We're going to take a break from our daily programming to talk about...food.
I grew up Mennonite. Well, sort of. That would be a stretch. I went to a Mennonite church for the first few years before moving with my parents to become a United Methodist.
However, the point to be made here is that my heritage is Mennonite. If you want to learn more, check out their wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mennonite#Sexuality.2C_marriage.2C_and_family_mores. Or, if you don't trust Wiki, try their own website: http://www.mennoniteusa.org/.
Back to the story. Both sides of my grandparents were farmers...and Mennonite. We could go into their long story, but let's just say that my great-grandparents immigrated to Kansas from Russia (hence the term, Russian Mennonite) and brought with them many things, including turkey red wheat and verenika.
If you've ever worked outside, whether in a field or just in a garden, you know just how exhausting it can be. Farmers turned to high-carb, high-protein meals to make it through the tough work. This food is some of the best food you will ever eat.
Rolls (called zweibock, or two rolls)
Gravy (usually ham)
Cherry Mose (like a cherry pudding)
I think we had all of the above at every single meal from the time I was born to the year my grandmother passed away. And now, after receiving my grandmother's recipe book from my aunt, I've been able to make it too!! If you're interested, you can make it too.
Basically, the end product of verenika is going to look like a dumpling or a peorgie. You'll want to use a large, circular cutter to make the shape. Don't treat it like pastry dough - it's not going to act the same. Also, be sure to keep both the egg whites and the egg yolks! This recipe comes from an era where there was no waste!
For the dough:
2 cups of flour
2 cups of sour cream
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Mix together and put in the fridge to chill for at least 10 minutes. This is a REALLY sticky dough, so sometimes I let it sit in the fridge, uncovered, for a few hours to a few days.
Next, make the filling:
2 egg yolks
2 cups of dry curd cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon of pepper (I usually double it because I like it spicy)
1 teaspoon of salt
*Note: you can sometimes find dry curd cottage cheese at the store with the rest of the cottage cheese. If you do find it, check the date - it's not a product that's in high demand, so it's often the product that gets left on the shelf much longer than it should. If you can't find it, don't worry - just make your own by pouring regular cottage cheese into a strainer and rinsing it off. Then put it out on paper towels to dry. Ta da! Dry curd cottage cheese.
Now, on with the dumpling!
At this point, grab a stock pot and fill it about 2/3 full of water. Put it on high and get it boiling. My stove takes forever to boil that much water, so by the time I have 5-10 verenika to cook, it's boiling!
To make the dumpling, you'll need:
Lots of extra flour
Tablespoon (just use a regular spoon from your silverware drawer)
Circle cutter (at least 3" in diameter - look at your glassware collection if you don't have a true cutter)
First things first - flour your work area and a rolling pin. If you have an apron, put it on - you're going to need it.
To get things started, take your dough out the fridge and grab enough to fill your palm. It's not an exact science here. Next, toss it in the flour a few times to get it nice and floured. Lately I even knead it to make sure it's not too sticky.
Grab that rolling pin and roll out the dough. Don't get too greedy here - if you get it too thin, you're going to end up with a broken verenika. I always leave it at about 1/4 to 1/3 inch. Take that cutter and cut away.
STOP!! Before you go on, you have to remember two things:
1) It's not pastry dough
2) It's not cookie dough
When you cut the dough into a circle, press firmly but do NOT rotate the cutter like you would with cookies. No, no, no! Bad idea. Instead, pull the excess dough away from the cut dough instead of taking the cut dough away from the excess dough.
At this point I usually take my palm and flatten it out a bit more to give me some more work space. It's not required though.
Now filling it is when things get tricky - the first few times, don't expect a lot of filling. It's okay. I think I used half of a tablespoon to fill it for the first few meals because I wasn't comfortable with any more. Now I'm easily putting one and a half to two tablespoons into the dough!
To fill, simply hold the circle of dough in your hand - try to cup your hand a bit if you can. With your free hand, spoon the filling on top of the dough. Get your hands into the flour and start pinching around the edges. It's going to take practice - a lot of practice!
*NOTE: Like I said, this isn't pastry dough. You don't want to get anything wet to seal it. Get your hands as dry and floured as you can when you seal the edges. If you don't seal them well enough, you'll see them explode as they boil.
That's it! Ta-da! You have a verenika! Take your verenika and put it on a clean plate. Once you get going, you'll find that it gets pretty easy.
Once you get between 5-10 verenika made, put them carefully into the boiling water. Put the timer to 10 minutes and walk away to make more verenika. You want the let the verenika do what it needs to do!
When the timer goes off, simply use the slotted spoon to put the now-baked verenika onto a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until you're out of the filling, out of the dough or just plain tired.
If you see pieces of cottage cheese floating in the water, don't worry - sometimes poorly sealed verenika explode (literally) in the water. It's not a huge deal. You just move on! You don't even have to change the water.
Now comes the fun part:
You could eat them now, but they would probably taste a little funny and slimey. Very few people I know who like verenika actually eat them at this point. It's like eat a cake without the frosting - people do it, but it's just the same!
You have two options:
1) Fry it
2) Bake it
I'll be honest - I've never baked it. In fact, I've only seen it actually BAKED at one restaurant in Hillsboro, Kansas! If you want to bake it, then good luck!
Frying it is really simply - melt butter in a saute pan over medium-low heat and put in a few verenika at a time. A few minutes on each side to brown it and there ya go. Fried verenika. I usually put them into the microwave to keep them warm as I fry the others, but you can do whatever floats your boat. Just be sure to use tongs to flip them to avoid splattering the butter.
I also prefer butter for a number of reasons:
1) It's butter. Flavor. Yumminess.
2) These babies love to stick to pans. There's nothing like going to turn a verenika and having it stick, spewing out the wonderful insides.
3) Olive oil doesn't taste as good.
You can try your own combinations though if you would prefer. See what you like!
Now, verenika alone is fine. But what you really need is...
Ham gravy is really idiot-proof.
First, brown cubed ham. The amount is up to you. I usually use about 1-2 cups, depending on my mood or how much I'm making. There's no rule here. Just throw the ham into a greased sauce pan on medium-low heat and put on a lid. Walk away for 5 minutes and then toss the ham a bit. Cover and let go another 5 minutes. You want those wonderful ham drippings to add even more flavor.
Next, add in flour. If there's not enough grease, melt some butter in there too. You want to make a rue to start the process of the gracy. I had some very lean ham this time around and had to use about 1/2 stick of butter and about 1/4 cup of flour. You can adjust it as necessary. Use a fork to combine the grease and flour to great a paste. Don't be afraid to get the ham involved too!
At this point, add in the milk. I would guess I added in 2-3 cups of milk, but it's all depending on how much you want to make. You can always adjust. Bump up the temperature to medium. Use a metal spatula to get those drippings and the rue mixed in with the milk. Then...let it go.
Once it boils, add in maybe 1/2 cup of heavy cream, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, pepper and onion poweder. Get it to the consistency you prefer, add in 1/4 cup of milk if it's going to sit for more than 10 minutes (remember, it's going to thicken as it sits) and start adding in the salt. Taste before adding any salt though - the ham is pretty darn salty itself!
See? Ta-da! No brainer. It's really hard to mess it up. Even if it burns, you're still doing great!
If you're careful with your time (or have more than one cook in the kitchen), you can usually cook and saute the vernika while making the gravy in about 60-90 minutes. That's for about 20-30 verenika and the gracy. It's not too shabby.
I should warn you - don't count it out until you've tried it. Most people I know cower at the thought of a cottage-cheese filled dumpling, but once you try it, you're going to love it!
I just made these for dinner. If I can make them while feeling under the weather, anyone can make them!
Another point is that it snowed yesterday - I think around 6 inches. That means that today everything is melting and muddy. That means I'm stuck in the house with an ear infection and two crazy kids!
While there's been a bit of a photo lull since Denver, don't worry too much - the next two weeks are going to be filled with tons of photos! We're headed to Wichita to spend Palm Sunday with my family and then we're back at home to spend Easter with Trav's family. Also, we are making sushi (a very special sushi) this week and some Easter goodies.
Short story: patience is a virtue. If you can wait a little bit, you will be rewarded!