Mushroom, Potato, and Speck Pierogies

I'm sure I'm not the only one that this has happened to in the food blog world, but it's still driving me insane all the same. I made these AWESOME pierogies (yes, I'm patting myself on the back for these - I don't care - they kicked ass) and I made notes as I went (because these ended up being my own recipe after I changed a recipe I found so much it was unrecognizable)... and NOW I CAN'T FIND THE DAMN PIECE OF PAPER I WROTE THE RECIPE ON!! I think I remember throwing it out when I cleaned the kitchen, which isn't wierd because that's what I usually do with recipes that I've printed out. They're usually stained with food by that time and who needs the paper copy when you've got it on your computer? I was probably thinking that very same thought when I threw this recipe out. But it's killing me because I feel like this was one of the very best things in the world that I've ever made. Seriously. I know, your gag reflex is kicking in because I'm going on and one about this... so sorry. But I'm annoyed.

Ok. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to sit down and try my damndest to remember how I made these.

The pictures should guide me through, right? Ok, here goes nothin'...

You know how it used to be when everyone still had cameras that used "real film"? haha... that makes me chuckle a little. It really feels like a million years ago since I got a roll of film developed and it really hasn't been that long - maybe 4 years ago? Anyway... you know how you'd be at work at the office and one of your coworkers would stop by your desk with what could only be a brightly yellow colored Kodak envelope filled with pictures of people that you don't know or give two craps about? Then remember how that person would not just let you flip through the pictures, but go through them with you one by one, narrating the slow painful journey the whole way? They'd say things like "Oh oh! Right... here I am with Uncle Jed and Aunt Martha by the biggest pickle in the world" and "oh yeah! hahaha... here we are acting like we're shaking hands with the statue - isn't that a riot?" and you're trying not to die of boredom right there at your desk. Remember? Well, that's how it's gonna kind feel as I take you through the journey of how I made these pierogies, I think. And hopefully I can remember how the frick I made them!

Oh ok...yes, here the potatoes are boiling in the water. (hahaha... just kidding, I won't do that the whole time - that would just be annoying. Oh it's so tempting though...) Did I mention I'm enjoying a delicious beer as I blog this? Ok, ok... anyway, these are three small peeled and quartered potatoes boiling in some salted water.

So, as the potatoes were boiling, I made the dough.

WAIT! OH, YES!!!! I just found my recipe notes! I just went into the kitchen to pop open another beer (hey, it's Friday and I'm the loser sitting here food blogging - let me at least enjoy a couple beers) and I noticed some paper sitting over on top of my big cutting board tucked under the farthest kitchen cabinet and low and behold - it's my recipe!!!! Well, this is a good thing for both of us because now you know you're actually making the recipe correctly if you decide to make this yourself. What a relief!

Ok, back to business... So now that I can see here in my notes how I made this dough, let me share with you. I didn't need to, but I decided to use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer (because I just love it), so in the big bowl, I added semolina flour (officially my most favorite flour in the world after having the pleasure of working with it) and made a well in the center.

Into the center, I added the water, egg, oil, and salt, then mixed the whole thing up with the dough hook.

I finished combining it with my hands to form the dough ball, then kneaded it for 8 minutes. I then put it under a metal bowl to rest, but stay at room temperature.

By then, the potatoes were fork tender, so I drained them, then added about a tablespoon of butter, a little milk, salt and pepper, and beat them until smooth. I set the mashed potatoes aside to use a little later.

Next, I went to work on making the rest of the ingredients for the filling. I started by heating some olive oil in a deep-sided pan and sauted a chopped large shallot until soft.

Next, I sliced up a large container of white mushrooms and added those to the pan. I also added about a cup's worth of Speck, sliced into ribbons. Next, I threw in some chopped fresh parsley, a 1/2 tablespoon butter, drizzled some olive oil over the whole thing, and seasoned it with some black pepper (there was enough salt coming from the Speck). Ooh! I also added some chopped fresh sage from my partly-still-alive-and-kicking herb garden. I think my sage may be bionic.

After the mushroom mixture starting to brown up nicely, I deglazed the pan with 1/3 cup of some of the finest Merlot I've ever tasted. It's called Raymond Reserve Merlot (1999) from Napa Valley. Mark decided this would be the next wine-of-the-month (something he likes to do via email), so I'll be sure to share his write-up with you when it's finished.

Ok, back to the filling! So, trying to use every kitchen appliance I had I think, I got out the Cuisinart food processor and mixed together the mashed potatoes and the mushroom/speck/herb/goodness mixture. After combined I had to stop myself from just eating the whole bowl of filling by itself. Man...

So onto the dough. I rolled it out and cut about a million circles out of it with my biscuit cutter. (This recipe ended up making about 75 pierogies - feel free to half it!) Even from this picture, if you click on it and look at it full size, you can tell how soft and lovely this dough was. It really was a dream to work with.

I measured out exactly a teaspoon of filling for the middle of each little circle of dough, then formed them into cute little pieorgies. I didn't even need water to seal the edges.

Next, I sliced half of a gigunda onion and carmelized those bad boys.

After boiling the pierogies (5 minutes after they started floating), I sauteed them in some olive oil and carmelized onions until they browned a bit. Here's a tip for ya if you've never made pierogies: use a flexible spatula when sauteing your pierogies because they really really want to stick if you don't keep them moving in the pan, which is ok because you want them to brown, but to easily release them from the pan and move them around again, you're gonna need a flexible spatula to make your life easier. Worked for me anyway!

I plated the pierogies right away with some of the onions and of course a dollop of sour cream. They were great and if you feel like having some fun in the kitchen and making something great from scratch (or something that freezes well for future use!), give these a try and let me know what you think!


Cheese Stuffed Poblanos with Roasted Red Pepper Salsa

On the same night that I made the Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup, I also made these delicious Cheese Stuffed Poblano Peppers. I found the recipe at Epicurious.com and only changed a couple things. I planned to make the tomato sauce that goes with it, but ran out of time. Instead, I used some of Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill Roasted Red Pepper Salsa as the base of this dish and laid the pepper on top of that. The pairing was actually quite good. Also, instead of stuffing the pepper with regular Monterrey Jack cheese, I stuffed it with pepper jack. Yes, I'm pretty sure I had a death wish that night with all this spicy food. But, if you live in our house, you love it!

To make these yummy, melty peppers, first start by charring the skins over an open flame.

Once charred, place them in a paper bag for 10 minutes to loosen the skins.

Remove the skins carefully, being sure to keep the peppers in tact. Using kitchen shears, cut a slit up the front of each pepper and stuff with cheese. Close the peppers back up, overlapping the slit just a bit so the pepper sticks to itself to stay closed.

Next, dust the peppers with flour and set aside while you make the batter.

By separating the egg whites from the yolks and whipping the whites with some salt until they formed stiff peaks,

I was able to fold the whites into the yolks and create a very fluffy, foamy batter that resulted in a very light texture when served.

Now that the batter is made, dip each pepper in and coat up to the stem. Since the batter is thick and foamy, you'll need to paint it on with your hands.

Now dip the peppers into hot oil

and deep fry until golden brown.

Did I mention we were drinking tequila that night? haha...


Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup

Let me just start by saying I was really happy with how this soup turned out. However, it's not for everyone. If you don't like spicy food, you won't really like this soup. It's not so spicy that you can't taste all the flavors of the soup; the heat is actually perfect. But you have to like spicy food. There - that's my disclaimer. Oh and if you don't like spicy food... well I just don't understand you.

I got this recipe from this really awesome website I stumbled across a couple weeks ago and as soon as I found it I knew I had struck gold. It's called el Restaurante Mexicano and it's a huge collection of recipes and articles from the magazine with the same name. I guess this is a magazine geared toward food service people needing new recipes for their restaurants or something, so of course I feel like I'm privy to some super secret information by finding this website. Moohawhawhaw...

Ok, so I had some more poblano peppers to use and I came across a recipe for Tortilla Soup. The only thing it was missing, in my opinion, was chicken! So I went in search for a recipe for a good marinade for my chicken and I found another Tortilla Soup recipe and this time it had chicken and the marinade sounded very interesting and good. Personally, I liked the "soup part" of the first recipe better, so the soup I made is a fusion of these two recipes and I highly recommend it. The recipe I've attached below is my final recipe after melding these two together.

I started this soup by sauteing some onions in olive oil until they were soft and a tiny bit brown around the edges.

I then added the chicken broth, garlic, bay leaf, oregano, peppercorns, and poblano peppers. After bringing the soup to a low boil, I turned it back to a simmer and let it simmer for 1 hour.

In the meantime, I threw together some salsa fresca by combining 2 small tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, about a tablespoon of cilantro, about a tablespoon of lime juice, a tablespoon of hot sauce, some cumin, salt and pepper and pureed it in the food processor until smooth.

I also cut a small stack of corn tortillas into strips and deep fried them in some canola oil until golden brown. I hit those with some sea salt and set them aside for the final plating.

Right before the soup was done simmering, I sauteed the marinated chicken until just done and chopped it into small pieces. I tasted a small piece to see how this marinade turned out and it was really good. It had a sweetness and tanginess and it was exactly the flavor I wanted to add to this soup. Very good.

Once the soup was finished simmering, I stirred in 1 1/2 cups of the salsa fresca (which was exactly the amount I made) and the cooked chicken. I then removed the soup from the heat and seasoned it to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, I ladled some soup into a bowl and topped it with some shredded muenster cheese (I didn't have Monterrey on hand), a few slices of fresh avocado, a small pile of the fried tortilla strips, some sour cream, and a sprig of cilantro. Yum! It was great and proved to be the perfect companion to a nice shot of chilled Patron. I hope you decide to make this if you're a fan of spicy food. Let me know what you think!


When Casseroles Attack

If you know me, then you know a "casserole" is usually the last thing in the world I think to make. It's not that they taste bad, but usually they're not seen as the mark of a great cook and more often than not, they're just not that challenging to prepare. Now, I don't mean to offend anyone with that comment because I know that there are many of you out there that don't necessarily WANT a challenge in the kitchen every night. I also admit that many casseroles I've tasted in my life have been very tasty indeed. This bring me to the tradition I now share with millions of other people in this country during the Thanksgiving holiday. That's right folks, it's Green Bean Casserole.

Now admit it - you've had this before and it tasted good, right? Now maybe the texture of it wasn't your favorite because the original recipe tends to be a bit mushy. However, with a couple of very slight tweaks - and I mean very slight - this tradition will live on in my family for a long time because it actually tastes really good. Especially alongside some delicious slow roasted turkey, gravy, stuffing, and sweet potatoes. Yummmmmm........

So yes, every year at Thanksgiving time, I do a 180 and dive straight into casserole mania. They are crowd pleasers, universally liked, and they feed a lot of people. Some day when I have full-on Thanksgiving dinner at my house, I'll probably do a few fancy-showy-gourmet type side dishes and appetizers, but when we're traveling almost two hundred miles to a couple different houses during this holiday, as it stands now: casseroles are king.

So how do I do it you ask? Well....

First thing's first. The key to this casserole is roasted garlic. Roast one head of garlic per casserole. I made two big casseroles (both were double recipes), so I roasted two heads of garlic in my little toaster oven for an hour. After they were cool enough to squeeze out that sticky ooey-gooey gold that is roasted garlic, I combined that with two cans of cream of mushroom soup, 1 cup of milk (skim worked fine), 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 2 small cans of mushrooms, and fresh ground pepper to taste.

In a large casserole dish, I emptied the contents of two bags of frozen french-cut green beans. Next, I poured the mushroom soup mixture over the beans and stirred everything together. I then gave the dish a few shakes side to side to settle the mixture evenly.

I finished by topping the perimeter of the dish with the rest of the french-fried onions. Into a 350 degree oven it went for about 35 minutes. The recipe calls for a cook time of 25 minutes, but the onions weren't quite browned enough by then. You know this casserole is done when the filling is still bubbly, but thickened and the onions are browned on top. Casserole #1 complete!

Next, I decided to go a different route and make a variation on mac and cheese that would use up the swiss cheese and asparagus we had in our fridge. I found this recipe on the internet and I don't quite remember where. I searched for it again and it's posted on a million different sites, so I guess it'll remain a mystery. Anyway, this next casserole is called Swiss Mac and Cheese with Bacon, Asparagus and Scallions. Ok, that's not its official name and I realize it's kinda long, but the original recipe was just called "Macaroni and Cheese" and well, that just wasn't gonna cut it. Oh and one more thing about this recipe: I added the asparagus. The original recipe doesn't have it, but I thought since we're using Swiss cheese, it would probably be a nice addition. I would think replacing the bacon with pancetta or prosciutto would also be a good idea. Anyway...

This recipe is already guaranteed to be good. Why? Because it starts with this:

Yes folks, bacon makes everything better. So, you start out by frying up 3/4 lb. of real pork bacon. I say that because we normally eat turkey bacon for breakfast, but in a recipe like this, you really need the real thing. After the bacon is fried, dry it on paper towels until it's completely dry and easy to chop up and/or crumble.

Next, heat up some olive oil in a pan and saute some chopped fresh asparagus seasoned with salt and pepper. Cook it on medium-high heat for just couple minutes so it's only half done and very bright green. Remove from heat and set aside.

Shred up 1 1/2 lbs. swiss cheese and chop up 4 or 5 scallions. Oh yeah, you should have boiled a 1b. of elbow macaroni (or Cellentani like I did) ahead of time as well. Now we're ready to do some layering.

This recipe is actually very very very easy to make because all it basically is, is layering good things in a pan and melting it all together. Whatever could be wrong with that? So you start with a layer of pasta, then top that with some cheese, bacon, scallions, and asparagus.

Next, just repeat the last step until you're out of ingredients and your pan is full. The last step to this casserole is adding the crunchy topping.

To make the topping, simply melt a 1/2 cup butter in a pan and add 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs and saute until golden brown.

Take the bread crumb topping and sprinkle it all over the top of this casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the bread crumbs are a little more browned and the cheese is melted.

Casserole #2 complete and there you have it, folks. A casserole bonanza straight outta my kitchen. Both tasted good and had that comfort-food quality to them. Everyone seemed to like them.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and I'll leave you with some images from my Turkey day at my mom's house - it was delicious!