Thinking Ahead.

I just finished what I will refer to as The Pierogi Project.  It was a two day process of making and freezing just over a hundred pierogi for later use.  If you don’t know what pierogi are, they’re little polish dumplings made with a variety of fillings. I made fifty potato, fifty mushroom, and a couple dozen raw chopped sauerkraut (more on the sauerkraut later). The beauty of having these around is that they freeze well and can be cooked without thawing in about five minutes.

This is an important feature… if I didn’t have food stashed in the pantry or freezer ready to cook, I simply would not eat as well as I do.  There are a couple of reasons for this… one, I’m pretty lazy and having stuff that can just be microwaved for dinner helps keep me from eating out, and two, I’m poor and there are times when it’s simply more economical to make large amounts of food and save a bunch for later.

This also applies to some things that can be canned… like jam, pickle relish, pickles, applesauce and salsa.  I eat a lot of salsa, and so it’s worth the effort to make one big batch and can it up on the weekend and have a few jars set by in the pantry.  If I come across a large amount of produce for cheap, I’ll figure out a way to put it in jars… in October I stumbled upon a great sale on jalapenos, so I put up eighteen jars of pickled jalapenos.  These are a staple of mine anyway and are actually pretty expensive in the store.

I keep a lot of stuff in the freezer… right now I have a loaf of homemade french bread, some refried beans, some cooked rice, and some split pea soup (plus the pierogi).  For a lot of this stuff it just doesn’t make sense to do smaller, one meal batches.  It takes the same amount of work to make a serving of soup as it does to make a whole pot, and honestly most soups freeze pretty well.  I also have kept servings of chilli and pozole in there.  The pierogi are the same way… it makes no sense at all to go to the effort of making pierogi to only make twelve of them.  With one weekend of work, however, I have pierogies for days without having to worry about them going bad, and they’re of much higher quality than the kind you can buy in the freezer section at the grocery store.  I also keep cubes of stale bread in the freezer to use for making croutons or stuffing… especially handy since sometimes homemade bread goes stale before I can eat it all, and what a waste it would be to throw it out when it could still be used for something delicious.

This was my first time making pierogi; I had the idea because I was looking for new and creative ways to use up some of the sauerkraut I had made.  Not that it isn’t delicious straight out of the jar, but it’s always good to find ways to get more vegetables into your diet.  Anyway, since it was my first time making them, I wasn’t very good at it.  My first two batches of dough were too stiff, and I wasn’t able to roll it out thin enough for the potato pierogi.  They say that getting the dough right is the hardest part of making pierogi and can take a little bit of practice.  It’s a cooked flour dough, in which some or all of the water is added just off the boil… this cooks or partially cooks the flour, denaturing proteins and opening starches, and has the result of deactivating some of the gluten in the flour, so that the dough has a sort of a paste-like consistency and doesn’t spring back like bread dough does.  This is supposed to make it easier to roll out than bread or pasta dough, and interestingly is the same way that wrappers for asian dumplings, like won ton and gyoza are made.

Resting the dough seems to be a pretty crucial step in making pierogi, and the dough making process that I used included several short rests plus a long rest before trying to roll the dough out (and again before trying to roll out any scraps).  The dough was pretty thick on the potato pierogi, but with a little patience, and more water than the recipe called for, the dough for the mushroom pierogi came out so thin and delicate that you could see the filling through the dough.

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Once the dough is rolled out, you cut out circles (I used a biscuit cutter, but you can also use the top of a water glass or mug, or anything else that’s round and three to four inches in diameter), add a spoonful of filling in the middle, and fold and pinch the edges closed.  It’s important to avoid getting any of the stuffing or any oil in general on the edges of the dough because it will make it difficult or impossible to get a good seal.  After they were made, I blanched them in small batches (around six at a time) in boiling water for about a minute (apparently this makes the freeze better), and then lined them up on an oiled baking sheet and put them in the freezer.  In the morning, they were rock-hard and ready to be put in bags for storage.

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I would definitely like to make these again sometime, but they’re too fussy and too much work to be a staple, I think.

For writers and artists who may not always have a lot of time or energy when mealtime rolls around, I cannot stress enough the usefulness of having homemade frozen dinners available.  Imagine that you’re in the middle of a writing streak and you haven’t eaten all day because you haven’t wanted to step away from the computer for the time that it takes to cook a meal for fear of losing your train of thought… but if you have something in the freezer that can be heated up in just a few minutes, you’re much less likely to allow hunger to hamper your work.

More detailed recipe and instructions can be found here.

Feed your brain.

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Author: adrennan

An artist and writer in Bellingham, Washington.

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