In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Food Wednesdays: Food Traditions during the Holidays

Written by Donna Marie Desfor, Culinary Consultant and Chef | Dec 12, 2012 3:57 PM

Early into December something clicks.  That holiday feeling takes over and my instincts are to recreate my holidays past.  Growing up I never paid much attention to how our traditions were created or happened.  But when I married and had my own family – a blended one at that – I happily introduced them to my most beloved traditions and, of course, learned theirs.  I can’t say I’m surprised that most of our traditions center around food and gathering at the table.  As time passes, I’m happy to watch as our own family traditions evolve knowing that one day these are the gifts our son might take to his new family.

What holiday traditions do you cherish?  What foods epitomize the holidays to you?  Tune into Radio SmartTalk next Tuesday, December 18th as we discuss food, traditions and all things holidays!  And, please share your thoughts and comments, your recipes and ideas, in the comments box below. 

While there are many things I loved about the holidays as a child, I’ve had to adjust my expectations to what I can manage in the present.  When I was a child the family gatherings, foods, and festivities magically just happened.  Today holiday planning becomes a delicate balance of time with resources.  I constantly measure practicality against sanity – my sanity.  It’s a delicate go.  My family’s story is one rooted in old-world Slovak tradition.  Christmas-time is big and grand and richly grounded in religious ritual where food has both purpose and meaning.  It's easy to get caught up in those memories: I plan  too much, and eventually childhood memories give way to the limitations of a 24-hour day (no one actually sleeps this time of year, do they?).

Perhaps a season of madness and endless to-do lists isn’t a bad thing, though.  At the heart of it all, we gather.  Every tradition I hold dear at some point has food as a part of its ritual.  We open stockings first on Christmas day, while we drink juice and have that much needed first cup of coffee; Christmas cookies are brought out, and thus the day begins.  I suspect the same holds true for most – that food plays some part in every tradition.  And, I suppose, that the foundation upon which tradition (perhaps even a culture) is built is little more than food, a table, and people gathered round it. 

Again, I invite you to share your holiday traditions, recipes, and stories in the comments section below.  As we shift into a higher gear next week, perhaps the nostalgia of holidays past will ease the madness and remind us of the many blessings that food, table, and those that gather with us offer.


WITF Pierogis.jpg

Recipe:  My Family Recipe for Pierogies
My family’s most enduring tradition is that of the Christmas Eve Wiglia meal.  This recipe – my version of the Pierogi – is what we serve.  When you consider a pierogi is little more than a traditional dumpling this recipe becomes very versatile.  The dough is silky smooth, almost pasta like, and in my opinion trumps all others.  While the fillings are old-world traditions, you could substitute just about anything to suit your own tastes, traditions, and culture. 

Pierogi Dough
1 large egg
½ cup milk
1 ½ tablespoons sour cream
½ cup water
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Sauerkraut and Onion Pierogi Filling
1 lb. bag sauerkraut
2 tablespoons butter
1 small Vidalia onion
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Sweet Cheese Pierogi Filling
1 lb. ground farmer cheese (or Dry Flake Cottage Cheese, also known as Pot Cheese), drained one hour in a colander lined with cheese cloth
¼ cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Special equipment needed:
Cut and seal (from The Pampered Chef) or ravioli stamper

Make the Pierogi Dough:  Using a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment (a dough hook would work well here, too), mix together the egg, milk, sour cream, and water until well combined. Add the flour, a little at a time and mix until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough until smooth and elastic, up to 10 minutes. Incorporate more flour if the dough is too sticky. Roll the dough into a ball, and let it rest under a warm inverted bowl, about 20 minutes.

Prepare the fillings:
Sauerkraut and Onion:  Drain and lightly rinse the sauerkraut (rinsing reduces the sharpness of the kraut). Finely chop the onions.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté onions until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the sauerkraut and sugar; stir to combine. Continue to sauté until the sauerkraut and onions begin to caramelize, and become golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to use.

Sweet Cheese:  In a medium bowl, combine the cheese with sugar, egg and vanilla. Add a pinch of salt (to bring sweetness into balance).

Make the Pierogies:  Take 1/3 of the dough (leaving the rest of the dough beneath the bowl) and roll out thin, about 1/16" but no thicker than 1/8", long strip. When rolled, the dough should be sufficiently wide to fold over, in half. This is how you will form your pierogi once you place the filling inside. Place about 1 tablespoon of filling on the top half of the dough strip, spacing at least 2" apart, leaving sufficient room to cut and seal the pierogies.

Lift the lower half of the dough up over the filling so the filling is nestled right along the fold and lightly press the air out around the mound of filling. This will seal the filling in the dough. Using the Press n Seal cutter/ravioli stamper, place half of the cutter over the dough centering the covered mound of filling. Cut and seal the dough into a half moon shape. Move the pierogies to a parchment lined baking sheet and repeat until all the dough and filling is used.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When you are ready to cook the pierogi, gently drop small batches of pierogi into the water. When the boiling resumes reduce heat and gently simmer for about 10 minutes. (It’s a good idea to do a test pierogi and adjust your cooking time accordingly. For thicker dough, simmering time will be longer).

Remove to a colander with a large slotted spoon and rinse lightly with cold water. Transfer back to the parchment lined baking sheets to freeze or to hold, if you are serving that day.

To freeze, put cooked pierogi on baking sheet lined with parchment paper in freezer until frozen. Place pierogies in a freezer bag or storage container. Use within 3 months of freezing.

To serve, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the butter stops bubbling add the pierogies and fry until golden brown on each side. Remove to a platter and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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  • Francis img 2012-12-18 16:25

    Bobalki Mix. In order to get the poppy seed to stick to the bobalki, heat up i cup of milk, 1 lb jarred ground poppy mix (Available at Weis Market) and two tablespoons of honey. Heat until boil and then immediately mix with bobalki in a large bowl. Serve immediately. Bobalki may be softened before mixing my immersing in cold water.

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