Bein’ Fat and Polish: Carb-Loaded Vegan Pierogi

Oh-gy Pierogi! Damn, it’s good to be Polish.

Why?

Because although, yes, Italians have gnocchi and tortellini, and Americans have chicken dumplings or whatever, and Asian cultures have steamed buns and such, there is just not a good comparison between the joys of eating one of those definitely delicious foods and the mind-blowing physical experience of a perfectly pressed and presented pierogi.

Pyrohy

Mmmmm sweet, salty, doughy deliciousness. Even on your thighs.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Polish staples, pierogi are made by letting rise a simple dough, stuffing with any number of ingredients, pressing around the stuffing, and then boiling the dumplings to cook. The best way to enjoy them? Sauteed in the skillet, with some butter, margarine, or oil all up in there to get it snuggled and crisped. Oh, it’s perfection when you get a springy dough, a moist and plump middle, and a bit of crunch on your exterior that’s also a little salty on the tongue. And, of course, you gotta finish it off with a good sauce. Old schoolers will tell you a pyrohy is nothing without sour cream, and while I am inclined to agree, our diet is not. So, here, in addition to providing you with the recipe I used, which is done in the traditional eggless way, I also present you with two different (vegan) fillings I came up with and a fricking fabulous sauce that is creamy, tangy, and utilizes one can’t-live-without ingredient for most Poles (you know, besides sour cream): a good horseradish.

I used the dough recipe from Tasting Poland with MUCH success; the dough was smooth, easy to work with, not too sticky, and yielded very springy, firm pierogi when boiled – which, from my experience eating and making pierogi, is exactly what you’re looking for. Once the pierogi are properly stuffed and pressed into dumplings, drop them into boiling water and allow them to float to the top, stirring frequently enough to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan, sides of the saucepan, their pierogi friends…pretty much anything. They’re sticky while they boil! Once they float, boil them an additional 3-5 minutes, testing them for firmness, doneness, and a touch of spring when you gently push them. Imagine that they should resemble the Pillsbury dough boy in “pushback” when given a gentle but solid poke. Don’t be afraid to burn your finger.
Note: I used 100% whole wheat flour both times I made this dough and only found that I needed to add a bit more water and a bit more rising time, but that is typical of any baking or cooking done with whole wheat flour when a recipe doesn’t necessarily call for it. Expect approx. 1/4-1/2 c. extra water per batch, and about 5-10 extra min. of rising time.

Paper bag pierogis

These are just the leftover dumplings; imagine row upon row of orgasmic pierogi here instead.

Here’s a great reason to ask for paper instead of plastic if you forget your reusable bags at the grocery store (or if you like to walk to the liquor store and need something opaque for your return journey): you can use them to drain all that extra fluid from your freshly boiled pierogis lest you decide to throw them in all wet and end up with tiny burning droplets of oily liquid sun fire reigning down on you like arrows in a scene from 300. ‘Cause that happens. So, you’ll drain the boiled pierogis for a few minutes at least, then saute them on medium to medium-high heat in your fat of choice until they are your desired brown. We love Canoleo Soft Margarine because it’s vegan and genuinely tastes like salted butter, but is both not butter and not made from 100% canola oil like many other margarines. However, olive oil for savory pierogis, grapeseed oil for either savory or sweet pierogis, your favorite vegan margarine, or whatever oil/fat you please depending on your existent or non-existent dietary preferences should work just fine. I can’t recommend grapeseed oil enough for something new to try once in a while; it has a high flash point, neutral taste, and a lot of purported health benefits, including its high level of omega-6 fatty acids.

Sweet Filling: Apple-Cran
3 medium peeled apples, diced
~1/4 c. dried cranberries
margarine
brown sugar
a bit of lemon juice
fresh ground nutmeg

Simmer the ingredients (most of them to taste) on medium-low heat until the mixture begins to get sweaty and juicy, about 20-30 minutes. The lemon juice will keep the fruit from browning due to air exposure, and cuts through some of the sweetness. Fill your pierogis carefully, trying hard not to get any fruit juice on the outer portion of the dough where you will be pressing the dumplings closed. These were very good plain and with vegan sour cream.

Filling 2: A New Spin on Tradition in Potato and Onion
about 5 large red potatoes, cubed
about 3 stalks of green onion, diced very small
minced garlic
a little olive oil
salt, pepper, and basil or parsley to taste
optional: tofu, Boca veggie crumbles, or seitan

For this filling, boil the potatoes until soft enough to mash, about 20 minutes depending on the size of your cubes. Drain into a strainer, rinse in very cold water, and then mash by hand in a large bowl. Mix in other ingredients (again, most of them to taste, but go easy on the oil) and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors get acquainted. Stuff the pierogis, boil, saute, and eat with this awesome sauce:

Saucin’ the Supper: Vegan Creamy Horseradish Sauce
1 ramekin of vegan mayonnaise (we use Grapeseed Vegenaise)
good horseradish (we buy ours at the Broadway Market in Historic Polonia, so we know it’s good)
lemon juice
onion powder

Mix the ingredients until you get just enough kick from the horseradish, and an acceptable consistency from the lemon juice (you could also use apple cider or white vinegar). You won’t want to leave out a bit of onion flavor from the onion powder, or, if you like onions more than I do, you can add some diced green onion to the sauce and enjoy. If eating with people who are unsure about the enjoyment they may derive from horseradish, put the ingredients on the table and have a make-your-own-sauce party. Personally, I add at least 2 tbsp. of horseradish to every 1/4 or 1/3 cup of Vegenaise. I love the slight kick in the back of the nose and the slightly sweet taste of tart vinegar and root that every childhood family get-together was punctuated with in the presence of my Polish grandfather.

Moral of the story? Vegans can still get their Polish on. So next year, when you go out to buy your pussy willows and squirt guns for Dyngus Day, make sure you stock up on more than just Sobieski so you can enjoy these delicious pyrohy.

vodkasobieski.com

commons.wikimedia.org

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Working Girl

The day has come: tonight is my first night on the job from 11:30 tonight until 7 AM tomorrow. And what a time, since my brother arrives in town tomorrow afternoon!! It’s going to be a spitfire week, and one of my top priorities this week is attempting to maintain some diet and exercise despite restaurant meals and balancing work with school with Tyler’s stay. And my biggest question is: if I’m awake for 20-something hours, am I allowed more calories? It would seem so…but I don’t want to use it as an excuse to break my perseverance. Jonmark and I didn’t get to the rock gym today, but we did go for a nice long walk – very enjoyable. The houses on neighboring streets are so beautiful, an array of blues, oranges, teals, picture windows, Dutch overhangs, and castle-like peaks. The sidewalks are uneven, and the sky is always always grey, but on the arm of my future hubby in the perfectly brisk winter air, it was perfect.

Speaking of winter…I  made some delicious tortellini soup yesterday! I’ve been in the soup mood; I plan to make potato-leek and New England clam chowder this week as well. Tortellini was by far my favorite food as a child. In fact, it was practically the only food I would  eat when I was little. Something about cheese or meat wrapped in pasta…obviously tempting. This soup was pretty healthy: we cooked it with very little sodium, fresh veggies, and bi-colored all-natural TORTELLINIS yummmmmmmmm. SO simple and can mostly be made with things from the pantry, which makes it perfect for any cold winter evening where you are too chilly to remain outside of the blankets for too long.

Whitney’s Tortellini Soup
1.5 tsp. canola oil
2 tbsp. minced garlic (or to taste)
3 tbsp. diced onion
4 cups water
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 15 oz. can plum tomatoes, diced, with juice
about 10 oz. tortellini of your choice, uncooked (I use cheese but you can use meat)
half a large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, sliced small
about 1/3 summer squash, cut thickly and chopped
pepper and Italian seasoning to taste
salt to taste, if desired

-Heat garlic and onions in the bottom of a saucepan with the canola oil until soft and sweet (properly caramelized).
-Add 2 cups water, bouillon cube, and diced tomatoes with juice to pan and bring to boil.
-Add seasoning, celery, carrots, squash, and remaining water to pot and bring back to boil, then simmer until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
-Add tortellinis and turn up the heat a bit to boil the pasta, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with a little parmesan cheese and bread!
-Spoon-feed self like helpless baby hungry for more. But blow first – that soup is damn hot!

This was an absolutely great, great soup for a winter night, particularly if you love tortellinis as much as I do. It would be far easier to use canned tomato soup and just “doctor it up,” as my 80-year-old Italian neighbor Jim says, but you must be careful of that sodium!! It gets bad.

So far today, I’ve only eaten about 900 calories and burned 160 on our 2 mile walk today! Needless to say, I’ll be getting my massive food processor out tonight and making a mean smoothie with Greek yogurt, fruits, and maybe even some peanut butter for extra naughtiness (and protein).  I’m off to pack a small lunch for tomorrow, gather my homework together, throw a whole chicken in the oven for low-sodium low-fat sandwiches this week, and then head off to my first night at work! No Red Bulls here, folks.

Today’s nutrition report

The Good Fight

Written last night, but our Internet went out!

My little treat for the day – a small scone, two Hershey kisses, and coffee with a titch of lowfat milk!

There is nothing quite like the smell of hot pasta as it floods in curly-q’s and sloppy spirals out of boiling water and into an ancient metal colander, the steam obscuring all visions of the writhing mass until it parts dramatically to reveal: dinner. Tonight, it wasn’t tortellini or tri-color macaroni, but linguine, the semi-skinny stuff typically suited for clams. Donned in asparagus, mushrooms, and just a little bit of grated parmesan cheese, it was a bowl of simplistic high calorie goodness. Yes sir, at a time where everything in my life seems to be a struggle, my greatest struggle today was indeed merely with the pasta. I stayed within my calorie count for today (and carbs, and fat, and went well over my needed protein!!) but I definitely could not resist that pasta. And with my knee acting up and the busy day I’ve had, I guiltily failed to work out today. Boo. But since I’ve had plenty of cardio this week with more to come, guilt no more. My pants were loose and I feel better. All pride here, baby.

Yesterday was good, too. 30 minutes of cardio – and I totally kicked ass. Good diet day, good work out day. I also resolved to never buy Toufayan Smart Bagels again (essentially, I’m still craving a bagel with no time to make one!). They are a let down each time I eat one….

I whipped up some very delicious impromptu bruschetta bread today – and it’s probably one of the quickest, easiest things to make!! If you like toasty bread and tomato…and cheese…this version is for you!! You may even have all these ingredients already in your refrigerator and pantry. To me, bruschetta is just classic (particularly if you’re at all Italian like Jonmark and I) and you really can’t go wrong. There’s plenty of chefs who do it better, but I’m not worried about it because it’s great in my tum-tum-tummy. You’ll be content with the process here; it’s so easy it’s practically nonexistent.

Easy Bruschetta Bread
Pre-sliced Italian bread (if you’re tracking calories. Otherwise, use the good stuff!)
Deli-sliced provolone cheese
Plum tomatoes
Dash of olive oil
Minced garlic
Italian seasoning
Red pepper flakes
A pinch of salt

Clarification: Why are there no amounts here? Because you can just go ahead and make as much as you want! However, for some specificity, two plum tomatoes makes about 1 cup of topping (the tomatoes are going to lose moisture and cook down. Plus, you’re removing the whole interior). You can use whatever type of tomatoes you want, but I prefer the plums for most purposes because they are always a fairly firm tomato.

-Preheat oven to 400 F and VERY lightly grease a non-stick pan with a little olive oil (or canola, whatever you like. I suggest extra virgin olive oil).
-Dash your pan with just a hint of oil and begin sizzling your garlic.
-Lay desired slices of Italian bread on the non-stick baking sheet and pop them in the oven for 5 minutes. In the meantime, de-seed and dice your tomatoes and throw them in to saute with the garlic. Add Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste.
-Add provolone cheese to the Italian bread and bake for at least another 5 minutes, or until desired level of crispiness has been reached for your toast!
-Saute the tomatoes for 5-7 minutes, or until they are fully cooked but not too soft or mushy. You’re not trying to make spaghetti sauce after all 😉
-Remove toasts from the oven, bury in tomatoes, and demolish with your hungry face.

Behaving is so hard, and it really does feel good to be bad. But it’s not always worth it 😉 Anyway, you can check out my charts and see how I’m doing for yourself!

Wednesday’s report
Thursday’s report

Weekly report through Thursday

My Hearty Valentine

Obligatory picture of JM & I

Valentine’s Day. “Singles Awareness Day.” The “Hallmark Holiday.” Any way you slice it, February 14 is just that: a day. It’s only as significant as you make it.

That being said, instead of hanging around and doing nothing last night, we hosted our friends at our apartment and had a small get-together with good food and good wine!! To go along with the homemade pita chips I made the other day, I decided to throw together my chicken salad with homemade mayonnaise. This was met with a bleu cheese dip and a macaroni and cheese with broccoli from our friends that were all to die for!! Thank goodness we offset all the cheese and fats with a nice bowl of fresh pineapple. Even the low fat, low calorie banana muffins I made from sparkrecipes.com were a hit!

Now, yesterday was what a lot of people in the dieting world seem to call a “maintenance day,” in that I did not stick to my diet but also did not eat more than an average, non-dieting day (about 1800-2000 calories for women). I do feel a bit bad that Monday and Tuesday are lost dieting days this week, but I realize that dieting is a process: no one loses all their weight in one day, or even one month. Instead of letting guilt eat away at me all day, I think it’s better to just start fresh today and resolve to get back to my diet. I’m not the kind of person that thinks all these little slips will break my resolve, and I also don’t think you should have to give up a cupcake or a few glasses of wine on a special day just because of your diet (you couldn’t pay me to give up Eveningside Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon or Schulze Winery’s Crackling Niagara)!! Because, let’s face it: I like to eat. And drink. That just ain’t gonna change.

You can access my nutrition report for yesterday here: http://www.sparkpeople.com/myspark/nutrition_food_chart.asp?sidn=3kMClpA6U++++++1]R5Na3++++++++&iMTGoalNum=219540182&dteDateShowing=2/14/2012&bGetElementByID=TRUE

I can’t wait for lunch!

I realized that I have never included a chicken salad recipe here before! And while it is easy enough to make, there are so many variations that it is certainly worth talking about here. It’s not necessarily a health food (it is, after all, made with mayonnaise), but it’s absolutely not a food that must be avoided. In fact, skinless chicken breasts that have been poached are a delicious low fat way to get some much-needed protein into your day. My mother used to make chicken salad for our lunches, and her way was absolutely delicious. The variation I made last night was slightly different, but reminded me of getting those whole wheat chicken salad sandwiches in my purple lunchbox, sinking my teeth into something homemade and awesome, and that wasn’t covered with cheese and intended to be dipped in marinara sauce (most of our cafeteria lunches in high school).

Last night’s chicken salad was: chicken, mayo, curry powder, garlic powder, apples, dried cranberries, and dry coleslaw mix with a good grind of pepper. However, mix it up! Other good combos include: chicken-apples-cranberries-celery-onion-mayo-ground ginger, chicken-apples-grapes-walnuts-celery-Greek yogurt, chicken-cucumber-celery-pineapple-Greek yogurt…..these are my favorites! I love the combination of chicken, fruit, and veggies together, and honestly, any vegetable that does not require cooking would be great in the chicken salad because it will maintain a crunch. You can of course use store-bought mayo (I would suggest olive oil mayo), but you can also use Julia Child’s time-tested mayo recipe to make your own. I have begun to make my mayo with lemon juice instead of white vinegar, which gives it a whole new kick and tasted great with the chicken salad!

Chicken Salad
3 chicken breasts
approx. 1 cup mayonnaise
half an apple
handful of dried cranberries
handful of dry coleslaw mix
curry powder to taste
garlic powder to taste
black pepper (and salt, if desired) to taste

-Place defrosted chicken breasts in a large pot and cover completely with water. Bring to a boil.
-Boil chicken breasts for 30-45 minutes, depending mostly on thickness. You can lift a breast out of the pot with a pair of tongs and cut into the middle with a knife to see if they are fully cooked.
-Remove chicken from water, and cool the chicken by placing the breasts on a cutting board or, as I did last night, in a bowl that you place inside another bowl of cold water to create a water bath.
-Cut and shred the chicken into very small pieces. Add the dry ingredients and mix together well. Add mayonnaise until you are satisfied with the consistency of the chicken salad (I estimate you will use at least a cup).
-Season to taste and refrigerate until ready to serve.Tip: The chicken salad will taste better onday 2, so if you make it the night before you intend to use it, it will taste even better! Letting the flavors meld together is highly suggested. 🙂

So, yes folks, I am embarrassed by the results of yesterday’s meal, but considering the drinks and the very large meal, it’s good to know that I was still able to “maintain.” Let this serve as a warning to those who drink more than a couple glasses of wine or a couple beers more than once a week and intend (or not) to diet: think “beer gut.” I was pleasantly surprised by my cupcakes, as dry as they were: they were less than 250 calories even with peanut butter frosting! But still.

For anyone who is wondering about the homemade pita chips, I simply cut pitas into 12 triangles and baked at 375 degrees F for between 10-15 minutes (depending on your pitas and the intensity of your oven). Yum! Make sure that pan is non-stick so they don’t burn.

More weekly progress