First published: Inside Toronto - September 22, 2015
Continuing on my series Great Ethnic Home Cooks, I would like to introduce you to Tracy. I have known Tracy for many years. We met when our kids were young and she tired to kill me at the gym. Me, little Miss 2 Left Feet, was convinced to enter the dreaded step class where I proceeded to almost sprain my ankle and yes, I did leave the class early to sip coffee and wait for Twinkle Toes to finish.
Our friendship, like many women who have kids of similar ages, started off with kids, husbands and what to make for dinner. Tracy has always been one of the best home bakers I know and what is fun about Tracy is she is not scared to give things a try. Tracy even took, way back, a wonderful group of Chinese cooking classes and to this day makes incredible pot stickers and this addictive Chili Shrimp dish.
Now, you would think, me being a chef and Tracy knowing how much I wanted to learn to make perogies she would have jumped for the opportunity to teach me a thing or two. Nope, I have been begging for years, threatening even, but it took this article to hammer it home.
Recently, Tracy met me at Longo’s Leaside, aka The Food Palace, and we bought the few things necessary and then went to the Pop Up Farmers Market run by Brian Gay and his company Berryfresh Fruit Company at Sutherland and McRae for the few local Ontario fruits and veggies needed.
Tracy came armed with a five-pound marble rolling pin gifted to her by her mom. Do you think her mom knew this could be a lethal weapon? Also an apron, dusty with flour and stories, baking sheets (where did she think she was going?) and her own butter!
Away we went and the games began. The dough was first.
The food processor was plugged in and we, with no great skill, stuffed in flour and eggs beaten with cold water and saffron oil. Boom, 30 seconds later and the dough hit my floured counter, one minute later and it was in a bowl, under cling wrap and a damp tea towel. The dough was lovely, soft and elastic and so quick. My turn with Tracy right at my shoulder, same exact movements and my dough was tougher and dryer. With Tracy kneading a bit and showing me how to keep rolling and kneading into the seam of the dough ball it came together. Why did this happen? I know why.
Tracy is so comfortable working in the baking world that the dough knew she loved it. Me? I was scared and not trusting. In the end with her love the dough ended up identical to the one she made.
As the dough rested we went on to fillings. We had decided on a very traditional cheese and potato filling along with the garnish of browned diced onions in a mess of butter. While at the grocery store Tracy said: “Why don’t we make Bobcha’s cabbage, mushroom and onion ones?” Me, always up for a challenge, said it was a great plan. As you all know my passion for local is out of bounds so I wanted to make a fruit filling, which is also traditional but change it up a bit.
You also know me for one that if I can funk it up, I will. I thought about perogies and knew they had cheese and potato inside and sour cream and buttery onions on top so why not make a loaded baked potato filling? There, we had four fun fillings.
1 bunch green onions, cleaned and finely chopped
250 g bacon. I like to use an organic good quality one as there is way less shrinkage
2 large baking potatoes, washed, baked and cool enough to handle
1/4 cup salted butter
2 heaping tbsp of sour cream. I use the full fat to prevent the filling from being overly watery
100 gram sharp shredded cheddar
sea salt and pepper to taste
Cook the bacon on a foil-lined baking sheet at 375 F until crispy, remove and wrap in paper towels to remove excess fat.
In a bowl, slice potatoes in half and scoop out all the insides. Chop the bacon and then add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and set aside until needed.
We tried to make a traditional cheese filling, but Tracy loves heat and decided to add a little to the mix. Leave it out if you prefer.
2 large baking potatoes, washes, baked and cool enough to handle
100 g Habanero shredded cheese
50 g sharp shredded cheese
sea salt and pepper to taste
In a bowl, slice potatoes in half and scoop out all the insides, add cheeses, sea salt and pepper.
Mix well and set aside until needed.
Beef Shiitake and Cabbage Filling
This is a bit of a spin on using sauerkraut. We found the cabbage allowed you to taste all the other ingredients. Why shiitakes instead of button mushrooms? I find they have a much meatier flavour and also less water. This recipe would be as good without the meat. Just bulk up on the mushrooms.
400 g organic lean ground beef. It has a lot more flavour and doesn’t dry out.
130 g shiitake mushrooms, washed, stemmed and finely julienned
1/2 head of Savoy cabbage, outer leaves and core removed and finely julienned
1/4 cup salted butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 clove of smashed, chopped garlic, preferably Ontario
1 tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
sea salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter and add onion, shiitake and garlic. Cook over medium high heat until the onion is starting to turn golden, add cabbage in batches until it is all in and cooked through. Now add ground beef, I like to tear it apart so it mixes in more quickly. Once the beef is cooked through add the sea salt, pepper and balsamic.
Now this mixture will let off quite a bit of liquid so what I do is move the mixture toward the sides and let the juices run to the middle and evaporate. In about 15 minutes the mixture should be dry. Let cool and set aside until needed.
Last but certainly not least just had to be one to feed my sweet tooth and this is a honey. I think this mixture would be incredible dolloped on pancakes or waffles. Think up a use and let me know what you would do.
Blueberry Ricotta filling
1 cup blueberries, washed and dried on a baking sheet covered in paper towels
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese, full fat so it isn’t watery
2 heaping tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
zest of one lemon
In a mixing bowl mix everything together. Be a little rough so some of the blueberries break giving flavour to the cheese.
Now here is this killer simple dough. This dough cooks up and boils so nicely I would happily use it for ravioli and pot stickers.
Tracy’s Perogies Dough
3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup ice cold water
4 tsp oil, we use safflower
In a food processor, add the flour. In a small bowl mix all other ingredients. Pulse until the dough just turns into a ball. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead about 10 times or until dough is smooth. Cover and let rest in a bowl wrapped in cling wrap and under a damp tea towel for 20 minutes. Don’t worry. It can hang out for a few hours, just make sure it is in a cool place.
Now, the fillings we made were perfect for a double dough recipe. We managed to get around 20 perogies by four different fillings.
To make the perogies, roll dough on a floured surface until it is about 1/8 inch. Cut into rounds that are two inches in diameter. You can use a glass like we did or a mold or a simple baked bean can washed and dried.
Put a good sized heaping teaspoon into the middle of each round. The dough is pliable so stretch it around the filling and pinch hard to seal. Lay the completed rounds on a floured baking sheet covered by a damp tea towel.
Place a pot on the stove with water and a tbsp sea salt. Bring to a boil. When ready, add the perogies in batches. Do not over crowd or they will stick together. With a wooden spoon give them a little nudge to make sure they are not sticking. When the water comes back to a boil and the perogies float to the top they are ready.
We did two different methods, for the meat and the traditional cheese we boiled and then gently sautéed in butter with golden brown onion bits.
For the stuffed baked potato and blueberry we boiled, removed with a slotted spoon to a baking sheet with paper towel and shallow fried in safflower oil until crispy on both sides.
Your choice, how you like.
It was such a treat to make these little gems and as we cooked we talked, which is how stories and heritage are best shared. Tracy remembered this as being the hardest of days when she was eight. Her mom would cut rounds after rounds after rounds and Tracy and her sisters would fill and fill and nibble and fill until there were enough to feed six for dinner and enough to put in the freezer for another day. I had to laugh when Tracy told me after nibbling at filling for hours she never was very hungry for perogies that night.
I hope you enjoyed traveling down Tracy’s path. I know I certainly did and I learned a great deal. As always please tell me your opinions, thoughts or criticisms. Any ideas as always welcome.
Cheers and eat well,