowl.

Combine all the other ingredients with the fish, mixing thoroughly using a fork. (Try not to mush it up too much!)
The standard way is to serve it with crackers. But there’s nothing wrong with slathering it onto an everything bagel! Or…if you have guests…slice everything bagels as thin as you can and toast them until they’re crisp like crackers. Then serve them on the side.
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Here’s a shot of the real deal straight out of the smoker, at a fish store in Mackinaw City, Michigan, on the way to the Upper Peninsula. Man, that was some good eatin’!
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What can I say? I was craving both dishes, so I combined them. I figured: if I love each one of them, I’d be crazy over both together!

 

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Pasta
1/4 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
18 small clams, washed and purged*
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
Good quality olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

In a large pot, salt some water and bring it to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente.

In the bottom of another large pot on medium-high heat, fry the bacon until it’s crisp. Add the onions and sauté them until they’re translucent. Add the clams, oregano and wine, and cover the pot with a lid. Reduce the heat to medium. The clams are cooked when they open. Discard any unopened clams.

In a frying pan, heat the olive oil to medium. Add the chopped garlic and fry it until just crispy. Toss in the parsley and stir it to combine.

Place the pasta in a bowl or plate. Pour the clams and juice over the pasta. Pour the fried garlic and oil all over the clams.

 

*Purging clams: Clams can be pretty sandy and gritty, so it’s important not only to scrub the outside of the shell, but to purge them as well. Clams should be stored in a bowl in the fridge with a wet dish towel over them, never in water. Once you’re ready to use them, fill a bowl with water and add salt (think salty like ocean water) and a tablespoon of corn meal. Mix this around, then add the clams and let them sit in this solution in the fridge for a couple of hours. The clams will purge (clean themselves) out. Discard the liquid and rinse the clams before cooking.

Fat Tuesday reminded me of one of my favorite dishes to come out of New Orleans: Barbecue Shrimp.

The first unusual thing you notice about the classic dish, New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp, is that it’s not cooked on a barbecue grill and it has no barbecue sauce.

So why the name?

Its origin goes back to the mid-1950’s, to an Italian restaurant in New Orleans called Pascale’s Manale. (It’s still there, and I’ll be visiting and tasting this dish in April!) The story goes that a regular customer had just returned from Chicago, where he had dined on an amazing shrimp dish. He asked the chef at Pascale’s Manale to try to replicate it, and what resulted was actually better than the original. And though no barbecue grill or sauce was used, it is believed that they gave it the name “BBQ Shrimp” to cash in on the backyard barbecuing craze that was all the rage at the time.

The classic New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp is served with shell-on shrimp, so you have to make a big, buttery mess of yourself as you devour it. And it’s served with plenty of crusty French bread.

Sometimes I leave out the bread and go for rice instead. And I’ll peel the shrimp completely, using the shrimp shells to make the stock I cook the rice in.

 

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For the seasoning…
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, very finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

 

Mix all the seasoning spices and set them aside.

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For the BBQ shrimp…
2 lbs. large wild-caught American shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 stick butter (4 oz.)
1/2 cup beer
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
olive oil

 

For the rice…
1 cup rice (I like organic basmati)
2 1/4 cups water or seafood stock (see below)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning

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Cook the rice following the directions on the package. I like using stock instead of water when I cook my rice, so after peeling all the shrimp, I toss the shells in a saucepan full of water and I boil the heck out of it, strain it, and use that stock to cook the rice. I add the olive oil and the Tony Chachere’s (available online or at your favorite food store) to the stock before cooking.

To cook the shrimp, I heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over moderate heat. Then I add the shrimp, and sear them on one side (about 30 seconds) and then flip them over to sear on the other side (another 30 seconds.) I’m not trying to cook them all the way through, just get them a bit caramelized. Then I remove the shrimp from the skillet and set them aside.

(I serve the BBQ Shrimp over the rice with broccoli. If you want to use broccoli, add a little butter and olive oil to the same pan you seared the shrimp in. Cook until the broccoli is nicely caramelized, then remove from the pan and set aside.)

In the same skillet, I heat the butter until the foam subsides. Then I add the beer, Worcestershire sauce, and 2 teaspoons of the seasoning mix. I mix well, then add the shrimp and broccoli back in the pan, simmering for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over the rice!

 

 

 

 

 

Before every St. Patty’s Day, supermarkets are full of packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. But, interestingly, corned beef isn’t really an authentic Irish dish.

The phrase “corned beef” was coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. And so many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but adding cabbage and potatoes to the mix. That’s what we have today.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in a salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving meat and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and then smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional pink coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat, a bit more appetizing than the gray color it tends to have if you don’t use it.

Saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, so there’s always talk of avoiding it. It’s found in pink curing salt, which is used in small amounts during the curing process. (Not to be confused with Himalayan pink salt, which is just plain salt.) Since I only make my corned beef once a year, I’m OK with it either way. The general rule of thumb is only 1 teaspoon pink curing salt per 5 pounds of meat.

I get my grass-fed New Zealand Angus brisket shipped to my home in 10-pound slabs, but use whatever size you find comfortable. Just don’t go too small, or the brine will make that tiny piece of meat extremely salty.

 

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
1 teaspoon pink curing salt (optional)
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt (and optional teaspoon of pink curing salt) in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this. I place a couple of plates on top, which pushes the meat down into the brine.) If there’s just not enough liquid, double the recipe, leaving out the pink salt the second time. Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and its contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 12 hours to remove the excess salt. I add ice to the water to keep the meat cold.

At this point, if you want corned beef, most people boil it.

I prefer to lay some aluminum foil down on a sheet pan. Then I coarsely chop carrots, onions, and celery, placing them in a single layer on the foil. Then I lay my brisket on top of the veggies, and wrap the meat tightly in the foil. I place the baking pan in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and cook for about 3 1/2 hours. (That’s for an 8-pound slab of meat. The cooking time will be less for a smaller cut.)

 

If you want to make pastrami, there are more steps to take…

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind them coarsely. Place them in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the corned beef well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke the meat for several hours. (My wood of choice is always hickory.) When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat more tender, and you’ll be steaming it next.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

Delis that serve pastrami go one step further: they steam the meat so that it becomes incredibly tender and easy to slice. I place a baking pan with boiling water in the center of a 350° oven. I put a grate on top of it, placing the pastrami on top of the grate. Then I invert a bowl over the pastrami to keep the steam in. I will cook it this way for at least an hour to steam the meat before slicing and serving.

 

 

This year, our annual BOYZ weekend is happening a couple of months earlier, to coincide with the celebration of our friend, Roy’s, 70th birthday! Weather permitting, we’ll be cranking the grill up for pretty much the first time this year.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy clams…without the clam knife…is by grilling them! When you’ve got to feed a crowd, this is a delicious way to do it. Cooking clams on the grill is one of the tastiest ways to enjoy these awesome mollusks. I use hardwood charcoal to get that true smokey flavor.

Although I live on the other side of the state, I love visiting my friends at American Mussel Harvesters in North Kingstown, RI. The quality of their seafood is second to none, which is why they supply so many area restaurants with their products. They feature “restaurant ready” mussels, meaning they’ve been cleaned and de-bearded. And their “restaurant-ready” clams mean they’ve been purged to perfection! (www.americanmussel.com) I use ’em whenever I can.

clams on the grill

A couple of dozen (or more) little neck clams, washed and purged
1 stick (8 oz.) of unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Clams should be stored in the fridge. Place them in a bowl and cover them with a wet towel. Don’t leave therm in a bowl full of water, and not on ice. (The same goes for oysters.)

Because my clams have already been purged, I don’t have to do it at home. But here’s what to do if they haven’t been purged: Fill a large bowl with cold water, add sea salt and some corn meal to it, and mix it around. Add the clams to this bowl and let them sit in this liquid for an hour. They will suck up the corn meal and spit out sand and grit. After an hour, pour off the water/salt/meal/grit mix, and thoroughly wash the clams.

Start your hardwood charcoal grill and divide it in half: coals on one side, no coals on the other.

While the coals are heating up, grab a disposable aluminum foil tray and place it on a burner on your kitchen stove over medium heat. Add the butter, olive oil, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic and salt, and stir to combine. Once the butter has melted and everything has blended, bring the tray over to the charcoal grill and place it on the side of the grill without coals. It will stay warm.

Once the coals are hot, just place the clams directly on the grill. (Use tongs, unless you want to remove all of your knuckle hair.) When they start to open, carefully flip them over, trying not to lose any of the precious juices inside the clam. Cook them for as long as you like, from raw, to more thoroughly cooked. As each one reaches its desired doneness, place it in the aluminum tray, making sure it gets swished around in the butter and herb mix.

When all the clams have been cooked and are in the tray, serve them with a fresh baguette or over pasta. A glass of great wine is a must.

Sometimes the happiest of cooking accidents happen with bacon. My original plan was to make Chinese-style honey ribs for dinner. But instead of pulling a nice rack of ribs out of the freezer, I accidentally took out a slab of pork belly. I only realized my mistake after I thawed it, so I decided to use it! The results were pretty damn tasty.

Maple syrup is a great substitute for the honey.

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Marinade:
¾ cup light soy sauce
6 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
5 lbs. pork belly
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
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Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the marinade ingredients. Set them aside.
Cut the pork belly into pieces that are about 2 inches square. Place them in a large pot. Cover them with water and bring the pot to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain the water.
Place the pork belly pieces on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Coat them with the marinade. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
Bake the pork belly pieces on the sheet pan in the oven for 30 minutes.
While the pork belly is baking, start the sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot: combine the lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer.
When the pork belly pieces have finished baking, add them to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for about 15 minutes or until meat is tender.
Turn the heat on high, uncover the pot and cook until the sauce has reduced to a glaze that coats the meat. Reduce the heat as the sauce thickens to avoid the sugars in the honey from burning. When the pieces are sticky and gooey, they are ready!
Devour them just like that, or…
Let a piece of pork belly cool, then slice it to your desired thickness and fry it like regular bacon. It’s great with an omelet!
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PAN PIZZA, TWO WAYS

Posted: February 9, 2022 in Food, pizza, Recipes, restaurants
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Today is National Pizza Day! So let’s talk pan pizza you can make at home…

I got my first restaurant job when I was 17, working at Pizza City East, just down the street from my childhood home in Plainview, NY. It wasn’t a great job, but I learned an awful lot about food preparation. It’s where I opened and tasted my first clam on the half shell. It’s where I had my first sip of espresso and cappuccino. And it’s where I learned a lot about how to make really good pizza. My buddy, Mel, and I worked the counter. Mel made the pies and I did the rest: sandwiches, espressos, clams, and eventually even cooked in the kitchen. We were 2 hard-working slobs in high school, but we bonded in a way that kept us friends to this very day, over 40 years later.

So you could say pizza was in my blood. For me, the true test of a great pie is a simple slice with only sauce and cheese. It’s not easy to get that right, despite how easy it may look.

And for me, there was no other pizza than New York style Neapolitan pizza, the classic round pie with thin crust. I have no doubt that it would be my choice for the classic question: “If you were stuck on a desert island, and you could only have one food, what would it be?”

But then I discovered Sicilian pizza: it was thicker, square, and was baked on a large sheet pan. The crust was crisp on the bottom, and light and airy inside. I thought: OK, I have room for 2 favorite pizzas. And then, believe it or not, I went to Uno’s…(Pizzeria Uno back in the day)…and I had my first pan pizza. It was thick like Sicilian, but somehow different, and heavier on the sauce. But absolutely delicious. I finally settled on 3 favorite pizzas.

Despite having 3 favorite styles of pizza, I always cooked a Neapolitan pie when I made pizza at home. Perhaps it was a bit easier, or perhaps I just never felt I really made the perfect pizza, and I needed to keep trying. In either case, it meant that after 40 years of making my own pizza, I finally made a pan pizza for the first time just last year. And it was good…really good.

The dough is stretched out and ready to accept whatever tasty toppings you like!

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores, or online. Using ready-made store-bought dough saves a lot of work, and it’s great, too. Ratios for my dough recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast or regular dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 2 hours, punching it down after that. I roll it back into a ball, cover it, and let it rise another 2 hours again.

Let’s talk pans. For me, nothing beats a real heavy duty cast iron pan for this recipe…and I’ve got a large one. I brush olive oil generously all over the inside of the pan–even on the sides–and then place the dough in the center. Slowly, using my fingertips, I spread and flatten the dough out from the center evenly all the way around. I keep spreading and stretching until the dough just starts to come up the sides of the pan. I cover the pan with a clean towel, and turn the oven on to 450 degrees to pre-heat.

I use a pizza stone for standard pizzas, but there’s no need for it when making deep-dish pizzas.

Leaving the pan on the stove top while the oven pre-heats will help the dough rise again. Meanwhile, I get my ingredients ready for my pizza.

Crumbled sausage on top of the pizza.

White pizza…

3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
mozzarella
Parmigiano Reggiano
Provolone cheese
dried oregano
crumbled Italian sweet sausage

The first time I made a pan pizza, my daughter requested a white pizza. I minced a bunch of garlic and lightly sautéed it in olive oil, being sure not to burn it. I set that aside.

I grated mozzarella cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano, setting them aside. I also use sliced provolone.

And this time, my daughter asked for sausage on the pizza, so I got a few mild Italian sausages, cut open the casings, and crumbled the meat in a bowl, setting it aside.

I gave the oven at least a half-hour to pre-heat. I removed the towel covering the pizza dough, and stretched it out a bit more. Using a spoon, I spread the garlic and oil mixture evenly on the dough. I placed 5 or 6 slices of provolone down first. I then sprinkled the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, followed by the mozzarella. I crumbled the sausage meat over half the pie (I like my side plain), and then I finally gave the pizza a sprinkling of oregano.

The pizza went into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. I kept an eye on it to make sure it didn’t burn.

My first pan pizza: half sausage white pizza.

My second pan pizza was a classic tomato sauce recipe…

I use canned crushed tomatoes for my tomato sauce pizza.

Tomato sauce pizza

1 cup crushed organic tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
mozzarella
peperoni, sliced thin
dried oregano

I like my tomato sauce to be a little chunky for my pan pizza, so I bought a can of crushed organic tomatoes. I placed about a cup of the crushed tomatoes in a bowl and added a teaspoon of sugar, mixing it well. This cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, and makes the pizza even better! I spooned out the tomatoes onto the the pizza dough. I sprinkled the mozzarella over the sauce. I put slices of pepperoni on half the pizza (like I said, I like my side plain!), and I gave it a sprinkling of oregano.

Don’t skimp on the pepperoni!

The final product!

Delicious! Crispy crust on the outside, soft on the inside.

I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life. But truly great pizza? I can probably count that on one hand: Sicilian at Ben’s in the Village in NYC…Pizza Montanara at Pizzarte on W 55th in NYC…a coal-fired oven-baked clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, CT…Sicilian at La Piazza in my hometown of Plainview, NY…and now…my house!

Growing up in NY, I was introduced to smoked whitefish, herring, and lox at an amazing deli just down the road from my parents’ house. My wife’s family from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, meanwhile, caught the whitefish, herring and salmon and smoked it themselves.

Smoked whitefish may be a bit hard to find, and it could get expensive if you buy it from your local deli. But sometimes big membership stores like BJ’s will sell whole smoked whitefish. (They also sell already-made whitefish salad, but don’t buy that…it’s all mayonnaise and fish leftovers.)

 

Remove every bit of meat. Double-check for bones!

Remove every bit of meat. Double-check for bones!

 

1/2 whole smoked whitefish, meat removed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
Pinch of sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)

 

Remove the meat from the smoked whitefish carefully, making sure all the small bones have been removed. Double-check to make sure you’ve done this really well. It pays to be really meticulous with this job so that you (or your guests) don’t gag on a fish bone later!

Place all the whitefish meat in a bowl.

Combine all the other ingredients with the fish, mixing thoroughly using a fork. (Try not to mush it up too much!)
The standard way is to serve it with crackers. But there’s nothing wrong with slathering it onto an everything bagel! Or…if you have guests…slice everything bagels as thin as you can and toast them until they’re crisp like crackers. Then serve them on the side.
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Here’s a shot of the real deal straight out of the smoker, at a fish store in Mackinaw City, Michigan, on the way to the Upper Peninsula. Man, that was some good eatin’!
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ASIAN SLAW

Posted: January 31, 2022 in Food, garden, Recipes, Uncategorized
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I love cole slaw. It’s awesome with any grilled food, but I especially love the classic pulled pork/cole slaw combo. Stopping by the supermarket the other day, there was a beautiful head of cabbage just sitting there in the produce section, just waiting for me to take it home.

Beautiful purple cabbage, but use green if you like!

 

 

I wanted to try something different from the basic cole slaw recipe I usually make, and so I took my ingredients in an Asian direction. I think I came up with something that really rocks…and it goes great with a plate of Asian-inspired spare ribs!

 

Shredded veggies, ready for the dressing.

 

1 medium-sized head of cabbage, cored and shredded
1 carrot, shredded
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons honey
I like to give the cabbage different textures, so I wash and then quarter the cabbage, removing the center core (which is, by the way, totally edible and was given to me by my Mom as a treat when I was a kid. Hey, it’s a Lithuanian thing.) So I hand slice one-quarter of the cabbage as thinly as I can with a knife. The other three-quarters go in a food processor to slice more thinly. I put the carrot through the machine as well. I put the veggies in a large bowl and add the sesame seeds.

Veggies and dressing mixed.

 

To make the dressing, in a separate bowl, combine the mayo, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey, whisking to mix thoroughly.

Rice vinegar is not rice wine vinegar. Make sure you use the good stuff. Here’s one brand I use.

 

Add the dressing to the veggies, and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours, mixing every hour to combine as the veggies release their juices and make the slaw more flavorful and “wet.”

Here’s the perfect food to make and eat during the big winter storm coming to our area in Southern New England this weekend…

 

I think I spent half of my childhood in the kitchen, watching my Mom and grandmother make koldūnai (kohl-doo-nayh), the Lithuanian version of a pierogi, by hand, at lightning speed. They would roll a simple dough into a log about 1″ in diameter, then cut it into 1″ pieces, twirling each piece between their fingers to make a flat pancake, filling each with a small spoonful of meat or mushrooms, then fold it over, crimping the edges to make a crescent-shaped dumpling. It blew my mind that they could crank out over a hundred of these little masterpieces in no time, placing them on a cookie sheet and freezing them until it was time to cook.

 

 

One of the main reasons why I prefer Lithuanian koldūnai over the basic Polish pierogi is the filling. For me, standard pierogi fillings like potatoes, cheese, and sauerkraut just don’t cut it. My Mom would mix ground beef with chopped onions sautéed in butter, a couple of eggs, and milk crackers soaked in milk. She’d add salt and pepper, then spoon that beautiful beef blend into her koldūnai.

The other delicious stuffing, usually reserved for special holidays like Christmas Eve and Easter, was made from mushrooms. Italy may lay claim to the porcini, but the fact of the matter is, Lithuania is porcini heaven. And when they’re dried and reconstituted, their incredible flavor is so intense, you don’t need many of them to flavor a large amount of regular button mushrooms. We’d get our dried boletes from relatives in Lithuania every year. Mom would place a handful in some boiling water and let them steep until they swelled up and could easily be chopped and added to the other mushrooms. She’d then pour the mushroom liquid into the pan as well, not wasting a bit of that magical porcini flavor. The mushrooms were simply sautéed in butter, cooled, then used to fill the koldūnai.

 

I found that my Mom’s log method was too much work. I roll the dough out into a sheet with a rolling pin, then cut circles with a glass. Yes, that’s mac-and-cheese up front!

 

A few years ago, I decided it was time to try my hand at making koldūnai. As I recall, my Mom simply mixed water with flour to make the dough, kneaded it into a log, and off she went. I decided to go with the rolling pin and glass cutting method, because I found it to be a bit easier creating more uniform koldūnai.

The biggest challenges I had with making koldūnai was my own clumsiness and lack of experience. Once I got the hang of it, things moved along steadily, and it didn’t take long for me to make a decent batch–not all perfect, but not bad for a first try.

My recipe follows. If you’re on a gluten-free diet, have no fear! That recipe is at the bottom of the blog.

 

The rolling pin method.

 

This time around, I made four kinds of koldūnai: traditional (ground beef as well as mushroom) and non-traditional (mac & cheese and pulled pork.)  Patty’s Pierogis, a restaurant in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, and featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” is where my daughter first had mac & cheese pierogis. She was instantly hooked and begs for them every year.

Here’s my beef recipe…

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 pat of butter
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Finely chop the onion and sauté it in the butter until translucent. Let it cool, then add it to 1 lb. of thawed ground beef. Add the egg and the breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients thoroughly and keep the meat in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

 

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai…so I don’t get ’em mixed up!

 

In my childhood home, you cannot possibly serve koldūnai without sour cream on the side and without spirgučiai (spir-guh-chay), chopped and fried bacon and onions, that are sprinkled on top.

1 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped

In a large pan, fry the chopped bacon until it’s almost crisp. Never drain the fat! Add the chopped onions and cook until they are soft. Set aside.  (My Mom always kept a stash of spirgučiai in a container in the fridge, and sprinkled them on anything and everything.)

 

duni 4

Making the dough is simple.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup water

I don’t use salt in the dough because I boil the koldūnai in salted water later.

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, mixing with your hands. Keep adding flour in small amounts until the dough isn’t wet and sticky. When it forms a nice ball, remove it from the bowl and place it on a floured surface and knead it a bit more. Cut the ball into quarters, and work with these smaller pieces of dough.

For the rolling-pin method, roll each quarter out until the dough is about 1/8″ thick. Cut circles out of the dough using a cookie cutter, rocks glass, or whatever else you have handy. Add about a teaspoonful of filling in the center of the dough (a melon baller works great), then fold the edges over and pinch them with your fingers. Flip it over and pinch again, making sure none of the filling seeps out. A tight edge means the koldūnai won’t break open when you put them in boiling water.

 

Who knew a rocks glass had more uses than just to hold a great Manhattan?

 

Some stuffed with mac and cheese!

 

I recently discovered these “pierogi makers.” You lay the dough in them, add your filling, and then close them. They automatically crimp the edges for you. They work pretty well…sometimes.

 

I always double-check the crimped edges, because your koldūnai will fall apart in the boiling water if you don’t seal them well!

 

Place the koldūnai on a sheet pan dusted with flour, and when you’re done, place the sheet pan in the freezer.

 

Ready for the freezer!

 

Sometimes the chef gets punchy after making koldūnai all day long!

 

Get a large pot of salted water boiling. Drop the koldūnai in gently, being careful not to overcrowd them. If the dough is thin, the koldūnai will be ready when they float up to the surface. A thicker dough will need longer cooking. The best way to know if they’re done is by taking one out, cutting it open and having a look (and taste!)

When plating, sprinkle generously with spirgučiai, and serve with sour cream on the side.

 

duni 4

 

If you need to go gluten-free…good news! You can still have your koldūnai! The mushroom filling is already gluten-free. For the breadcrumbs in the beef filling, I take slices of Udi GF bread, toast them, and zap them in a food processor. Excellent breadcrumbs! And I use store-bought GF mac-and-cheese.

 

GF Mac and cheese, with a little extra cheddar.

 

For the dough, this recipe works great. (Thanks to my sister, who shared it with me.)

 

Excellent GF flours.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 1/2 cups rice flour (I use Cup4Cup Wholesome Flour)
2 eggs
pinch of salt
water

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the eggs and mix. (I use my hands for this.) Slowly add water to the dough until it pulls from the sides of the bowl and makes a nice ball of dough. I cut the dough in half and use a well-floured rolling pin to roll it flat.

 

The finished product! The rice flour gives it a darker, grainier texture. A more rustic taste, but still delicious!