For the first time ever, the Daring Cooks challenge was something I had made before, but don't think that that stopped me from being super excited about the challenge. On the contrary - when I saw the announcement for this month's challenge, I couldn't wait to get started.
The August 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n’ Bites and Anula of Anula’s Kitchen. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.
As you may remember, I made pierogi for the first time about two months ago. The whole family loved them, and I even said at the time that I was really looking forward to trying them again and playing around with different fillings. So when this challenge was announced, I was so excited to have the opportunity not only to make them again, but to get really creative with them.
The first thing that I did was to try to think of a fun, locally inspired filling... The closest major city to us is Philadelphia, so I tried to think of something Philly-inspired... Philadelphia cream cheese, maybe? Or maybe something inspired by Hershey's chocolate, since Hershey is not too far away?
And that is when it hit me. What is the quintessential Philly meal? The cheese steak. That's what I would make. Philly cheese steak pierogi.
Once I had the idea, I couldn't wait to get started. And little miss couldn't wait to help. The first thing that we did was to prepare the dough. As usual, little miss is more than happy to dive right into to almost any cooking project, particularly one that allows her to use her hands. We used the same dough recipe that we used the last time, as it was almost identical to one of the recommended recipes in the challenge, because I was actually curious if it would come out a little better now that I had a touch more familiarity with it. I think that wound up being a good choice, as that gave me a boost of confidence going into it.
Once the dough was ready and chilling in the fridge, it was time to get started on the filling. I have made cheese steaks before, and used the same process for these, with the exception of adding extra chopped onions and making sure that the meat and cheese was chopped well enough to be able to spoon into the dough rounds. Little miss loves to help me handle the rotary grater, so the task of grating the cheese was delegated accordingly.
For the meat, I always use frozen minute steak, which I crumble into the pan, then just keep it moving to make sure that it cooks evenly and doesn't burn. Once the meat is cooked and drained, I load it up with the cheese and cover the pot for just a minute to let it melt in. I seriously could eat it right out of the pan at this point.
But I restrained myself, and little miss and I proceeded to use the prepared (and slightly cooled) meat and cheese to fill our dough rounds. Adequately filled, each dough round was folded over and expertly crimped by my very proficient sous chef.
When it came to cooking the pierogi, I stuck with my usual double-cooking method of first boiling the dumplings and then frying them to make them nice and crispy. Because I was making cheese steak pierogi, I sauteed extra sweet onion in the pan prior to adding the boiled dumplings.
So how did they come out?
In a word, DELICIOUS. And yes, so good that the caps are totally necessary. I served these with sour cream (not exactly a Philly standard, but hey...), and they were absolutely the perfect meal (yes, with a veggie and a side salad...). These will absolutely, positively be made again.
But what do you have for dessert after a meal like that? Why, more pierogi!
Philly being the birthplace of America and all, what is more American than apple pie? Yes, it was the inspiration for last month's Daring Bakers swiss roll bombe, but I actually planned ahead and made extra apple compote specifically so that I could try my hand at dessert pierogi.
Once again, little miss was happy to help me fill, fold and crimp the pierogi. Which was a big help, since rolling, filling and shaping that many pierogi all in one go can get very, very monotonous. There is nothing like a four-year-old sous chef to make sure you stay on your game!
I wanted to make some kind of sauce or topping to go with these, and what goes better with apples than caramel? (okay, yes, MANY things go well with apples, but work with me here...) I chose this caramel sauce, since it looked simple, straightforward, and like it would be a good accompaniment to the pierogi. Having pretty much overcome my fear of melting sugar over the last few challenges, I got right to work (busying my sous chef elsewhere for this part). And, okay, I know this is cheezy, but in photographing the process, it looked like the sugar was pretty glad to be turning into caramel. I mean, look at that heart? Ahem.
The caramel sauce came out beautifully. I know I have tried a few recently, but this one is definitely a keeper. It had a nice, smooth texture and had just the right level of sweetness.
Like the cheese steak pierogi, I first boiled the apple pierogi, then carefully fried them in butter with a generous sprinkling of cinamon sugar.
All I can say about these is that I wish I had thought of them sooner. Seriously, we had trouble deciding which pierogi we liked better, and all agreed that having pierogi for both dinner and dessert was not only not as weird as it first sounded, but made for a really fun and delicious dinner.
LizG and Anula, thank you so much for this challenge. I so appreciated the chance to play wih pierogi, and look forward to trying many other variations in the near future.
If you want to see some of the other amazing and creative ideas cooked up by the other Daring Cooks, check them out here.
2 months ago