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February 25, 2010

Cooking most nights is like being at Judge’s Table. Let me explain.

Over the past few months, I’ve done some disastrous things with soups. I’ve used a heavy hand with black pepper when it came to a certain white fish, called trout. I’ve even ‘over complicated’ a sauce once maybe twice (who’s really counting?), and definitely had my way with the salt, if you catch my drift…

I am one to accept  and recognize both my successes and failures in the kitchen, but after all this I began to wonder, have I lost my touch?

In a previous life I didn’t eat dinner (that much), and if I did eat dinner I dined alone, minimally. I commonly ate a late lunch that usually consisted of a mixed salad of cabbage, cucumber, carrots, cilantro with baked tofu and peanut sauce. Sometimes it was yogurt and granola, with apple and peanut butter. Other times garbanzo beans with celery and garlic, and a bit of cold sausage (I do have strange tastes). I also did a lot of black beans and rice with plantains, chicken and cilantro pesto. For some strange reason, I no longer prepare any of those things now, quite possibly because not everyone shares my tastes in food, and basically it was my version of ‘single food’.

After working late hours, the last thing I really wanted to do is cook or prepare anything, but sometimes I did just that. I’d get energized while doing late night laundry and whip up some ‘special nachos’ or  often it was frito pie (that’s like 4 ingredients, an oven and a pan!). Migas with green salsa was a personal favorite as was a few slices of salami, some soft cheese, cut up apples or cantaloupe,with a glass of Las Rocas. Still to this day, wasabi peanuts, a glass of red, and a bit of chocolate have a special space in my heart.

I no longer eat dinner alone and I am grateful for that. I am now in the position to cook dinner more often and have become the resident Chef around these parts (that’s what I get for going to Culinary School). Unless of course  it involves making spag bol, and that I leave to the skilled expert.

I absolutely love cooking, and I find chopping with a sharp knife incredibly relaxing. Cookbooks inspire me constantly. I can spend hours at the book store in the cooking section, flipping through pages of books on the shelves. Thanks to the good fairy over at, I have begun to accumulate a collection of my own.

Dinner has become a production, a special meal, a themed event, and that is exciting and inspiring. I’d like to think I am judged on taste, level of black pepper, presentation, and originality. Which brings me to Pierogi, and my winning vote at the Judge’s Table last night.

Sometimes more than not, simple is really better. You always hear ‘less is more’, but sometimes that philosophy of cooking doesn’t sink in, and then one day it suddenly does, and you get the win.

I have been wanting to make Pierogi for a while  and contemplated whether or not to keep it traditional, with a cabbage mixture or the potato and cheese version, so I  essentially did neither. My plan was to serve the petrale sole with pierogi and a carrot puree, but these russet potatoes on the counter kept winking at me all day, and I decided they were going to make it into the meal. After all it had been pouring down with rain the entire afternoon, and I was in the mood for something homey like roast potatoes with kosher salt and rosemary.

I ended up serving the fish with the carrot puree and potatoes. I kept it simple and served the Pierogi on their own. We were all a little happier for that. The picture below is how I could have served them, and how I personally  would have also eaten them. But I am not a purist (at least not yet).

I roasted leftover eggplant trimmings, with onion and mushroom then pureed the mixture  and set it aside. Pierogi dough is ridiculously simple and the ingredients are usually always around. Flour, salt, egg, and a bit of oil and water. Pierogi is peasant food, in the same vein as a spaetzle, empanada or even pasta, which are all flour, water, egg based. I prepared it by hand in the mound method as to create a ‘mound of flour’ on the counter, create a hole in the center, and  slowly incorporate the wet ingredients into that hole.

The dough is brought together with a bit more flour and then covered with a bowl for an hour. You portion it, roll it out and use a round cutter to cut out the pieces (traditionally the bottom of a drinking glass dusted with flour is used). The dough is stuffed then folded together, the edges pinched, a bit reminiscent of a tiny empanada. I put my filled pierogi in the freezer while I worked on other components of the meal.

When you are ready to cook them, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and drop them in until they float. Then flash fry them in a bit of butter or oil. They can be served with fried onions, sour cream, carrot puree, or simply alone (as some Judges prefer them).

Pierogi Dough:

3 c. A.P. Flour plus 1/4  c. for rolling

1 c. water

1 egg

2 tsp. oil

pinch salt

Pierogi stuffed with roasted eggplant, mushroom and goat cheese

carrot puree, with paprika and purple cabbage

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