Making and canning tomato paste

What a long, long day!

I knew making the tomato paste would take a long time, but my goodness, it did drag on!

The girls and I had a sort of assembly line set up. At one end of the kitchen counter we had the electric kettle going, then space for the container used to bring batches of frozen tomatoes. Then there was the giant bowl we used to blanch them, a bowl with a colander for the skins, a cutting board and compost bag for final prep, a kettle on the stove to boil more water, and finally my giant stock pot.

I even remembered to check what size that thing is.

This thing was an excellent investment. We originally got it for when we were making tourtierre regularly, and would be browning more than 30 pounds of ground meat at a time – then adding the rest of the filling ingredients. That was once a year, though. We’ve used it more often just this summer than we have since we bought it!

We did the tomatoes in fairly small batches. The electric kettle and the stove top kettle took very different lengths of time to boil, which worked out.

One kettle was enough to cover one batch of tomatoes. After they had time to blanch, they’d be transferred to a colander over a bowl, where I would remove the skins, then cut them up (and remove the rest of the stem ends, if needed), and pop them into the stock pot. A daughter would get another batch of tomatoes from the freezer, and by the time we were ready to blanch those, the second kettle would be boiling and ready to go.

It took many batches. I figure there were maybe a couple hundred tomatoes, in a variety of sizes.

The cooking was started as soon as the first batch went in, which cut the time down quite a bit, I’m sure. By the time all the tomatoes were blanched and added, the stock pot was about half full – roughly 11 quarts or about 10L.

It took about 2 hours of cooking before I felt it was ready for straining through a sieve.

Our giant sieve has a very fine mesh. Great for straining out the seeds and any bits of skin that got left. Some of the tomatoes turned out to still be a bit green, so there were pieces that never got soft enough to be pushed through the mesh.

If we end up doing this regularly, it’ll be worth the investment to get a food mill.

The tomato sauce was strained a bit at a time, while the cooking continued. By the time I got to the bottom of the pot, it was getting pretty thick, and there was a lot less pulp left behind in the strainer.

This is all the seeds, cores, green bits and fibrous pulp that was strained out.

The strained puree was very thin. Can you imagine if we were not using a paste tomato for this! It would have been more like tomato juice, than tomato puree!

The stock pot I strained into has a very handy feature.

Measurements on the inside!

We went from roughly 11 quarts of blanched tomatoes, to just under 5 quarts of strained tomato puree. This was what I used to calculate how much lemon juice to use, later on. I had wanted to use citric acid, but couldn’t find any. Lemon juice will work, but does affect the flavour, too. If I were just canning the puree at this point, I could have added the lemon juice (and salt, if I wanted) directly to the jars, but that can’t work with tomato paste.

At this point, I took a break for a while.

For the rest of the cooking time, we set up the hot plate at the dining room table, to free up the kitchen, because I knew it would take hours to reduce this to a paste.

I could have cooked down the puree on its own, with just the lemon juice to increase the acidity. After looking at many different instructions for making and canning tomato paste, I decided to include a couple of large, crushed garlic cloves, a big bay leaf, and some canning salt.

The hot plate worked out really well. Once the puree was up to temperature, however, it stayed very hot and quick to splatter all over, even with the hot plate set quite low.

Another benefit to having a pot with measurements on the inside. I could see progress, even when it didn’t feel like any was being made!

As it reduced in volume, I also had to keep reducing the temperature. I only needed to stir it enough to keep it from bubbling and spattering. The more it reduced, the more often it needed to be stirred, and the lower the temperature needed to be turned. At first, I could just sit on a chair to stir every once in a while. After several hours, I was having to stand at the table, holding the pot to keep it from being knocked about as I stirred vigorously. Once it started getting quite thick, I removed the bay leaf. The garlic cloves were completely disintegrated by then.

I must say, towards the end, it was SO tempting to stop earlier because… it’s thick enough now, right? Right?

Not quite.

In the end, it took somewhere around 6 or 7 hours to get the puree into a good, thick paste.

When the spoon could scrape along the bottom, and the paste wouldn’t fill the gap right away, it was finally ready.

At this point, one of my daughters had taken over the stirring while I got the giant stock pot, which they had washed out for me while I stirred for hours, and sterilized the jars.

But how many jars would I need?

The measurement in the pot starts at 2 quarts and, at this point, the paste was well below that. I estimated around 1 quart, perhaps.

Because the paste is so thick, it has to be canned in small jars. The instructions I’d been reading were from the US and talked about “half pint” jars. I didn’t stop to convert that and was thinking the jars I had were probably half pints. Usually I get 750ml or 500ml wide mouth jars. Though the measurements don’t match, what sells as quart jars in the US are 1L jars here. A pint is 500ml so a half pint would be 250ml – or about 1 cup.

The jars I have are 125ml. So, a quarter pint, not a half pint! 😁

Which meant that if there was about a quart of paste in the pot, I would need 8 jars. I had two cases of twelve, so I sterilized one case. With the jars being to tiny, I could use both canning racks and stack them.

It still takes long time for the water to boil! I almost forgot to add vinegar to the water, to prevent the jars from clouding on the outside from our very hard well water.

Much to my surprise, I was able to fill every jar! Granted, for the last one, I was scraping the sides quite a bit, but I still got my half inch head space!

By the time I finished canning the tomato paste, it was well past 1am. I gotta say, I was quite happy to be able to finally leave them to cool for the night!

When I checked them this morning, I found 2 jars had not sealed properly. Which I’m just fine with! They went straight into the fridge to use right away.

I just love those adorable little jars.

We’ve been out of tomato paste for a while. I typically buy cases of them at Costco. The problem is that we usually only use a small amount at a time. Just adding a spoonful into a dish for extra flavour, for example, leaving us with aluminum cans partly filled with paste, that can’t be resealed well. Then we’d be rushing to use the rest up before it went bad. It will be much handier to have it in sealable jars!

I’ve already had some today, adding a spoonful to some leftover pasta I had for lunch, adding a bit of cream to make a bit of a sauce. As my daughter had mentioned when taste testing the fresh tomatoes for me, the Cup of Moldova tomatoes are very mild in flavour, so the resulting paste is not as strongly flavoured as the tinned paste we would buy. Which I don’t mind at all.

The question will be, is all the time end effort that goes into making and canning the paste worthwhile? There are lots of other ways to can tomatoes that take a lot less time. It’s the time that’s the kicker. I have seen some instructions that use the oven to make the paste – basically, dehydrating the puree – but while that might require less supervision, it means not being able to use the oven for anything else for a very long time.

That’s something we’ll have to talk about and decide after we’ve used this batch up, I think.

The Re-Farmer

We have pickles!

Today, I made my first pickled cucumbers, using a mix of our own cucumbers, and those given to us by my sister.

She gave us so many, they over filled my mother’s massive bowl that was left here. When I was a kid, I remember she used this bowl for making pickles, too!

My canning cookbook is still missing, so I found a recipe online – it was surprisingly hard to find a simple, basic recipe that didn’t require ingredients that we didn’t have, either because we don’t like them, or because they aren’t available locally. Or they required ridiculously long preparation – one recipe I found took nine days of preparation before the final canning and, after reading the instructions, I can’t for the life of me figure out how the cucumbers weren’t complete mush long before then! Or, they were for fermented pickles, and I wanted to water bath can these.

I just wanted to make basic pickles.

Who’d have though that would be so difficult? 😄

But I found one, and got to work. I had only 1 case of quart size jars, and I am very glad they were wide mouth jars! They are so much easier to fill than the regular mouth jars.

I filled the dozen quarts, and there was still lots of cucumbers left over!

There we have it! My first canning of cucumbers into pickles. I even got a 100% ping rate – all the lids sealed properly! Once they’re fully cool, I’ll remove the rings, put the jars in the case they came in, and we’ll need to find somewhere to store them. There’s the root cellar, of course, but that’s quite the oubliette right now. Things that go in there, get forgotten! At least it won’t matter as much with canned goods, and if we are able to harvest enough produce from the garden to store in there, that will help us remember we actually have food in there, and not just the Christmas trees and decorations. 😁 I’ll have to get the girls to take things down there, though. With my knees, trying to navigate the stairs while carrying glass jars is just not a good idea. 😉

I’m glad it’s done, though I left quite a bit for the girls to clean up tonight. At times like this, they get the raw end of the deal! They are sweethearts about it, though. 💕

The Re-Farmer

Size difference, and morning harvest

It’s coming up on noon, and we’ve already reached out high of 27C/81F, with the humidex at 29C/84F. Usually, we don’t reach our high until about 5pm! They’re also predicting rain, though, so hopefully that includes our area, and things will cool down a bit.

Some things seem to like the heat, though.

That one giant pumpkin is noticeably bigger, every day!

I put our very first tomato that I just picked, and a Magda squash, down for perspective.

Those ants were all over the tomato, immediately!

I have since placed an ant trap at the hill. The main part of the hill is next to the other giant pumpkin plant, and it’s looking like the ants are finally starting to damage it. I put traps next to two other ant hills as well. Usually, I prefer to leave them since ants are pollinators, too, but these ones have to go. There are plenty of other hills in the area, so it’s not like we’re making much of a dent in the population by doing this.

Here we have this morning’s harvest. Our very first tomato – Sophie’s Choice. I will leave the family to taste test it, since I can’t do raw tomatoes. They make me gag. Which, I’ve learned, is a thing, similar to how cilantro tastes like soap to some people, but not others!

Those pea pods are the first peas from our second planting. Remarkably, the first planting of peas is still green and trying to produce.

I didn’t pick any yellow beans tomorrow. There should be a good amount to gather tomorrow, though.

On another note, I got to pick up and pet the black and white kitten with the black splotch by its nose. I was happy to see it, since I did not see it at all, yesterday. It did not run away when I came by, and had no issues with being picked up and cuddled.

Progress!

The Re-Farmer

We forgot!

When preparing for this year’s Easter basket, we did three different types of pickled eggs.

While going through the fridge, I noticed a container that got pushed to the back and…

… discovered we completely forgot about the soya sauce pickled eggs!

So I had one with my breakfast.

We were missing the Mirin sauce, but it was still quite good. Definitely something worth making again. It’s too bad we forgot about them for our basket. They would have looked a lot like milk chocolate eggs in there! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Happy Easter!

My daughter was sweet enough to take photos of Easter brunch from our basket for me to share.

She even used a couple of the Lavender Rose China we inherited from my late MIL as part of the display. She made it all look so pretty!

Unfortunately, my husband had an unusually bad pain day and was not able to join the girls. In fact, I don’t think he even ate at all until shortly before I got home. 😦

As for myself, I left early for my mom’s to make sure I had time to fill her gas tank first (gas prices have gone down a few pennies to 169.9 cents per litre). We had a short visit before walking across the street with her walker to her church. Having the church so close is one of the main reasons she chose to move to where she is! 😀 It was an excellent service, and I quite appreciated the homily. After church, we headed out to my brother’s place.

There are two routes that I’m familiar with to get to their place. Normally, I’d take a more straightforward route on the highways, bypassing the city, to get to the town my brother lives in. My mother, however, insists on a route that takes us through a smaller city, where we have to cross an insanely narrow bridge over a major river. Which isn’t too much of a problem in my mother’s little car, but every time I take that bridge with our van, I feel like I’m either going to hit oncoming traffic, or scrape the guardrails! My mother is so insistent on taking the “right” route (which she thinks is a short cut), that when I got distracted and turned towards the city (my usual route) instead of the other direction to take a cross road to another highway, she actually got furious and started shouting at me for going the wrong way.

It took half a minute to circle around, and I was able to calm her down, but even for her it was a bit much to get so angry, so fast.

There turned out to be an irony about this.

Things were more pleasant as the drive continued. We got to the smaller city and drove through it to the bridge and…

It was closed.

Which… of course it would be. With the snow we’ve recently had, and the bridge being so narrow, now that I think about it, yeah, it would be. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn it was closed through most of the winter.

So we bypassed the bridge and got onto another highway towards the bigger city. However, in taking this route, we were passing through a more populated area, so the speed limits were all much lower. Which means that we probably ended up taking at least half an hour longer to get there than if we’d gone the route I almost took out of habit that she yelled at me for!

The irony was not lost on her!

When we realized the bridge was closed, I pulled over long enough to message my brother to let him know about the bridge, and that we would be a bit longer. As I was getting back on the road, I noticed it was just starting to snow.

The weather forecast for today was for either isolated flurries, or up to 6cm/2in of snow, depending on which app I looked at. Until then, the day had been completely clear. Within minutes, we were driving into ever heavier snowfall. Thankfully, it was warm enough that it melted as soon as it hit pavement, but visibility got quite poor in places.

When we finally got to the last leg of the journey, approaching a road I could have taken for a shorter route to my brother’s, we kept on going because it was blocked by a train! It was quite a while before we finally passed the end of the train, and I was actually starting to wonder if it would be clear of our next possible turn off when we got there. Thankfully, it was, so there were no more delays in getting to my brother’s.

The visit was absolutely fantastic. We had a fantastic time seeing each other, a wonderful dinner and, best of all, I got lots of baby snuggles!

So many baby snuggles.

Unfortunately, the snow did not lessen any and we left far earlier than we wanted to. It’s a good thing we did. While the roads were still good, they were very wet, and would have soon started to freeze. As it was, the further north we got, the snow was less, but I could see it starting to freeze over in places.

After dropping my mother off and continuing home, the highway was actually much better and almost dry, until I got about 5 or 10 minutes from home, when I drove into snow again, but it was just snowy enough to impact visibility a bit, not road conditions.

One thing we did see a lot of was deer! Not often. Just lost of them. On our way out, we passed a field that had maybe 20 deer scattered around it. On my way back, just as I was slowing down to turn off the highway, I saw what had to be at least 30 deer in a field. A group of at least 10 were just lying in the snow! I’ve seen some fairly large herds of deer in the area over the years, but this group was easily the most I’ve ever seen of white tail deer, all at once.

The girls were sweet enough to set aside portions from our basket for me, which was much appreciated by the time I got home.

I did notice that, by the time I got home, the kibble was all gone, so I topped that up before going in.

I saw very few outside cats this morning. As I was leaving, I startled a skunk, and it ran under the cat’s house. As I walked by, I could see it’s adorable, pointy little nose poking out, as it watched me leave. When I got back, there was another skunk – or maybe the same one – poking around the kibble house trays, trying to find something to eat.

Potato Beetle, meanwhile, remains in the sun room, and has his very own bowl of food that he doesn’t have to share with any other cats. Or skunks… birds… deer… When I got home, he actually made a “dash” for the door to get outside. He can’t dash very quickly right now, with his injured leg, so that wasn’t much of a problem.

What is more of a problem is the fact that the litter box remains completely unused. Which means he’s found a corner in the sun room somewhere that he’s using, instead. *sigh* It’s a good thing the sun room has a concrete floor!

Rolando Moon was following me around while I was doing my morning rounds, and enjoys running ahead, then rolling on the ground. I couldn’t resist sharing this picture, when I realized her tongue is sticking out!

What a silly kitty!

As I write this, we’re now heading towards 10pm. It’s still snowing a bit, and gotten cold enough for it to finally start accumulating. It’s not the first time we’ve had snow for Easter, of course, but usually that’s been when Easter was earlier in the month! Last night, we hit lows of -17C/1F, that I know of, and the sun room thermometer actually dipped below 0C/32F. Potato Beetle made use of the warming lamp and was just fine. Tonight, the low is supposed to be only -7C/19F, though the wind chill is supposed to be -14C/7F. Starting tomorrow, however, we’re supposed to reach highs above freezing, and stay there from now on, with lows barely dipping below freezing over the next few days. In a couple of days, we’re supposed to get a mix of rain and snow, but today’s snow should be our last blast of winter.

But then, we thought we were getting the last blasts of winter a couple of times now, only to have the forecast change, quite a lot, over and over! However, looking at our 30 year average, and record, highs and lows, I think we’ll be leveling off and warming up from now on.

Even with the snow, however, today was a fantastic Easter!

I hope you and yours also had an excellent day, filled with food, family and fun!

The Re-Farmer

Hearty Winter Potato Soup (not quite a recipe)

With all the heavy stuff going on around, I wanted to bring things back to what this blog is supposed to be about for a while. So here is a food post for you to enjoy!

There’s nothing quite like a hearty bowl of thicksome soup on a cold winter’s day! Most of our cooking falls half way between “this is how you make a thing” and, “let’s use whatever’s in the fridge or cupboards at right now and wing it.” So here is the approximate recipe for this soup. Quantities are pretty flexible. This is one of those soups that taste better the next day, so I made a huge pot of it this time.

Bacon, cut into small pieces – I used half a package of sliced bacon
Onions, 2 medium, finely diced
Garlic, several cloves, chopped fine. I like to use lots of garlic, but use however much you fancy
carrots, peeled and finely diced. Three largish carrots was what was used this time. Feel free to include other vegetables, like celery, broccoli, etc. For a large quantity of soup like this one, shoot for a total of 2 – 2 1/2 cups of finely chopped or diced vegetables.
(In this soup, I also added about half a cup of our frozen tiny tomatoes. It is not something we normally use in this soup, because tomatoes and I don’t get along. 😀 )
potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 – 1/2 inch cubes. For this soup, I like to include different sizes of potato cubes, because I want the smaller cubes to overcook and basically dissolve into the soup, to make it thicker. For this batch, I used about 6 large-ish yellow potatoes.
egg noodles, or other pasta in shapes of a similar size
cooked chicken; we used canned chicken, drained, but this would be a good way to use any leftover roasted chicken or turkey.
cream, about 2 cups. We use whipping cream, because that’s pretty much the only cream we buy, but a lighter cream would work, too
shredded cheese – sharp cheddar is always good, but any strong flavoured, shred-able cheese will be wonderful
bay leaf
dry mustard powder, about half a teaspoon, or to taste. A prepared Dijon type mustard can be used, too.
herbs of choice, to taste (we almost always use a combination of ground thyme, sage, paprika and parsley. If we aren’t using fresh garlic, we’ll use garlic granules with the herbs)
salt and pepper to taste
chicken stock, water, or water with bouillon cubes/powder. I usually use bouillon cubes, and less than recommended for the amount of water used, because herbs, salt and pepper are also used. You can always add more seasoning, but you can’t take it out!
optional garnish: sour cream and shredded cheese

Start by cooking the bacon pieces in a large stock pot. If they seemed to be cooking unevenly, add a bit of water, which will help render out the fat more evenly, and deglaze the bottom so it doesn’t burn. Cook to desired doneness. I like it on the crispier side.

Next, add the chopped onions and cook until the onions are softening and starting to become translucent.

Add the carrots and garlic. Stir and cook until the carrots are about half done. If using other vegetables as well, add the longer cooking vegetables in first.

Next, add the potatoes, bay leaf, herbs, salt and pepper.

Add enough water or stock to cover everything. Since I was using bouillon cubes, I added them at this point, too. I like to chop them up a bit, so that they dissolve faster.

Stir well, then bring to a boil.

Once the liquid has been brought to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for the time needed to cook the potatoes, minus the time needed to cook the egg noodles or pasta. So if the size of potato cubes you cut need 20 minutes, and you’re using pasta that needs 8 minutes to cook, simmer for 12 minutes.

Because I wanted to deliberately overcook the potatoes, I simmered mine for 15 minutes.

Stir in the egg noodles. This was an entire small package of egg noodles. I don’t remember the weight on it.

Add more water as needed. To keep it from cooling down too much, boil some water in advance and use that while it’s still hot.

Stir in the canned or cooked chicken.

The tiny frozen tomatoes were added at this point, then the soup was brought to a boil again.

These are the super tiny Spoon tomatoes, and some cherry tomatoes, we grew last year. Their tiny size allowed them to be added at this stage, but if we were to use regular sized tomatoes, they would have been added with the carrots, much earlier on.

Bring to a boil, then simmer until the noodles are done. Remove the bay leaf.

Stir in the cream and mustard powder. Bring the heat back up and simmer just long enough to heat the cream through, stirring continually. Turn off the heat.

Taste and adjust seasonings.

This is the soup after the cream and mustard powder has been incorporated. You could skip the next step, if you like a thinner, chunkier soup.

Or, you can partially blend it. I have an immersion blender, which makes easy work of it, but if you have a countertop blender or food processor, use it to blend about half of the soup, then return the blended soup to the rest in the pot. Stir and, if necessary, reheat until it’s hot enough to melt cheese, then remove from heat.

Add in a good handful or two of shredded cheese and stir until thoroughly melted and incorporated.

Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and a bit of shredded cheese, if desired.

This soup always goes over really well, even with my lactose intolerant family! It’s thick and hearty enough to be the main course, with maybe some buttered bread to go with it. If you like an even thicker soup, use more potatoes, and blend it more at the end.

Good stuff!

I think I’ll go for seconds, now…

The Re-Farmer

A tasty fail!

Yesterday, I tried a bit of an experiment.

I decided to make some little beef pies in muffin tins.

This is something I’ve made before – the first time, in Home Ec class! My experiment was with the dough. We’ve been trying to find ways to use less butter in our cooking. We don’t use margarine or shortening, so when it comes to cooking and baking, it’s either liquid oil or butter. With oil, it’s easy to have a variety. Not so much with solid fats.

So for the meat pie, I wanted to make a hot water dough (which is sturdier, for heavier fillings like meat), using oil instead of butter or shortening.

This is the finished result.

As you can tell, the muffin tins didn’t happen!

The dough simply would not hold together and was very difficult to roll out. I think I added too much flour, but the oil made it so slippery! In the end, I had to put half of the dough in the pie pan and roll it as thin as I could, right in the pan. After the filling was added, with about an inch and a half of space around the edges, I rolled out the other half of the dough as best I could, then brought it over, wrapped around the rolling pin, to cover the filling. Some repairs were needed, as the top was spread over and tucked around the filling. Then the edges of the bottom crust were pulled up to seal it more.

It actually turned our really delicious. I didn’t get the hand pies I was after, but that’s okay!

The filling was ground beef, browned (in butter, of course), adding onions and garlic early on, then cubed carrots half way through. The last thing added was the cubed potatoes, along with some beef stock. It was left to cook, covered, until the potatoes were just barely done, then uncovered and stirred until the liquid was all evaporated. A touch of flour was added to absorb any remaining liquid and thicken it. I ended up with more filling than fit in the pie, but it tastes good all on its own, too.

I have some hot water dough recipes that include things like egg that I might try. Maybe that will work better.

The good thing about experimenting like this is that, even when it doesn’t work, it still tastes good!

The Re-Farmer

Happy New Year!

The Potato Beetle does not approve of 2022, already!

Maybe because, as I write this, we’re at -33C/-27F with a wind chill of -42C/-44F, which is a couple of degrees warmer than when I was outside feeding the critters.

I made sure to top their kibble up yesterday evening, and there was still some left. Not a lot of the outside cats came out for non-frozen kibble. The warm water was of much more interest to them! At least it was sunny, and the yard is sheltered from the wind.

I hope you had a wonderful time bringing in the New Year, while keeping warm and cozy!

We had our prime rib dinner, which turned out very well, even though things didn’t turn out as planned. After going through a number of recipes, I settled on one that said to roast it at 500F for 20 minutes, then shut off the oven and leave it closed for 2 hours. The recipe even made clear that this worked on newer ovens with digital temperature displays that were more accurate than older ones, and since we did have to get a new oven…

Well, after 2 hours, the meat thermometer basically read “raw”. Oh, there was a fantastic crust on the outside – I coated it with a heavy layer of fresh crushed garlic, salt, pepper, paprika and enough truffle infused olive oil to make a paste – but the internal temperature barely moved the needle on my meat thermometer. I fell back on another set of instructions I’d read, which had been to sear at 400F, let sit for 3 hours in a closed oven, then roast at 350F until the internal temperature was right. So I turned the oven back on, and it took about 45 more minutes to reach medium rare, then it had to come out to make room for the stuffed squash. The squash took way longer to roast than expected, and we ended up increasing the temperature and cooking the appetizers at the same time. We ended up eating the squash as an appetizer, too. 😀 It just worked out better that way.

The stuffed squash was only thing I managed to get a picture of. I can’t remember the name of the squash I bought.

My daughter stuffed the halves with thin slices of Granny Smith apples, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. It was very good, though the squash itself was not as tasty as the Red Kuri squash we grew (which I’ve never seen in a grocery store), so we didn’t bother keeping the seeds.

All in all, it was a very good meal, and we all ate way too much, even though we spread the courses over several hours. My husband didn’t make it to midnight, and our daughters and I almost didn’t, either! 😀

Aren’t we just the party animals. 😉

Today, we’re planning another special – much smaller! – dinner to continue celebrating the new year, which is also the 8th day of Christmas.

Until then, I think what I really want to do is take a nap.

I like my boring life.

The Re-Farmer

Not a Recipe: loaded pierogi

Ah, what a day! As I sit here, I am watching the garage cam’s live feed, as blowing snow covers my daughter’s footprints, from when she closed the gate just a little while go. At least it’s still getting warmer!

FedEx never did show up with our Starlink system.

*sigh*

Hopefully, we’ll get a call or email tomorrow to tell us what happened.

We did, however finish making the pierogi!

Gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve made these, they are the ugliest pierogi, ever! 😀

We also have a huge amount of potato filling left over, even though I made a double recipe of dough. I keep forgetting just how little stuffing fits inside a pierog. We did make extra deliberately, though, and as I write this, the girls are using some of it to make supper.

No, we’re not having pierogi for supper today. Those are cooling off in containers for the fridge. I had thought I’d have enough for the freezer, but it turns out I would have needed to quadruple the dough, and I won’t be doing that. I was in enough pain by the end of it, with just the double batch!

Anyhow, this is how we make our loaded filling.

The potatoes are basically our usual mashed potatoes, except on the dry side. They can be completely plain, too, or maybe seasoned with just salt, but we to include butter, milk and sour cream, and whatever else we have on hand and strikes our fancy. My daughter added a dash of hot sauce to it this time; just a tiny bit, because she knows I have no tolerance for spicy foods.

While she worked on the potatoes, I cut bacon into very small pieces, then cooked them over medium low heat in a frying pan until crispy and the fat was rendered out. The bacon pieces then got removed with a slotted spoon onto paper towel to drain and cool down.

I then added a bunch of mushrooms, cut into little pieces, to the bacon grease and cooked those on medium heat until almost crispy. That can take a while, as they release quite a bit of moisture as they cook. I used white button mushrooms this time, but usually use crimini. Any fresh mushroom would work, I’m sure.

Once done, the mushrooms were removed with a slotted spoon onto paper towel to drain and cool, just like the bacon.

After that, I poured off some of the bacon grease, until there was only about 1 or 2 tablespoons left in the pan. To that, I added about the same amount of butter, then added onions, chopped fine. The onions can be cooked until translucent, but I decided to caramelize them this time. Near the end of their cooking time, I added a bunch of garlic I’d put through a garlic press.

All of that got mixed in with the mashed potatoes, then the entire pot was put into the old kitchen, which is at freezing temperatures these days, to cool down.

The filling didn’t need to be completely cold before I added the cheese, but I did want it cooled enough that it wouldn’t melt the cheese. Here, I’ve got some old cheddar and goat cheese. I’ve made these using Montery Jack, which worked out very well. Any sharp cheese can be used. A mild cheese would just disappear among the other flavours.

The dough was made using a basic recipe I found online. I like a dough that uses sour cream, but we didn’t have enough for a single recipe, never mind a double, so I used one that was just flour, salt and butter melted into boiled water. The fun part is kneading it. Pierogi dough has such a wonderful texture!

When it was time to start making the pierogi, I just made a mess of things! LOL The first ones I made were massive. I was shooting for three inches square, but I was probably closer to four.

Yes, I do squares folded into triangles, instead of cutting rounds. It’s faster that way, and there’s less dough left over that has to be rolled out again.

The next batch I did went the opposite way, and were far too small. Some of the squares were more rectangles and ended up being folded into smaller rectangles instead of triangles. 😀

My daughter started boiling the first couple of batches while I finished up the last ones. At the very end, when there was just enough dough to make three pierogi, I made three balls and rolled them out individually, so we got a few half-circle ones, along with the triangles and rectangles! LOL

After they were cooked and drained, we tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper, then I split them up into take-out containers to finish cooling down.

I suppose I should have tasted one, but I was so focused on getting them ready to put away in the fridge, I didn’t think of it!

Let me remedy that.

Oh, my goodness! They turned out great!

The main reason I chop everything that goes into the potatoes so small is so that each pierog will have a bit of everything in it, and you can really taste each ingredient in there. Of course, with the onions and mushrooms fried in the bacon grease, the bacon flavour runs through it all, but without being too dominant.

The dough is nice and toothsome. I like a good, thick dough. Not too thick, of course, but I remember that even as a kid, eating my mother’s pierogi, my favourite part was the outer edge of dough. I would have liked a sour cream dough better, but the plain dough is still excellent. When we eat these later, they will be pan fried in butter, and that will make them even better!

Who cares if they are all weird sizes and shapes? They taste great!

The Re-Farmer

Spice Cake for St. Nicholas Day

December 6 is St. Nicholas Day, and one of the Polish customs is to make spice cookies or cake on this day.

I didn’t feel like fussing with cookies, so I went hunting for a spice cake recipe with ingredients I already had.

More or less.

The recipe I settled on is here; Piernik – Polish Spice Cake.

The link should open in a new tab, so you won’t lose your place here. 🙂 Also, the photo at the link is completely different from what the recipe results in!

Of course, I had to do some modifications, so here, I will talk about what I changed.

In the ingredients:

It called for 1 cup of dark honey. I didn’t have dark honey. In fact, I didn’t even have a cup of liquid honey. What I had was some of my cousin’s creamed honey. I have no doubt using it will change a few things, from the colour to the moisture to the flavour, but I don’t expect them to be a big deal, and considering how my cousin makes his creamed honey, with a hint of maple syrup, I expect tasty results.

The next change was the 8oz, or 2 sticks, of unsalted butter.

I honestly don’t get the “sticks” of butter thing. I mean, yeah, I do see them in the stores, but my goodness, it costs more to buy butter in sticks than in pounds.

One stick equals a quarter pound of butter, or half a cup, so the recipe is calling for a cup of unsalted butter.

I don’t have unsalted butter. Just salted butter.

Usually, when I see a recipe that calls for unsalted butter, and I use salted butter, I would reduce the amount of salt elsewhere in the recipe.

This recipe doesn’t call for salt at all.

I’m not concerned. A touch of salt can wake up sweet things, and for the amount of salt in the batter, with no other salt in the recipe, we’re not going to have a salty cake or anything.

We were pretty much out of ground cloves, so for the 1 tsp in the recipe, about 3/4 of it was from whole cloves I ground in a coffee grinder.

The recipe also called for dark brown sugar. We have just plain brown sugar, or “golden” sugar.

The instructions mentioned beating mixtures at low speed, so it assumed an electric mixer would be used, but I didn’t want to fuss with it and did it by hand.

The instructions said to pour the batter into prepared loaf pans and bake at 350F for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out pretty much clean. All ovens are different, so I set the timer to 50 minutes, then checked it with a steel chopstick. Because of course, I don’t have toothpicks.

It came out with batter stuck to it, so I added 10 minutes, then tested again.

Then I added another 10 minutes and tested again.

Then I added another 5 minutes and tested again!

Finally, the chopstick came out clean!

I don’t know why this took so much longer to bake than the recipe stated. Going from 45-50 minutes to 75 minutes can’t be completely put to differences in ovens. Whatever the reason, if you try this recipe, make sure to do the toothpick test (or chopstick, as the case may be) to ensure it’s done!

Doesn’t that look pretty? And the smell while baking was wonderful.

After letting it cool, I just had to taste test it for this post. 😀

As far as texture goes, it’s more “banana bread” than “cake”. It has a slightly crisp crust outside, with a lightly dense, spongey inside. The combination did make it a bit harder to cut! 😀

While sweet, is it nowhere near as sweet as I expected it to be! Not with so much sugar and honey in it. Using the salted butter was fine; there was no noticeable salty taste. I also don’t really notice a coffee taste, either, even though there was quite a bit of strong coffee in there. All the flavours blended together quite nicely, and no one flavour stands out more than the others. I found spreading a little bit of butter on my slice brought out the flavours, more.

It’s also drier than I would expect either a cake or most quick breads to be, though it is definitely moist.

From what I’ve read in other recipes, they can become moister with time.

I don’t expect these to last long enough for us to find out. 😀

The Re-Farmer