Homemade Pork Sausage

If I were able to physically load my stress onto the pages of a calendar, December would be the heaviest, but it has nothing to do with holiday anxiety or preparing to entertain. For me, the stress comes with realization of all that I didn’t accomplish during the year, despite my intentions and wishes. I have tried to shift my attention to the things I’ve finished rather than not but, sadly, this seems to be my default. It is heavy on my mind this week as I have reviewed my culinary bucket list, and the ever-growing “I want to try” column.

My most frequent lamentation to my husband is that “I want to do everything at once!” Most of the time, I’m doing good to just break even on my get-it-done list, and the biggest obstacle I face is my own lofty expectation, especially in the kitchen. I don’t want to throw proverbial spaghetti at the wall, hoping something will stick. I research unfamiliar techniques and recipes carefully and if they seem complex, I research some more until I feel at least somewhat equipped for the task. Sometimes, I just keep researching until I flat-out scare myself away from it.

But once in a while I give in and try something that surprises me with its simplicity, and this homemade sausage is one of those things. Turning a chunk of pork shoulder into a flavorful, composed ground meat mixture is not at all the challenge I imagined it to be, thanks in large part to this book by J. Kenji López-Alt and an easy-to-use attachment for my stand mixer.


I was gifted this fascinating book a couple of years ago for my birthday, and I love the science that its author lays out on every page. If you want the full scoop and Kenji’s brilliant approach to things in the kitchen, get the book. You won’t regret it. But not everyone cares to know the backstory details of a recipe and why it works (what can I say? I’m a nerd), so rather than echo the 13 pages of detailed, scientific information Kenji has provided on this subject, I’m grinding it down into three takeaway points and then I’ll share my own adventure in sausage-making. Here goes!


  1. Use a digital scale to determine how much salt and seasoning to use in your sausage; don’t make yourself crazy trying to do the math using cups or teaspoons.
  2. Let the meat chill in the fridge with the proper amount of salt and seasonings for about 24 hours before grinding; it changes the texture of the meat so it’s optimal when you grind.
  3. Keep it cold, cold, cold for best results; this means putting your grinding tools (and the meat, for a time) in the freezer, and working quickly to avoid a big mess.

I should disclose here that I did not go “all in” to the point of using casings for link sausages. Frankly, I’m not sure where to even buy them, though I might talk with our favorite local butcher about that in the future, especially before next summer’s grilling and smoking season rolls around. This experiment has been all about bulk sausage, and I have not had a bad batch yet!

If you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, there’s a simple attachment that allows for grinding of food with a propeller-type blade that cuts the food chunks as they pass through a feeder tube. It takes practice, but works great. If you don’t have this device, I think you could probably begin with smaller chunks of meat and use the pulse function of a food processor to achieve a similar result. Kenji even discusses that in The Food Lab.

Here’s the basic technique that I learned from Kenji. Cut up the pork shoulder (best quality you have available, of course) into chunks about the size of walnuts. Weigh the raw meat, using the grams setting of a digital scale. Next, grab a calculator to determine what is 1.5% of the meat weight—that’s how much kosher salt you need. Not that this is kosher, mind you. It’s pork, so of course not. But un-iodized salt is recommended here, and kosher is what I use in the kitchen anyway. Sea salt would probably be fine.


Toss the meat chunks to evenly distribute the salt, cover the bowl and refrigerate it for 24 hours. After the rest time, you can see the difference in the texture of the meat. It looks darker, smooth and glossy, and is noticeably smaller in volume. This consistency change is what makes sausage different from regular ground meat, and it’s as easy as “salt and wait.”


My interest in making homemade sausage stems largely from repeated disappointment at the Whole Foods meat counter, where I used to buy a fantastic green chile and habanero pork sausage that was wonderfully spicy and perfect for my favorite green chili recipe. But, as with most “big box” retailers, Whole Foods only appeals to the masses now (even more so since they were bought by Amazon) and after hearing for the umpteenth time that “nobody wants to buy that spicy sausage,” I finally decided to get on with things and make my own.

Kenji’s tutorial in The Food Lab did not include suggested seasonings for a green chile-habanero version, but I trusted my instinct and put the flavors together myself. Two kinds of Flatiron Pepper Co. chile flakes, smoked paprika, cumin seeds, pickled garlic (which I ended up not using because I couldn’t get the darn lid off), Mexican oregano and black pepper.


For this batch, I waited to add the seasonings (2% of the original meat weight, per Kenji), but I discovered later that I could have added it at the same time as the salt. In subsequent batches, I’ve added my spices at the same time as the 1.5% of kosher salt.


I spread the meat out into a single layer on a baking sheet and slipped it into the freezer for 15 minutes while I set up the meat grinder attachment for my stand mixer. The meat and all the parts that touch the meat should be really cold, so I also put the cutter blade, the large-hole cutter plate and my mixer’s beater blade into the freezer. I took Kenji’s advice about this to heart and it paid off with an easy grinding process. I also put ice in my stainless steel mixing bowl to chill it down for the next step.


This part of sausage production moved quickly, and I couldn’t take pictures from every angle as I pulverized the very cold meat, but the action shots here tell the story pretty well. As soon as it was ground, I transferred it to my chilled mixing bowl and used the beater blade to whip it around for about 2 minutes. During this mixing stage, which essentially serves to make the meat mixture sticky and cohesive, I poured in roughly 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. That acidity makes all the difference in flavor!


For my first batch of sausage, I passed the meat through the grinder a second time before mixing it, using the small-hole cutter plate included with my food grinder. This proved to be tedious and unnecessary, and my later batches were all done in one pass, using only the large-hole cutter plate. Sometimes the lesson is about what you don’t need to do, right?

My first batch of homemade sausage! 🙂

The green chile sausage was fantastic, and I used it make a pot of this oh-so-comforting green chili for burritos. This is a favorite dish from my childhood, and I’ll share the recipe in January.


I also made a chipotle, ancho chile and maple sausage, which I used in a stuffing blend for a rolled pork loin roast that we enjoyed with friends a few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving. I’ll share the recipe for that lovely roast sometime in the next couple of weeks.


And I made an Italian fennel and Calabrian chile sausage, which became the big flavor enhancer for the sausage used in Les’s amazing Thanksgiving stuffing. It was his year for the bird, and though I said it was his best turkey ever, he declared the sausage made it his best-ever stuffing. We are a darn good team!


We have used up all the sausage I’ve made so far, but I already have a dozen ideas for flavors I want to make next. Here I go again, wanting to do everything at once! I can’t, of course. But homemade sausage is now definitively in the “done” column, with more variations coming your way soon. 🙂


Homemade Pork Sausage

  • Difficulty: Average
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Making your own sausage is not as intimidating as it may seem. All you need is the right meat-to-salt ratio, a good imagination for flavor, and a device to grind the meat. Use a digital scale to measure the ingredients and keep the meat and grinding device as cold as possible through the entire process.


Ingredients

  • Good quality pork shoulder meat, with a decent amount of fat
  • Kosher (or other non-iodized) salt, in 1.5% proportion to meat weight
  • Non-salt seasonings of your choice, in 2% proportion to meat weight
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp. vinegar for each pound of meat

Use the “grams” setting of a digital scale for the easiest ratio calculation. Weigh the meat, then use a calculator to determine percentages. If your calculator doesn’t have a percentage button, convert it to decimal value. 1.5% = .015 and 2% = .02.

Directions

  1. Cut the pork shoulder into chunks about the size of walnuts. Place a bowl on the digital scale and zero the tare weight. Add the pork and take note of the gram total weight.
  2. Calculate salt and seasoning measurements, using the notes above as a guide. Sprinkle both over the pork chunks and toss to combine. Refrigerate overnight, preferably 24 hours.
  3. Arrange meat in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the sheet pan into a flat space in the freezer for about 15 minutes to partially freeze the pork chunks. Also place the metal grinder parts into the freezer for this time, as the meat grinds best when it is perfectly cold. Measure the vinegar into a glass or cup and put it in the fridge to chill.
  4. Grind according to manufacturer’s instructions for your grinder. Place ground meat immediately into the fridge again to chill it down.
  5. Add 2 cups of ice to the bowl of stand mixer (or bowl you’ll be using to blend ground meat) and swirl it around to chill the bowl. Dry the inside with paper towels.
  6. Add chilled ground meat to the cold bowl and beat for 1 to 2 minutes, adding vinegar a bit at a time until blended in.


Pumpkin Pappardelle

It is very rewarding to be able to strike an item off my culinary bucket list, and I’ve done it with this handmade pasta, speckled with the gorgeous autumn-orange color of pureed pumpkin.

I love this warm color and the tiny flecks of earthy rye flour.

Pappardelle is a long, flat pasta and is usually served with a low-and-slow, braised meat sauce, perfect for a Sunday supper. I excel in rule-breaking, though, so I topped my handmade pumpkin pappardelle with roasted shrimp, onions and mushrooms in a chili crisp sauce and served it up on a weeknight. It was scrumptious!

Pumpkin pappardelle with chili crunch-roasted shrimp and mushrooms.

When I first started making pasta sometime around 2012, I stuck mostly to script, using the basic flour and egg recipe. But my imagination quickly took over and led me to try adding flavor and color to fresh pasta. My first experiment was a lovely lemon zest and pepper fettuccine, and I’ve hardly looked back since that time, infusing my dough with everything from fresh herbs to roasted garlic to pureed vegetables. And of course, I have also begun to experiment with different types of flour, and I almost always incorporate some amount of whole grain for the flavor and nutrition value it offers.


Last Spring, I was excited to order a copy of the book, Pasta, Pretty Please by Linda Miller Nicholson. Linda started her brand, Salty Seattle, after discovering that colorful pasta would get her kid to eat vegetables— you know, necessity being the mother of invention and all— and she was recently recognized on Oprah’s 2022 list of favorite things for her “crocchi,” a colorful, croissant-shaped pasta. In her recent email newsletter, Linda described life as a whirlwind, and I suppose that’s what happens when you put your whole heart and soul into doing what makes you happy!

If you enjoy making handmade pasta, I highly recommend Linda’s book for its recipes and just for the artistry of it, and you can also follow her on social media for visual instruction on some of the more intricate pasta shapes (I am mesmerized by her work). As with most “recipe” books I own, I have drawn inspiration from Pasta, Pretty Please more than I have followed any recipes. Interestingly, of all the brilliant pasta colors in her book, Linda does not seem to use pumpkin in any of them!

So many colors, so little time.

But Linda does offer a simple flour-to-liquid formula, and that’s what helped me achieve this bucket list victory. I followed her rule of 3/4 cup liquid to 2-1/4 cups flour, beginning with a portion of pumpkin puree plus room temperature eggs. I whizzed those together in my blender and strained out the solids through a mesh strainer. The blend measured almost exactly 3/4 cup, but there was a layer of tiny bubbles on top, so I figured (correctly) that I’d need to add some amount of water to get the dough just right. How much? It was too soon to tell.


For the flour ingredients, I went with my usual “00” white flour and durum blend, but also subbed in some rye flour because I liked it so much with the pumpkin in my recent sourdough pumpkin rye sandwich bread. After mixing the flours with a touch of onion powder and a pinch of salt, I measured out 1/4 cup to be used for adjustment and rolling the dough. I only needed it for the latter, but every kitchen is its own environment. Humidity, temperature and even the age of your flour are all variables for successful pasta.


My stand mixer did most of the work making the dough, and I used the kneading hook to mimic the action of mixing it by hand— at least, until I realized how much more water would be needed. To that point, the dough was very crumbly and unorganized but a couple tablespoons of water made it better and a couple more got it done. I recommend trying a recipe like this if you are already adept at making regular pasta because it helps to know how the dough should feel and look at every stage.



About 10 minutes of hand-kneading later, my dough was ready for a nap in the fridge, and then I proceeded with my usual rolling process to produce the pappardelle strands. Now, I will assume that if you intend to make this pasta, you already have some experience making basic fresh pasta. If you’re still getting started, check out my previous post for handmade lemon-herb pasta for more in-depth instruction and tips. Rather than describing every step again, I’ll focus here on the points that are relevant for this pumpkin pappardelle.

First, keep that reserved 1/4 cup of flour on hand in case you need it during the lamination steps and roll-out of your sheets, because the pumpkin does make the dough a bit more sticky than usual and so does the rye. Second, have some coarse-grind semolina nearby, for folding up the long sheets when you’re ready to trim the dough into wide strips. I have found that the coarse semolina does a better job of preventing sticking. Finally, if you will use a drying rack as I did, get that set up in advance. If you don’t have a drying rack, you can give the cut pappardelle an extra dusting in the coarse semolina and wind the strips into loose little “nests” for drying. Here’s a few images of how it went in my kitchen:


For the freshest outcome, I like to cook the pasta the same day I make it, but it does seem to do best when it has dried for at least an hour. Any remaining pasta can be dried further and then tucked into a zip-top freezer bag for longer term storage.


Time for dinner! 

The roasted shrimp topping on my pappardelle was very easy to make, and I borrowed a page from Ina Garten’s playbook to get this done. The Barefoot Contessa’s method of roasting shrimp rather than boiling it ensures perfect doneness without having to watch it like a hawk. The onions and mushrooms needed more time, so I started with those, roasting with a drizzle of olive oil and a drizzle of the oil on top of the chili onion crunch from Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have a TJ’s near you, check your supermarket for the new Heinz version of this, or seek out a recipe for “chili crisp” online.


When my pappardelle was just right (al dente stage), I tossed it in a bowl with a generous amount of Parm-Romano blend and black pepper— a makeshift cacio e pepe treatment, if you will— and topped it with the roasted shrimp and mushrooms, plus an extra drizzle of the chili onion crunch. 


This was so, so good. The pumpkin flavor was subtle but the pasta definitely had an autumn vibe. Next time, I’ll increase the pumpkin and reduce to one egg when I make my pumpkin pasta dough and I’ll turn it into a ravioli or tortellini. Tell me, dear friends, what flavors should I put in the filling when I do it? 🙂


Handmade Pumpkin Pappardelle

  • Servings: 4 to 6, depending on final recipe
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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An infusion of real pumpkin puree and a portion of rye flour give this handmade pasta a rustic, substantial feel and flavor.


Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 to 4 Tbsp. water, room temperature (use only as needed)
  • 1 cup “00” or all-purpose flour (see ingredient notes for measuring tips)
  • 3/4 cup fine durum (semolina) flour
  • 1/2 cup whole rye flour
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder (optional)
  • 2 pinches kosher salt
  • Coarse-grind semolina, for dusting during roll-out of pasta

For best results, sift flour before measuring by volume, or fluff it with a whisk before spooning it into the measuring cup and then leveling it off. If you dip your measuring cup into the flour, it will be too dense and produce a dry, tough pasta.

Directions

  1. Combine the pumpkin and eggs in a blender container and pulse a few times, followed by constant blending, until the mixture is even and smooth.
  2. Pour the pumpkin mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lingering solids. Add enough water to produce 3/4 cup liquid ingredients.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together all flours with the onion powder and salt, and then measure out about 1/4 cup to have on reserve. This makes for easier adjustment of the dough and can also be used during the rolling stage of the pasta dough.
  4. Make a well in the flour and pour the liquid mixture into it all at once. Use the kneading hook attachment to mix the flour and liquids together until most of the flour is incorporated. If the dough seems too dry or crumbly, add one tablespoon of water and mix again, repeating until the dough is soft and pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.
  5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand for about 10 minutes, or until it has a smooth, even surface without stickiness.
  6. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour to fully hydrate the dough and to relax the gluten structure a bit.
  7. Remove dough from fridge about 30 minutes before rolling, and then roll as usual by hand or with a pasta machine. Roll it into sheets approximately 16 inches in length. Dust generously with coarse semolina flour and fold the sheet over several times to a width of about 4 inches. Use a very sharp knife or pizza wheel to cut the pasta dough into evenly spaced strips. Immediately unfold each strip and place it on a drying rack, or twirl it into a small nest to dry for an hour before cooking.

Pumpkin Pappardelle with Chili Crisp-roasted Shrimp & Mushrooms

  • Servings: 2 entree portions
  • Difficulty: Average
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Most of this meal happens on a sheet pan, which is a great time saver after spending an afternoon making handmade pasta.


Ingredients

  • 1/2 batch pumpkin pappardelle (see recipe above)
  • 2/3 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 sweet onion, trimmed and sliced into crescent shapes
  • 4 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and halved or quartered into bite sized pieces
  • About 2 tsp. chili crisp with oil* (see ingredient note)
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Parm-Romano blend (or Parmesan; preferably fresh rather than canned)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

*Ingredient note: The “chili crisp” I used is the Trader Joe’s Crunchy Chili Onion, which used to be labeled “Chili Onion Crunch.” If you don’t have a TJ’s near you, check your supermarket for a similar product made by Heinz, or search online for a “chili crisp” recipe. The product is a spicy blend of dried red chiles, onions and garlic in oil. It’s fantastic!

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil for cooking the pappardelle. Preheat oven to 400 F, with rack in center position. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper, and drizzle it with chili crisp oil and olive oil.
  2. Scatter the onions and mushrooms on the sheet and roast for about 13 to 15 minutes, until onions are slightly soft and mushrooms have reduced in size. Arrange the shrimp on the sheet, drizzle with a bit more oil and return to the oven for 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the size and initial temperature of the shrimp. You want to remove the pan as soon as the shrimp are opaque. Drizzle a little more chili crisp with oil all over the shrimp and mushroom mixture, tossing to coat.
  3. Cook the pappardelle while the shrimp are roasting. Fresh pasta should only take about 4 to 5 minutes to reach al dente stage. Drain promptly and toss it into a large bowl with Parm-Romano and black pepper. Toss gently to coat.
  4. Plate the pappardelle and top with the chili crisp-coated shrimp and mushrooms. Serve immediately.


Dark Chocolate Sorbet

Here we are, knee-deep into July, and I’m taking a break from the overflow of zucchini coming from my garden to share another ice cream. No, it isn’t zucchini ice cream—pretty sure nobody would even try that—but it is unusual, and technically not ice “cream” at all. Nope, it is a sorbet, with plenty of real dark chocolate, and though it does not have a bit of dairy product (nor substitutes), there are two surprise ingredients that give it tremendously creamy texture.  

I’ve been seeking ways to update old favorites for better health, and that means eating lighter and limiting saturated fats. I was pretty excited last month to discover that I could use the fat-free version of sweetened condensed milk to create an ice cream that is equally creamy to its full-fat counterpart (check out my Reduced-Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream if you missed it). But this time, I wanted to go a different direction, using no cream or dairy whatsoever. I’ve made sorbets plenty of times, but they always had fruit juice or puree in them, and I knew this would not. I’ve made chocolate ice cream several times as well, but those recipes all involved melting solid chocolate with cream or milk, so that was a no-go. Last summer, I made a luscious chocolate syrup that became a ribbon through my S’mores Ice Cream, but I wasn’t sure how to make a larger batch of that while avoiding “icy” texture that is common to sorbet. Somehow, I needed to merge these ideas in a way that would still give me the creamy texture I crave in frozen dessert.

My deep-dive into this dark chocolate sorbet was largely inspired by a dessert I saw on another blog earlier this year. Back around Valentine’s Day, one of my blog buddies (Dorothy, from The New Vintage Kitchen) shared a recipe she had made for her husband, called “love your heart chocolate pudding.” I was enthralled by Dorothy’s adaptation of one of her husband’s favorite dessert treats (using avocado in place of saturated fats), and it had reminded me of a similar product I’d seen many years ago at Whole Foods—a dark chocolate gelato, made with avocado. Attempting my own version of this has been on my culinary bucket list for a long time, and this was exactly the inspiration I needed.

Armed with information on a number of different methods, I set out to mix and match my way to this recipe. When it came down to it, this sorbet was surprisingly easy to make, and I’ve got the scoop for you, right here in the middle of National Ice Cream Month!

One scoop is all I need to satisfy my sweet tooth!

One of my favorite resources for ice cream ideas is a little spiral-bound book I picked up years ago on the clearance shelf at TJMaxx. It includes an entry for “bittersweet cocoa sorbet,” which was a syrup-only base, described as intensely bitter on the chocolate front—more than I was aiming for, anyway—so I considered it a starting point and made several adjustments to the recipe to tone it down and make it my own.

Call me fainthearted. This was a good starting point for my sorbet.

For my simple syrup, I dialed back the cocoa by half, increased the sugar (mine was turbinado) and used one less cup of water. Sweeter is better, especially if I want my husband to enjoy it with me; I also knew that heavier concentration of sugar in the simple syrup would make it freeze softer. Thank you, Alton Brown, for your wisdom over the years.

To underscore the richness of the cocoa, I applied three specific ingredients: real vanilla paste for complexity and balance, espresso powder to deepen the chocolate flavor, and a pinch of salt to bring out the best of everything. I am a firm believer in using a touch of salt in every dessert.


The syrup itself was heavenly, with a deep flavor of dark chocolate. But the real magic happened in the blender, when I combined the chilled syrup with two healthful ingredients—frozen banana and avocado! I use frozen ripe bananas in all my smoothies, and it does an amazing job of adding body and texture to the mix. I wasn’t sure whether the flavor would overwhelm the chocolate flavor, and I’ll share my thoughts about that at the end. The avocado was soft and ripe, and I placed it in the refrigerator the night before, to help me stay on schedule for freezing my sorbet mixture right away.


After one minute on the “smoothie” setting of my blender, I had my results. Admittedly, I was not emotionally prepared for the thick, silky texture of this sorbet base! It literally had the viscosity of prepared pudding, and it was luxurious and delicious, even in this unfrozen state.

Oh. My. Goodness.

My hunch is that I could have transferred this blended mixture directly into my insulated container and sent it straight to the freezer. The base definitely increased in volume in the blender and I think it would have frozen into a dense, almost-custardy sorbet. But my ice cream maker was already set up and ready, so I proceeded to freeze it as I would any ice cream. Near the end of churning, I poured in just a splash (OK, two) of Godiva chocolate liqueur, to help keep the sorbet from freezing solid. Disregard the grainy appearance in these photos; it honestly does not have a grainy mouthfeel at all—just creamy, smooth and very chocolate-y, like a frozen Dove chocolate melting on your tongue.


So, let’s talk about the banana. I had some hesitation about how much flavor it might impart to my dark chocolate sorbet, and the answer is—quite a lot. I don’t mind the flavor, and the chocolate does shine through prominently, but the next time I make this sorbet (and trust me, there most definitely will be a next time), I will ditch the banana in favor of a second ripe avocado. It was the avocado fruit that lent the smooth creamy texture, and that makes sense, when you consider than an average avocado has 29 grams of healthy fats. There is absolutely no flavor of avocado in this sorbet, so I figure the tradeoff would only improve the richness of it.

As for this banana-forward batch, my husband suggested we play that up by nestling a scoop of our dark chocolate sorbet into a banana split with some fresh strawberries, and now I think I know what we’ll enjoy for dessert this weekend. 😉


Dark Chocolate Sorbet

  • Servings: 8 scoops
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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This sorbet has all the richness I crave in an ice cream, but without a bit of dairy! Choose a good quality dark cocoa, and use a ripe avocado. If you prefer, swap the banana for a second avocado.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark unsweetened cocoa (I used a combination of Hershey’s dark and King Arthur’s double dark dutch cocoa)
  • 1 Tbsp. real vanilla paste (or 1 tsp. real vanilla extract)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. espresso powder (optional, but it intensifies the chocolate flavor)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 ripe banana (peeled and frozen ahead; omit for a second avocado if you wish)
  • 1 ripe avocado (put in refrigerator the night before)
  • 1 Tbsp. chocolate liqueur or vodka, optional for improved texture when frozen

Directions

  1. Combine water and sugar in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Sift cocoa powder to eliminate clumps. Add to simple syrup and whisk until blended. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. The syrup should reduce slightly and have a thicker consistency when finished.
  3. Remove syrup from heat. Stir in vanilla paste, espresso powder and salt. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until cold.
  4. Set up ice cream machine. Gently stir the chocolate syrup to reincorporate ingredients that may have settled.
  5. Add syrup to blender, along with frozen banana (broken into chunks) and avocado flesh. If your blender has a smoothie setting, use that to mix the sorbet base. Otherwise, pulse a few times to combine and then use the blend and/or puree settings until the mixture is completely smooth with no lumps.
  6. Pour mixture directly into ice cream machine and follow manufacturer’s instructions for freezing. Add liqueur (if using) in the final minute.
  7. Transfer sorbet to an insulated container for freezing. Place a piece of waxed or parchment paper directly on the surface of the sorbet to minimize ice crystals.



Finally, Falafel!

If at first you don’t succeed, wait a year and try again. Yes, I know that isn’t exactly how the adage goes, but it seems to be my M.O. when I get discouraged over failed recipes. Falafel has confounded me as much as it has enchanted me, from my first-ever taste of it at a now-closed corner diner near the campus of UNC-Greensboro to my most recent experience of it at Miznon in New York’s Chelsea Market. It was that most recent taste that inspired me to give falafel another go.


I love the texture of these crispy little gems and especially the vibrant flavor that is jam-packed into every delicious bite. Falafel is a Middle Eastern specialty, made from ground-up chickpeas and a ton of fresh herbs and spices. It is usually shaped into balls or disc shapes and fried until crispy, though I have also seen oven-baked falafel, which has a somewhat pale and less visually enticing appearance. Undoubtedly, it can be made in an air fryer—and perhaps someone reading this will chime in to share their results of that method. I have tried both fried and oven-baked falafel a few times but got increasingly frustrated with each fail, and then put off trying again for longer and longer stretches of time. How could this be so difficult, I wondered? The dish eventually moved to the top of my culinary “bucket list,” and I’m pleased to say that I finally won the falafel challenge.

As it turns out, falafel was only difficult to make because I was resisting the instructions that were right in front of me the whole time. I tried to make them from canned chickpeas (which doesn’t work) and then I tried making them with canned chickpeas that were subsequently roasted and dried out in the oven (which also doesn’t work). When I finally gave in and tried them the correct way, they turned out terrific! What is the correct way, you ask? Using chickpeas that have been soaked but not cooked.

My favorite thing about cooking—besides the obvious enjoyment of delicious food that’s made cheaper at home than you would buy somewhere out—is the science behind it, and it turns out there is a perfectly good reason that soaked, uncooked chickpeas are the best bet for perfect falafel. Thank goodness for J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the culinary genius who runs “The Food Lab,” and a frequent contributor on the Serious Eats website. He is sort of an Alton Brown for the new generation, and his scientific explanation on falafel is the best I’ve read to date. Here’s the upshot: soaking rehydrates the chickpeas so you can work with them, and it keeps the sticky starches trapped inside. Those starches get released when the chickpeas are cooked during frying (or baking), and that starch release is what helps the falafel rounds hold together. If the chickpeas are already cooked (as in canned), the starch is spent, and you end up with a mess. My ridiculous attempts to return canned chickpeas to a firmer, drier texture by roasting them in the oven didn’t work because they were still already cooked. This time around, I followed the science offered by J. Kenji, and guess what I ended up with? Near-perfect falafel.

Crispy on the outside, moist and soft on the inside, and sooo much flavor!

In a weird twist of fate, the best way also happened to be the easiest of the methods I had previously tried. Soaking the chickpeas took almost no effort, then I drained and rinsed them in a colander, rolled them around on paper towels to wick away excess moisture, and then pulsed them in my food processor with a fat handful of fresh herbs and generous amounts of Mediterranean spices. Further following J. Kenji’s advice, I kept my falafel small, using my large cookie dough scoop to compact them into rounds, which I fried up nicely in a shallow skillet. For the love of flavor, why did I wait so long to follow the rules?

As much as I love falafel in a wrap sandwich, I also love just dipping and snacking on them.

Falafel is great as a pick-up snack, dipped in tahini-lemon sauce. We enjoyed it as a sandwich filler, nestled with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles into a warm, whole grain soft pita. My husband and I agreed that the flavors in this revelatory batch of falafel could stand to be a little bolder, and maybe even a bit more garlicky. I will play with the seasonings a bit on my next go, and you can bet that I won’t be waiting a year.


Ingredients

1 cup dried chickpeas, sorted and rinsed

4 cups cold or room temperature water

Several scallions (white and green parts)

About 2 cups loosely packed fresh Mediterranean herbs* (see notes)

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and rough-chopped

1 tsp. each cumin and coriander seeds*

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne (optional)

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Several grinds black pepper

A few teaspoons flour (if needed), as a binder for overly wet falafel mixture*


*Notes

Falafel is of Middle East origin, so the Mediterranean herbs work best here. Parsley (curly or flat), mint, dill and cilantro (also called “fresh coriander”) all work great in this recipe, but I would not recommend basil, thyme or rosemary. It is essential that you use fresh herbs for this recipe, as they contribute texture in addition to flavor. After rinsing the fresh herbs, take time to also dry them on a clean kitchen towel or layers of paper towel, so that you don’t add unwanted moisture to the falafel mixture.

I prefer the intensity of freshly ground seed spices, but if you only have pre-ground cumin and coriander, it’s no problem. Use slightly less, perhaps 3/4 tsp. of each.

Ideally, the chickpea mixture will hold together without the flour binder. But I found that a few sprinkles of flour were necessary to pick up lingering moisture. I used a tablespoon of garbanzo bean flour, but all-purpose or rice flour would probably work also.


Instructions




F.R.O.G. Jam Rugelach

Sometimes, saying your goals out loud is enough to cement them into reality, and this has been true for my quest to have a calmer, more peaceful Christmas season. Letting go of expectations for a “perfect” holiday has given me the freedom to enjoy it more, regardless of how things unfold. One thing I really wanted to do this year (for the first time in a long time) was settle in to making Christmas cookies, and I am on a roll—figuratively and literally—with these sweet little rugelach. They are my first cookies of the season and making them satisfies not only my desire for a pretty holiday treat, but also another item on my culinary bucket list.

As much as I love to bake bread and rolls, I hardly ever bake sweet things, such as cakes, pies or cookies. I’m not sure why, because I do like them, and I have fond memories of doing that kind of baking in my grandmother’s kitchen. The holidays are a perfect time for baking sweets, and so far, I am loving it.

Rugelach (which is pronounced in such a way that it might seem you are gargling with a feather in your throat) is a treat that originated in Poland and is popular in Jewish culture, and it has been on my bucket list for a couple of years. My husband, Les, remembers them from childhood, not only because he is of Polish-Jewish descent, but also from the bakeries and pastry shops all over New York, where he was raised.

It’s a perfect, little two-bite cookie.

The cookies are tiny, which makes them perfect for gift-giving or tucking into an extra little space on a dessert platter. My rugelach dough is made of butter, cream cheese and flour, with only a slight hint of powdered sugar. The rest of the sweetness comes from the layers of filling and the large crystals of sugar sprinkled on top before baking. Given the variety of flavors I have seen, you can put almost anything in rugelach, and the gears of my mind are already spinning ideas for my next batch. This time, I used a jar of jam we spotted while waiting in line to purchase our fancy Christmas tree stand.

No frogs were harmed in the making of these cookies. 🙂

The fruity filling in these bite-sized little rollups is F.R.O.G. jam, with the letters representing the flavors of fig, raspberry, orange peel and ginger. That’s a whole lot of holiday flavor happening in one spoonful, and though Les is not particularly fond of ginger, he likes the other flavors and said my addition of cinnamon sugar and chopped pecans rounded these out nicely for him. The cookies are made in stages, including a significant amount of time chilling the dough, and then the cookies before baking, so plan accordingly.

As always, I learned a few things along the way to making these, and I’ll share those discoveries throughout the instructions below.


Ingredients

4 oz. full-fat cream cheese (this is half a brick package)

1 stick cold unsalted butter

3/4 cup all-purpose flour* (see notes)

1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour*

1 Tbsp. powdered sugar

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

2/3 cup jam, preserves or marmalade

2 Tbsp. organic cane sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans

Egg wash and coarse sugar sprinkles, for baking


*Notes

For best results, measure flour using the fluff, sprinkle, level method. If you dunk your scoop directly into the flour bag, you will compact the flour and end up with heavy cookies.

I always sub in a portion of whole grain into everything I bake, but if you do not have whole wheat pastry flour (I like Bob’s Red Mill) or white whole wheat (King Arthur is a great choice), it is fine to use a full cup of all-purpose flour. I personally like the flavor boost of the whole wheat, and it helps me justify eating an extra cookie. 😉


Instructions

Combine flour, powdered sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to blend them evenly. Add cold pieces of butter and cream cheese. Pulse a few times to cut the fats into the dough, then run the processor continuously just barely long enough to see it come together but not long enough for it to clump in a ball around the blades.

Scrape the dough out onto plastic wrap. Divide it into two equal pieces and shape them into disks about the size of hockey pucks. Wrap them tightly in the plastic wrap and refrigerate a few hours to overnight.

The rolling out and rolling up stage of this recipe moves quickly, so I encourage reading through it completely before beginning. As with any butter-based dough, you want to try to keep it as cold as possible so that it remains flaky during baking. Get all your filling ingredients measured, lined up and ready. Warm the preserves in a small saucepan until they loosen up to spreadable consistency, then remove from heat. Divide the cinnamon sugar and toasted pecans so that you have equal amounts for each dough disk. Set up two baking sheets, lined with parchment, and arrange enough space in the fridge to chill them for an hour or two.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured countertop, until it is about 1/8” thick and roughly 12” in diameter. Working from the edges inward, brush half of the melted preserves onto the dough round. You should see quite a lot of dough through the preserves and try to keep the glaze light in the center of the dough round, which will ultimately be the tips of each rugelach.

Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar all over the glazed dough, and then scatter the toasted pecan bits evenly over the sugar. Lay a piece of parchment or waxed paper over the dough round and gently press to secure the pecan bits into the dough. Carefully peel the paper away and set it aside for the second batch.

Using a pizza wheel, cut the dough into 16 equal triangles, with tips at the center of the dough round. The easiest way to do this is to cut it into fourths, then cut the fourths into eighths and finally the eighths into sixteenths. This will make sense to you when you begin cutting. Some of the pecan pieces will fall off or come loose; just press them back onto the dough.

Beginning with one of the triangles, start rolling from the outer, wide end toward the center, as if rolling up a crescent roll. Keep it tight as you go and place the cookie on the parchment-lined baking sheet. I found it easier, once I had about three of the triangles rolled, to use my bench scraper to loosen a triangle away from the round before rolling. The far-away side of the dough round was the trickiest, and next time I may try rolling it on parchment paper that can be moved around for the rolling step.

When all 16 cookies have been rolled, cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge. Repeat with the second dough disk. Chill the cookies for at least an hour before baking.

Toward the end of chill time, pre-heat the oven to 350° F, with the oven rack in the center position. I baked only one sheet at a time, but if you wish to bake both at once, arrange the racks with enough room for both and plan to rotate the pans halfway through baking time.

Prepare an egg wash (beaten egg with a teaspoon of cold water) and lightly brush the chilled cookies. Sprinkle them with a pinch of sugar. You can use decorative sugar or (as I did with my second batch) a pinch of natural turbinado sugar.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until cookies are puffed up a bit and golden brown in color. Cool on the pan for about 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer them to a cooling rack.


Happy Christmukkah!


Baby Back Ribs with Root Beer BBQ Glaze

A few weeks ago, my husband, Les, and I had the unfortunate experience of being forced to empty and clean out what we call our “downstairs” fridge. The term is a misnomer, for sure, given that our home is built on a slab, and we have no downstairs—unless you consider the main level as “downstairs,” and that would only make sense if you were standing in the loft. No, our extra refrigerator lives in the garage, just through the laundry room, about six steps from the kitchen. The confusion is built on Les’s occasional reference to the spaces of a home he once owned in Connecticut, where he apparently did have a downstairs fridge. He also sometimes mistakenly tells me he was listening to “K-ROQ” on the drive home, which was his favorite radio station when he lived in Southern California (which, by the way, was only 28 years ago), but I digress.

What happened that night recently was a flat-out mess, as a forgotten glass bottle of “nitro” cold brew coffee was shoved into one of the uneven cold spots in the back of the extra refrigerator, and the darn thing exploded all over everything. There was broken glass and sticky cold coffee on the shelves and walls of the fridge and spattered on several food and drink containers that were sitting beneath the mishap. It was not exactly the way we intended to “clean out” the fridge, but it did force us to dump some things and gave us a chance to properly inventory the ridiculous quantity of stuff that has piled up in the overflow fridge, which we frankly would not need if it were not for my impulse purchases, especially, it seems, the beverages.

What can I say? I don’t want anyone to be thirsty!

One such impulse buy stood out as a bucket list item for me, and the forced fridge cleanup gave me a push on my culinary intention of making a root beer-based barbecue sauce. I will admit that neither Les nor I are fans of carbonated soda. I have not had a Coca-Cola or 7-Up or anything like them in years (maybe decades), and I don’t miss them. My aversion is based partly on the fact that they are carbonated and leave me feeling bloated and uncomfortable, but more on the fact that nearly every soda on the market is made with high-fructose corn syrup. And that, my friends, is a total deal breaker for me. Diet sodas are no better, because I cannot abide the aftertaste of alternative sweeteners, including the plant-based stevia.

But when I had spotted this small-batch, handcrafted root beer a few months ago, I thought again about my desire to make a root beer sauce or maybe root beer-braised pulled pork. This specialty root beer is sweetened with cane sugar, and on its own, it is sweet. Like, melt-your-teeth sweet. When I reduced it down, however, and simmered it with ketchup and spices and onions, it was exactly right for dressing up baby back ribs on the grill. As with most rib recipes, I started with a brine to give the meat a jump start toward tenderness and flavor, and I got some good advice from chef Bobby Flay about what to put in the brine—cinnamon, star anise and molasses were a giant echo for the root beer flavor that would be slathered on the ribs near the end of cooking. There are a couple of things Les and I agreed we would do differently next time, and I’ll explain that at the end. But overall, this was a successful adventure!

It was a southern BBQ feast, with spicy collards and homemade mac and cheese.

Another bucket list item has been moved to the “done” column, and because I discovered that I also really like the essence of root beer, I used two more bottles of it from the “downstairs fridge” to make syrup for bourbon cocktail experiments. Alas, my friends, that will be a post for another day.


Inspired by  BBQ Ribs with Root Beer BBQ Sauce Recipe | Bobby Flay | Food Network

Ingredients – the ribs

1 large rack baby back ribs (ours were pasture-raised from the local farmers’ market)

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup molasses

2 whole cinnamon sticks

2 star anise

1 Tbsp. oak-smoked black peppercorns* (see notes)

1/4 cup sweet onion juice, optional*

Enough ice and water to make 8 cups of brine liquid


*Notes

The smoked peppercorns are made by McCormick and sold in a tall jar with a built-in grinder top. I am thoroughly addicted to their flavor and have used them in various food and cocktail recipes whenever I want to add a smoky flavor.

I made these ribs the same weekend as the tangy apple cole slaw that I shared a few days ago, and the onion juice was the discard from the shredded onions in the slaw. Waste nothing, right? 😉


Prepping the ribs

  1. Prepare the brine by combining kosher salt, molasses, cinnamon, star anise and black pepper in a large glass pitcher bowl. Add two cups of boiling water and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add ice cubes and enough cold water to make 8 cups total.
  2. Remove the tough membrane from the back side of the ribs. Begin by slipping a sharp paring knife under the membrane on the smaller end of the rack. Separate enough of it to grab onto with a dry paper towel, and then slowly but steadily lift it up and away from the ribs.
  3. Use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to separate the ribs into portions. Transfer the rib portions to a 2-gallon zip top freezer bag, placed in a container large enough to contain the brine if the bag should happen to leak. Pour the cold brine over the ribs, squeeze out as much air as possible and send them to the fridge to marinate at least overnight, and up to 24 hours.
  4. When the brine is complete, remove the ribs and pat them dry. Place them on a rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for a few hours. This prepares the surface of the meat for more flavorful grilling.

Root Beer BBQ Glaze

2 Tbsp. canola oil

1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Zest of a fresh lemon

2 pieces crystallized ginger, finely minced

3 Tbsp. light brown sugar

1 cup tomato ketchup

12 oz. bottle naturally sweetened root beer

1 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika

Kosher salt and oak-smoked black pepper


Make the glaze

  1. Empty root beer into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Transfer to a measuring cup.
  2.  In the same saucepan, heat canola oil and sauté onions about two minutes, until slightly softened. Add minced garlic and crystallized ginger and cook one to two minutes more.
  3. Add smoked paprika to the pan and cook just until the paprika becomes fragrant. Add root beer reduction and simmer on low heat several minutes until the mixture is syrupy.
  4. Add the ketchup and brown sugar, stirring to combine. Add lemon zest and smoked black pepper. Simmer on low heat until just bubbly at the edges. Adjust salt, pepper and sweetness to taste. I wanted it a little bit sweeter, so I added a splash of additional root beer.

Time to grill the ribs!

My hubby, the grill master, questioned the instructions I handed him from the Bobby Flay recipe, and I darn sure should have listened. We followed the gist of the original recipe, grilling the ribs naked over indirect heat at about 250° F for two hours, then glazing them with the root beer BBQ glaze for the last 20 minutes or so. Granted, we do not have a “kamado-style” charcoal grill, but I had hoped

This was enough time to cook them, but not enough to make them fall-off-the-bone tender, which is what my root beer-loving heart desired. We had also soaked some hickory chunks in cold water and root beer, and tried out the small smoker box we had purchased for the grill. Friends, let me just say, “don’t bother,” because we did not get even a hint of smoke on the ribs. It would have been terrific, though, on a regular smoker. Overall, The meat was tasty (I think the brine did wonders) and the sauce was just as I imagined—root beer was present but not too sweet.

We have had more tender ribs without following a recipe, and next time we make these, I will hand the reins over to Les to grill or smoke the ribs however he chooses. We also agreed that low and slow roasting in the oven would probably have resulted in more tender ribs, and I sure would not mind the aroma in the house!

The flavorful brine and the root beer glaze were the real winners for this recipe!



100!

When I published my first post on Comfort du Jour in April, I didn’t know what it would become or what it would mean to me. It took a global pandemic to help me finally grasp that the phrase “life is short” is more than a catchphrase; it’s a reality. What I did know is that I love cooking, creating and entertaining, and I wanted to share my passion with other like-minded people. I knew I was never going to have a restaurant, and just as well, because I love my free evenings and weekends. I will never win Next Food Network Star (though I considered auditioning a few times), also just as well, given that most of the winners don’t actually get to cook as much as they talk about food other chefs are making.

Comfort du Jour has been a blessing for me because I’m doing what I love and sharing it with you, but on my own terms and at my own pace. Your support has encouraged me to keep going. It’s empowering to know that what I do in my kitchen has power to make you happy. Having this blog has challenged me to tackle my food “bucket list,” including these:

I’m 100 posts in, and still have so much to say, though it isn’t always easy for me.

At times, I struggle to make the things that happen in my kitchen interesting to you. My recipes are so familiar to me that it’s hard to believe anyone else would be inspired by them. On the flip side, I sometimes find myself veering way off course and having too much to say, which is usually a sign I am aiming too low—by talking about the food rather than the story.

A good example of the latter was my July 3 post on Vanilla. I had planned to count down the top flavors used in American cooking through the years, to identify what America tastes like, being the world’s melting pot and all. I didn’t expect to become mesmerized by the story of the slave boy who revolutionized the hand-pollination of the rare and fragile vanilla flower, forever changing the course of food history worldwide. Now, it’s all I think about when I use the ingredient that would have been available only to the wealthiest of people, had it not been for Edmond Albius.

This has been a theme for me in cooking, as well as in life—that what I’m making (or doing) is far less important than the “why”: food tells a story, and if we’re willing to listen, we will learn a great deal more than a recipe. The story is what I love most, and this blog has helped me identify that.

I’ve shared plenty about my early inspiration by my maternal grandmother, who taught me how to properly sear meat, build a cream sauce, make gravy and turn bread scraps into pudding. So far, I have barely mentioned my time in a catering kitchen, where I was challenged to elevate my knowledge in ways that shaped me into the home cook I am today. Those stories are coming. As I said, so much more to say.

On the other side of Halloween, I’ll be retelling the tales behind my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, along with instruction for some of the basic things we make at home to reduce our dependence on expensive store-bought ingredients.

Here’s to the next 100! Thank you. 😊


Pierogi with Potato, Leek and Spinach Filling

One of the most satisfying cooking achievements is striking an item off my culinary “bucket list.” I started my running list a couple of years ago as a way to challenge myself in the kitchen, and my late-night Pinterest surfing (which, unfortunately, coincides with midlife insomnia) is making it longer. Occasionally, I might see a Pinterest recipe I want to try as it is, but more often, I see something that inspires me in a different direction. Either way, you don’t have to be good at math to recognize that my habit (plus my imagination) can only grow the bucket list, so moving an item over to the “made it” column feels like a major accomplishment. Today’s dish has been on the bucket list for at least a year. It’s time!

These pierogi—yes, that is the plural—will be coming up again in rapid rotation, because they were delicious and filling, but also easier to make than I expected. In the big picture of comfort foods, these Polish dumplings are about as far as you can go—tender dough stuffed with potatoes, onions, vegetables or whatever else you like, then boiled and fried in a skillet. With butter! What’s not to love? The arrival of fall seems like the perfect time to tackle them, too. The challenge for me in trying a classic dish for the first time is choosing which recipe to use, and that’s what I’m really sharing today.

An internet search for “best pierogi” will yield at least two pages worth of results that declare to be the original, the best, the most authentic, etc. One person’s “perfect” pierogi dough will fully contradict the next, and here’s the deal on that—everyone had a grandma, and everyone’s grandma made dishes that were “original” for their family, and so that was the best for them. But my grandma was Scandinavian, so how do I know from a cultural standpoint what is truly authentic—at least when it comes to pierogi?

Simple—I research it.

I dig deeper to learn where a dish comes from, who were the people who created it, what was their life and what foods were common to their everyday diet. All of these background notes help me arrive at my own approach to the dish. The central and eastern Europeans who created this dish were likely Jewish peasants, and so they would have used simple, inexpensive ingredients. Over time, the dish caught on with other classes, and sweet, fruit-filled versions evolved, but I’ve decided to keep them savory for my first run-through.

Next, I consult trusted recipe resources, whether that is cookbooks I already own or internet sites such as AllRecipes.com that provide multiple recipes for a particular food. I do not select a single recipe and give it a go. Rather, I look for commonality among the recipes, and then I trust my own cooking instinct as I dive in to create it.

I’ve trusted this book, The Gefilte Manifesto, for the dough portion of the pierogi recipe, primarily because their ingredients and technique are very similar to Italian pasta dough, which is in my wheelhouse so I have a bit of confidence going into this. I’ll save the cream cheese-based dough for another time. For the filling, I followed early tradition and made a potato-cheese-onion mixture. And I’ve added sauteed fresh spinach because my half-Polish, all-Jewish husband (whose family, unfortunately, never made him pierogi) can’t get enough of it, so I always have spinach on hand.

Here we go!


Dough Ingredients

(adapted from The Gefilte Manifesto)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup spelt flour

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 eggs

3 Tbsp. warm water

The original recipe made a very large batch of pierogi, and in hindsight, I wish I had gone that way because they turned out so delicious. But I halved the ingredients, as I often do when I make something for the first time. The original used only AP flour (which I never follow on anything), so I’ve adjusted for some whole spelt flour so that we can have some amount of whole grain. The original recipe said 3 eggs, but chickens don’t lay eggs in halves, so I used 2 and cut back on the suggested amount of water. I suppose I could’ve whisked three eggs together and divvied out half by weight, but that seemed overkill, and the eggs add richness and protein. I followed my instinct and made the dough the same way I make pasta dough but with less kneading, and set it aside to rest while I made the filling.

Unlike pasta dough, this pierogi dough was only kneaded enough to be fully mixed.

Filling Ingredients

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and boiled until fork-tender

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 leek, white and light green parts, split lengthwise and sliced thin

2 handfuls fresh baby spinach

1/3 cup small curd cottage cheese

1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

2 oz. finely shredded white cheddar cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

For frying (optional): 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, 2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves.

Some of the suggested filling recipes I considered mentioned addition of an egg, but I didn’t feel this was important, given that the Yukon gold potatoes already had a creamy quality. I decided the cheddar and cottage cheeses provided enough binder. I put the mixture in the fridge to chill while I rolled and cut the dough into circles.


Putting it all together

Rolling out the dough proved more time consuming than I expected, given that I hadn’t kneaded it much. It was surprisingly strong, which means gluten strands had formed during the rest time. Again, I followed my instinct from experience with pasta, and covered the dough a few minutes to relax those strands, then continued rolling, until the dough was about 1/8” thickness. I did this in two batches.

All the recipes I found suggested cutting about 3 1/2” circles, and the only thing I had that size was a little ice cream bowl. Note to self: buy a biscuit cutter already!

On to the fun part—shaping the pierogi! I spooned about 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling mixture onto the center of each dough round, then I dipped a finger into a small dish of water and wet the outer edge of the rounds to help seal the dough. This is important, because a good seal prevents the filling seeping out during boiling. Anything oily along the edge of the dough will cause the edges to separate, so I was also careful to keep the filling right in the center of the rounds as I closed them. I cupped the dough round in one palm, and used my other hand to seal the edges tight, stretching the dough as needed to fully envelop the filling. Once the rounds were sealed up into half moon shapes, I crimped the edges with a floured fork and let them rest while the water came to boil.


Boiling and Pan-frying

As with pasta water, I used a generous amount of salt. Don’t skimp on this out of fear of sodium—remember that most of the salt will stay in the water, and the pierogi (like pasta) will take up just enough to season it well. Various recipes I’d seen suggested that the dumplings would initially sink but eventually float, and I followed the recommendation to cook them about 4 minutes from the float stage. They cooked at a gentle boil, just above a simmer. I scooped them out onto parchment paper, and though they could have been served exactly like that, I pressed on with the pan frying to give them some extra texture—and, of course, the browned butter. 😊

This half-batch of pierogi fed us for dinner twice, and I ended up with enough leftover to freeze for later. I laid the (un-boiled) individual dumplings out on a parchment-lined sheet, covered loosely with another sheet of parchment and frozen overnight, then I transferred them to a zip top bag for cooking later.

Ready for a quick weeknight meal later this fall! Boil them straight from the freezer.

Want to print this recipe?

These turned out so comforting and delicious, I wish I had made them sooner, but I’m glad to get them off my bucket list! 🙂 Here is a sampling of my remaining “someday” recipes, and I hope that sharing this glimpse with you will give me the accountability I need to get cooking:

Porchetta (an Italian specialty made with pork belly wrapped around pork tenderloin)
Why I haven’t made it: It looks fussy and complicated, and that scares me a little.

Black-and-white cookies (one of Les’s favorite NYC classic treats)
Why I haven’t made them: He loves them so much, I’m worried I’ll mess them up (crazy, I know).

Barbacoa (slow cooked spicy beef, which I love, thanks to Chipotle chain)
Why I haven’t made it: I’m committed to only using grass-fed beef in my recipes, and our city doesn’t have the best options for grass-fed, so I need to venture out to a market in a nearby city.

Hold me to it, dear friends! Those dishes deserve a shot in my kitchen. What foods are on your bucket list, either to cook or just to try?