Homemade Perogies — Comfort Food for a Winnipeg North-ender

Last weekend when it came time to eat, both Bjorn and I were hungry for the same thing:  “real food.”  We’ve been raking tons of leaves, the air is chilly, it gets dark early at this time of year which is more than enough to make a person crave warmth and comfort.  To us, “real food” is the food that we would have eaten as children.  It is wholesome, homemade, hearty and satisfying– something Grandma would make.  This particular meal is one I grew to love as a child but isn’t one that either of our Grandmas would have made–though amazing cooks, there isn’t a Ukrainian among them.  I grew up in the North End of Winnipeg so many of my friends and classmates had a Baba.  There is a large population of second, third and forth generation Ukrainians settled in the North End.  Family recipes are preserved and propagated through their use at wedding socials, at social clubs suppers, church fundraisers and in restaurants that serve good, home-style Ukrainian food.  I can say with assurance that even without a Ukrainian relative, any Winnipegger worth her salt knows a good perogy.  To me, perfect perogies are filled with a cheesy potato mixture, boiled and fried with onions until they are golden and crispy and served with sour cream.   Perogies can be the center of a meal on their own.  When served with borscht, holobtsi, kovbasa and a slice of City Rye or Pumpernickel bread and butter, you are having a homey, North End feast.  I set about to make perogies from scratch for the first time last week.   I didn’t have the advantage of Hunky Bill’s Perogie Maker or a Baba’s recipe so I followed my instincts and took some guidance from a pierogi recipe by Martha Stewart.  Martha is Polish so she uses the Polish spelling for Pierogi.  Each Eastern European country has their own name for a perogy, and each family has their own variation on the recipe and favorite way to serve perogies.  Whether you call them perogies, pierogi or varenyky the general concept of a perogy is the same:  a soft, unleavened dough is stuffed with potatoes, vegetables, herbs, cheese or meat, boiled and sometimes fried, and typically served with fried onions and sour cream or jam. I made half the quantity of Martha’s dough and potato filling, doubled the cheese and I channeled “North End Baba” while a I rolled, stuffed, boiled and fried.  I found the dough forgiving and easy to handle.  I floured the counter and rolled the dough to 1/8 inch thickness, then cut as many rounds as a I could with a juice glass.  I measured the cheesy-potato mixture into each round with a scoop to avoid over filling any.  The potato mixture is the consistency of dry mashed potatoes, since it contains no milk or cream.  It was surprisingly easy to stretch, fill and pinch the soft dough to form tightly sealed, plump crescents.  I boiled all of the perogies in batches of 8 or so.  Not a single one burst open.Some people stop here and eat perogies after boiling them.  We tasted one, and found it tender and thoroughly cooked, but the next step of frying the boiled perogies with onions is my favorite preparation.  After boiling the perogies, I froze half of the batch, spreading them out on a lightly greased cookie sheet and covering them with saran wrap to fry up another day. Roasted red beets are a good side dish to serve with perogies.  So often I read recipes for roasting beets skin on and then slipping the skins off after they are roasted.  I find this to be a messy way to nearly burn my fingertips and dye them pink.  Instead, I peeled and sliced red beets before roasting them.  I coated them lightly in olive oil and sprinkled over some thyme from our garden that I saved and dried, and roasted the beets at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes.

I love the way roasting a vegetable with herbs deepens its flavor and intensifies its color.  The aroma of roasting thyme is the inside-the-house equivalent to autumnal the scent of fallen leaves.

 I fried our perogies in butter with sliced onions. The results were exactly what we were hoping for– my perogies were homey, satisfying and so delicious that I could hardly believe I made them myself.  The meal took me right home to Winnipeg, I will always be a North Ender at heart.  

Roasted Tomatoes for the Rest of Us

I am taking no extra credit for this exceptionally simple and lovely recipe which was inspired by, and based on blog posts by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen and Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks.  They do everything so beautifully–perfect food styling, perfect lighting and in the case of Deb Perelman, self-depreciating, humorous prose.  No wonder they’re getting cookbook deals left and right.  I’m posting this because I just want to make sure that all the rest of us have a recipe for roasted tomatoes. 

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 My requirements?  It has to be simple and just as good as the big-time food blogger versions, but accessible.  For most of us, 2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes are basically unavailable.  That would cost about $45, wouldn’t it? So, that is my main adjustment to Heidi Swanson’s recipe.  Deb Perlman roasted her tomatoes for 4 hours. The low heat was a good thing, keeps the house cool, and all.  But the 4 hours is not workable—I get home from work about 6 and I’m not up for hitting the kitchen immediately, not to hunker down for supper at 10 p.m.  Whether you have heirloom tomatoes from your own back yard [we would, if the squirrels weren’t eating them all], some organic grower, or, like me today, 2 pints of Minnesota grown grape tomatoes in clear cubic plastic boxes from the closest grocery, purchased for less than $2 a pop– you can and you should be roasting tomatoes.  So good.  So easy.  No spendy fruit or 4-hour cooking window required.  These babies go wonderfully on burgers, in sandwiches, on pizza, in salads or pasta, or on their own.  

Roasted Tomatoes –  1 hour, 350 degrees

Wonderful on Salads, Pasta, Pizza, Sandwiches and on their own.


2 pints of Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, halved top to bottom

A few tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and Pepper


Sprigs of fresh Thyme or Rosemary, Parsley or Basil

4-5 cloves of Garlic, unpeeled


Place oven rack in top 2/3 of oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Half the tomatoes and toss lightly in oil until just glistening.

Arrange tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Season tomatoes and add herbs, aromatics and whole, unpeeled cloves as desired.

Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until partly dried out, sweet, juicy and tender.  Store extra roasted tomatoes for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator, covered in olive oil.

White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder

It is a good indication that we are getting pretty low on groceries and fresh produce when I decide what is for dinner by googling the few ingredients we have left to find an idea.  Tonight, I poked around the kitchen and found a can of white beans, a potato, and a half a bag of frozen corn to work with.  Those three ingredients sounded like a good base for a soup.  I wasn’t feeling like a chunky Tuscan White Bean Stew, or a creamy Rosemary White Bean Soup even though they looked tasty. We didn’t have half the ingredients for this luscious looking Corn Chowder with Chilies by Pioneer Woman and we wanted something lighter.  As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve ever combined white beans, corn and potato in one pot, but it seemed like these 3 pale, starchy comforters had to go together.  I thought “there must be a recipe for this white bean, corn and potato chowder!”  I immediately found two, fairly similar recipes that sounded tasty, [here and here].  I took cues from both recipes, made a few adjustments of my own and ended up with a soup that was healthy and warming that we both enjoyed.  First, I assembled my ingredients.

I think it is a good sign about a recipe when the ingredient list is short.  For one thing, in a simple recipe each ingredient plays a vital role in the dish as a whole.  There is also a better chance that your pantry and fridge will contain what you need so you don’t have to run to the store.  Most importantly you won’t have to pull out your hair trying to follow a complicated recipe or spend your evening chopping and measuring a zillion ingredients.  My White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder contained:

  • One cup of Frozen Corn.
  • 1 16 ounce can of Cannellini Beans.  — I happened to have a large can of beans so I used it, but you’d be fine with a 14 ounce can.  If you are up for preparing dry beans, which sadly, I am not, you should use about 1 cup of dry beans, soaked and cooked in water until tender.
  • 1 Yukon Gold Potato washed and chopped.
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced.
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced — I ended up using only one carrot, even though my photo contains two.
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped.  –I didn’t have any celery, but normally, I would include it.  Diced Onions, Carrots and Celery, or a mirepoix if you are cooking in French, makes a solid aromatic base for almost any soup or sauce.
  • 1 four cup carton of Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth.
  • For Garnish:  1 thinly sliced green onion and coarsely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley  are both optional, but good.
  • About 1/2 a teaspoon each of crushed dried Rosemary, and dry Thyme.
  • A splash of skim milk, or half and half, or heavy cream, depending what fits into your diet.
  • A small amount of Olive Oil for sautéing the veggies.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

We have 2 people eating in our house most nights, so I try to cut soup recipes down to 4 portions, so that we each get to have a hearty bowl for supper and a smaller bowl for lunch the next day.  It took me two years to figure out that I need to cut down most recipes.  Having a few frozen portions is great for lunches at work or an easy supper, but a freezer can fill up fast in the winter when I feel like making a new pot of soup a few times per week.  If you have a bigger head count, or feel like stockpiling soup for lunches and lazy days, you can easily double or triple this recipe.

Once I had all of the veggies for the chowder chopped, I began by sautéing the onion and carrots.  I rinsed the cannellini beans, and mashed about half of them on a cutting board with a potato masher.  I did this for several reasons.  Since I wanted the chowder to be light and healthy I decided not to use half and half or cream in my chowder which are traditional chowder ingredients.  Mashed white beans added velvety texture to the soup liquid that it would otherwise lack without cream.  I used a potato masher because I don’t have an immersion blender* and lugging out the blender or food processor to puree half of the soup is far too much effort for me on a Tuesday night.  The potato masher works quite well to create a rustic creaminess and it cuts down on dish washing which is also a plus.  When the carrots and onions began to get soft in my enamel dutch oven, I added the rest of the ingredients except the milk and garnishes.  I let the soup simmer for a good half hour to 40 minutes.  This gave me time to set the table, check Facebook and chop up some grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and leaves of romaine lettuce for a small salad, along the lines of a caprese, minus basil.  I dressed the salad with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salut herb mixture.  Once the chowder was hot and all the flavors combined, I removed the pot from the heat.  I mashed the entire mixture of veggies little a more with the potato masher right in the soup pot to allow the carrots, corn and potatoes to add body to the liquid in the chowder.  Right before serving the chowder I stirred in a splash of milk.  I served the chowder in a small bowl with the salad on the side of the plate.

On top of Bjorn’s salad I added a few this slices of Sopprasetta, a dried, cured Italian salami.

We loved this chowder.  It was warm and satisfying, but still light and healthy.  It will reheat well for our lunch, and we will able to eat the whole pot in two meals.  This meal made good use of the last few vegetables in the house.  Even if my fridge is fully stocked, I’d make it again.

* An immersion blender might be a good gift idea, hint, hint.