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

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

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

Extra Puff Pastry? Late Night Snack: Mini Quiches

Delicious Mini Quiche

One isn't enough - trust me.

It’s 11 pm and I’m hungry. It’s a Saturday night, so I’m restless. After mowing down some delicious Brie en Croute for Valentine’s Day last week, I was left with 4 unused puff pastry circles wasting away in my freezer. I wanted them but, how? I hate to throw pre-made items into food simply because it’s there; I wanted to use them for something fruitful, something I’d never made or hate to make from scratch. I racked my brains for something puff pastry could substitute. Certainly not biscuits for strawberry shortcake, which I already have a delicious recipe for. Certainly not countless other desserts I love to whisk around in the bowl by hand. The conclusion suddenly overwhelmed me. What is the most pain in the ass thing to make in the dough world? Crust.

But, what does one do with crust–or puff pastry, for that matter–when lusting after something savory, something that satisfies the hunger, not just the taste buds? Surely I didn’t want to make a pie, full of gooey canned fruits that practically ooze sugar like pus or crystallized with brown sugar that would hurt my teeth after just one bite. And who wants to spend the time making a shepard’s pie, full of gravy that I hate and vegetables that simply wouldn’t satisfy my appetite? Again, the idea washed over me. What’s the most decadent and delicious savory food that can be prepared in a crust? Quiche.

My mother’s quiche is a staple of our household and of my childhood. It was always one of two ways that I could be coaxed to eat eggs: scrambled and quiched. Though I love eggs now, I spent countless hours downing large, steamy, yellowy eggs slices of quiche peppered with broccoli, bacon, onions, cheese…Gone are the days that I can look at a slice of quiche and not think, wow there is a lot of cholesterol in this one pan! but it is a must. It immediately brings me back to the dinner table of my youth, enjoying quiches that practically melted in my mouth and, I believe, tempered my taste buds to the art of fine dining.

These mini quiches are quite simple, and their small size certainly cuts back on how “bad” they could be considered for you. While this dish is slightly on the fatty and cholesteroly side, it is also proteinous and will make you feel like you’re cooking for (and eating in) a five star restaurant. They were a great late-night snack!

Mini Quiches
4 defrosted puff pastry rounds
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup broccoli, chopped small
1/8 cup cheese, grated (I prefer mozzarella or cheddar with broccoli)
ground, dried herbs
salt and pepper to taste
flour
muffin tin

-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
-Sprinkle some flour on your work surface and roll out the four puff pastry rounds until they are about 5 or 6 inches in diameter (they need to be big enough to line and form a “crust” for the muffin cups).
-Line each ungreased muffin cup with the puff pastry, rolling the dough bigger if they’re not large enough to line the tin. You’ll want to mold the dough snug into each cup, making a wide circle for filling. The extra dough that sticks out of the top of each cup should be formed into a “crust” for the mini quiches.
-Whisk the egg and milk together as you would if you were making scrambled eggs; be sure the egg is thoroughly beaten (no chunks) and the two ingredients are fully combined.
-Fill each cup with a quarter of the cheese, a quarter of the broccoli, and a quarter of the egg mixture. Add herbs, salt, and pepper to taste.
-Pop into the oven and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the egg is fully cooked in the center. Test with a fork or knife in the center of one mini quiche for “runniness.”
-Let cool and remove from the tins.

These could also be served as a great appetizer or “amuse bouche,” but they were delectable as a snack. If you are really trying to watch your cholesterol, you could try this recipe with egg substitute, but I’m not sure it would have the same effect. If anyone has done this with mini or full quiches, please feel free to write and let me know how it was! For mini Quiche Lorraine, sub out broccoli for crumbled bacon and diced onion, and use Swiss as your cheese-of-choice. Absolutely delicious, and very francais.

Extra Tortillas? How About a Grilled Wrap?

After stocking up on tortillas for the rice and bean burritos, and consequently running out of bread last week, I decided to  make a turkey wrap with the flour tortillas available in the house. The crispy lettuce against the light turkey and sweet, salty mayonnaise made for a small but gratifying lunch between classes. Well, this week, the produce drawer of the refrigerator was depleted of the purple and green lettuces that made last week’s wrap so refreshing. Today, there was an onion, and there was cheese. Since I much prefer the softer and sweeter crunch of a cooked onion, and since cheese is always better melted, we made grilled wraps for lunch.

It’s not as intimidating as it sounds, particularly if you have a lovely contraption called a George Foreman grill. Sure, it presses the fat out of burgers and pork chops alike, it’s also great for paninis…and grilled wraps. Paninis are easy on this little plug-in grill with a little butter for good measure, but the wrap requires no such preparation: just wrap and grill. If you like a toasted sandwich, you’ll like a grilled turkey wrap.

Grilled Turkey Wrap
Flour tortillas
Deli turkey (bought at Aldi’s – far fewer preservatives in some brands of their packaged deli meat)
Mozzarella cheese
Onion, diced
Mayonnaise
Jalapenos (optional)

-Spread the mayo on the tortilla, and add the turkey, cheese, onion, and jalapenos to taste. Remember, don’t overstuff!
-Wrap the tortilla firmly, and place on the grill with the outer seam of the tortilla down (so the wrap doesn’t fly open when you lift the grill lid!)
-Allow the wrap to grill for 5-10 minutes,  until the wrap has grill lines and you just can’t take anymore cooking (ya know, because you’re too hungry)

More recipes that utilize leftover ingredients from past recipes to come!