This holiday season has been joyful and a bit sad as we prepare to say goodbye to our incredible current au pair, Calene.
You fellow parents all know the childcare prayer - when you PRAY that you'll find a positive, loving, kind, patient, fun and responsible person to watch your children. The kind of person you never have to wonder or worry about, that is essentially a third parent for your kiddos. Well, that person is Ms. Calene.
[The McCs & Ms. Calene]
But, as it always is in the au pair program, after a wonderful year Ms. Calene is headed home to South Africa. There she will be reunited with her family (who misses her terribly) and finish her graduate schooling. But oh how we will miss her.
But again, amidst the goodbyes are wonderful and joyful hellos! This month we welcomed Ms. Marta! This wonderful, sweet, patient young lady from Poland will be with us for the next year and we are thrilled she said yes to being part of our crazy life.
One of the most fantastic things about the au pair program is the true cultural exchange that takes place between the au pair and her family. I know it sounds like I'm reading from a brochure, but it is so very true.
Pierogis are a Christmas staple in Poland during the traditional Christmas Eve feast. There are 12 meals, one for each of the 12 apostles, starting usually with a beetroot soup. The first meal is served when the first star is seen in the night sky.
(By the way, isn't that idea around the first star lovely? I can just picture all the children searching for it in anticipation of a delicious meal. I'm stealing that for future Christmas dinners.)
Marta's boyfriend, Pawel, came to visit for the holiday weekend. There is also another Polish au pair lives just down the road. So, naturally, we kicked off the Christmas weekend making pierogis with a full house. Marta led the way with support from Pawel, Maddie, Mr. McC, myself and Calene. It was an international endeavor.
No. 335: 'Russian' Pierogis
This recipe is called 'Russian' but it's pretty much 100% Polish. Apparently naming foods for other countries is a thing in Poland, according to Marta.
What is below is a combination of her mother's recipe and ingredients, NYT instructions and my memory. We highly recommend a team of at least two people working on this recipe, and preferably more like 5:)
For the filling
1/2 pound thick bacon, diced
2 pounds Gold or Yukon potatoes
Ricotta cheese, part-skim (1 large container)
1 yellow onion, diced small
For the dough
3-4 cups potato flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (for rolling the dough)
To finish and plate
More fried/caramelized onion
(I think diced green onion or chives would also be delicious)
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, and add cold water to cover and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring them to boil over high heat, then lower heat to a simmer for 25 minutes, or until the potatoes break apart easily but are not falling apart. Drain the potatoes, and place them back in the pot.
While the potatoes cook, place the bacon in a small saucepan over medium-low heat to render slowly, stirring occasionally. When the bacon is cooked and browned but not yet crisp, turn off the heat. Drain the bacon and set aside.
At the same time, in another medium sized saucepan, place two tablespoons of butter and heat. Add the diced onion and cook on medium, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized. When finished, set aside.
Also while the potatoes, onion and bacon cook, beat the egg and salt together with a fork in a large mixing bowl. Let rest for a few minutes, then beat in the milk. Add the potato flour in thirds, stirring well, until you have a sticky, shaggy dough.
[Marta forming the dough]
When the potatoes are finished and drained, add the ricotta cheese, and mash with a potato masher until smooth. You want equal parts cheese and potatoes, so eyeball this:) Stir in the crispy bacon and caramelized onion. Taste, and season with salt if necessary.
Flour your board with 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, spread it in an 18-inch circle and turn the dough out into the flour. Lightly knead the dough, rolling it in flour as necessary, until it is mostly smooth (a little lumpiness is O.K.) and well floured, about 5 minutes. Pat it into a 1-inch-thick disc, cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out 1/8-inch-thick. Punch out wrappers with a 2 1/2-inch-round cookie cutter or mason jar lid.
[Pawel rolled and cut the wrappers - all 61 of them! He deserved that beer you see in the frame:)]
Hold a wrapper in one hand, and place 1 to 1 1/4 tablespoons potato filling in it, pressing on the filling slightly to spread it nearly to the edge of the wrapper. Bring the edges of the wrapper up, as if folding a taco, and pinch one end closed. Stabilize the pierogi on the outstretched fingers of one hand. Use your other hand to pinch around the pierogi’s top to seal the dumpling into a half moon, pinching the wrapper snugly against the filling to prevent any air pockets from forming.
[Calene & Maddie: Filling and filling and filling!]
Use the thumb of the stabilizing hand to block the filling from squishing out as you pinch. (If you have air pockets, they may cause the pierogi to explode while boiling.) Place finished pierogis on a lightly floured surface. Any leftover dough may be reserved for another use in the refrigerator, frozen, or cut and boiled as rustic noodles.
[Marta continuing her expert instruction]
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Carefully add the pierogies to the water, and cook until they all float, then cook 3 minutes more at a boil. Drain, and serve garnished with fried onion and sour cream.
These are delicious. So delicious.
But really, the best part about this meal was the team effort and the international flair. We had so much fun, and a full kitchen before Christmas is the best way to start the celebration.
We made some of the filling with bacon and some without and I highly recommend a little meat:) Traditionally cabbage and mushrooms is another great filling too, but that was a bit of a stretch for the McC crew.
As a side bonus, we had plenty of leftovers to get us through the weekend lunches. Plus, my little kiddos adored them!
[Christmas Day lunch of pierogis, veggies and fruit]
A hot tip on reheating these little guys...use a pan to sauté them back to life. It gives the dough a crisp edge and keeps them from getting mushy as they warm back up.
More holiday recipes to come!